Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, H.R. and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Episode 301: The Role of the CHRO and Employee Well-Being With Adriana Bokel Herde (@AdrianaBokelHerde)
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:26.94] Welcome to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. This podcast is part of a series on the Workology Podcast that’s focused on the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resource Officer, or CHRO. The series is powered by my friends at Daily Pay. Now the CHRO is sometimes called the SVP of HR or the Chief People Officer. It is an executive or C-level role that deals with managing human resources as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to overall improve the efficiency of the company. One of the reasons I wanted to do this series is because there’s a lot of mystery around that role, the CHRO. I want aspiring CHROs to know what type of skills and experiences they need to promote into a future role as a Chief Human Resource Officer and also peers to hear from each other about what is working and how they are partnering and collaborating with their executive peers. Today, I’m joined with Adriana Bokel Herde. She’s the Chief People Officer of Pega. Adriana leads the software company’s efforts to attract, develop and retain the best talent directing teams focused on talent attraction, career development, performance management, benefits, mental and physical well-being, inclusion and diversity, and social impact. Adriana, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Adriana Bokel: [00:01:54.93] Thank you very much, Jessica. Pleasure to be here.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:58.08] Let’s start with some background. You have held an HR leadership position or positions for almost 20 years. How has your work evolved over time into that Chief People Officer role?
Adriana Bokel: [00:02:11.14] That’s a great question, so I have done, I would say, many different things in my career, both in HR, but also had opportunities to work within the business and doing some sales roles that really brought some different perspectives to my job today. And I have done some time doing people development very early in my career. I’ve done some build some recruiting teams and done some recruiting myself, have done generalist roles, specialist roles. But I would say what really has changed how I see HR was the opportunity to work in other countries where gave me really that perspective of being in an office, but in receiving information from headquarters and how a lot of those communications are perceived by people who are not in headquarters. So that gave me a lot to think about it in a lot of food for thoughts to do my job differently today.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:17.11] I love that. And I don’t think in the series that we’ve had anybody say international work assignments or working in other countries has been key to their career in HR, but I absolutely see why and how that would be useful in your role in supporting executive leaders in the business, but also the employees.
Adriana Bokel: [00:03:33.64] Yes.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:34.84] What skills and experience do you believe are absolute requirements for the CHRO, especially thinking about those maybe who are just starting out in H.R. or in the industry?
Adriana Bokel: [00:03:46.72] I would say probably my number one would be open mind, keep an open mind and have, really challenge yourself. It’s so easy to come in and have one experience and believe that that is the absolute experience. Companies are so different. In every organization, even if sometimes when you join organizations, they are at certain part of their journey, so it is very important that the HR professional has an open mind, is open to listen, to really, truly understand how that organization works and how they can then adapt to what experience they have had or their first experience, if that’s the case to that organization, rather than trying to bring what they have learned and really packed into the new company. So I think that is really critical. I would also say really trying to, I’m a big believer that H.R. is not a note taker. That H.R. is really there to challenge the business, to challenge the leaders, to think differently and to challenge the status quo. So I think that is really important. But with that, you really need to build that credibility first. So really being helpful to the business, showing them how can you help them in their roles and leaders, that is really important to be able to lead, challenge the organization and especially leaders to think differently about their organizations and their people.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:26.65] How does in your mind the CHRO’s role change how company leadership works with H.R. and vice versa?
Adriana Bokel: [00:05:34.33] Yeah, I think the HR profession has evolved tremendously. And I would say if there is one of few things that is positive out of covid, I would say definitely that has accelerated that change tremendously. And I would say the leadership in the past really saw H.R. as an administrative backoffice, people who pay their, who pay their, pay their salaries or benefits, and now has evolved to be a strategic talent role that really informs and evolves with the organization, the strategy and how talent is used or needs to be adapted as the organization evolves. And that is, I really see not only here, I got that change has happened, but also with other CHROs and Chief People Officer colleagues that I have that that conversation has started to change probably in the last, I would say, four to five years.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:32.94] I agree with you that covid has really advanced the H.R. profession, put us right up in the forefront of the business. And if that is one good thing that comes out of this, I I’m grateful that that business leaders are waking up and realizing the real value that a strategic HR partner truly has in the business.
Adriana Bokel: [00:06:57.86] Exactly.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:58.99] Let’s talk a little bit about working during the pandemic. What has it been like for your six thousand global employees as well as your HR team? Talk to us a little bit about that.
