Over her three decades in HR, evolution has been the name of the game for Danaher Corp. Senior Vice President of Human Resources Angela Lalor.
It started when Lalor realized, as a pre-med student, that working in a hospital setting just wasn’t for her. Instead, she dove into studying industrial relations for a master’s degree. She then joined 3M’s HR operations, beginning a 22-year career that followed her own preferences for interesting and challenging roles, with guidance along the way by, as she calls them, “some fantastic bosses and mentors.” She also acquired extensive change-leadership experience in lean and earned her Six Sigma Master Black Belt, which prepared her for her six-year stint in the C-suite as senior vice president of HR for 3M and, subsequently, at Danaher for the last seven years.
Today, she’s leading 860 Danaher HR professionals around the world. The global science and technology innovations company has 66,500 employees, more than $18 billion in revenue worldwide and some 20 operating companies that focus on diagnostics, life sciences, dental care, and environmental and applied solutions.
Lalor’s achievements so far have centered on re-engineering the HR function as a strategic business partner to build the best workplace and develop the most effective people leaders.
Boosting Associate Engagement
About six years ago, the organization took a hard look at opportunities for people improvement, says Lalor, who reports to the CEO and interacts directly with Danaher’s board of directors. “We re-engineered our whole engagement-survey process and got much more scientific with it,” she says.
The leadership team decided to track Danaher’s associate-engagement numbers against top-quartile companies—which matched how they measured their business metrics as well. Lalor says it took about four years to hit the market median in all measures; in the last two years, many measures have moved into the top quartile.
To get there, Lalor and her team built an arsenal of tools and programs to help the operating company presidents and HR leaders identify key opportunities, establish action plans and drive improvement results.
“Our goal, which we talked about openly with associates, was to shift our culture from a focus around just performance, metrics and [business] results to a culture that was focused around performance and people metrics, [and] meeting results and recognition,” Lalor explains.
“We feel like we’re not done,” she adds, saying the company has expanded the focus to drive improvement around diversity and inclusion, with equal emphasis on both reflecting the diversity of Danaher’s global markets and “ensuring that the environment is very enabling and supportive of our associates to bring their authentic selves to work and thrive.”
Danaher President and CEO Thomas P. Joyce Jr. confirmed Lalor’s role in the process in a letter of recommendation: “Angie joined Danaher with a vision of building a world-class human resources organization—one that would help us attract, develop and engage the employees we need to achieve our ambitious business goals,” he wrote. “Angie embodies a mindset of continuous improvement. She is always looking for ways to improve our HR activities.”
A second HR focus at Danaher has been building a strong leadership pipeline, which played a key role in improving employee engagement.
“We’ve probably done over 50 acquisitions since I’ve been here. All of that puts pretty extreme pressure on us to ensure that we’ve got a robust [group] of emerging and high-potential leaders to support that formula,” Lalor says. “We’ve made some pretty meaningful improvement in our ability to build out that bench through a lot of new and expanded talent-planning tools, talent-assessment tools and leadership programs.”
Another change was bringing all talent acquisition in house. “I think, as a result, our talent funnels by every measure have improved meaningfully,” Lalor says.
One of Danaher’s eight core value drivers is the internal fill rate for senior leader roles: “That has been on a steady rise over the last five years and today it’s at an all-time high,” she notes. “Associated with that is taking that same focus around CEO succession. I’ve had the opportunity to work with five excellent CEOs across [3M and Danaher], and we’ve had really good success in planning for and executing on CEO development and succession.”
Lalor adds that supporting effective transitions has been beneficial for leadership teams, the board, shareholders and associates. “That’s probably one of the things I’ll be most proud of,” she says.
Putting Business First
Throughout her career, Lalor notes, she’s noticed an evolving need for HR leaders to have a very high level of business and financial acumen. To that end, Danaher regularly seeks out MBAs to fill HR roles, she adds.
Each business has unique goals and strategies, and HR leaders should help define what will be a “needle mover” to make those goals a reality, she says.
“You have to prioritize the tactics around that and, most importantly, focus on just really strong execution. I would much rather drive three things really well and get them really well integrated into the business and drive impact on those than try to have textbook best practices on everything. Because, quite often, when you’re doing that, you’re really not having an impact.
“And, to me,” she adds, “if you can do that for your business, that’s the best thing you can do for your individual career as well.”