NAPLES, Fla.—Eaton Corp. has 100,000 employees in more than 175 countries, and half of them are millennials. So what is the advice of the person charged with the evolution of corporate culture?
"Keep it simple. And keep it human. I think that's the No. 1 lesson that we learned through this process, is that if you can do those two things, you will win along the way," Cindy Fisher, Eaton's director of global learning and culture, said at the Plastics News Executive Forum in Naples.
Fisher, a 20-year Eaton veteran, walked the forum audience through Eaton's moves to build a culture that will make the company more attractive for the employees of the future. But first she defined what "culture" is and what it is not.
Culture is way more than your company's values, Fisher said, although she said values certainly are an important part of it.
Instead, she said, culture is a company's entire work operating system. Things like: How do you communicate? How do you use email? How do people treat others? How does management handle reactions, strong opinions or criticisms?
Fisher, 42, gave a personal perspective. Traditionally, an employee's important issues included pay, job satisfaction, the boss and scoring well on an annual performance review. Work-life balance? "I thought that the lack of work-life balance is the price I had to pay for success," she said.
Younger people think differently, she said.
"There is a huge shift happening. We're talking about the need for purpose, right? I hate the term, because I think people think it's really 'life's purpose and your calling.' That's not what people are asking about," Fisher said. "They're asking to feel like 'the work that I'm doing is critically important to some mission I am on.' And that 'I am here for a purpose to help that mission move forward. I'm gonna feel valued for it. I'm gonna feel recognized for it, and I want to know that what I do for the next 35 years of my life is going to mean something.'"
Fisher added: "To me, that's not such as huge ask. You know, shifting the development, right? It's constant feedback. I want to know what's happening. I'm not gonna wait for that once a year (review). And I want to be developed. Not just developed and grow in my career, but I want to do it (at) an accelerated pace."
Fisher said she has a team of 41 people at Eaton.
"And I have to do more as a leader now than I ever did at any point in my career. I have to coach. I have to guide. I have to empower. It is not just managing the performance of the business anymore, and managing the performance of our goals. It is about so, so much more than that," she said.
Fisher said it's important to get your workplace going in the right direction before you bring in lots of diversity and good young workers.
"There's a war going on. It's not just a manufacturing war. It's a war everywhere for talent. And within manufacturing, I think the unfortunate news for us is that we are just not winning this battle today. And so we've got a lot of work to do," Fisher said in her Executive Forum presentation.
Already, factories can't fill jobs fast enough to replace people who are retiring. The skills gap is a national issue.
"The reality is we've got a brand problem on top of it. People do not perceive our culture within the manufacturing space as a place where I want to grow and grow my career," she said.
"We have a massive brand issue. I think it's a massive perception issue because I believe that manufacturing's one of the greatest places—talking about solving some of the most innovative, inspirational challenges of things like Manufacturing 4.0 and how technology comes to our industry. We have to do a better job of sharing and telling that story. We've got to create a space where diverse talent wants to be."
How Eaton is doing it
In 2016, Craig Arnold became Eaton's CEO, succeeding Alexander "Sandy" Cutler, who retired. The corporation had been growing at a super-fast rate for the 15 years before that, from sales of $9 billion in 2000 to more than $21 billion today.
"A lot of that growth we did was acquisitive growth," Fisher said. "We became very, very good at acquisitions. We actually acquired 68 companies and integrated them through that 2000 and 2016 time frame."
Eaton had — and still has — a collaborative culture where people work together, organized in a process-oriented manner, Fisher said. The huge transition in 2016, not just at the top spot but in almost every leadership position, fueled a new look, at global megatrends, volatility in the market, changing technology and very low unemployment, she said.
Company leaders decided Eaton now needed to grow organically, not just through buying other businesses. "But the reality is, our DNA was very different from what is required for organic growth," Fisher said. The new senior management team decided to focus on culture.
Fisher was named director of global learning and culture in May 2019. She began reading voraciously and found a book by Larry Senn, a pioneer in the field of corporate culture, who founded the Senn Delaney consulting firm.
Senn tells how a company can actively shape its culture. Fisher said there were a few main points: Have an inspiring vision and purpose to motivate people. Also, the effort "absolutely has to be leader-led" by executives.
Eaton is fostering dialogue and personal commitment.
Fisher said the challenge now is getting the changes embedded into actual working operations. The leaders are looking at the total employee experience. The payback will be an Eaton where millennials and younger workers want to work.
"We talk about us vs. them. They're us now," Fisher said.