- Merck CHRO Steven Mizell says HR leaders should make technology innovation a core company focus.
- Merck recently announced a flexible hybrid workforce model, supported by serviceable digital tools.
- Mizell said the HR organization should focus on technology use to drive business value and outcomes.
- This article is part of the “Innovation C-Suite” series about business growth and technology shifts.
Pharmaceutical leader Merck – which develops medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and animal health products – has long touted its efforts to “follow the science” when tackling global health threats. Now, Merck’s Chief Human Resource Officer Steven Mizell says HR leaders should follow the needs of employees, supported by technology innovation such as virtual communication, training, development, and assessment tools.
The CHRO can drive the tone of technology innovation as a core focus for the company, Mizell told Insider. “Organizations need HR leaders that are business-savvy and really drive culture and transformation, while also playing a leading role in thinking about innovation,” he said.
Merck, which has over 70,000 employees around the globe, recently announced that it will implement a hybrid work model for those who do not need to work in person at manufacturing sites, labs, and other facilities. Employees will have the flexibility to work with managers to determine how much work they do remotely and how much time they spend in the office, if any.
“This will allow us to create a better employee experience, as well as attract and retain talent,” Mizell said. He added that while CHROs do not need to be technology experts, they do need to be fairly fluent in order to embrace the data-driven technologies that support new workforce models.
“You can’t completely rely on adjacent functions to do that for you,” he said. As companies work to meet the demand for tools that support talent, today’s HR organizations “need to be comfortable and understand technology” even though they are not in IT.
Mizell offered three essential tips for CHROs and other HR leaders on the journey toward digital transformation.
1. Understand where business value is created.
According to Mizell, the CHRO needs to understand the business and where value is created: “Where are the opportunities for the HR organization to create value through technology innovation, whether it is through data analytics or AI-driven tools?”
For example, Merck’s efforts to listen to employees through online survey analytics help develop programs that are responsive to employee needs and boost worker retention. And the company uses AI-driven technology tools to help recruit highly-skilled workers in an increasingly competitive industry landscape.
2. Focus on business outcomes.
It’s essential for HR leaders to consider how technology innovation affects business outcomes, Mizell said. “You have to really think about what you are using this technology for,” he added. For example, in some cases technology is being used to boost efficiency, he said, while other tools create a better experience for employees or evaluate what they need.
Then, it’s important to create the right support to deliver on those outcomes. “Do the work upfront to make sure the technology you choose is the right technology,” he said.
3. Consider technology innovation a way of life for HR.
No longer is technology innovation a “nice-to-have” element in the human resources function. Instead, it has become table stakes. “The entire HR organization has to think differently – using technology is now a way of life for us,” Mizell said.
For example, technology is becoming an integral part of boosting employee engagement and satisfaction. “Employees are very comfortable using technology at home and outside of the workplace, so they expect that same experience inside the company,” he said. That means that HR organizations must figure out how to provide the same seamless, fast, flexible experience employees enjoy in every other part of their daily lives – with the right technology tools and platforms.
4. Embrace technology, or be left behind.
Those companies that are further along in their digital transformation,will be more likely to be able to meet the rising expectations of today’s employees who want a work experience that is agile, flexible, and drives an inclusive, collaborative culture, Mizell said.
“The reality is that HR organizations that don’t embrace technology will be left behind,” he said. “They won’t be able to use their talent effectively and take advantage of all the insights that data and analytics can provide.”