Adriana Bokel: [00:07:09.22] It has been hard and I would say it’s still hard to some extent, we are still all at home, we’re just slowly now having conversations about going back to the office. Our offices have remained open through the entire time, but we don’t have many people to actually go into those offices. So we still are working mainly from home. And it has been hard, I think first is because it was the unknown with nobody really knew how long it was going to take and what was going, would be the impact. I feel very lucky that we didn’t have to do any reduce in force. We actually continued performing really well and we were supporting our clients. We are in a digital transformation world here so that it, became even more important during the pandemic. But there is also the personal side and people’s lives have totally changed during that time. We had people with small kids, we had people with elderly parents or families and to adapt it and also to show to some managers who might not have been, who is not in the situation that that employee is ought to be more to build a little bit of empathy on everyone. That everybody was in a different situation and the people had, might need a little bit more flexibility here, a little bit more flexibility there. That was a big part of not only what my team in the HR function did, but also even broadly we try to convey that to the six thousand employees, in addition to try to support them with different measures to make them a little bit a better work life balance, because it was hard and it’s too hard when everybody’s at home.
Break: [00:09:00.81] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you were listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. We’re talking about global CHRO roles and pivot’s during the pandemic with Adriana Bokel Herde. This podcast, the CHRO series is powered by Daily Pay.
Break: [00:09:23.09] Personal and professional development is essential for successful H.R. leaders. Join Upskill H.R. to access life training, community, and over one hundred on-demand courses for that dynamic leader. H.R. recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.
The CHRO Role in a Time of Crisis
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:39.36] Well, let’s talk a little bit about some of the things that you and your team have been doing to support employees. One third of your employees are located in India, which we all know, and if we don’t, we should know, that that country has been severely impacted by the global pandemic. Can you talk about the support you set up for this segment of your employee population and their families?
Adriana Bokel: [00:10:04.11] Sure, yeah. So we have done certain things that we did for the entire global organization very early in the pandemic with things like sickness absence or opportunities to do mindfulness, training, but specifically to that group in India, why did we have set was that we arranged, I would almost say like like a call center? We didn’t call that a call center, but just to explain to the people listening, a call center within our organization to help people get beds for their families, if they were running out of oxygen and getting oxygen out of there because it was just not the infrastructure in India is so very, very different than what we have seen across the world in the other countries that we have the employees. So we set up that call center knowing that we couldn’t provide those beds ourselves, but trying to connect them to hospitals that might potentially have the beds for those employees. We also, about a month ago did our own vaccination drives in both of our locations and vaccinated about 25 percent of our population and their families, which was a great employee engagement event. And the end wasn’t how it started, but people are just very, very grateful that we provided, we bought the vaccines and we provided to them, because differently than many of the countries like the US and Europe, the government wasn’t able to catch up with all the demand. So a lot of the companies were trying to see how they could help in getting their employee population vaccinated as well.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:00.06] When you told me the story on the prep call, I mean, it really got me emotional because I was just thinking about picturing employees from your company on the phone trying to call to get hospital beds and oxygen for for people, employees and their family members in needs, in need. And that just goes above and beyond. And it really just is a testament, I think, to the culture that you have and the ability for the organization and the employees within your organization to think differently and flex and pivot to the specific needs of employees in that country.
Adriana Bokel: [00:12:38.37] Yeah, and I think it was really like we really care very much and I care very much. My entire team cares very much. The leadership team. We saw the desperation in our employee population, in our leaders there. We wish we could do it even more. So these are little things that just show the staff we’re there for them. I would say the other thing we have done that is still in place today and we did offer that globally, we did an employee fund where our employees contributed to support employees that may have been negatively impacted on their families. So we luckily didn’t have to do any layoffs because of that. But of course, other companies have. And these are people who are husbands and wives and partners. So for anyone that their partners have lost their jobs, we also were able to give some financial contribution. And some of the emails, thank you emails I received, Jessica, we’re just like I keep them, I showed them to my kids because these are the little things that make such a difference in people’s lives and that makes them also independent if they stay at Pega or go somewhere. I think that type of generosity is something that sticks to people and that also shows how generous, but also how caring Pega is as a company.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:06.44] It just really shows the humanity that the leadership and management team and everybody at Pega has enabled to support employees and their families. I think it’s fantastic.
Adriana Bokel: [00:14:19.78] Thank you.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:21.31] I wanted to talk more about your global HR team because you have employees in many different countries and talk to me about how your HR team is structured.
Adriana Bokel: [00:14:31.40] Sure. Yeah. So one of the things before I even talk about the structure, just as good information to have, is that we do all our recruitment in-house. So a lot of the people that we have are in recruitment, we call here talent attraction. So for the six thousand employees that we have, we have about a hundred and fifty people into people function. And from that group, about half of that is involved in our talent attraction, either through being recruiters themselves or recruiting coordinators that support their recruitment. We hire about a thousand to a thousand four hundred people every year, and that is mainly the group that supports that. So, I have a specific group, so I’ll talk about, a little bit about my direct reports because that helps understand the structure. So I have, Pega is divided into two main functions. One, I would call the go-to-market business, which is our sales, our technical solution consultants, our marketing, our business operations. So this is about half about three thousand employees. The other half is what we call the technology and the corporate functions. So I build that structure, my structure around that business structure. So I have two heads of what we call here Talent Advisory, which I think outside is usually called HR Business Partners. So I have one that supports that go to market, ones that supports technology and corporate functions. And I did the same for my talent attraction. So I have one leader that supports that go-to-market in recruitment and one leader that supports the, the team in the technology and the corporate functions. So these are four leaders. They all report to me and they have global organizations under them, mostly by region.
