This time for Fond of Work, we interviewed Amy George of Terex Corporation about how COVID-19 has affected its HR practices, her journey into HR, and more.
Amy George was named SVP HR, Chief Human Resources Officer at Terex in December 2019. She is responsible for leading the global HR function, the global HSE (Health, Safety and the Environment) function and Corporate Communications. She is focused on building a world class HR organization that proactively enables the business to exceed its objectives
Prior to joining Terex in 2007, Amy was employed by PepsiCo for almost ten years and held a variety of leadership roles in Human Resources, culminating in her position as Vice President, Global Diversity. Before joining PepsiCo, Amy was employed for ten years at James River Corporation (now Georgia Pacific), where she held management positions in a variety of functions, including Sales, General Management, Customer Administration and Human Resources.
Amy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University and a Masters in Business Administration from the Johnson School at Cornell University. Amy is married, with three children and she is an active volunteer in her community.
How did you first get into the HR space?
My first insight into HR came from the part-time job I held for three years in my university’s Department of Telecommunications. When we expanded our staff, I interviewed and hired other students. When we changed our phone system, I trained the professors and administrators on the new equipment. I really enjoyed these activities and realized that in HR I’d have the opportunity to focus on areas like recruitment and training. So, when thinking about getting my MBA my first choice was Cornell — where I would not only get my business degree, but I’d be able to take classes at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. I loved the coursework there and realized that HR was for me.
How did you end up at your current position?
After I received my MBA, I got my first HR role and then had an opportunity to move out of HR into Customer Administration, and then Sales and Marketing. I worked in these other functions for approximately eight years with James River (now Georgia Pacific) and then had the opportunity to join PepsiCo where I returned to HR. At PepsiCo, HR played a critical role and I focused mostly on the areas of Organizational Capability and Diversity & Inclusion. When I joined Terex, I assumed a new role that focused on both of these key areas, which are definitely my passions. Through my 13+ years at Terex, I had the opportunity to get involved in all areas of the business and all aspects of HR. My predecessor as CHRO did a great job preparing me to be his successor.
Why are you fond of your work?
I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoy my HR work, as I passionately believe that talent is the key to an organization’s success. Being at the heart of assessing and developing talent makes me feel like I am making a vital contribution. I am fortunate to have an outstanding HR team that is innovative, professional, and embodies our core values. I enjoy collaborating with the business to develop solutions that are practical and help us meet our objectives. I also enjoy the sheer variety of the work that I do. Everyday brings new challenges and unique problems to solve.
Why do you think HR is an important department for every business to have?
It used to be that many companies viewed people as costs, but I think we’ve come to understand that they are assets. Treating your team with dignity and respect and creating an environment where team members want to stay is critical for an organization to achieve its goals. While HR does not do it alone, the HR function can lead the way, helping the organization better evaluate and develop its talent, putting in reward and recognition programs that will drive the right kinds of behavior, and developing policies that will attract and retain the best, most diverse talent. If done well, all these things can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful company.
What’s your management philosophy? How do you apply it at your company?
At Terex, we have a set of six values that make up “The Terex Way,” and I think the one that best describes my management philosophy is Servant Leadership. When we talk about Servant Leadership, we describe it as a culture of support, where managers ask “How can I help you?” vs. telling team members what to do and how to do it.
I’m pleased to say that at Terex our values don’t just get displayed on posters, but rather we try every day to embody and live them. Our leadership courses are built around our values and we reinforce their importance at every opportunity. Applying Servant Leadership involves being approachable and doing lots of listening, to understand team members’ needs and then determine ways in which you can help remove barriers or provide resources or give guidance so that they can achieve their goals. I’m also a firm believer in the “say/do” principle. If you say you’re going to do something, you need to stick to that commitment. This builds trust with your teams and your peers and reinforces a culture of accountability.
How do you reward and recognize employees?
