HR@Home Ep3: Mark Cooper, CHRO at Aveva Group

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Today, we’re talking to Mark Cooper, CHRO at Aveva Group. Mark has over 25 years HR experience in Multinational Technology Companies. He joined Aveva following the merger with the Schneider Electric Software Business in March 2018. In his earlier career, Mark held various HR positions in companies such as IGT, HP, Microsoft and IBM. Mark is now responsible for all aspects of the HR and corporate communications function in Aveva.

You can watch the episode below, or read the full interview underneath.

How have you and Aveva adapted to the COVID-19 challenge?

Mark: Boy, what a challenge I think we’re all having with it! Our first response was to mobilise our global business continuity management team and we really started this once we realised it was going beyond China, South Korea and Japan.

Aveva is a global business across 46 countries and so we were very quickly learning what was going on in China, what was going on in South Korea, and then realised it was going to go very quickly across the rest of the world, though maybe not as quickly as has happened.

We’ve mobilised our global leaders into a team that has representatives from across the business to enable us to make quick decisions. What we’ve also done is have an executive leadership team meeting every single day to make sure that we continue to manage the business and continue to understand the issues that are going on around the world.

I think the most important thing we did was, very early on, we set a clear communication framework globally for our CEO, for myself and the executive leaders around how we wanted the business to be managed and led. But we’ve really driven that decision making down into the countries because there’s so many different decisions being made at a country level, at a governmental level, at a regional level. We need managers to make local decisions and we’ve seen some great leadership come about as a response to the COVID-19 challenge.

What we’ve also tried to do is just at all times, make sure we’re protecting our employees. We’re keeping them engaged, and we’re also protecting and managing the business. So what we’ve done is tried to be one step ahead. We stopped international travel pretty early on. This is now our third week globally, working from home.

We set that tone with a call to all managers for them to go and implement working from home very early on. For me, I think it’s about making sure that we come together as an organisation, we look after our employees. But at the same time, we allow local management to operate within a global framework.

What piece of advice would you share with fellow HR professionals about how to keep employees productive at this time?

M: I think one of the biggest challenges we have is to make decisions as a function, when we don’t really know how long the implications of those decisions are going to last, and how many countries are going to be impacted by them. So that’s been a challenge for all of us within HR and actually across the business.

What I would say is remember: whatever employees are going through your HR team is going through. For us some of the best practice has been to do the right thing for the employees, do the right thing for your team, and communicate, communicate, communicate!

I’m very fortunate that I have the corporate communications team reporting into the HR function, so we work very, very closely together. We’ve done a huge amount of work communicating globally in a very succinct but human manner across the organisation.

We set up a Coronavirus hub weeks ago, so that we could put on there best practices, what was coming out for the World Health Organisation, myth busting, etc. So there was one point everyone could go to, to understand what Coronavirus was and how it was impacting our organisation.

What we’ve done increasingly is use our intranet as very much more of a social engagement platform. So within the first week of everyone working from home, we had WFH selfies, and encouraged everyone to take part. That broke down a lot of barriers, people took pictures of them working with their pets, with their children with their partners. We’ve made it very human.

Did you find that everybody across the business engaged with initiatives such as selfies? Or was that more this younger demographic in the company?

M: No, all across the business, we asked the leadership team to [engage early on] to show that it was all right. Because we were a bit nervous, would people find it a bit strange? And you know, could you put a bit of humour in what was pretty dark time for people? But actually, I think it’s really helped. We had pictures of pets in different angles - It’s been really funny. That was great.

We’ve now moved on this week to community; so community within the company and what we’re doing about best practice. We’re having coffee sessions going on, we’ve had some people talk about their challenges and we’ve had other employees go on with a “guess my job”, working with other people’s children, which has helped people understand more about the company.

We have quite a strong Corporate Social Responsibility ethic within Aveva called “action for good”, and we are really pushing that at this point in time as well. So community is very important.

So, there’s a lot of free learning, a lot of good understanding around wellbeing and how people need to manage themselves, how they need to look after themselves.

Our editorial calendar next week moves on to wellbeing and that’s all being driven through our hub, management education and regular calls. I have a call every other week with my global HR team with no fixed agenda. Let’s just talk, let’s learn about the best practice that’s going on in our regions, and let’s try and answer any questions that people have. So they can go back into their regions to support the business.

Can you share any more insights about how you are addressing employee wellbeing?

M: Wellbeing is something that I think we’ve always thought of; it’s been in part of our ethos within Aveva for many, many years - and obviously, now looking at it is very different.

There are people who are in a place at the moment that they wouldn’t have dreamed they would have been three or four weeks ago. We’ve got to help people through that and so what we have tried to do as well, is try and use tools and technology.

So we’re using Zoom, Skype, MS teams and we’re encouraging people to put their cameras on. Actually, what that’s meant is people have seen where people work, they talk about it, they see what the picture is behind them, they see a football shirt hanging up and it starts a conversation.

As I say, we encourage the kids to come in. If your pet is there, it’s fine, show your pet. And actually, many people are saying they’re feeling closer to their [colleagues], because they’re learning more about them and understand their social environment, so that has helped break down barriers.

We are encouraging managers to make sure that they set up WhatsApp groups and keep in regular contact with their employees and have check-ins. There’s some groups that are saying at 11am on a Friday or something, let’s have a coffee session for half-an-hour, just chatting through what things are, business topics, etc. So we’re encouraging that type of remote, social coming together.

On a more formal side, a number of countries are offering training best practice. We’ve encouraged people to put up blogs if they’ve worked from home before, such as what is the best practice that you’ve learned? And how do you make sure that when you’re working from home, you give yourself space, you move away from your laptop, you move away from your desk, and you give yourself that break? So we are trying to push out that best practice through online learning, and learning from our colleagues.

Again, no one really knows how long it’s going to go on for but what we’ve tried to do is take some of our employees from China, who are starting to come out the other side of the pandemic, and some of our employees from Italy and asking them to join calls and share their experience with countries that are just going into lockdown.

So, this is how you cope. This is how you manage it. Just by sharing the best practice and bringing our community together, I think is helping people understand that they’re not on their own, they’re part of a bigger community in a bigger family.

What do you think the biggest challenges will be for businesses beyond COVID-19?

M: It’s difficult to think about it in many ways, with where we are in the majority of the world. I think some of the biggest challenges will be how do we reopen an office? How do we bring people back in?

There are going to be many people across the world who have been personally impacted, through family, through friends, through COVID-19. And we’re going to have to help bring them back in, to a more standard and structured way of working. I think the biggest challenge there will be what is the new normal? For many of us, it will be strange to go back into an environment that could be quite different - we really don’t know.

The other bit that we really need to remember is, there will be benefits that will come from this, there will be things that we have learned, some best practice, some challenges that we’ve had to go through, that actually make us rethink the way that we do business going forward.

I think some of it is, let’s make sure we’ve learned from our experiences, let’s take those best practices, and bring them back into the workplace, and see how we can be better going forward. In all of this, we’ve got to learn in many, many different ways. But let’s not go back into what we did, let’s come back into a new and better organisation, to be able to move that forward.