Article: The pandemic made it clear that companies need to invest in people-focused technology: Chief of People, Lincoln Financial Group


The pandemic made it clear that companies need to invest in people-focused technology: Chief of People, Lincoln Financial Group

Lisa M. Buckingham, Executive Vice President and Chief People, Place and Brand Officer, Lincoln Financial Group, in an exclusive interaction with People Matters, talks about the larger HR landscape and how should talent leaders reimagine workforce management in 2021.
The pandemic made it clear that companies need to invest in people-focused technology: Chief of People, Lincoln Financial Group

Lisa Buckingham is the Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for Lincoln Financial Group, responsible for all human resources practices and policies for the organization. She is also responsible for overseeing the corporation’s brand and advertising, enterprise communications, consumer insights, and corporate social responsibility activities; as well as the facilities, aviation, and corporate strategic real estate areas. Additionally, she leads the company’s business continuity and enterprise crisis management efforts. She reports to the President and Chief Executive Officer, Dennis R. Glass, and is a member of the Senior Management Committee. 

Buckingham has more than 30 years of experience in all aspects of human resources management. She is on the Board of Directors of the HR Policy Association, the new American Health Policy Institute, Lincoln Life & Annuity Company of New York, and the Eagles Charitable Foundation. She is the Chairman and an Executive Committee member of the Peer Round Table for CHROs and is a member of the Steering Committee of the HR Policy Institute. Buckingham also Chairs the Lincoln Financial Foundation.

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

As a people leader at Lincoln Financial Group, you have been at the forefront of ensuring the health and safety of nearly 12,000 employees and an extensive network of financial advisor partners as they transitioned to work-from-home. You are driven to make sure that the company continues to honor its namesake by stepping up to support its employees, communities, and the country during the COVID-19 crisis. Please tell us what helped you sail through these challenging times.

A few factors have been absolutely critical in our response to this pandemic at Lincoln Financial:

  • Our people: The resilience, commitment, and strength of our workforce have been amazing. While so many of our employees have been dealing with their own personal challenges during COVID-19, they have never stopped caring for our customers, or for each other. Not for a second. 
  • Our preparation: We have a Business Continuity function at Lincoln that is solely dedicated to preparing our enterprise for the unexpected – we were ready. 
  • Our digital focus: We’ve been on a digital journey for four+ years now at Lincoln – and we firmly believe that our digital investments and business continuity planning positioned us to be so successful in our response to COVID-19. We pivoted to working from home for 99 percent of our workforce in a matter of days, we have had virtually no disruption to our customers, and we’re meeting and exceeding service goals. 
  • Our culture and communication: We have focused on being there for our people and ensuring that our strong culture provides some stability and support through these challenging times. We call ourselves “Team Lincoln” because we truly believe it. We’re ALL in this together – we’re all real people, with real families, real challenges, real stress in our lives right now. Communicating frequently and transparently at every level of leadership in the organization has been critical. 


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As a global talent leader, what is the biggest lesson you have learned from this pandemic and why does it matter? Do you see any big opportunity that businesses should seize in 2021?

I am so amazed by the incredible connections forged among the global HR community in 2020. This is just the start of a new chapter of deeper connections between companies, driven by HR, to better all of our collective workforces. We are all sharing more and learning from one another.

We aren’t competing against one another, we are building vibrant and very different work environments and can help each other and our employees.

A shining example of this (from my perspective!) is the People + Work Connect platform.

In April, I partnered with fellow CHROs from Accenture, Verizon, and ServiceNow to launch People + Work Connect – a digital employer-to-employer platform that brings together companies laying off or furloughing people with companies in urgent need of workers.

There is no cost for employers to join and participate. We developed this initiative in direct response to unemployment caused by COVID-19, but we believe it can be a much more long-term tool for companies, across countries and across industries. More than 1,500 organizations spanning 90+ countries are leveraging the platform today. If interested, folks can learn more at the People + Work Connect website

These true examples of resilience and kindness have been a true learning. Honestly, we all should just take a moment and celebrate all our learnings and how we have been there for one another through thick and thin.  

What are the key COVID-triggered trends that you think will accelerate in the long term in terms of work, workplace, and workforce? What gaps and blind spots have COVID-19 brought to the fore? 

Of course, there are major possibilities – especially from a talent perspective – with more remote work moving forward. Another huge talent opportunity is connectivity among the HR community. We’ve learned so much about how skills can transfer across industries... how people can be “redeployed” within a company or outside. While we couldn’t be together in person, 2020 actually brought the HR community closer together than ever before. And that is opening up a whole world of possibilities. 

