Servant Leadership in A Time of Global Crises: Building Resilience

Bala Sathyanarayanan, Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer, Greif [NYSE:GEF]What a year 2020 has turned out to be!

The Global pandemic, decline in global demand, disruption in the global supply chains, the racial justice movement, the gradual shift toward increased workforce representation transparency, and the election have all combined to create uncertainty. These unprecedented times have made it necessary for every firm's HR function to step up and lead their organization's response and position their firm for long-term sustainable growth.

At Greif, the mission of our HR organization is "To enable a world-class, diverse and engaged workforce to deliver on Greif's strategic priorities." This mission is also supported by the following guiding principles that showcase what we believe in: Being a Servant Leader Ambassador, technology-enabled change agent that thinks globally as One HR and delivers locally across multiple countries.

Our mission and guiding principles are grounded in the Greif Way and ultimately enable us to drive Greif's overall vision: In industrial packaging, be the best performing customer service Company in the world. The challenges test our commitment as an HR organization. We have had to live these values to drive effective change during this crisis; it also provided valuable lessons as we continue to learn and shape what the future could look like.

The world has been navigating through the COVID-19 crisis since February. As an essential business, Greif has made tremendous progress in moving from responding and recovering to sustaining and thriving as an organization during this pandemic. From the very onset of this crisis, our HR organization has played a pivotal role in championing key actions and initiatives across the globe to address the human and societal needs with empathy and make hard decisions on mission-critical situations.

A few examples below may help every business leader with a framework to lead during these challenging times:

HR collaborated with key influencers and stakeholders in building out the Guiding Principles and Crisis Management Framework in response to the pandemic. The Crisis Management Framework, for example, has four components: People, Demand, Supply, and Financials.
While responding to business needs ensuring continuity was critical. HR played a key role in ensuring that people's safety and well-being were front and center in everything that we do/did. We established very robust response protocols, including situation assessment, quarantine measures, cleaning guidelines, social distancing rules, a daily wellness check, etc worldwide. All global colleagues were educated on these.

Multiple communication channels, not limited to posters, banners, and plant-specific operational measures, were implemented to address manufacturing sites' safety needs. Also, HR leads the global tracking and situation monitoring process across the company to stay in tune with potential exposures, reported symptoms in addition to positive cases, and make sure all protocols and procedures were proactively implemented.

As a global company with a presence in over 44 countries, we stayed connected to colleagues in different parts of the world to take input from regional task forces in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, provided the needed guidance, and encouraged collaboration and learning different countries/cultures. Through this large-scale cross-borderline collaboration, we saw more commonalities than differences among us at a human level. We have also tremendously benefited from the collective wisdom that our globally diverse workforce provided. All these situations called for our established Attributes of a Highly Valued HR Person at Greif: from being a businessperson, having a bias for action and follow through to solving complex problems, etc., and I am proud of the promises that we were able to deliver during this crisis.

At the core of who we are and what we do as an HR organization is Servant Leadership. Our HR leaders spearhead our Global Coronavirus Task Force, which consists of key influencers from across the firm. The team meets every week to stay abreast of the global COVID updates, lead company-wide communication strategies, and stay informed of scientific developments to evolve our approach, as needed. We are not afraid of "getting into the weeds" as the process provides education to ourselves and the directional support our colleagues need in this VUCA world. We communicate what we know with openness and transparency; we also acknowledge with courage what we don't know and invite experts to paint a picture of a compelling path forward.

Deployed surveys in a few regions worldwide to better understand our colleagues' engagement and productivity level while working from home. We learned a lot from those individual inputs and leveraged key insights to empower actions that would further build trust and strengthen connectivity and engagement in this virtual environment. We continue to work together with our colleagues and customers to shape the new way of working. We lead through serving as that's the foundational building block of our vision and how we operate.

The past few months have been a challenging yet meaningful learning experience; however, we have also realized this is a marathon and that the journey is on-going. As we continue to explore what's possibly ahead of us, we have learned to capitalize on this crisis to shape the strategic impact the future of HR can make on people and organizations.

The field of Human Resources has been on a transformation journey over the past two decades. We will continue to evolve and expand our reach and scope of influence when the lines we draw between technology and people, workforce experience and customer service, and individual meaning and organizational purpose have blurred. 2020's challenges have allowed us to build resiliency, proactive thinking, and readiness, all attributes needed to face this next decade of new opportunities and challenges.