Creating Shared Value: An Interview with Becky Schmitt

As a company whose success depends on change management, Cognizant puts a premium on its internal culture. From the vantage point of a lifelong career in human resources, Becky Schmitt talked with The HR Digest about the various programs which have put Cognizant on the global map as one of the top companies for star performers.

The HR Digest: Organizations have recognized the importance of using people analytics to de-bias hiring and rewards – but then fail to accelerate in skills identification and tackling biases. How did Cognizant approach this unique challenge to debunk conventional wisdom?

Becky Schmitt: At Cognizant, we are working to create conditions where everyone can thrive. This includes our diversity and inclusion efforts, and we recognize there is still work to be done.

Last year, we took the important step to embed our Diversity & Inclusion team within our Talent & Transformation organization. True inclusion requires change at every touchpoint in the employee lifecycle – hire to retire – and ensuring our people processes and systems are reinforcing desired behaviors along the way.

As an example, we have leveraged diversity data to establish female hiring and retention goals for our top leaders. These goals are embedded into annual performance planning for 4,000 directors and above and are a factor in year-end reviews and ratings. 

Can you share with The HR Digest readers some innovative recruiting strategies that allow Cognizant to compete for talent in America and abroad?

Cognizant is an expansive organization that has grown rapidly over its history. Today, we have approximately 290,000 associates globally, and our hiring engine is always running to bring in talented individuals to help us deliver our purpose. At the same time, we operate in a highly competitive talent market, so in addition to being an attractive employer, it’s essential for us to have innovative methods to break through and secure strong and diverse talent for our team.

One of the ways we do this is through learning and development opportunities. Candidates may not have all of the prerequisite skills for a particular role or may have areas they want to further grow and develop while on the job. We provide pre-employment training to build capability and confidence early, upskilling and reskilling through our award-winning learning Academy, and we recently launched university partnerships in India for associates to pursue higher degrees while employed with Cognizant. Candidates highly value the range of options to grow through access to both company-directed training as well as self-paced programs.

We have revamped our flexible work programs to meet our people where they are and adjust to the realities of the pandemic. Associates can complete their hours outside of a standard schedule to accommodate family or other responsibilities, for example, by stretching their hours over seven days a week versus five..

We have also kicked off a “Returnship” program aimed at restarting the careers of talented women in technology who have had a multi-year career break, often to raise a child or care for family.

And, of course, we are always making enhancements to our Total Rewards approach to make offers even more competitive regionally.

Can you point to any single defining moment in your career?

I really struggled with being a working mother for about the first 10 years of my career. I never felt good enough at home or at work. I tried multiple things – going part-time, taking a demotion, working more hours, you name it.

Like many women in this position, I was applying unrealistic standards. Finally a very wise person gave me the grace to think of my time differently. She said, “Becky, you need to decide in the moment that matters what type of mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend or professional you need to be and be totally focused on that moment.” That resonated. I shifted my focus to being present versus being perfect, so that the people I am with get the best version of me in that setting. This unlocked a new perspective, helping me to feel that others were getting what they needed from me, while also helping me to free up the headspace to think bigger and plan ahead.

What would you say is the most effective non-cash motivator?

The people you work with. I’ve found there is no price you can put on being surrounded by amazing talent. There is a magic that happens when you find a combination of smart people who push your own thinking and capabilities, while also supporting you in being your best. I truly believe that a strong team, when coupled with a compelling employee value proposition, can be a greater motivator than any reward.

When the time comes for you to give aspiring leaders advice about their lives and careers, what will you say to them as you reflect on your own experiences?

I gain perspective and learn new lessons nearly every day, but there are two key pieces of advice I’d provide at this stage of my life and career:

  1. Have a plan, but always leave room for opportunity. Your greatest growth often happens through surprises and detours. If I had been too rigid in my own plans, I would not have been open to a move to India, which turned out to be both a breakthrough moment in my career as well as a great experience for my family.
  2. Career paths don’t have to be linear or vertical. So often we focus on moving up within our fields that we overlook lateral movements. Challenge yourself to explore a new industry, master a new skill or gain expanded perspective through a role in a different country/region. The breadth of experience will make you an even stronger professional and further propel your leadership aspirations. The destination is the journey!
Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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