Lisa van Capelle Leads with Empathy at Syneos Health

“You have to be authentic in how you “show up” every day,” says Lisa van Capelle of Syneos Health. This is reflected in the company’s foundation on its Total Self culture where everyone can authentically be themselves. The unique mantra recognizes diversity, strives for equity, and creates an inclusive environment that gives a sense of belonging to the employees. In this interview with The HR Digest, van Capelle talks about the determination and passion people bring to Syneos Health battling the pandemic, and forging the path to the next normal. 

Rethinking the People Agenda

Top HR Leaders CHROs Lisa Van Capelle

The HR Digest: Looking at the impact of Covid-19 on Syneos Health, what changes are here to stay?

Lisa van Capelle: Throughout the pandemic, our priorities have been the safety and wellbeing of our employees, the success of our customers, and the stability of our business for our shareholders. Although Covid-19 presented unprecedented challenges, our teams rose to meet the moment and continue to do so today. Through their resiliency and dedication, our teams supported each other and we supported our employees, while continuing to provide agile, custom solutions to meet the needs of our customers. 

While the pandemic has proven it will have an ongoing impact on every facet of our world, it ultimately changed our work ecosystem. It taught us that our ability to be agile not only helped us survive but enabled us to thrive. This theme of agility is now woven into the work that we do not only from the aspect of our direct work with biopharma customers, but in how we reacted to the pandemic to meet the needs of our employees. Our connection with employees not only became far more frequent, but more open and candid. At the beginning of the pandemic, to remain transparent with employees, we implemented frequent employee communications including CEO emails, blogs, vlogs and town hall to inform employees about Company actions to safeguard their wellbeing and the Company’s financial wellbeing. How and when we engage with employees has forever changed. 

How we work has also shifted. The focus is less on where employees work and more about how they work. Whether they come into an office every day, work a hybrid schedule or are permanently remote, interactions are different. Collaboration has never been greater and for those who are able to safely meet in an office, it’s no longer a space to sit in a closed office, but a place to come together to work smarter. 

What do you think most boards misunderstand or underestimate about human resources?

At Syneos Health, we are fortunate that our board inherently understands the value of human resources as our people strategy is at the core of our business execution. When Covid-19 first hit, we implemented weekly updates with our board, which were equally focused on what we were doing to keep our shareholders happy and how we were taking care of our employees. Their concern for the safety and wellbeing of our people extended beyond the traditional board seat. 

While I realize not every board functions like ours nor shares our mentality, I do believe that it is less about what a board misunderstands about human resources and more about a board’s general interaction with the company, which is traditionally focused on the return for shareholders. This focus, however, is now changing and the value of human resources is becoming more top of mind as companies are increasingly focused on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) efforts. 

In your opinion, what truly affects workplace culture?

Authenticity and intention are imperative traits to lead within order to create a sustainable, positive culture for employees. You have to be authentic in how you “show up” every day, and not just in larger moments when you think it matters. This works in tandem with having intention when building or sustaining a culture. At Syneos Health, we believe in a Total Self culture built upon being authentically who we are, inclusive of our emotional and physical wellbeing. We believe that the total health of our employees including their emotional, physical and community wellbeing —is essential to ensure they are supported in leading satisfying and healthy professional and personal lives. 

It’s also imperative to weave in your values across all aspects that impact employees, so our Total Self culture was designed to integrate our corporate values. 

Do you believe that the current curriculum in business schools are preparing future leaders for challenges and changes in store for the workplace of tomorrow?

I’m encouraged not only by the data available to the future leaders that tells a story and instigates conversation around the workplace of tomorrow, but also because this generation understands their voice holds more weight in today’s world, weight that can drive positive change. Despite what the current curriculum involves, the students have access to data and can use it to support their voice in molding the future. They can also use it to work through any challenges they may encounter. 

What’s the key lesson you want aspiring CHROs to take away from your work?

There are two equally important lessons I would like aspiring CHROs to take away from my learnings as an industry professional. First, change can happen quicker than we think. Covid-19 supports this theory remain agile in all that you do. Second, you should hire for potential versus experience. Traditionally, there is a high degree of expectations when looking at potential candidates for a role. It was easy to overlook a resume that met the criteria in terms of skillset if the candidate came from a different industry; however, this is a missed opportunity and a myth that should be debunked. Having prior industry experience is not solely correlated to a prospect’s potential. We have learned first-hand that if a job candidate has the skill set needed for the work, aptitude and motivation, they can succeed. That doesn’t mean internal training programs are not important, because they are and something we offer at Syneos Health. 

How are you going to shake things up next? 

There is value in pausing, especially in order to lay the groundwork for what is next. Sometimes, the best thing to do to “shake things up” is to pause in order to clarify what is important and what needs to be a focus in the next phase for an organization. 

At Syneos Health, as a relatively new company (we formed via a merger in 2017), it’s important to take stock of what we have done to date and dissect what we can do simpler moving forward to make things more clear and easier in order to have a lasting impact. 

Lisa van Capelle Syneos Health

Lisa van Capelle,
CHRO, Syneos Health

 As Chief Human Resources Officer, Lisa guides more than 28,000 global employees responsible for high-value integrated Clinical and Commercial Solutions. Through this engaged workforce, Syneos Health helps accelerate the delivery of treatments that impact patient lives.

As an active Executive Leadership team-member, Lisa is member of Syneos Health Compensation Committee and HR representative for the Board of Directors. Her extensive leadership experience in developing, aligning and operationalizing integrated businesses has been key in bringing together Syneos Health with a focus on an inclusive culture that enables new and innovative healthcare solutions.

Photo: Syneos Health

This interview was published in the January 2022 issue of The HR Digest.


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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