“In our mission to be the leading digitization partner for sustainability and efficiency, we became the catalyst for climate action for our customers & stakeholders,” says Manuel Sanchez, Europe HR Senior Vice President at Schneider Electric, in an exclusive interview for Business Review. An ardent promoter of organizational transformation, Manuel Sanchez also talked about Schneider Electric’s adaptation to the #futureofwork.
Business Review: The past two years have been extremely challenging for people and organizations alike, with all the restrictions and behavioral changes imposed by the pandemic. How did Schneider Electric adapt to all these changes, from a human perspective?
Manuel Sanchez: We are a people company. People are always at the core of any decision we made. During the pandemic, the first priority was the health and safety of our employees and families, to support our customers and the critical infrastructures in the countries where we operate.
The past two years have changed the game for all the companies in the world. In our case, we launched a survey for all employees in 2020 to listen to them, to understand their feelings, their concerns. As a result, we redefined our ways of working, we put much more focus on mental wellbeing. We adapted some elements of our leadership model, asking leaders to take even more care of their teams, to be closer to them and to show humanity.
I am proud to say that thanks to those measures, our people engagement increased in the last two years to a record in high and has shown us the trust our people have in our Company.
BR: What HR programs were initiated as a result of the pandemic, which of your older programs or initiatives were moved forward on the agenda by these circumstances?
MS: We have launched several initiatives, but I would highlight the launching of our Open Talent Market in 2020. This platform empowers our people to take full ownership of their careers. All open positions are announced transparently for them to apply, they can also find mentors and thousands of part-time projects to learn new skills and experiences. The employees have the power to decide their future.
Open Talent Market represented a big step for us, a way to connect our internal demand and supply of jobs, a differentiator versus most other companies. It’s a game-changer for our employees, who can decide for themselves how to grow and progress.
BR: Schneider Electric is an energy management and industrial automation company – as such, how did automation and digitization help you in managing your business and servicing your clients?
MS: In short: it transformed the way we do business. We are humbled to be at the epicenter of the biggest Energy Transition and Digital Disruption of our generation. It enabled us to shift from an electrical hardware manufacturer to a digital, software-led technology company.
In our mission to be the leading digitization partner for sustainability and efficiency, we became the catalyst for climate action for our customers & stakeholders, while preserving the biodiversity and viability of the planet for future generations.
In the future, the world will be more electric. We have several examples to confirm it, from the electric vehicle to data centers handling huge amounts of data, or to providing access to energy to almost one billion people not having that today.
BR: There have been many changes in the way people worked and started to perceive organizations, employment, and career development lately – which of these changes are here to stay and which would fade away, as the situation will get back to normal?
MS: Flexibility is the name of the game to manage people, both today and in the future, it is what the employees expect to have. Hybrid working, with a more balanced approach between working from the office and home, will continue. Our employees lead their own unique lives, and our leaders must lead with both ‘high touch’ and ‘high tech’ and build human connections in a digital world.
The pandemic has also shown how important the capacity to learn fast and to adapt to new and different circumstances is. A permanent upskilling and reskilling of employees, specifically in digital is critical, artificial intelligence and machine learning will definitively change the world.
BR: There is a lot of discussion about the way the past two years affected our perception of mental health and mental wellbeing. How did you address this aspect at Schneider Electric?
MS: The pandemic showed us how vulnerable we are. There is no Superman or Superwoman and everyone experienced very difficult moments. So, unfortunately, its outcomes have caused stress and fatigue in every team.
Mental Wellbeing has been a taboo in most societies for decades. We understood the relevance of the topic some years ago and we decided to take it very seriously. For example; in 2015 we launched numerous initiatives to foster health habits: relevance of sleep, healthy food, doing physical exercise, etc.
At the beginning of the pandemic, after just a few months, we took our first measure: to increase the awareness of our managers on mental wellbeing through different trainings, they had to be alert and equipped to identify signals of those mental diseases in their teams. We also put in place a first aid psychological program to assist our employees when they needed it; a kind of professional hot-line to assist them on those matters, and the last initiative was to promote the physical exercise that is an enabler of mental wellbeing, so we gave our employees access to apps to improve & encourage their fitness.