Adriana Bokel: [00:16:34.57] So they have groups that are in, in Europe and a team that are in APJ and, of course, a team in India. So, but this is by, within those functions. I also have what traditionalists call Center of Excellence, or COEs. So I have one leader that, that supports us on the I&D. And we call here on purpose inclusion and diversity rather than diversity and inclusion, because we truly believe inclusion comes first. And then I have somebody who is supporting all our talent programs and under talent programs, I include talent management, what we call here talent branding or employee, like employer branding. I also have their, our onboarding efforts. We also have the talent recognition or talent experience. So that’s part of what we call talent programs. And of course, the leadership development and learning is part of that. And then I have one more group that is, supports what we call here People Services, which is the traditional HR Operations. And that whole group of people services includes comp and ben, includes the people operations, includes people analytics. And we also just recently opened for the first time and started a people relations function as well, which is led by the People Service leader. And, and I do have a Chief of Staff. She does a lot of the organizational design work with me and organizational effectiveness and survey, and I would not be able to do as much as I do without her. So that is my group and my team. And under them, their organization is often through, either, mostly in the COEs, they’re global roles and in the talent acquisition and talent advisory, they have a regional set up under them.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:41.23] And then as far as who do you report to in the organization?
Adriana Bokel: [00:18:45.91] So I report to the CEO, the founder and CEO, Alan Trefler, and that is something personally very important to me. Before I joined Pega and often now as well, when I get reach outs, I wouldn’t consider today a role of a CPO or Chief HR Officer that doesn’t report to the CEO. I find that this really is very telling and it is such an important role that touches so many other parts of the organization and that reporting lines and that connection to the CEO is very important.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:22.61] I’m just fascinated by all the interviews that we’ve done and, and then, of course, who reports to who and how the organizational structure is. So I can see, you’re talking and I’m listening and I’m drawing a picture of your organizational chart within H.R. while you’re talking. And I hope that others are learning because there’s so many different ways to structure the HR organization.
Adriana Bokel: [00:19:46.64] And I think the most important thing really it’s not the right or wrong. I think what is important for, for HR leaders is really to structure their own organizations in support of the business. And depending on what the business strategy is or their business set up, that is how your organization needs to be mirrored, rather than trying to do something that is the traditional H.R., because at the end of the day will not work for the company.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:18.51] Agreed. I want to talk about what it’s, what it’s going to look like for the company and and your team and your employees when they return to work or whatever the new normal is going to be. Because you and and your team, I feel like have a really interesting approach to the blend of onsite and remote staff and how you are going to be taking advantage of the hybrid model. Could you talk us through that?
Adriana Bokel: [00:20:46.25] Of course. Yeah. So as most companies, I would say, we are still learning and I actually do have a call today to finalize some of that and how we will communicate. So our first group planning to go back to the office will be September here in the US because as a country we feel things with the vaccination a little further. So we use that as an opportunity. And the way we have defined here is that we have, build five different categories, which goes from full office base to office flex. And I’ll go back and explain each one of them. But I would just go from office full, office flex, remote flex remote close to the client, and remote fall. And within those five categories, we went roll by roll that we have it in the company and assigned each roll a hybrid or category of that remote. And we didn’t go by person. We did that on purpose. We did role by role, knowing that there will always be exceptions everywhere. But we wanted to have a discussion with the leadership on why, what would make a role be able to be remote or not remote. I just said, out of transparency here, we already had about 35 percent of our organization remote because they are in our sales organization. So this was about being more concrete about the rest of that to the, around the 65, we did have people that were remote. We had people that came to the office only once or twice a week. But we really said, OK, let’s just start from scratch, build those five categories and talk about the expectations around them.
