The challenges inside companies brought on by the pandemic, economic downturn, and racial injustice have elevated the role of the chief human resources officer (CHRO) and other HR leaders to help CEOs manage employees during the crisis and into the future. With this perfect storm of cultural upheaval, employee stress, business challenge, and opportunity, you could call this the "CHRO moment."

StrawberryFrog works with many HR leaders, and we're seeing how important their role is for the entire company. We help them design internal movements to deal with employee well-being in a full-spectrum way, and we also help leaders seeking to change their organizations to become more innovative. It's incredibly challenging: How do you positively change company culture and the behavior of your employees, with stress and uncertainty running high in all quarters? 

New leadership tool to change your company

Today, when your employees face new threats to their mental, physical, and financial well-being, the order of difficulty in driving change is no doubt magnified. At the same time, we are witness to history in the making, as a broad social movement for racial justice produces change in real time. Indeed, movements are all around us, shaping our lives and communities. The good news: HR leaders in search of new solutions can tap the principles of social movements to improve and transform employee mindsets, behaviors, and actions in turbulent times like these.

Creating an internal movement is the solution to these challenges, and doing so empowers HR leaders to meet the moment.

  • How to keep employees motivated and engaged in such a time?
  • How to detect and protect their well-being issues be they physical, mental, or financial?
  • How to maintain a great culture when there is no office?

And employees are harder than ever to engage:

  • They're working remotely, or if in person, have serious health concerns.
  • They're under greater stress both at work and at home.
  • Their mental, physical, and financial well-being are threatened.
  • They tune out company messages and programs.
  • Many report an increasing sense their company doesn't care about them (Gallup)

HR leaders can deal with these issues by activating and actualizing purpose inside your organization. And that's where "Movement Think" can be transformative.

Movement Think is designed for the peer-to-peer world in which companies operate. It's the difference between "top down" leadership (do this because I tell you to do it) and "cross-company" leadership (let's do this because it's something that matters to all of us). 

Top-down mandates hail from an earlier time, when company hierarchies were rigid and unquestioned and employees were far more likely to stay at one company for decades. The culture has moved on: Leaders and innovators today cannot drive change inside their organizations by demanding compliance. And compliance is, after all, a meager goal. An approach fit for the times is to ignite a Movement Inside your organization to foster trust, motivation, belonging, and creativity among employees as they deliver on your collective vision. 

Activate purpose through a cultural movement 

The role of HR leaders is changing fast. At StrawberryFrog, we believe in working with CHROs and their teams to unlock tremendous, and largely untapped, potential in the creativity, energy, and advocacy of your employees, if only they could be recruited as full participants in your movement. Here is a testament to what is too often squandered:

"For the past 20 years you have paid for my hands. You could have had my head for free but you never asked"  --Employee questionnaire response, DuPont

By contrast, HR leaders today are igniting movements inside their organizations and activating purpose. A Movement Inside your company can help you innovate and grow--much as a social movement can reshape communities and culture.  

For better living

At Walmart, for example, Adam Stavisky, SVP of U.S. Benefits, is charting a path to ensure that the company's internal culture will be known not just for its size, but also for becoming more people-centered and innovative. Stavitsky explains, "We are working successfully to reinvent how we engage our associates around benefits, comp, and performance. We launched the 'Better Living' movement inside the organization with innovative new channels for Walmart to engage and motivate our U.S teams. Best of all, the new associate wellness movement connects employees to our larger purpose and activates them at a grassroots level to participate." Early wins along this path suggest that an internal culture re-oriented around wellness will boost broader company goals like innovation and adaptability.

For innovation culture 

Another example comes from Rajeev Dubey, group head of Mahindra, working with Ananda Mahindra, chairman of the global enterprise, with the goal of making the organization more innovative. StrawberryFrog developed a cultural movement called "Rise," working in close collaboration with the leadership of the conglomerate. Mahindra's inertia took the form of a tendency toward caution and conformity, and we knew that activating their purpose would require both internal and external initiatives. StrawberryFrog engaged employees from the middle of the organization out in addition to role-play among executives and coaching sessions. We worked with the CHRO to establish Rise culture qualities as the yardstick for annual performance evaluation, and as key criteria for new hires into the company. We were able to anchor the new Rise culture across the organization. Within a relatively short time, the Rise movement helped this company with the largest tractor business in the world create the Pininfarina Battista, the world's most deluxe electric super-car. This was only one (if possibly the most glamorous) of a string of innovation successes for the company that followed the activation of their Rise Movement inside the organization.

For safety and well-being

In the course of the pandemic, we talked to several HR executives about their leadership during these times. One CHRO who is making an impact is Kimberly Moore-Wright of Truist Financial Corporation, the merger of BB&T and SunTrust. In addition to establishing a new culture for the new company, she has focused on amplifying two of their core values: caring and one team. This was never been more vital than during Covid, where Truist took swift and decisive action to help its teammates, clients, and communities manage through the crisis.

"This has been an extraordinary time where we have used our purpose to make important decisions for our teammates, such as implementing work at home strategies, modified branch hours, and augmented compensation for our essential teammates. Also, our 'Together Safely' strategy is focused on ensuring the safety and well-being of our teammates as we begin a very careful and mindful approach to bringing teammates back to our work facilities," says Moore-Wright. "These efforts have helped accelerate Truist's purpose-, mission-, and values-driven culture as we work together to create and drive meaningful change for our teammates, clients, and communities."

For collaboration 

Movements open up the potential for collaboration. A central strategic capability is the ability to form alliances and coalitions. There are four strategic needs that benefit from collaboration--mutual survival, tapping into another brand's resources, working together at moments of great change, and for continual learning and renewal.

One recent example of this is a movement ignited by a group of CHROs in response to the historical unemployment caused by the pandemic. These CHROs--Christy Pambianchi, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Verizon; Lisa M. Buckingham, executive vice president and chief people, place, and brand officer for Lincoln Financial Group; Pat Wadors, chief talent officer at ServiceNow; and Ellyn Shook, Accenture's chief leadership and human resources officer--came together to create People + Work Connect. The group seeks to ignite positive momentum for a collaborative, inclusive community with a clear stand to help put people back to work quickly in areas of new opportunity. Whereas these CHROs would in the past have been competing with each other for talent, now with the pandemic in mind, they have locked arms and are working in concert to help save jobs and empower talent. This is by definition a movement ignited by four innovative CHRO leaders. 

"While the current pandemic has been the impetus for People + Work Connect, we expect this type of collaboration to become the norm going forward," says Pambianchi. "Now is the time to build a more resilient workforce--for today and tomorrow."

So often, challenges come with opportunities. This time around, CHROs are in a unique position to seize the day and bring about transformative change at their companies. In sum, we suggest four key take-aways:

1. Understand your purpose as a singular business asset with the potential to differentiate you in the market, and harness the energy and brilliance of the people in your organization.

2. Ask yourself: Are you activating your purpose? How have you responded to the current crisis? What is your stand in light of great changes in society, and what are you actually doing with your people? 

3. Spend as much time, resource, and C-suite attention on activating your purpose inside, with your people, from the middle out and the bottom up, as on activating it outside, with your customers. We've developed the "Purpose Gap" as a measure of the movement over time, to gauge how it's used by people at the bottom of the organization three years post-launch.

4. Recruit your staff to join a movement with "consumer-grade" story-telling, actions, engagements, utility, and branding.

Viva la Movement Inside!