How this ‘people person’ rises past challenges

Otis Elevator’s CHRO shares the company’s lessons learned from today’s unprecedented times.
By: | October 7, 2020 • 5 min read

Throughout the pandemic, Otis Elevators has truly embraced its status as a global organization, says Laurie Havanec, executive vice president and chief people officer at the consumer services company that produces elevators, escalators and moving walkways, employing 69,000 people worldwide.

Its team in China mobilized installation experts to assist with an emergency expansion of the Shanghai Public Health Center, completed in just six days. The French team similarly helped expand the ICU in a Paris hospital. Colleagues around the world assembled care packages with personal protective equipment and food for at-risk populations, made face shields and offered donations to relief funds.

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“I know that this sense of common purpose and strong community ties will outlast the present crisis,” Havanec says.

It’s a culture that Havanec was already familiar with before she took on the CHRO post in October 2019. For the two previous years, she was an HR leader at United Technologies Corp., Otis’ former corporate parent.

“I was excited to join the Otis team at a critical time in the company’s history,” she says. “We were focused on separating from UTC and returning to our roots as an independent, publicly traded company. Of course, we didn’t know at the time that we would be completing the spin during a pandemic. It was the most dynamic environment of my career.”

HRE: You started at Otis shortly before the pandemic began. How challenging was it to have to shift priorities so quickly?

Havanec: Yes, it was an unexpected challenge—one that we met head on and successfully navigated thanks to the collaboration, adaptability and resilience of the entire global Otis team.

As a global business, we felt the impact of the pandemic first in China and then other parts of Asia. By leveraging what we learned from our local teams there, we were able to adapt faster in Europe and then in North and South America. Our priority was—and is today—the health and safety of our colleagues, customers and the riding public. Where possible, we moved to remote work. Our factory and field teams continued to work safely, with the right personal protective equipment (PPE). And, our field service professionals, many of whom were deemed essential workers, were committed to keeping hospitals, residential buildings, transit and other critical infrastructure up and running for those who needed it most.

HRE: How important has employee communication been to the HR team throughout the pandemic?  

Havanec: Consistent communication has been the foundation of our response plan. When you think about the global nature of our workforce, and that 40,000 of our 69,000 employees work in the field, it adds complexity to how, when and to whom we communicate. We work closely with our partners in the Communications and Digital Technology organizations to make sure we get out the right messages through the best channels to reach our colleagues. Knowing that conditions and recovery status vary throughout the world, it’s also important to strike the right balance of global, regional and local messaging. This necessitates a strong partnership with local leaders who have real-time awareness of specific policies and sensitivities in their regions and communities and can adapt accordingly.

See also: Why communication, flexibility will be key in the ‘new’ workplace

Also, as part of our digital transformation over the past few years, we have provided smartphones to most of our field professionals. These digital tools help us better serve customers and support communications to our field colleagues, who don’t necessarily log into a computer every day.

HRE: How has the company leveraged its ERGs to encourage conversation and action around racial and other injustices?

Havanec: We have approximately 50 (employee-led) employee resource group chapters globally. Our ERGs play a vital role in educating, supporting and advancing our diversity, equity and inclusion goals. They have helped to shine a light on our progress as well as areas for improvement and focus. In many cases, they encourage conversation among themselves—acting as support systems for one another—a well as promote meaningful dialogue with all colleagues across the organization.

For example, I had the privilege of attending a recent virtual event called Breaking Bread and Breaking Barriers hosted by our ERGs. Traditionally, this is an in-person event that involves food and conversation. This year, Momentum, our ERG that supports Black and African American communities at Otis, partnered with many other ERGs to lead powerful conversations about inclusion, allyship, unconscious bias and empathy. This year, participants spanned generations, ethnicities and gender, with 99% of them saying they would recommend the program to a colleague.

Oftentimes, members of our ERGs are our most respected company spokespeople and advocates helping to build and advance community engagement and partnerships through volunteering and giving as well as recruiting, developing and retaining diverse talent.

HRE: What steps is the company taking to achieve its goal of gender parity in the next decade?

Havanec: Otis has been successfully working towards this goal for several years. I’m proud of the progress we have achieved so far, with more than one-third women executives globally and more than 40% in the United States. Our goal is to achieve gender parity—50% women—in our global senior leadership by 2030. We were part of the Paradigm for Parity (P4P) coalition through our former corporate parent and have now made the pledge as an independent company. We are the first in our industry to make this commitment.

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By joining P4P as an independent Otis, we’re reaffirming our commitment to gender parity. Specifically, we are aligning ourselves to the coalition’s five-point plan, which aims to increase the number of women of all races, cultures and backgrounds in leadership positions. We do this by minimizing unconscious bias, increasing the number of women in senior roles, maintaining accountability through regular progress reports, basing career progress on business results and performance, and providing sponsors—not just mentors—to women who are well-positioned for long-term success.

I’m excited to see us taking these important steps. Paradigm for Parity and developing and implementing our [social justice strategy] Commitment to Change—this work is what motivates me to keep pushing every day.

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 hreletters@lrp.com.