How a focus on HXM helped one company thrive through COVID

The Timken Co. is an Ohio-based global manufacturer that employs more than 17,000 people across 42 countries. At the start of last year, the nearly 125-year-old company was relatively traditional with expectations for in-person work.

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“We’re a very collaborative company; we like to work together,” Rob Arbogast, director of people systems and strategy at Timken said during a Tuesday session on talent strategy at Spring HR Tech. “We like to get into a conference room and sit down and solve problems, and that’s what we were doing at the beginning of 2020. Then boom.”

Like many employers, Timken immediately sent corporate employees home last March as the pandemic ramped up, but plant workers needed to continue to report in person. The quickly changing lockdowns–especially given that the company has locations around the world and across 25 brands–created many logistical challenges for HR and business leaders. But, it was the employees that HR wanted to make sure weren’t too challenged.

Arbogast said the company’s investment in human experience management software has paid off over the last year. Near the start of the crisis, Timken bought a Qualtrics survey tool, configured it and deployed it within three weeks.

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“People didn’t feel supported, and we thought we were doing a good job,” he said of the survey results. In particular, Arbogast said, the survey revealed that managers needed to do a better job engaging with their employees.

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Using the data as a foundation, Timken turned to SAP SuccessFactors, whom it has been a client of since 2013, to create a range of new programs around building “engaged leaders.” Managers were all given leader goals and the company launched a formal engaged leader guide that includes eight practices to enhance leadership.

Arbogast said the recommendations aren’t complex: Connect with your associates daily. Discuss clear metrics and goals on a weekly basis. Execute a communication plan. Make sure you’re having team meetings.

“It’s these type of simple, everyday basic management practices that we brought back up to people who said, ‘Wow, I forgot,’ ” Arbogast said. “It’s more important now than ever.”

Also key in the guide was that leaders needed to engage with employees about life outside of work–How is your family? How are you coping? What can we do to support you?

Arbogast said some managers have been uncomfortable raising those issues but they’re integral to building engaged leaders and employees.

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Carle Quinn, senior HR leader at SAP SuccessFactors, said that idea is a principle of HXM.

“People want to be part of an organization that values [them],” she said. “It’s not just about being seen as an individual, but as a holistic human being with emotions, psychological needs and a rich life outside of work. Those companies that have tended to thrive [during the pandemic] were those that leveraged some type of survey to really understand, ‘Are you OK? Do you need something? We’re here to support you.’ ”

One of the first things SAP’s CEO did, she added, was to be transparent about the company’s future, informing all employees that there would be no staffing reductions in 2020.

To help leaders continue to build those transparent relationships with their reports and enhance other leadership skills, Timken also launched micro-learnings, deployed through its LMS, followed by nudges to ensure they were following through.

It also intensified its upskilling and mentorship programs, with a particular focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We’re really engaging our people, the workforce, our managers like we’ve never done before,” Arbogast said. “And the end result is we have the opportunity to move our workforce to be more engaged, happier and more focused. That’s what it’s all about.”

Click HERE to listen to the full session.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].