Sneak Peak: Alcon


Human Resource departments are essential for many reasons – recruiting talent, coaching managers to be great leaders, developing compelling learning and development programs, keeping culture on track and much, much more. In fact, as this newsletter proves, HR is becoming more integral to organizational strategy and execution. This month we had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Bettinger, ‎Global Head of Talent Acquisition at Alcon, a Novartis company dedicated to developing innovative eye care treatments, to hear how he is evolving culture at his organization. Here’s how it went:

Tell us about how you’re changing the way Alcon communicates and integrates culture.

I joined Alcon as part of the leadership development team, but quickly jumped in to help hire our talent acquisition lead. As I interviewed candidates, I realized they didn’t come to the table understanding our culture. Most interviewees expressed admiration for Alcon’s incredibly smart scientists, amazing technology and innovative products. These are very admirable aspects of our business, but that is just a part of our business. None of the candidates seemed to connect with the human element of our mission. We help grandparents see their grandchildren. We enable those who are legally blind to start driving again. We change lives! Because of my passion for the patient, I went from interviewer to interviewee. And in 2014, I was promoted to the Head of Talent Acquisition role.

Once I was in the talent acquisition role, I knew I had to change our new employee orientation process. It was too product focused. It was too transactional and wasn’t engaging enough. Mostly it didn’t connect new hires with the life-changing impacts we make every day, all over the world.

There’s a real opportunity to touch the hearts of our new hires on day one – to prove they made the right choice when they took a job with us. It’s our job to ensure they understand Alcon’s purpose – our “why.” So, I called Root. Together, we created a new orientation program focused on defining the “why” in a compelling and meaningful way. We developed a Root Learning Map to help people forge an emotional connection between our everyday work and our purpose. Not everyone in our organization has the chance to interact with patients or witness how we changes lives, so it’s our responsibility as leaders to engage their hearts in our business. Today we are in the process of rolling out an improved yearlong onboarding experience that builds upon the initial orientation.

What were the significant changes you undertook?

We gave the onboarding experience a complete refresh – going from a tactical exercise to an experience that focused on the “why.” The goal is to establish an immediate emotional connection between the new employee and the company’s purpose, showing each person how their role was important to the big picture – which is all about changing lives. This included training recruiters to understand the difference Alcon makes so they could better share that vision. We’ve even used this improved messaging to reengage long-time employees, reminding them that we come to work each day with the goal of discovering new ways to enhance sight and improve people’s lives around the world.

How have employees benefited from your new orientation program?

There’s a stronger passion for the business among all our employees. For example, we had a warehouse new hire participate in the program. He walked away with the understanding that his job is essential to our business. While he might not be a scientist inventing a new drug or a doctor in the field performing a surgery, he understood his role in changing lives, too.

And that’s not all. We’ve seen people connect at very deep and personal levels as they are so moved by what we do and the fact they’re now part of it, too. There are a billion people on the planet that could benefit from improved eyesight and we are only helping one quarter of them. By correcting sight, we give people who might have been a burden on their family or government the opportunity to contribute more fully and live more independently.

While we’re early in the rollout, the response has been so positive from everyone involved and the leadership team.  We’re now working to have all associates (new and old) go through the experience.  We also expect to see a reduced turnover rate as a result of strong orientation and onboarding programs.

How does a global organization shift a major initiative such as onboarding?

Creating change in a global organization isn’t easy – the sun never sets at Alcon! We have locations around the world. But, we’re not allowing our size to stop us and have a global rollout for the orientation program scheduled for later this year. We used Q1 and Q2 to test and pilot it in the U.S., Asia and Europe, which has enabled us be more prepared to assist with content customization and to reflect the nuances of different cultures. Root has been right there with us, assisting with translation and making modifications to ensure the program remains culturally appropriate. And people are excited – they can’t wait for us to get the new onboarding experience out to them.

If an organization wants to elevate its current onboarding experience, what is one thing they should do?

The best programs educate new hires on the organization’s culture, too. As management expert Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” So if you can get people engaged in your culture from the start, they’ll have a better understanding of what’s acceptable (and what’s not) at your company and they’ll get your “why” right away. As a result, they’ll be equipped to make better decisions each day. Culture will capture hearts quicker than strategy.