You may have noticed in my responses that we refer to our employees as team members, which I think is associated with our concept of Servant Leadership. That said, I firmly believe in the importance of rewarding and recognizing the great work that our team members do. In addition to standard elements of compensation and providing regular feedback as an art of good management, we have several recognition programs globally. One, called “Crowning Achievement,” allows any team member to nominate another team member (peer, manager, or subordinate) who demonstrates one or more of the Terex Way values and helps drive improvement in one or more of a number of areas. Another is “Pause the Job” which is aligned with our Zero Harm safety culture where team members who call out potential safety issues are recognized. And yet another is our annual “Execute to Win” awards which are highly competitive and determined by our Chairman and CEO.
What is your company doing to react to COVID-19?
First and foremost, the focus has been on the safety and wellbeing of our team members. We manufacture large, heavy industrial equipment, and building a Zero Harm safety culture has been essential in creating a safe working environment for our 9,000+ team members around the world.
We have put numerous protocols in place to protect the health of our team members who have continued to work onsite and those who are returning to work onsite. In addition to classic hygiene protocols for both our team members and our facilities and social distancing, we have instituted daily health checks around the world that include health screening questions and temperature checks. We are using video technology instead of face-to-face meetings and have learned how to effectively work remotely. In addition to our focus on the health of our team members, we are also focused on the health of our company. In that regard we have taken actions to ensure our ongoing viability via various cost reductions and have been sizing the company in line with the demand for our products.
How has COVID-19 affected how you recognize your employees?
The recognition programs that I described above are still alive and well despite the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, we think they are more important than ever. Really extraordinary efforts have occurred during this time, as our team members have had to react to situations without precedent. Time after time, they have risen to the occasion and developed innovative and effective solutions. They are demonstrating collaboration and unity at a time when it would be easy to create silos. There is a lot of great work to recognize.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
One piece of advice I always return to is that if you lose your sense of humor, it’s time to do something else. In HR, we deal with a lot of really difficult challenges each day, but I believe there’s invariably time to poke fun at yourself or find humor in a situation. By doing so, you make the workplace that much more enjoyable for yourself and those around you. When you’re unable to do that anymore or you’re in an environment where there is no sense of lightness, it’s time to find something else to do or another place to be. Life is way too short to be miserable.
What are some of the most pressing issues HR leaders face today?
I believe that one of the most pressing issues that has arisen as a result of COVID-19 is what the world of work will look like post-crisis. I think HR leaders will be challenged to think through every aspect of our processes and policies, from recruitment, performance management, and training and development to engagement to incentive plans. Everything is on the table including where people work and whether we need as much physical space. I think HR can lead the way in determining new and more effective ways of working.
What’s one thing you’ve had to learn the hard way in your career?
One thing I’ve learned is how to let go. As someone who errs toward perfectionism, I was often the person who wanted to do things myself. While I still see value in rolling up my sleeves, I’m well aware of the fact that I can’t do it all and if I try, I certainly won’t do it all very well. As I’ve taken on more responsibility over the years, I’ve learned the benefits of delegation, not just for me but for the people to whom I delegate, as it provides them with opportunities to learn and grow. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a tremendously talented team whom I trust implicitly and rely upon regularly.
Any advice for future HR leaders?
My key advice for those about to enter into the HR field is to make it your business to understand the business. To develop practical, effective solutions that drive and support organizational objectives, it’s critical for HR professionals to understand financial levers, company strategy and priorities. Many young people enter into HR because they say they like to work with people. While the competencies around successfully collaborating with others, showing empathy and listening to concerns are critical, the HR role is much more varied and nuanced than that.
The HR professionals who ascend to leadership roles can speak the language of the business, understand the numbers and can stand shoulder to shoulder with other leaders in terms of their organizational knowledge. In this regard, the time I spent in my career outside of HR served me very well, helping me to better understand firsthand the challenges faced by other functional areas. The best HR folks are seen as strong partners who, based on their business and functional acumen, provide relevant, practical and actionable insights.
Thanks so much to Amy for taking the time to speak with us for Fond of Work. Stay tuned for the next interview in the Fond of Work series, coming soon!
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