I came into HR through an unconventional path
Olivier Blum, global chief human resources officer at Schneider Electric, has set the tone for an organization that centres on the belief that every employee should have the same opportunities for success no matter gender, nationality or location. HRD caught up with Blum to uncover what makes his people operations tick.
HRD: How did your career in HR begin?
OB: I came into HR through an unconventional path, having started my career as a marketing engineer. I’ve been fortunate to see the positive impact people can have on organizations, which is why being chiefly responsible for our people at Schneider Electric has been so rewarding for me.
My career at Schneider Electric began in 1993 as a sales engineer. Over the next two decades, I held various positions throughout the company in engineering, sales, strategy and marketing and in different countries, including France, China and India. In 2014, I took on my current role as chief human resources officer.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, Schneider Electric has undergone a massive transformation from a traditional components manufacturer to a global leader in energy management and automation, dedicated to creating a more sustainable future for everyone.
We put significant energy into this evolution as a business, but realized we needed to do more to ensure our people management practices evolved at the same rate. This was, and continues to be, my fundamental task.
HRD: What's a life lesson you learned along the way that's shaped you as an HR leader?
OB: I firmly believe that you don’t achieve anything in business without help from other people, and without good people.
Great leadership attracts great people, but becoming a great leader requires constant learning. You learn how to delegate, how to hire, how to work with and to motivate others --- but most importantly, you learn that while part of your job is managing business growth, people are central to your organization’s success. This is true for every leader – from the CEO, to the CHRO to the CIO.
At Schneider Electric, we believe that it’s our people that make us a great company. I hear this reinforced by our employees when I visit our locations around the world; they believe our company believes in them and supports their success. This trust in our people is one of the fundamental ways we motivate our employees to be and to do their best.
The roles I’ve held throughout this company over the past 25 years have reinforced my strong belief that Schneider Electric wouldn’t be where we are today – and I wouldn’t be where I am today – without the great people we work with.
HRD: Schneider Electric has won countless awards and accolades - which one are you most proud of and why?
OB: Over the last few years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to shifting how we understand diversity and inclusion and creating polices that support it. We have a mission to be the most diverse, inclusive and equitable company globally, and we’ve received a lot of recognition for the steps we’ve taken on our path toward that mission.
One of the accolades I’m most proud of came two years ago, when we were selected by the United Nations to be part of its HeforShe program. As a UN Women HeForShe Corporate IMPACT champion, we have pledged to make gender equality an institutional priority through bold commitments: to increase the representation of women across the pipeline; to reach 95 per cent of our global workforce with a world-wide pay equity process by the end of 2020; and to establish dedicated executive-level groups to drive towards gender parity across our organization.
Most importantly, being selected as a HeForShe Corporate IMPACT Champion is recognition of something much greater than the work we’ve been doing to date. It marks our commitment to continuing to promote diversity and inclusion in both internal and external channels. It reinforces our unwavering commitment to be a diverse, inclusive and equitable organization.
HRD: What sorts of initiatives are you currently working on?
OB: We are always committed to our central mission of being a diverse, inclusive and equitable company and our initiatives reflect this. A core Schneider Electric belief is that access to energy is a fundamental human right—this belief extends to our D&I philosophy as well. We seek to offer equal opportunities to everyone, everywhere, and we want our employees – no matter who they are or where in the world they live – to feel uniquely valued, and safe to contribute their best at work.
This philosophy has led to several initiatives. We recently launched a Flexibility @ Work policy to foster better work-life integration, and developed frameworks to establish workplace gender equity. In 2018, we refreshed our People Vision to re-establish our commitment to inclusion. “Embrace Different” is now one of our five core values – a belief that different is beautiful and drives our success.
In 2018, we also launched our Global Family Leave Policy, the first of its kind globally in our industry. This policy is an important commitment from Schneider Electric to our people. It provides fully paid parental leave, family care and bereavement with minimum standards for all our employees across the globe. We have actively chosen to define “leave” and “family” in an inclusive way when designing this policy, recognizing that the definitions of family, life and work are changing every day.
The initiatives we have recently launched, and the ones we’re continuing to build upon, reflect our goal to be the best place to work, so the best people choose us and stay with us.
HRD: What do you believe is the future of the HR function?
OB: The role of HR has changed significantly over time and will continue to shift as the relationship between the employee and the employer evolves.
If we look back 20 years, there was an unbalanced relationship where employers held the upper hand. We’re now seeing greater balance in that relationship. In fact, in a strong labour market employees have more say in where they want to work and what they want their workplace experience to be like.
This shift is forcing companies to think differently about how they want to engage with their employees, to reevaluate culture, leadership style and workplace experience, in order to be an attractive employer to the new generation of workers. It’s why I believe we should be focused on a people strategy over an HR strategy.
HR plays a critical role in this transformation. HR must take the lead because if HR doesn’t, no one else will.
This shift in organizational mentality has created positive pressure on companies and is forcing us to reinvent where and how we lead our businesses to create a better future, with better outcomes for all.