Delivering More to Employees: An Interview with Shannon Bagley

How to create positive change in company diversity? What is the role of HR in driving the diversity agenda? What advice can a global HR leader give to small businesses treading the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic? These were only some of the topics The HR Digest discussed with Shannon Bagley, Executive Vice President – Human Resources at Centene Corporation.

Interview with Shannon Bagley

Shannon Bagley Global HR Leader

The HR Digest: What are some ‘moments of truth’ that this pandemic has brought forward for Centene?

Shannon Bagley: Even in the midst of uncertainty, I was taken aback by our organization’s incredible agility and speed in decision-making. Centene leveraged its modernized infrastructure, which included automation and digitization across multiple areas of the company, and its agility to enable prompt decision-making and swift execution of critical actions to ensure continued delivery of services for those we serve and our employees. 

For instance, we transitioned nearly 90% of our workforce, over 60,000 people, to a work-from-home environment in less than a week. This included securing computer equipment, conducting remote working training, and activating an employee concierge team to assist with a full spectrum of HR and IT questions from employees.

We wanted to ensure that employees had easy access to support resources and our “AskHR” team, along with our chat bot “Max” were helpful in providing 24/7 access to HR and IT professionals, at a time when employees were in need of critical information.

We also developed new benefits, many of which were in place within a couple of weeks of working remotely. We enacted 10 additional days of paid sick leave, new technology stipends to help cover the cost of home internet and /or personal mobile phone use, a premium payment for those continuing to work in the office and established a three month paid time off volunteer benefit, which enabled our clinical teams to receive full pay and benefits while volunteering in their local communities.

Our teams are compassionate and empathetic and we recognized that the workforce would need additional support during these unprecedented times. As such, HR worked quickly to activate our digital learning experience to accelerate well-being programs and offerings. 

To ensure we could continue to serve 24 million individuals, nearly 1 in 15 Americans with healthcare needs, we leveraged our automated and digitized talent attraction infrastructure and shifted to virtual hiring fairs and video interviewing. We’ve hired nearly 7,000 employees across the country since mid-March 2020.

How do you approach tough decisions like cost-cutting, layoffs, etc?

We evaluate business needs and priorities in the context of other macro-factors (i.e., COVID-19) and make business decisions in the best interest of our mission and business strategy. When we execute those decisions, we ensure timely and transparent communication is provided to employees.

As an example, we recently closed a large acquisition in January of this year. Because we believe it is important to be direct and transparent with employees, we communicated business integration plans to impacted employees shortly after deal closure, regardless of the planned last day of employment, to provide employees ample time to plan for transition and look for new opportunities.

Due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and job market, we enhanced our severance benefits, providing separation pay and subsidized medical coverage through at least the end of 2020. 

We truly believe that treating people with kindness and respect is just as important on an employee’s first day joining the organization, as it is when an employee may exit an organization. We provide employees what they want for themselves and place significant focus on transition services (e.g. resume building coaching, job interview skill building, and job search support).

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

At Centene, every employee is a leader and is critical to our success in transforming communities. In 2020, we doubled-down on the development of our people and activated digital learnings for the full workforce over a series of months, focused on building skills to thrive in the evolving world of work such as; customer-centricity, digital dexterity, perseverance and resilience and end-to-end problem solving.

Also in 2020, we repositioned our front line leader program, Igniting Leadership, to a virtual setting, which will connect with nearly 6,000 people leaders. Additionally, we are currently designing the leadership program, which will launch to all employees in 2021.

We also expect our Talent Attraction team to operate as advisors to our business leaders, helping them think through the talent they need to continue to propel our organization forward – and that includes continuing to ensure a diverse workforce to enable us to serve all of our stakeholders. Many of our advisors are Certified Diversity Recruiters and all of them have engaged in extensive Talent Advisor training, and we continue to upskill and outfit our team to lead this critical work with our hiring leaders.

Shannon Bagley Quote

Given the size and impact of our organization, we also have to think about how we scale all of this great work. We recently implemented a technology that helps us remain in contact with the millions of prospective employees in our Talent Community – many of whom joined our community through any one of the diversity channels we support. We now have the ability to keep our prospects informed of the work we continue to do to enhance diversity, inclusion and equity in our organization and in our communities.

As businesses and economies reopen post-COVID-19, what should be the priorities of business and HR leaders in terms of hiring and recruitment?

At Centene, we have reinforced our commitment to strengthening our workforce capabilities to ensure our people can thrive in the evolving world of work. We recognize that in addition to skill development, we can also strengthen workforce capabilities by infusing talent into the organization and we’ve been intentional to ensure that we seek out candidates with certain skills (e.g. customer centricity, digital dexterity and end-to-end problem-solving), as well as capabilities aligned with our leadership model, in all recruiting and hiring.

In addition to being diligent in infusing new skills through hiring and recruiting, it’s important for organizations to ensure alignment of their people strategy with their business strategy. For instance at Centene, our HR Business Partners and Talent Advisors work very close with Business Unit leaders to ensure we maximize our opportunity to accelerate and drive our talent agenda, which is aligned with our business strategy.

We utilize a People Plan, which is our integrated human capital component of each business unit’s annual business plan, and leverages talent insight to inform actions and drive intentional talent results.

Through our robust talent solutions and continuous listening and HR analytical tools, we have significant talent insight to help leaders design local strategies and actions across four key areas of enterprise focus in their People Plan, including:

  • Deepening the talent bench and upskilling talent
  • Enhancing the employee experience, engagement and culture
  • Optimizing organizational performance
  • Preparing for growth (workforce planning and org design)

What do you consider your most rewarding experience in your professional life?

My time co-leading Human Resources and helping build a Diversity and Inclusion Office has been incredibly rewarding and I feel I’ve lead with a defined purpose. When I took this role, I set out on a talent transformation, which would require a multi-year journey to modernize Human Resources, develop and bring best-in class professionals and position HR to be a catalyst of change, and to drive strategic business impact.

With the help of incredible HR and Diversity and Inclusion talent, we designed a new operating model, new organization structure, new systems, new talent analytics, reimagined processes, built talent infrastructure and launched new programs — with an eye towards digitization, automation, scale and impact. 

Today, it’s incredibly rewarding to see our multi-year roadmap come to life in how we connect with employees and business leaders to drive the people strategy, aligned with our business strategy. We have robust insight into our talent pipelines across the enterprise and we have talent infrastructure to continuously build these pipelines; thousands of employees engage in new targeted development programs and we are seeing the results pull through our succession plans and improved internal fill rates; we are listening to our employees and they are helping shape our programs and benefits; we’ve more closely aligned our pay for performance programs; and overall, our employee experience is improving and we are seeing increased engagement and enhanced culture come through our various listening surveys.

Shannon Bagley

Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Centene Corporation

Shannon Bagley Headshot

Shannon Bagley currently serves as Executive Vice President, Human Resources for Centene Corporation, a Fortune 100 multi-national healthcare enterprise. In this role, Ms. Bagley oversees the Diversity & Inclusion Office, Real Estate and Facilities, Security, and Human Resources. Ms. Bagley partners closely with senior leadership to establish Centene’s people agenda and develops people priorities to ensure alignment of Centene’s people strategy with its high growth business strategy. 

PHOTO: Centene Corporation

A version of this interview appeared in the October 2020 issue (p. 54) of The HR Digest. 

Priyansha Mistry
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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