How do you see the larger HR landscape evolve in 2021 and how should talent leaders reimagine workforce management in 2021?

Prior to COVID-19, some of the biggest “hot topics” in HR were talent and technology – and while the specifics might look different today, these two themes continue to be hugely important. Before the pandemic we heard a lot about the “war for talent” – or the “war for differentiation” as I like to call it – and yes…the landscape today looks dramatically different with the level of unemployment COVID-19 has caused. But, we’re STILL seeing a competitive talent marketplace, and more than ever we’re seeing the importance of employee engagement and creating a differentiating employee experience. Technology, similarly, has become more critical than ever. In the HR space, we continue to focus on how we can leverage technology while at the same time keeping human in human resources. We want to implement technology that fosters more connectivity, more time to be present, and focus on things that matter most.

We hear a lot of agility, resilience, adaptability in the wake of the COVID-19, and how they are critical for businesses to chart a purposeful path for the future. What’s your take on this?

Adaptability is so key. Yes, that means being nimble as changes come – and it also means being able to leverage those changes to make a positive impact. How can our learnings from this pandemic make us better? Make us more creative, more agile in the long-term?   

To be more agile, more adaptable, the partnership between HR and IT is more important than ever. This pandemic has made it abundantly clear that companies need to invest in people-focused technology while at the same time keeping the human in human resources. 

How do you think this crisis will change the way we work? Will more of us be remote? What's your plan for 2021? Is it going to be a hybrid work model for you?

We’re all working to figure that out in this ever-changing environment. At Lincoln, we’re monitoring the progression of the virus constantly, and we’re getting real-time advice from experts as we see progress with the vaccines. This is informing our approach as we plan for an eventual return to our offices, and each day we learn more.

But beyond the pandemic – I believe 2020 has forever changed the ways we work. One of the silver linings is all of the learnings this experience has brought us. At Lincoln, we know that work-from-home, flexible work arrangements, and physical office space are all valuable in different ways, and will continue to be. We’re also factoring in feedback from our employees. This experience has been new and different for all of us, and our employees have been incredible. Because of their commitment to our customers and our focus on digital technology, we’ve been able to continue working from home, protecting the health and safety of our people top of mind.

The Willis research found that 90 percent of companies believe their culture has improved, 83 percent believe their employee experience is better, and 84 percent believe employee engagement has gone up. Where do you see this equation in 2021?

An enhanced focus on employee engagement and feedback has been critical in 2020 and will continue to be. Yes – this was very important prior to COVID-19, but today it is pivotal. At Lincoln, we have asked our employees for feedback every single step of the way – when COVID-19 first hit the U.S. and we wanted to learn more about what they needed to work from home, as we have planned for our eventual return to our offices and what that will look like, as the school year has started and we’ve gathered intel on what our working parents are struggling with and how we can help. This focus on employee feedback – and robust employee communication, internal and social – has been extremely important in our response at Lincoln and I believe it will continue to be crucial moving forward in 2021 and beyond. 

What’s your take on leadership especially at a time like this and how can they make ethical and diversity-centered decisions? What should a leader look like in 2021?

It’s important to reflect on the fact that we have seen not one but two major crises this year. The pandemic, and the fight for racial justice. Leadership today means tackling crises head-on, taking action, and being transparent with your workforce. 

Fostering diversity, inclusion, belonging and equity is truly a core competency for leaders. It is one of our eight key “Leadership Expectations” at Lincoln – the key traits that define our culture and our hiring, training, and development practices. We will only continue to amplify this focus at Lincoln moving forward – and I hope that is a trend we see across companies and industries. 

What would be your key priorities in 2021 as a global talent leader?

Continuing to help our people – and the broader working world – get through this pandemic. This is truly a global issue and we all need to care for ourselves, our loved ones, and the bigger amazing world of humans. The pandemic is not over at the end of 2020… and it’s so critical that we continue to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of our workforces. And when I say wellbeing… I mean physical, emotional, and financial. All of it. As employers we must continue to look at our benefit offerings, our policies, our support tools, our capabilities with a critical eye and ensure we are helping our people as much as we possibly can.

Additionally, looking at how we can maximize the quickly evolving talent marketplace will be a major focus in 2021 and beyond. We can all look differently at how we recruit, where we recruit, and how we work.  

Read more such stories from the January 2021 issue of our e-magazine on 'Outlook 2021’

Read full story

Topics: C-Suite, Strategic HR, #Outlook2021

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