HR@Home Ep4: Marilyn Chaplin, CHRO at NTT

Today, we’re talking to Marilyn Chaplin. Marilyn leads and develops strategy that enables execution of NTT’s global operating vision, and the realisation of its long-term business objectives. Marilyn was previously Dimension Data Group Executive for People & Culture. She has over 30 years’ experience in both the corporate and academic world.

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

Due to COVID-19, many companies are cutting back on non-essential spending such as learning budgets and training. How has your business responded, and what advice would you give others?

Marilyn: The most important thing I can do as an HR exec is respond. As a team, we’ve collectively decided how we should respond as effectively as possible with deepening empathy for our people. We are all feeling personally and professionally vulnerable at the moment - that must inform what you do and how you do it.

However, having said that, one must respond and one must be cautious in terms of discretionary spend, because there’s no doubt that this will affect your order books, your turnover, we can’t get to our clients and things like that. So we would not be naive to think it’s going to be business as usual from a revenue-generating perspective.

If we think smart, and this is what we’re doing at NTT, let’s see this as a time where we can - to use the example of learning and training - to actually come out of this in a better place. Where we are making a real effort is in this area of learning and fortunately we are a technology company. So I think that that does give us some level of advantage.

And I suppose, because we’re in tech, there’s this constant requirement to upscale and rescale because our industry grows so fast. What we are doing is saying to our people, you may not be in front of the clients as much as you want to be, you’re not traveling in and out of work every day, you have a little bit more time - so take that time.

This is the bounded optimism I want in our people - that we come out of this as a group of 52,000 odd people in a better place, because we upskilled ourselves.

We are driving that in multiple ways. I think it’s important that it isn’t just distance learning. Just don’t go and tell everybody ‘Degreed’, which is our learning platform, is there so take advantage of it. Of course you can do that. But what we actually encourage from the top down is for our CEO and our executive leaders to actually give clarity to people and say, “look, while we’re in this time, this is what I expect of you. It’s the balance. Sure, you’ve got to be at home but use your time to learn and set some objectives.”

In addition to learning paths and things like that, we’re getting our people to become the teachers. They are volunteering their time and we have some streams around ‘clients’. What we saw was a fantastic opportunity for us to upskill our whole sales community on our value propositions, on how to sell, improving your account planning, things like that. So there’s benefit to our clients there, which for me is also fantastic.

We also think that physical wellbeing in times of stress is very important. So we are running a few training classes as well, using our people to lead certified yoga classes and stretching classes for 52,000 people - amazing! Our NTT cycling team are they doing two classes, twice a week on Swift. We have about 700 people sign to the cycling. Now we’re doing some classes for our children who are all at home around some STEM and code. For us, family is part of this and we’re trying to look at learning from all aspects.

I think this is going to be a huge positive - and there’s not a lot of positive at the moment. But if we can come out of this as a company with people that are more connected, more educated and who feel they’ve been invested in, we will be able to thrive, and, and help our clients when we get back to it.

I don’t know what normal will ever be again, but when we come out of this, I want to be in a better place for our people

It sounds like you’re tapping into those who already work within the business as opposed to spending with external facilitators?

M: We’re not spending one cent externally. We do have our own online university and of course there is so much free content - it’s unbelievable what you can get out there - but we do have paid for content on there as well, which we would have had that anyway.

But in terms of peer to peer, I think learning is an opportunity to remain connected, to build more networks and to up-skill. I think you have to see training as more than just training. It is about also getting our leaders involved, in becoming teachers and coaches. I always say, you know, you’ll never know a subject as well as when you teach it.

So we tell our executives: you’ve got to be the role models here. You’re getting up in front of people and you’re going to train them about account planning. I’m not going to go and hire a specialist out there to do the module in account planning, I’m going to use my head of global accounts and say “you’re the role model”.

Technology has played a key part in business continuity during the COVID-19 crisis. How has your company adapted to this? Are there any new or different technologies that you’re using?

M: We are using our technology in a couple of ways and the first thing we wanted was to get our people home safe. I guess in some ways we’re lucky that we are a global company. We saw it coming from Asia and we responded quite quickly to get our people home and then very quickly use our technology to have a microsite, because we think people need one central point where they can go and find out actual information about what they should do as every country and every region is different.

Having a central site where you can do that, I think, is really important. And we definitely were very clear on tools that [employees] would have available to work remotely. And we weren’t specific, “you all have to use Skype,” - no. Use Skype if it works for you or Microsoft teams or WebEx or whatever it is; this is the suite of tools that you have. Please use them - and switch your video cameras on where you can!

With so many people working at home, how can companies ensure that they maintain the culture and that employees connected?

M: Your culture has to inform how you respond and I’d like to think ours is a culture where our people came first. But culture comes from the top and this has got to start with your CEO and your executive team behaving and leading in a way that, as I say, has this level of deepening empathy.

We understand people are at home, that they’re much more isolated, and not everyone has access to all the tools. At NTT, we have places in Africa and India where we’re having to improvise maybe different ways of doing things, but it starts with your leadership.

I think it starts with how quickly they respond and the thing that they focus on and how they behave. What we have guided our leadership on is to double down on connection and remaining connected in fun ways. That doesn’t mean at eight o’clock in the morning you will have a stand-up meeting because to check in, it means connecting in a way that encourages the team, so you have a bit of fun as well.

We have some coffee mornings; we have drinks where you bring a non-alcoholic or alcoholic drink on a Friday afternoon. We’re trying to keep that collaboration going, but it very much starts at the top with a deepening empathy.