As the CHRO at Ford Motor Company, Kiersten Robinson talks about how she manages to drive employee engagement and bringing about a unified sense of work culture at her prestigious organization.

Tell us about the story of Ford’s culture transformation using human-center design approach.

This is something that’s really important to me. I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can continually evolve our culture transformation and cultivate an environment that empowers each of us to learn, grow and thrive.

Human-center design is one core principal that has guided our work –truly putting the employee experience in the center of how we shape our culture for the future.

To accomplish this, we needed to start by understanding what is important to our employees, what is working well and what needs to change. Through Culture Hackathons, teams in every region have invited employees to share what they love about working at Ford but also what they want to hack. We’ve also formed our Culture Cabinetand Street Team to ensure we’re continually inviting employees to play active roles in shaping our culture at all stages of our transformation.

• Culture Cabinet: Employee representatives from 14 different countries and all levels of seniority, leadership and diversity who provide real-time feedback on how to create new experiences that support our transformation goals.

• Street Team:This group is our arms and legs of this culture movement. Globally, 7,000+ employees have joined this group to act as change agents within their organizations. They share material about our new values and behaviors, pilot new experiences we’re considering for our employee base, and provide sentiment from their region in terms of how we’re doing.

We need approach every aspect of our work starting at the employee experience and then work backwards to a solution– understanding that what we create will contribute to how our employees feel and their level of engagement

How were you able to amplify Ford’s purpose of driving human progress through freedom of movement?

We’ve had a clear purpose since Henry Ford founded the company 117years ago. We’ve built a legacy of innovation and serving others, which is at the core of who we are today. Every step we take comes from understanding this and it empowers our employees to be in the forefront and deliver positive change. This empowerment is evident whether our employees are helping people access ways to experience the world, generating economic value in communities or tackling environmental issues, such as lowering vehicle emission by 30% --a target we hit eight years early. In 2017, $63 million of charitable donations were made through Ford Motor Company Fund and more than 237,000 volunteering hours were donated by current and retired employees across more than 1,700 community projects in 40 countries. 

As Chief Human Resource Officer at Ford, please elaborate on your focus on transforming the culture and employee experience to support your aspiration to become the world’s most trusted company, designing “smart vehicles for a smart world.”

To become the world’s most trusted company we know we must remain committed to acting with integrity and doing what we say we’ll do.To align and guide our teams at Ford, we’ve defined what trust looks like to us and are focusing on three pillars to achieve it – integrity, building capabilities and serving others.

As Chief Human Resource Officer at Ford, I see my role as helping make sure that every single member of our nearly 200,000 Ford family leaves work each day feeling like they’ve accomplished something; like they’ve had a positive, meaningful impact delivering value that’s helping deliver on our timeless purpose: driving human progress through the freedom of movement.

How has the world of HR policies changed? Can you give us some examples on the basis of the work that has been done at your organization?

We’re committed to creating employee experiences that are centered on the employee, ensuring that we have designed all our products and services with the employee in mind. This includes policies because these are more than just words on a page, they play a key role in creating experiences and key moments that matter to our employees.

By looking at the employee experience through their lens, we found that, often, very well-intentioned policies didn’t always work as we intended. Our parental leave policy in the U.S. is just one example. We recently rolled out a new program which allows new mothers and fathers to take an additional eight weeks paid leave and ramp up by returning part-time for the first four weeks with fulltime pay – which was awesome. But a colleague told me that when she should have been spending time with her new baby, she was trying to find a fax machine to send documents to Medical. And when she came back to work, and her badge had been disabled, she had to figure out how to reactivate it. That’s no way to welcome back a new parent. So, we’ve changed the parental leave experience as well as the policy. Simplified it, digitized it and created a new one-stop service that you can call for easy help. And we’re not stopping there, now a cross-functional agile team focused on the end-to-end experience to better understand pain points and identify opportunities. The team has prioritized four work streams for immediate action, including new mother’s rooms.

What would be your piece of advice of the fellow CHROs? What can they do to create a better work environment at their organization?

As CHROs, we’re all responsible for people processes and ensuring the development and execution of business strategies. For me, the key here ispeople.We need to approach every aspect of our work starting at the employee experience and then work backwards to a solution–understanding that what we create will contribute to how our employees feel and their level of engagement.

Today, with the tremendous amount of change happening, I also believe it is critically important that we lead with empathy. Understanding that for some the pace of change is exciting and invigorating but for others it its uncomfortable and can feel daunting. Neither response is right or wrong – they’re just different. We can help both by empathizing and seeking to meet employees where they are by fostering safe, inclusive environments that create a sense of belonging, provide freedom to be their whole selves, and enable them to do our best work and leave work every day feeling like they’ve had an impact.