Article: Take a people-first approach to navigating this crisis: Citrix’s Chief People Officer


Take a people-first approach to navigating this crisis: Citrix’s Chief People Officer

In this Big Interview, Donna Kimmel, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, Citrix shares her views on the current COVID-19 crisis, the disruptions in HR and talent operations and what do they mean for top HR leaders. She also talks about why a better employee experience is equivalent to better business results, be it in times of crisis or otherwise.
Take a people-first approach to navigating this crisis: Citrix’s Chief People Officer

People Matters May E-Magazine is out. To get free access, click here.

Donna Kimmel is the Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of Citrix. She is responsible for all aspects of identifying, fostering, and developing top talent as well as overseeing organizational strategies that maximize engagement and position the company to win in the marketplace.

With more than 30 years of experience in creating and implementing successful global talent programs that drive business results, Kimmel is a trusted Human Resources leader who believes in creating diverse and engaged teams that enable the extraordinary. Throughout her career, she has delivered comprehensive people programs, led large scale end-to-end business initiatives (including corporate reorganizations, spin-offs—from public to private to public—and integrations for global M&A activities), and catalyzed cultural transformations.

She is an active member of the community and serves on the Equality Means Business Advisory Board, the largest civil rights organization in Florida dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the Board of Directors for the University of Rhode Island’s International Engineering Program.

In this exclusive interaction with People Matters, Kimmel shares her views on the current COVID-19 crisis, the disruptions in HR and talent operations and what do they mean for top HR leaders. She also talks about why a better employee experience is equivalent to better business results, be it in times of crisis or otherwise. 

How do you see the current COVID-19 crisis and the disruptions in HR and talent operations and what do they mean for top HR leaders?

The global pandemic has, in essence, created a forced experiment. Organizations that may have been reticent to consider remote work have come face-to-face with a situation that now requires it. 

Remote work is not business as usual. It is perhaps the biggest change in the way businesses operate that many of us have ever seen. It represents a totally new way of thinking and operating and can be a difficult adjustment for employees and employers to make. When things become uncertain, it becomes even harder. 

But business in a lot of cases must go on as usual, even in times of crisis. And this is where HR can step up and make a difference.

In uncertain times, the role of the HR team is to see things through a lens of empathy. To be the voice of employees, and anticipate the challenges and opportunities they are facing, and develop plans, programs and information to overcome and optimize them.  

What are the top challenges that organizations today face in terms of attracting the right employees and retaining them at a crisis time like this?

It is said that if you really want to know a person, watch them under stress. The same is true for an organization. The organization’s response, the speed with which they make decisions, the level of communication, and the values that are demonstrated are communicating profound messages to employees and candidates.

Even during a crisis, employees have an inner drive to use their strengths and do their best work. Even in normal times, one of the biggest challenges to enabling this to happen is having the tools people need to be productive and engaged. With knowledge workers shifting to remote work at scale, the need for the right technology is clearer than ever.

A recent Citrix study showed that just behind managers and salary as the top reasons people quit their jobs, was access to good technology.

So, we have to address those things holistically, and it requires a strong partnership with IT. 

To set employees up for success, it is essential to provide a digital workspace that has all of the tools and data a person needs, a physical workspace that fits individual work styles, and a vibrant culture with a sense of trust and community. And this is why the partnership with IT becomes so critical.

To attract and engage talent, technology must be an enabler that removes the ‘noise’ of lower value tasks and enables people to focus on the elements of the role they were hired to do (and that they enjoy!). This is where human motivation and technology become partners: workplace technologies that create space in a worker’s day to do what they love mean organizations can see higher productivity plus greater motivation and engagement. 

How is the larger conversation between CHROs and CEOs changing at this crisis moment, given that there is this increasing realization that people are the true assets of a company?

At Citrix, we know that our biggest asset is our people, and because of that we have made employee experience the cornerstone of our mission as an organization - both for ourselves and for our customers. The conversations between CHROs and CEOs has been built around a simple equation: Better employee experience = better business results. That’s true in times of crisis and in normal times as well. Living in a technology-driven world means that the real change in the larger C-level conversations is the real need for a third voice in the dialogue - the CIO. 

