When the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States in early 2020, it brought with it major disruptions to in-progress HR projects, as HR leaders had to quickly pivot to focus on employee safety and health and a new remote-work world. For global market intelligence and financial insights firm S&P Global, the crisis bubbled up right in the middle of the design and production of a new market-facing recruiting site.
The organization worked with History Factory to develop a new narrative for its revamped site, honing in on a “Pioneers and Thinkers” theme, showcasing the people—and the culture—that have driven the company’s work for 160 years. Despite the disruption of the pandemic, the organization forged ahead with its plans—with a few major tweaks.
Instead of professional filming, the S&P Global employees instead recorded their own stories—which ended up adding an even more authentic feel to the site, says CHRO Dimitra Manis, who spearheaded the project. Within the first two weeks after the site’s launch in the fall, visits were up 12 times and 27,000 sponsored ad views on LinkedIn and 8,000 organic feed views had been reported.
The success of the site, and the many pandemic responses the organization pivoted to this year, were the result of a people-first, agile mindset, Manis says. It’s an approach she has honed through her more than 30 years in HR. Before her current position, Manis was CHRO at Revlon. She has also held HR leadership roles at The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., Openlink Financial, Thomson Reuters and Nike.
Manis recently spoke with HRE about her career journey, work at S&P Global and outlook for HR in 2021.
HRE: The pandemic started in the midst of your work to revamp the recruiting site. What changes were made to the design of the proposed site in light of COVID?
Manis: Our team has really embraced an agile mindset and agile ways of working, and we did pivot a lot. Rather than on-location or in-studio shoots, we used special mobile technology to film our people stories, and those who were featured actually filmed themselves. Honestly, I think the result is even better than what we expected. This was an opportunity for people to bring us into their homes; we see them working alongside their families and pets, in so many different, flexible home office configurations. It gives a wonderful, personal touch that I don’t think we would have achieved through a formal film shoot.
HRE: Storytelling seems key to the new site; how does that approach tie into the overarching culture at S&P Global?
Manis: At its core, our culture is about putting our people first. Our people are pioneers and thinkers, and they make S&P Global the innovative and forward-thinking place it is. Every one of our team members brings a unique background, experience and perspective to work with them each day and we wanted to capture some of their stories, of our real people living their real lives. I think the result is something that feels completely genuine because it is rooted in our heritage and captures the inclusive environment we’ve created at the company.
HRE: How challenging was it for yourself and the HR team to lead this work through the many other immediate HR priorities ushered in by the pandemic?
Manis: Our agile mindset really helped to assess and reprioritize several initiatives. In partnership with History Factory, we completed our research on the company heritage and story before we moved to remote work and were able to quickly deploy the mobile video technology I mentioned earlier. From there, our people-first philosophy guided us through our approach, thinking through how our current priorities support our people and their loved ones, both during COVID and beyond. Balancing our response with being proactive helped to reassure our people, increase trust and create a high level of engagement during a challenging time.
HRE: How has the people team at S&P Global sought to improve retention throughout the pandemic?
Manis: This year has shown us more than ever the importance of putting our people first. We built on our existing flexible work practices to provide support and continuity to our people throughout this challenging year. This included expanding our global care leave to two weeks, then more recently to six weeks annually to enable people to care for loved ones (sick or well) during COVID. We also provided a global technology allowance to accommodate the work-from-home environment. As a company, S&P Global pivoted to remote working incredibly quickly, and we knew our people needed additional support to create a workspace that would let them feel connected and productive at home.
We’ve also seen the importance of keeping health and wellness top of mind for our people as they care for themselves and their loved ones. We’re all facing profound levels of anxiety, and it can be hard to separate work from home during this time, so we frequently reinforce the importance of taking time to refresh and recharge. We also extended our global employee assistance program to provide wider access to mental health services and introduced a wide suite of wellness programming to encourage our people to put these resources to use.
HRE: What do you feel was S&P’s shining HR moment in 2020? And where could the team have done better?
Manis: This year, we redefined what it means to put our people first—how we’ve come together to find ways to support our people and their families, reprioritizing initiatives. We’ve done an amazing job as a company, under our CEO’s leadership, to protect our people, serve our customers and look after our communities. Empathy and compassion for our people will always be a part of how we lead, and we will continue the momentum on social justice, as it is and must remain a priority.
HRE: What will the world of work look like this year?
Manis: I don’t think any of us expected a year like this one, so I hesitate to try to predict 2021! With that said, across industries, we’re all going to be grappling with similar questions in the year to come. The most pressing of those is, what does the workplace look like in a post-COVID world? At S&P Global, we have a team focused on reimagining the post-COVID world. The team is looking at how we serve our customers, how we work and where we work.
While a lot of this future planning continues, one thing we know for sure is that it will be a hybrid model. On the people side, flexible working models help companies retain workers with caregiving responsibilities—especially women. From a business continuity and real estate perspective, using multiple working models lets us amplify the impact of our people in ways that drive the organization forward. It’s an exciting time for us as leaders because we’re truly designing the workplace of the future.
HRE: What do you think will be three skills HR leaders need to master to succeed amid the challenges of 2021?
Manis: First and foremost, you have to deeply care about people and you have to lead with empathy.
Secondly, you have to have an appetite for change. I’m a change addict. Accelerating the future of work and quickly adapting to unexpected scenarios is part of everyday HR life.
And, last but not least, an agile mindset. Agile teams are a significant part of our organization (and) that develops critical skill sets, such as problem-solving, storytelling, experimentation and working with speed to respond to changing business priorities. It’s all about moving with speed.
HRE: How did you get your start in HR?
Manis: Truly, I fell into HR: I started my career in banking, managing client investment funds, and was evaluating dealers to measure their value creation. The head of HR was looking for business people to join their team and approached me. The rest is history. I really love creating high-performing, dynamic leadership teams that create impactful experiences for our people.
HRE: What would your advice be to someone just starting a career in HR today?
Manis: Learn all aspects of HR and don’t limit yourself to one role or area within the function. Remember to keep your focus on the business. Overall, don’t be afraid to be bold and courageous—that’s what helps you push an organization forward.