BR: Were there any cultural differences becoming more evident over the past couple of years, as people responded to this major change in their lives. From a European perspective, did you see any such differences? How did Romanians respond compared to others?
MS: All countries in Europe applied different strategies. Governments, institutions, and companies have learned by doing over the last two years. Generally, we have seen that the countries with the highest impact in the first year have been stricter later on, both in the safety measures and on vaccination.
On top of this, Romania initiated an award-winning program called Employee Assistance Program to manage the mental wellbeing of our colleagues, it provides access to qualified therapists for people who need help making sense of the new living and working conditions during the pandemic.
BR: Your company is recognized internationally as a champion for sustainability and diversity. How does this help in the day to day HR management (recruitment and retention)? Do you see such aspects matter more to the younger generations or not?
MS: We put sustainability at the core of our business for more than 20 years now. It’s part of our DNA. We were humbled to be named the World’s Most Sustainable Company in 2021 by the prestigious Corporate Knights 100, and we will continue to be an impact company that integrates sustainability everywhere in its operating model and culture.No doubt, having a meaningful purpose makes us very attractive for candidates, younger generations and also senior people. We need to remember that sustainable business calls also for a more equitable workforce, as we want to provide equal opportunities to all our employees no matter their gender / generations / nationality / ethnicity, LGBT+, and people with disabilities etc.
As an example, 99.6% of our employees are working in a country with commitments and processes in place to achieve gender pay equality – Romania is one of those countries. More than 40% of our board and management committee are women. And we don’t want to stop there: by 2025, we are committed to ensuring that 50% of jobs at entry-level, 40% of management jobs, and 30% of our upper management jobs are taken by women.
BR: What are people looking for when they are starting a career at Schneider Electric? What is Schneider Electric looking for in an ideal candidate?
MS: Purpose-led companies are more and more interesting for all kind of candidates. That said, we are a people-oriented company, where people are empowered to work and to develop their careers in an inclusive environment. The combination of contributing to a more decarbonized world while growing professionally in a diverse ambiance, are the elements that candidates take into consideration when choosing us.
Schneider Electric is both a sustainability practitioner and a sustainability solution provider. We are the people behind the scenes, enabling our customers and end-users like yourself to consume energy more efficiently. Our goal is to help customers save 800 million tons in CO2 emissions and provide access to green electricity to 50 million people by 2025.
We are interested in candidates with passion to build a better world through sustainability and technology, who like to work in a company full of diversity, who are eager to innovate and try new solutions for our customer,s and finally, to be eager to learn every day.
We believe in the power of a multigenerational workforce, bringing their values and expertise in intergenerational collaboration, capitalizing on the advantages of early and senior talents. One of our sustainability commitments is to provide more opportunities for people both early in their careers and senior talents. We want to double the size of our early career programs, internships, apprenticeships, etc. On the other hand, we want to have a systematic career review for our seniors 10 years before retirement, to keep developing them in the last steps of their careers.
BR: How do you see the increasingly permeating interaction between people and technology? Are people able to keep up with the technological advancements? How do you assist them?
MS: We are a technology company and digitization of energy management and industrial automation is our strategy, so a high proportion of our employees are digitally savvy.
The speed of change in the technology side is very fast, and this requires a permanent exercise of reskilling the teams. For that reason, we deploy both specific trainings in some specific domains as artificial intelligence and machine learning and also generic trainings to foster a higher utilization of digital tools and systems.
In the future, companies will look for people with a high level of curiosity and high agility to learn new things.
BR: Looking forward to the future of jobs, what do you think would be the key requirements towards building a strong organizational culture?
MS: The pandemic has changed the previous work paradigm. We are moving from an employer-driven market to an employee-driven market. The opinions of the employees have to be taken into consideration to build that culture that probably will have two main attributes: Trust and Flexibility.
Trust, because people want to work for a company with leaders and managers who respect them, who take care of their development and their mental wellbeing, in the easy and in the difficult moments. Therefore, we have redefined our leadership expectations to strengthen the capability of our managers.
Flexibility, because people want to have a better work-life balance, they want to decide how and where they want to work from. In our case, both have defined our new ways of working policy and multi-hub strategy to fit with the local needs.