Improving employee experience isn’t just the province of IT or HR in a silo. It requires a “leader of the future” mindset and approach, with CIOs and CHROs collaborating with their CEOs together to ensure that the technologies in place support people’s needs, adhere to HR and security policies, and deliver an engaging experience.

What sort of skills and competencies do leaders need to possess to manage crises and help their organizations recover from them? What is your company doing that is unique in this crisis moment?

During times of uncertainty, like a crisis, values become especially important. Many decisions have never been made before and they need to be made quickly.

At Citrix, our core values of integrity, respect, curiosity, courage and unity, have been our north star. Two additional competencies are critical in crisis: leading with empathy and inspiring the ones who lead with empathy. No matter the size of your team, it’s essential to view the situation through the eyes of your people and guide them with their safety and wellbeing as your top priority. Similarly, we need people who can inspire others by connecting to a bigger purpose.  

Citrix is taking a people-first approach to navigating this crisis. Just a few examples:

Any Citrix employee will receive 100 percent of their base pay if:

  • They become ill due to COVID-19
  • Their children or family members become ill due to COVID-19 and require care from the employee
  • Their manager says the job cannot be performed at home, and they, therefore, cannot work

They have children or family members at home due to COVID-19-related social distancing practices and are unable to find an alternate caregiver and fully work

In addition, we formally notified our vendors who provide labor to us, that we will continue to pay under our existing contracts, allowing them the ability to pay those workers during this crisis.

We have given every employee globally a stipend to cover:

  • Work-from-home support items, such as monitors, keyboards, headsets, surge protectors, ergonomic desks and chairs, additional wi-fi, etc.
  • Unexpected personal and family expenses
  • Helping our communities and local businesses in ways such as donations to local charities, purchasing food delivery from local restaurants, etc.

These are just a couple of examples, but hopefully they demonstrate how we are helping our people through this crisis.

How do you see the talent crisis disrupting the technology industry given that a lot of C-Suite executives view access to talent as the greatest inhibitor to their growth aspirations? 

While the talent crisis certainly could disrupt the technology industry, I actually see the real opportunity for the technology industry to disrupt and fix the talent crisis. The newest generation entering the workforce were born into a world of technology — it is in their blood. But they are demanding flexible working styles and expect a consumer-like tech experience in all aspects of their work. Traditional enterprise technology that gives them a sense of being locked down and tethered to archaic models of thinking, collaborating and producing results just isn’t going to cut it. The technology industry can help businesses feeling the pinch, especially those in more traditional or conservative industries where the talent crisis may be most acute. 

Once an organization shifts its vision beyond the traditional physical workspace, with on-premises datacenters and desks with desktops, to intelligent digital workspaces that give people the freedom to work anywhere and the guidance and insight to do their very best work, those organizations open access to new talent pools and deliver flexibility that incumbent employees crave. Thus, a single technology shift helps with both attraction and retention. 

Companies that embrace the concept can power a smarter, better way to work and draw the talent they need to unlock innovation and move their business forward. Those that don’t will continue to watch as the talent gap widens and swallows their opportunity.

Experts’ take on the future of work is often found conflicting leaving plenty of room for debate. What does the future of work mean for you?

I see the future of work as being defined by a few key trends: flexible work, digital workspaces, people-centric design, upskilling/reskilling talent, and data analytics. 

This means a future of work that is going to have to be agile. The pace of change is only going to get faster, and as we can see from the current crisis, organizations are having to think through and be prepared for the unknown more than ever before. But if we follow those trends, we can see how that future might look. 

I have talked about flexible work and digital workspaces in helping to address the talent crisis — they will also help build a more powerful future of work. Similarly, we have discussed here that people are an organization’s biggest asset, so you will see more and more organizations leaning on people-centric frameworks for how they design their businesses — people-centric cultures, values, programs, practices, and even physical spaces. 

The future of work will require us to create a better system of upskilling and reskilling our people. The talent crisis has shown us that it’s getting harder and harder to find the talent you need to outside of your organizations. Even in a post-COVID world, I still believe there will be a shortage of highly-skilled workers. So, HR professionals more than ever will need to think about how to help people build new skills and learn new expertise while on the job. And finally, the future of work will be data-driven. HR usually isn’t thought of as a data-driven function, but we can use technology to get insights into employee behaviors and motivations like never before.

