Rethinking workplace culture post-COVID-19 at Zimmer Biomet
Zimmer Biomet CIO Zeeshan Tariq details the value of a connected, engaged culture when working structures are in flux, and the importance of front-foot initiatives to ensure a seamless transition when the unexpected happens.
As the world’s largest musculoskeletal healthcare company, Zimmer Biomet had a fairly traditional office-based working model. But when pandemic hit, major adjustments had to be made, from corporate to manufacturing, and everything in between, to ensure its 25,000 employees could continue collaborating productivity.
Since then, the bulk of traditional business models have been disrupted and working structures are still works in progress as business leaders think through how to leverage capabilities in constrained and remote environments. Now that the primary threat of COVID-19 has receded, Zimmer, like most organizations, has the opportunity to examine what worked, what didn’t, and how they want to work in the future.
“We were pleasantly surprised at the beginning [of the pandemic] with a 25% increase in productivity,” says Tariq. “But recently, I’m not sure that productivity gain sustained. Now organizations have had more time to think through what the right model is.”
The pace of business has accelerated for Zimmer, especially in response times. “We need to be more agile in terms of our practices and think through how we can leverage flexibility to be more responsive to any circumstance,” he says, but not at the expense of human capital, admitting that before they were remote, Zimmer leadership and its employees were perhaps too focused on just the work.
“While work is important and the reason why we get together, we also carve out more time for social connections, to get to know how everybody is doing,” he says of Zimmer’s new work culture. “Not everybody is necessarily thriving, and we need to be mindful in this environment.”
Tariq spoke with Computerworld and CIO.com contributing editor Julia King during the recent CIO Future of Work Summit about collating strategy, structure, governance, and controls to effect stronger organizational culture and alignment.
Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.
On social capital:
I’ve heard that when people are in the office and run into each other in hallways, the social capital or the connectivity between those individuals goes up by 25% just by chance connections. Since we’re remote, we need to be cognizant of this deficit. To help overcome it, we need to have up to five times more virtual interactions than you would in the real world. So we’ve formulated an approach as part of a leadership team, being mindful we’re interacting with our workforce far more frequently but perhaps in shorter bursts. Each of us has an elaborate engagement plan to ensure we’re connecting at all levels to ensure social capital and the connective tissue is maintained. When CEO Bryan Hansen joined a few years before the pandemic, he put a lot of emphasis on culture and building this connective tissue. So we were at an advantage because there was a concerted effort and plans in place so the organizational culture improved its connectivity to the mission of the organization.
On employee connectivity:
It might sound strange but it’s not about technology. Almost everybody has access to the core capabilities in terms of technology they need. To us, it’s more about stitching it together where it becomes invisible to team members and they don’t even think about it. In that way, we’ve carved out a team whose sole purpose is to work with other teams to understand how they conduct work and how to equip them with the right capabilities and support structure so there’s no degradation in their productivity, effectiveness, and competitiveness. A huge component of that is ensuring that while they’re being productive on their own, they’re also effective collaborating with others. There was also a concerted effort how to improve our workforce engagement using metrics. So within IT, we look at three KPIs — responsiveness, engagement, and results — just to monitor organizational health, to see how we’re progressing in remote settings. The overwhelming majority of the IT organization today is remote and we rely on these KPIs to ensure we maintain our productivity.
I believe more than ever we, as leaders, have to have a whole different level of empathy. Certain norms that were existent need to be taught more. You have to understand this is a different world and everybody operates differently. Some people are more productive in the morning, some more at night, and there’s nothing wrong with either of them, as long as they’re producing the outputs. So there has to be more objective metrics in addition to subjective things. The more we can make these things black and white and help understand our workforce and what’s expected, the better position we’ll be in. Not that it was not important before, but I believe in this remote setting. It’s more important than before, to ensure that every team member understands what is expected of them, what success looks like, and have a mechanism to seek that clarity.
On the future of work:
If we don’t innovate constantly, we become obsolete. The business models are getting pressured and tested in a way that they haven’t historically. Some of these things have always existed, and now they’re constantly getting changed because of various challenges, whether in supply chains, service, and so on, and no function is going to be immune to that. So innovation has to be the bloodstream of any organization. There are all kinds of innovation and I think it’s a word that’s overused. There’s leapfrog innovation where you do something completely different, but there’s lots of value in incremental innovation that happens on a regular basis, and needs to continue to happen. So in our IT function, there’s not a single team that doesn’t have this as an objective or priority.