Abbe Luersman, Executive Vice President & Chief People Office at Otis, is already hard at work to neutralize our biases and unleash untapped talent. In recent months, Luersman has advocated increasing number of initiatives groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the corporate world – and has gotten results. In a remarkable interview with The HR Digest, Luersman talks about the various DE&I programs which have put Otis on the global map as one of the top employers for LGBTQ+ employees and executive women and minorities.
The HR Digest: What changes initiated by you are working well for Otis in this smart, thriving world?
Abbe Luersman: I joined Otis about three months ago, and I felt immediately welcomed to the organization. My colleagues have all helped me to contribute to my fullest right away, and I am grateful.
My personal purpose is creating communities to win as one. It truly is about our collective team and how I can best help to enable others and our business to be better together. It’s a philosophy I bring with me to Otis as we work to give people freedom to connect and thrive in a taller, faster, smarter world. Our people are a critical part of bringing our vision to life.
We have shaped our People Strategy to focus and empower our organization to achieve sustainable, long-term growth. This includes cultivating our talent, so all our colleagues can engage and grow; anticipating and developing our organizational capabilities to fuel our future; informing, inspiring and engaging the communities we serve; and fostering & activating our culture to unite and differentiate us.
We aspire to ensure all our voices feel safe, welcomed and heard, and part of this is providing equitable opportunities to all to grow and contribute at our best. We aspire to create an environment where colleagues feel safe to truly express themselves and to raise risks and concerns.
The HR Digest: What challenges are you facing while working as a CPO at Otis? How are you planning to manage these challenges?
I prefer to think of challenges as opportunities, because every challenge opens a door for us to consider how to do something differently and create innovative ways to address new opportunities. Sometimes you need a challenge to stimulate different ways of thinking.
One of our opportunities is to shift our thinking related to inclusion. Inclusivity means different things in different geographies and as a leader in a global organization, addressing issues in the U.S. has been a catalyst to go beyond. We must ensure that we drive to a workforce that is reflective of the markets in which we live, work, and serve globally.
Although we are taking strides to acknowledge and eliminate bias, it persists within the organization, and our work to eliminate bias must continue. As an example, we are taking steps to eliminate bias through extensive leadership training that launched earlier this year as well as revamping our recruiting, performance and professional development structure and processes.
We also know that we need to elevate diverse talent by reimagining how we hire and promote, ensuring all elements of our employee life cycle are re-evaluated, from hire to retire, and personalized based on expressed needs. We need to evolve our employee life cycle journey to be meaningful for what our colleagues are feeling and experiencing with a focus on impact and value. We’re identifying the things that we believe can make a marked difference with global KPIs to measure success.
For example, we are working to offer equitable global access to Employee Assistance Programs around the world. We have a plan in place to expand access, and we’ve made significant progress to date. Our goal is to achieve global access for all our colleagues by the end of 2022 or sooner.
The HR Digest: Can you highlight any benefits and perks gaffes that organizations usually make? What are a few mistakes that Otis tracks down for itself and how are you planning to overcome these gaffes?
Based on who we are and how we work, we consider mistakes to be learning opportunities. We want to be a continuous learning organization. We choose to commit to the change we aspire to see, and as an organization we will continue to commit to change.
In fact, that is just what we have done. Last summer, Otis publicly shared ‘Our Commitment to Change,’ signed by Otis President and CEO Judy Marks and all members of our Executive Leadership Team, it lays out actions the company is taking to ensure that Otis is a place where every voice feels welcomed, safe and heard.
It’s based on six pillars that represent the framework of our aspirations that include anti-racism, unconscious bias and inclusion learning, promotion and expansion of mental health and well-being benefits, sponsoring STEM education programs and other CSR programs to support underserved communities and invest in future leaders.
Change begins with awareness, and we engaged an independent consultant who conducted and completed a review of our company to uncover and eliminate bias across our business practices. This initial work helped us to focus our efforts on some immediate opportunities, while also informing our roadmap to more sustainable and systemic changes.
We launched our Inclusive Leadership Journey. Managers around the world participated in a learning program designed to help break through unconscious bias. The program equips participants to work, collaborate, and lead inclusively.
We joined Paradigm for Parity – the first in our industry to do so – and committed to gender parity in our global executive leadership by 2030. As part of this, we are also assessing pay parity to identify and address any gaps.
Being active in our communities is foundational to who we are. In 2020 we launched our “Made to Move CommunitiesTM” initiative and engaged schools in Brazil, China, Germany, Hong Kong (SAR), Japan, Russia, Spain, the United States and Singapore. Under the mentorship of Otis colleagues, approximately 100 students spent eight weeks developing STEM-based solutions to address mobility challenges in their communities – particularly those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of our focus on mental health, well-being and balance, we have introduced an ‘Otis Ways of Well-being.’ While it is a work in progress, we have asked our top 400 leaders to pilot it so we can learn, grow and adjust to ensure we continue to create the culture and environment our colleagues want and need.
What strategies do you plan to implement to ensure all voices are heard in the global workforce?
We must listen without bias, learn, and adapt intentionally and be more connected to our workforce to understand and act on their needs. We have a strong strategy to achieve this that includes training / accelerating development, listening tours, sponsorship and mentorship, recruiting practices and driving greater accountability. It’s also important that our colleagues understand that it is OK to be vulnerable and it’s safe to express when they are uncomfortable – this is how we get better together.
We are creating global action teams focused on diversity equity and inclusion. This includes an advisory group made up of our senior leaders, including our CEO and a Board member as well as regional councils, Employee Resource Group (ERG) / Business Resource Group (BRG) councils and a global working team to drive and share best practices.
Through regular engagement, dialog and activities with our ERGs, our goal is to support and encourage these extraordinary teams to mature into BRGs. Right now, they come together to discuss common issues and concerns to connect and share for affinity. This is important to drive and create continuous understanding and learning; by doing so, we continue to become better together.
At the same time, we want our ERGs to act as BRGs to help us strengthen our culture and ensure all voices are heard. For example, we conduct a semi-annual “pulse” survey of our colleagues globally. Our Momentum ERG, representing our Black colleagues in the US, assessed our recent survey results, analyzing responses of Black colleagues specifically. They had the courage to make bold recommendations for change to our senior leadership team based on their analysis. Their voices directly inspired changes to our people strategy.
Taking time to listen, understand and act drives change. There is always more work to be done, and we are committed to continuously ensuring all voices are safe, welcomed and heard.
The HR Digest: Can you tell The HR Digest readers more about Otis’ strategies to raise the bar of talent and diversity in the workplace?
It is about delivering on our people strategy and Our Commitment to Change. We have aligned our incentive programs to ensure support, engagement and accountability across our organization.
We have revamped our talent review process and evaluation approach to increase transparency and accountability across our talent management practices. In addition, we’re providing new tools including a diversity dashboard built into our HR platform open to all HR colleagues and managers.
We are evaluating the full “talent lifecycle” to identify and remove bias from our processes and committing to balanced slates and succession planning conducting talent reviews deeper in the organization.
And we’re setting expectations around our commitments to ensure we have diverse representation at all levels of the organization.
We’re also investing in making connections and building relationships with non-profit organizations to advance DE&I as well as build awareness and garner interest in apprentice programs and collaborating with our unions to educate, drive awareness and recruit more diverse candidates into our field.
We’re building a diverse talent pipeline fit for the future.