Predicting the future isn’t a science. And it can’t be done with total accuracy. But when it comes to the future of work, one prediction is certain: organizations that focus on their people and create an environment in which they can engage deeply in meaningful work, harness their full creativity and cultivate their passions and special skills, will see their business thrive.

Citrix is making a massive shift in its strategy from product to platform and is moving to a cloud-first strategy. What are the implications of this big shift for you as the people manager of a large tech company?

Making a fundamental shift in our business model starts with the talent we have in the organization. Because our workforce largely came from enterprise on-prem software backgrounds across sales, engineering, product and other functional teams, our journey has been both technical and cultural.

As is the case with all companies that make such a shift, we have had to transition to being a cloud-first company before we shifted from being a product to a platform company. We have invested in existing talent and hired externally to build a culture of change and continuous learning. One example of this comes from our salesforce. Our solutions are now general purpose rather than niche use. More end-users within an organization can benefit from our Workspace vs. when we focused only on virtualization. 

Overall, our business requires strong technical talent. Many are competing for the same talent; financial, automotive, healthcare are all ‘technical’ these days. To continue to grow and support our business strategies, we need to be competitive in attracting and retaining this talent.

We have wrapped each of these critical components of our journey in a culture that promotes learning and a “growth mindset” and then established a performance, development and reward process that recognizes the values and behaviors that contribute to a culture of progress and performance. 

You lead over 9,000 people in a global tech company. Can you give us a preview of large scale initiatives from people perspective that you are embarking on to enable the company move to the next level in the changing world of work?

There are several key projects underway. Interestingly, as we have all felt the world of work transform rapidly underneath our feet, Citrix is positioned to serve our customers, partners and communities even more powerfully by offering our experience in remote work, building a culture of trust and engagement, and understanding of the critical leadership skills required for the future.

Even prior to COVID-19, we have been strengthening our commitment and investment into a strategy and tools for listening to employees. We have always had a focus on employee roundtables and engagement surveys, but in order to build organizational responsiveness, we are taking this to the next level. 

We are also deepening our people analytics capabilities, building robust partnerships with other business intelligence groups across the company. And, we are taking a deep dive into understanding productivity among remote and office-based employee populations. At Citrix, we are also redesigning how rewards systems to ensure managers have the opportunity to differentiate top performance.

Interestingly, as the world becomes more aware of the importance of the employee experience, we are also partnering with our sales and marketing team to discuss the technological component of employee experience. We recognize culture, physical space and technology work together to create the overall employee experience and we truly believe the Citrix Workspace can and will make a huge difference in helping C-level leaders solve for challenges in the technology aspect. 

Overall, HR teams are at the forefront of building the future of work. Whether it’s finding the right talent, developing internal talent, or driving efficiencies that make it easier for the business to do what they were hired to do… HR is driving the health of organizations. Without the right talent, strategy becomes very difficult to achieve.

Who or what has shaped who you are especially your leadership style in the digital era?

I have had some really great leaders in my life. One, in particular, was a role model for a healthy balance of high expectations and taking time off. She documented on one of my performance evaluations that I needed to do a better job of taking time to rest, recharge and rejuvenate. She reinforced that I cannot be at my best if I don’t make some R&R time. 

In our highly connected world, I believe it’s getting harder and harder to disconnect and rejuvenate. Unfortunately, I think the vast majority of us have to be forced to slow down and make this time. A couple of years ago, I ended up with an illness that can recur if I don’t take time to care for myself. And, as we have seen through the pandemic, we are so conditioned to be busy that many of us have rediscovered a part of ourselves previously lost when we were forced into our homes. 

We have also seen it in crisis leadership. Leaders who aren’t rested are scientifically less able to think at our highest capacity and offer our best innovative problem solving and creative solutions. 

Taking care of yourself can feel non-essential when we are all moving so quickly. It’s a tough lesson that will catch up with us, as it did with me, so I feel it is a critical lesson for everyone to learn.

People Matters May E-Magazine is out. To get free access, click here.

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Topics: C-Suite, #LeadTheWay, #COVID-19

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