Harnessing Digital Transformation of Covid-19 Crisis
The purpose of servant leadership, according to Kathleen Wilson-Thompson, Executive Vice President and Global Chief Human Resources Officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc., is to empower people. In an interview with The HR Digest, Wilson-Thompson talks about her personal leadership style and the power of harnessing the digital transformation of COVID-19 era.
The HR Digest: How has Walgreens Boots Alliance responded to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure employee safety, managing relationships with clients, collaboration with industry leaders and internal workforce management?
Kathleen Wilson-Thompson: Ensuring the health and safety of our team members, customers and communities is our top priority, and I will provide just a few examples. We implemented a number of safety measures and follow local government guidance (whether the CDC in the U.S. or the NHS in the UK) and provided face covers, plexiglass shields, social distancing cues, frequent and deep cleaning and sanitizing, health screenings for team members, and more.
There will be large portions of the current workforce that will not return to a traditional office post-pandemic. How prepared is Walgreens Boots Alliance for that?
Actually, it’s important to note that most of our team members globally work in pharmacies, stores, distribution centers….providing essential services to our communities. In our Support Office locations, we have maintained a smaller but consistent presence on campuses throughout the various phases of the pandemic, in accordance with local government guidance.
We had invested in digital collaboration tools before the pandemic and were able to adapt quickly to new ways of working for Support Office colleagues who have been working from home.
How would you describe your personal approach to leadership?
I am a long time believer in “servant leadership.” In this leadership philosophy, the main goal of the leader is to serve, and to share power and put the needs of team members first, to help your team develop and perform as highly as possible.
I am also a huge champion of diversity, equity and inclusion, and have been across the course of my career. We must all advocate for fairness and access to roles and opportunities at all levels, for all people, for everyone. I also firmly believe as a leader that actions must match intentions.
What are some of the leadership lessons that have guided you in the current times of crisis?
We are living in extraordinary times, given concurrent “once in a lifetime” experiences converging within three months’ time: a pandemic, recession and the racial justice movement. We are an iconic brand company with more than 400,000 team members, spanning across the globe in 25 countries and territories.
There is a strong sense of responsibility for us, whether providing the essential services of pharmacy, health care and retail to our customers and patients across the world during the global pandemic, or whether we are a voice and catalyst for change as part of our commitment to racial equity – we can set ourselves out as an example of a company of diverse and respected team members, well cared for and passionate about our work, showing the world in exemplary fashion how to be a part of the solution.
What has been the most challenging decision you’ve ever had to take in your career?
In my 17 years at Kellogg, I held positions ranging from Legal, to Operations, to Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources. Throughout my time, no matter the role, I was focused on engagement, decisions to help the business win, and building great relationships across every level of the organization.
I took a calculated risk in my career at that time and left the legal department to accept an assignment in a Memphis, Tenn., plant as the Human Resources manager. This assignment was highly impactful to my career as it provided invaluable operational experience including accountability for the entire plant’s people management processes. It was a very hands-on role – more operational than prior roles for me – and I found it to be an enriching experience that helped to inform some of my future roles in leadership.
Executive Vice President and Global Chief Human Resources Officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
Kathleen Wilson-Thompson is Executive Vice President and Global Chief Human Resources Officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. Prior to this, she was Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for Walgreens since 2010. Previously, she served as Senior Vice President, Global Human Resources of Kellogg Company from July 2005 to December 2009. She serves on the boards of Tesla and a number of not-for-profit community organizations, and is a prior board member of Ashland Global Holdings Inc.
PHOTO: Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
A version of this interview appeared in the October 2020 issue (p. 54) of The HR Digest.