Grace Cheong, Vice President of Human Resources for Asia Pacific and Japan at F5 Networks, is responsible for F5's human capital strategy in the region, including driving a culture that has the specific objective of making employees feel valued and successful.
Grace has been in the tech industry for over two decades, and before joining F5 in 2007, she was the Director of APAC HR Services for Celestica. People Matters asked her to share her thoughts on employee experience: here are the highlights of the conversation.
Could you share a little about what employee experience means to you personally?
My own experience as an employee in F5 for the last 13 years has informed my view of what employee experience means. It is about feeling that I belong, believe in and can contribute to the company’s mission. It is also about being proud of what the company does and working with good and smart people to further the mission of the company. For me employee experience is what makes the difference between seeing your job as a job or your job as a vocation.
What do you see as the top 3 factors in the creation of a strong and positive employee experience? How do these play out in F5's culture?
Meaning and purpose, belonging, and a strong company culture are to me the top three factors in creating a strong and positive employee experience. And the F5 culture is all about being Human First.
We all want to do meaningful work and contribute to a greater good. As a tech company our meaning and purpose comes from helping our customers and communities by building products which enable lives and solve business issues, like helping healthcare corporations respond quickly to their customers during the current coronavirus pandemic, or helping researchers who are working on the vaccine for COVID-19.
As an employee, working for a company that has a strong purpose gives me a great sense of pride and I would want to be affiliated with, or in other words, belong to such a company.
The F5 culture is also driven by our BeF5 behaviours and LeadF5 principles. With values like We are Owners, We Stand for Diversity and Inclusion and We Help Each Other Thrive, employees are guided to do the right thing for each other, our customers, our shareholders, our community and the world. As Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Our values are not just words on a piece of paper but lived and practiced from our CEO downwards. It permeates into our policies and projects and means we strive to help each other be successful. Employees identify with the values and are encouraged to model that behaviour. Being part of a winning formula gives employees a sense of belonging. A strong culture and positive employee experience are therefore a virtuous cycle that enables a company’s success.
Ultimately however, belonging comes when employees know that, above the company’s revenue, they matter as an individual.
Being Human First is about recognizing that you and I are the same. We all have needs and challenges. When the coronavirus pandemic happened, our CEO told every employee that he “has our back” and that we are not to put ourselves at risk on behalf of F5 and to settle our families first. That is Human First.
Could you share a little more about F5's culture?
One of our other values is " We Create Clarity and Alignment". It ensures that we continually help our employees stay connected to the broader organizational purpose. To this end, a regular feature of our communication circuit, is something called Strategy Insights which takes specific parts of our strategy and does the next click down so employees get line of sight to how they can contribute.
What are some common pain points you’ve observed over the years? How do you and your HR team work with other departments to address these?
When an organization’s values are not well defined, managers and employees have difficulty differentiating between conflicting priorities. This can lead to them adopting questionable approaches and behaviours resulting in a downward spiral of a company’s culture and thus, employees’ experience. Eventually, this will impact an organization’s business performance. Infusing HR programs with F5’s strategic values has also helped to reinforce the values that are important to us and build our culture. I strongly believe that we have cracked this code at F5 through our Human First approach, BeF5 values, and LeadF5 programs, to name a few.
Another common fault is not communicating or under-communicating company strategy and values. This is where Human Resources teams help other lines of business think through and get clear on the company’s values and strategic direction. A key example is the weekly communication to global employees on the coronavirus pandemic providing guidance, benefits and clarity on the company’s fight against the virus.
During this particularly challenging period, what are some additional initiatives you’ve brought out to help people feel safe and comfortable in the workplace?
At F5, we always prioritize the safety and wellbeing of our employees before all else. Our CEO has made that explicit and our CHRO has reinforced that message in every communication especially around COVID-19. We had fortunately, launched our “Freedom to Flex” program last year in a bid to make it easy for our employees transitioning to working from home. As such, a large proportion of our workforce was already equipped to work from home even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, making this process a much more frictionless one.
Communication during this time is even more pivotal to provide our F5 community with a sense of security. As such, we have also bolstered our internal and external communication postures to provide our employees, partners, and customers with a center of gravity for resources, information sharing, and collaboration as we navigate through these tough times. This allows us to share pertinent updates so that employees are kept abreast of ongoing developments, and we can provide support where needed to assuage any anxiety as we go through this pandemic together.
We have also implemented a program to give teams visibility of what their peers are doing, one of which is our APAC Learning Week. For example, solutions architects were able to learn about the communications and media landscape in the region, while marketing team could wrap their heads around complex technology concepts like security automation in the multi-cloud environment. Remote working has bestowed on us greater flexibility as well as opportunity to use creative ways to better understand each other, as well as our functions, and keep our community engaged in these volatile times.