HP Inc. should likely go down in history as the largest startup ever created when it spun out of the combined Hewlett-Packard company in 2015. It was set up to fail with both declining businesses and most of the debt. But that didn’t slow the executive team down; on the contrary, circumstances seemed to light a fire under them, and they tossed out the dated policies and practices that had put the company at risk. From what was nearly a clean slate, they rebuilt the company around relatively recent best practices.
That resulted in a comparatively agile company that had a deep respect for its employees and could out-innovate its peers. This result was mostly thanks to the work of its then CEO Dion Weisler, its new CEO Enrique Lores (pictured) and its legendary head of HR, Tracy Keogh. I say legendary because Tracy has had 35 of her employees go off to lead their HR organizations in other companies, supporting the argument that she is the best of the best.
I have a degree in Manpower Management, and I have yet to meet her equal in any other company. (She is a living showcase of the power you can get if you properly staff and support HR and don’t just use the function for compliance and layoffs.)
This employee focus gave HP a significant advantage when it came to the COVID-19 outbreak because it allowed the firm to learn from its Chinese division on best practices, both for responding to the pandemic and recovering from it. It provided a level of agility that other firms could only dream about.
HP Inc. was impressively prepared. It had an epidemiologist on staff as well as medical clinics that were versed in the science surrounding the outbreak. It also had divisions in China, which allowed the company to get an early warning about what was going on in-country and, as a result, it was one of the first companies to shift and have its employees work from home.
This ability to use in-house medical experts assured that the executives weren’t relying on unreliable news or government positions but were working from the facts coming from qualified medical people on the ground. As a result, HP Inc. was better prepared to act when the action was necessary.
Employees were in the loop with regular virtual conference events with medical experts and near-constant rotating communications from Tracy and Enrique. Employees need to feel they are part of any solution that involves them, and HP made sure that they were continually looped in and that these employees had the ear of management as well as their support.
So often, it seems like a firm’s first response is to make a forced staff reduction to contain costs, but that puts the employees at risk, puts the eventual recovery at risk, and creates long-lasting distrust between the rank and file employees and management. HP didn’t do that, even with contractors and internships. Internships are a firm’s seed corn for new employees, and if you kill that program, staffing up becomes more difficult. HP found ways to move contract employees around; for instance, those servicing retail stores now closed were moved to areas like customer care and the intern program was virtualized.
HP also realized that the managers would become a critical resource to the employees during this shift, and toolsets and a new employee review framework were set up to assist those managers. Assistance was provided to help managers provide the structure that some employees needed and so that they’d know not to annoy self-motivated employees with unneeded monitoring.
Even with manufacturing employees, HP stepped up. These employees were volunteers, and the now at-risk employees get hotel rooms to stay in, so they don’t risk getting their families infected. These employees also were given masks and other personal protection equipment to ensure they were protected on the job. This is in sharp contrast to the stories we’ve heard from different industries, including health care, where employees are often forced to work with inadequate protection.
Recognizing that employees needed help at home and that education systems were slow to ramp to the problem, HP set up a homework club to help parents with STEM training for their kids. It also set up things like cooking classes (many young employees never learned to cook) and worked with DreamWorks to implement Family Fridays (movie night) that employees could enjoy together. The company is even setting up virtual summer camps to keep kids entertained during the summer.
Much of this fell out of HP’s fully supported and well-staffed Business Continuity group, which meets three times a week. These meetings are to assure that best practices are captured and shared worldwide, and that everything is being done to protect the firm, its customers and especially its employees.
HP now plans to allow employees to remain working remotely, and it has pivoted to the policy where many new out of area hires can stay where they are and won’t now need to relocate. This policy effectively increases HP’s potential pool of qualified employees while allowing those employees to reside in the area that makes the most sense for them and their families.
Wrapping Up: Excellence Squared
In the end, Enrique and Tracy are a showcase of how management should behave. They have set up a stable trust relationship with their employees through their actions, and those employees, surrounded by fake news, can trust what they hear from their well-informed executives. This focus on intelligence is what allowed HP to pivot sharply during the pandemic, protect its employees better than most and assure that the HP Way culture that was re-created in HP Inc. not only survives but flourishes both during and after this pandemic event.
I don’t often see this level of excellence, and it resulted from having the best HR executive in the world and CEOs who fully supported her efforts. I’ve often argued you need your best talent in HR roles, and HP Inc. has become my best example of the benefits that are achievable if you get the best in HR and fully support the related efforts. In my view, HP sets the bar when it comes to HR execution in general, but especially during this COVID-19 event.
Other firms would do well to learn from them.
Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.