Adriana Bokel: [00:22:38.06] We have made decisions, at least for now, that is to say, OK, we’ll want to make it truly flexible so we’re not going to dictate which days people come to the office. I’m hopeful that the managers will have those conversations with their teams. We have decided, and this just happened because of the pandemic, it wasn’t planned before, but we took the opportunity in the US to move to a different location and really now go to truly, I would call hybrid, if you will, in a way that there will be no more assigned desks in the new offices here in the US and the people will have neighborhoods. So there will be the people function neighborhood, there will be the finance neighborhood, there will be the sales neighborhood. So people, when they do come to the office, they will be able to aggregate together. They will be able to choose a seat in their neighborhood, but there will be no longer assigned desks. And we are hoping one thing I think we are calling here, we don’t want the office to be a mandate. We want the office to be something that people come because they want to. So we, we did a slogan called, we don’t want the office to be a mandate. We want the office to be a magnet. So to really support that collaboration and innovation when people are in the office knowing that some people who are living far away from the offices would like to come to the office to collaborate, but it might not come as often as people who are around if they are in Massachusetts, around Cambridge or around the office in Autumn.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:22.05] I love this approach and I love that you’re not a mandate, but a magnet. and I think comes to mind in the news as of recent is Apple’s backlash that they received when they mandated that employees come to the office and come back, and the response of the employees. So I love that you’re taking this individualized approach and that the managers are talking to the employees and asking the questions and and working on a on a smaller, like team basis versus, hey, entire organization, everybody’s coming back in. You’re all going to do this.
Adriana Bokel: [00:25:01.77] And one thing I mean, there is, as you said, moving target. And I think we are learning about it as well. We’re hoping this will work. You know, being also a HR professional, there’s always the risk with that approach that in some departments will be perceived as more flexible and some others less flexible. But at this point in time, I really believe we need to empower our managers and empower the staff to have those conversations. And it’s never, ever going to be perfectly for six thousand people. So people will have to make their own decisions and conversations, is really, for me, the beginning of a new approach and make sure that works for the business.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:49.13] Awesome, well, I love the, I love the approach that you’re taking where it is, it’s, it’s a moving target a little bit, but you’re going to check in with your people.
Adriana Bokel: [00:25:59.03] That’s correct.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:01.34] What is the best leadership advice that you’ve received in your own career? I really want aspiring HR leaders, maybe HR leaders who are interested in that CHRO role or are moving up in their career. What advice, leadership advice could you give them?
Adriana Bokel: [00:26:20.07] Yes, it’s a fascinating question and I have been thinking about it, and I would say this, too, that I would like to give that to you and to people listening here. And I think one is particularly important, being part of an HR organization. So I was always told, and I think it is true about me, personally, is that I should get a hobby and I should stop caring too much. That that I care too much and that sometimes that plays against me and I would say I take that as a positive, but I also think is important in people’s careers that you take care of yourself and that in the end of the day, you can only take care of others if you are well with yourself, both physically, mentally and everything else that comes with it. So I want to say that because, especially in a pandemic here, it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed. And if we don’t take care of ourselves, then we also cannot take care of our people, and of course, the broad of the employee population. That would be, I think, one thing that I keep reminding myself often, especially when I do feel overwhelmed in the pandemic. There were more than once in that case. And I would say the other thing is, I heard that from one of my mentors is that what brought me here to that role will not bring me to the next. That means that I always have to continue learning and being open to learning new things, but also challenging myself on listening to what’s happening outside my own company in my own comfort zone.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:19.79] Awesome. Both really two pieces of sound advice. Adriana, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Where can people go to learn more about you and Pega?
Adriana Bokel: [00:28:34.63] So, I’m in LinkedIn and I’m very happy to have conversations with people, to have people to reach out. I have used those moments on myself in my own career and looked for advice of others and even just be a sounding board to other people. And Pega is an amazing company. We are Pega.com. We have over 700 open opportunities out there. And I’m happy to answer questions that people might have about the company or about certain roles. So we are happy to continue the dialogue after the podcast.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:15.22] Awesome. Well, again, thank you so much for taking the time. You are really an inspiration and I love just your spirit and just how you are helping to support the organization. It’s really inspiring.
Adriana Bokel: [00:29:28.75] Thank you, Jessica, and thank you for your time and for the reach out. And if I can be of any help, I’m happy too.
Closing: [00:29:37.02] Are you loving the Workology Podcasts? Our Workology community reaches over 600,000 HR leaders every single month. Want to be a sponsor? Reach out to us at Workology.com/advertising.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:51.17] It’s really interesting to delve into how a role like the CHRO, whose experiences more closely connect them to strategy and operations of the overall business with the rest of the company’s leadership team around the topics of innovation, inclusion and diversity and business partnerships. When we think about Adriana and her experience during a pandemic at a global organization, it is clear that the CHRO doesn’t just lead H.R. within the company. The role is key to structuring the leadership and the future success of the company overall. I appreciate Adriana taking her time to share with us her experience today, and I really loved her breaking down the HR organizational structure and talking about the different types of return-to-work strategies that Pega and her team are going to be deploying here soon. Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. This podcast is part of our series, the CHRO series, and it is powered by our friends at Daily Pay. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell and until next time you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our Workology Podcast episodes.
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