2020 NAHR fellows

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Stephen Fry, Senior vice president of human resources and diversity at Eli Lilly

HRE: What is your outlook on remote work? Do you think it will survive on a widespread basis after the pandemic?

Steve Fry

Fry: Lilly has offered limited flexibility to employees for years, including working remotely on an occasional basis. We did have employees who lived in locations other than where we had physical offices, but they were few in number. Many of our manufacturing employees worked in our facilities throughout the pandemic because their roles couldn’t be done remotely. For others, the pandemic did force a new level of flexibility and, without question, we learned productivity didn’t suffer and, in many cases, actually improved. I believe both for our company, and for many others, remote working will continue; we can’t unlearn what we have learned during the pandemic. Our vision at Lilly is not that we mandate remote working but offer employees greater flexibility regarding work location, which will provide access to talent we couldn’t reach before. Of course, this will require changes to how we prepare leaders to lead remote teams, how we leverage technology and much more. We also know there are some things best done in person, which will require employees to be together. Finding the right balance will be key to maximizing productivity and providing employee flexibility.

HRE: How has the pandemic reshaped technology’s role in the HR function?


Fry: The role of technology in HR has been changing rapidly for some time. Employee and supervisor self-service have been on the rise, driven by technology, and that trend will continue. The pandemic has certainly forced the adoption of new technology at a pace I have not previously experienced, not just within the HR function, but for employees across our company. We have found new ways to collaborate and share information within HR, with business partners and with employees globally. Things we couldn’t have imagined doing virtually before the pandemic are now commonplace. Additionally, on July 1, we went live with Workday globally and broadened the use of service centers regionally. At the beginning of the pandemic, many questioned our ability to implement this major change program globally, but it was successful!

HRE: Burnout and depression are rampant among American workers during the pandemic; what is HR’s responsibility in this regard? And how does it differ from the historical HR approach to mental health?

Fry: Employee wellbeing has always been important and something that all HR functions need to ensure. The pandemic has presented challenges for everyone, and each person’s situation is unique, meaning not one solution will work for all. At Lilly, we have long taken a broad view toward employee wellbeing, including a healthy workplace, physical wellness, social connectedness, financial literacy and behavioral health. Without question, concerns around behavioral and mental health have increased during the pandemic. In these times, HR needs to monitor employee data, without sacrificing confidentiality, as broadly as possible and take actions in response. At Lilly, leaders monitor employee engagement and wellbeing through our pulse survey to identify areas of concern and opportunities to engage to address stress and prevent burnout. During the pandemic, we have introduced new benefits to support employees caring for children and elders to help balance responsibilities they carry at home and at work. We have also planned and held more frequent wellbeing events, such as our first global Week of Wellbeing, resilience skill-building during monthly Coffee & Conversations, webinar series on easing the stress of back to school, monthly campaigns (e.g. Self-Care September) and new wellbeing training through our leadership development curriculum. We have seen greater employee participation globally.  We anticipate this will continue going forward.

HRE: What should HR leaders be doing to advance the conversation around diversity and inclusion?

Fry: First, HR should do more than have a conversation around diversity and inclusion. Racial injustice demands that we take specific and measurable actions. Of course, the first step is listening to employees and understanding their experiences inside our companies. But we can’t stop there. HR needs to drive a diversity and inclusion agenda with measurable outcomes. We have a saying at Lilly: If we aren’t measuring, we are just practicing. … Diversity and inclusion is no different. Our D&I strategy at Lilly includes pillars such as people, workplace, marketplace, community and suppliers. While we have made great progress the past several years, we know we have more to do. Our ultimate goal is to create a culture and experience where each and every colleague, no matter their background, can bring their whole self to work each and every day, contribute their fullest toward our purpose and have an equal chance to achieve their career aspirations.


HRE: The role of HR has changed dramatically in 2020. What are the most important skill sets HR leaders of tomorrow will need to fulfill those roles?

Fry: If I were to choose one word it would be resiliency! Normal circumstances require us to act with speed and agility, but the challenges of 2020 brought these to the fore. Characteristics of HR leaders have always included things such as strong character, courage, truth tellers, being influential and possessing maturity beyond one’s years. HR leaders have also been required to understand both the business they are supporting and HR practice, and to be agents of change. These things will remain going forward. In addition, I believe the HR leader of the future must be a technologist, be fluid with data and analytics, and must possess the acuity to simultaneously drive both an internal and external agenda—specifically related to diversity and inclusion.

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