Setting a global example for reinventing work with Dean Summlar

Insights from Schneider Electric's VP HR Pacific Zone on careers in the 2020s


By Nicole Schreiber-Shearer, Content Marketing Specialist @ Gloat

October 15, 2021

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We keep hearing that the new world of work is going to be different. We’ve recognized many of the dominant forces fueling these changes, like shifts in the employee-employer relationship and the accelerated pace of digital innovation. But as we brace for impact and prepare for disruption, many of us don’t know where to turn for guidance.

Since every organization is entering the same uncharted territory at the same time, there’s no established path we can follow or step-by-step protocol to emulate. However, as we begin to build our foundation for the future, there are a handful of pioneers who we can look to that have already begun crafting new ways of working.

Dean Summlar, VP HR Pacific Zone at Schneider Electric, is one such leader. His organization has reinvented careers and taken workplace agility to the next level. He sat down with us recently to share his strategy and the role that Open Talent Market, Schneider Electric’s talent marketplace, plays in their evolution.

Some of his top tips for leaders who are looking to upgrade their approach include:

Take Geographic Barriers Out of the Equation

Schneider Electric employs over 135,000 people in more than 100 countries. Silos is a common challenge that many enterprises face, and when employees are dispersed across nearly every continent, there’s often an added layer of complexity. But at Schneider Electric, people aren’t limited by physical boundaries or geographic barriers.

The enterprise leverages Open Talent Market to dynamically assemble teams and staff projects based on who is the best fit for the opportunity, regardless of where they’re located. As a result, Schneider Electric employees have ongoing opportunities to collaborate not only cross-functionally, but across the globe as well.

Summlar describes the powerful results that the organization has reaped by tapping into their entire global talent pool. As an example, he explains, “In our New Zeland organization, we posted a project and the person who got assigned to it was based in India, so someone we would have had no idea existed inside our company helped us unlock additional productivity.”

This sense of connectivity can be particularly important for employees based in regions that are separated by significant time zone differences, such as the Pacific Zone where Summlar is located.

In a place like Pacific, where there are seven hours of ocean separating you and the next country perhaps, that adds another dimension.

Dean Summlar, VP HR Pacific Zone, Schneider Electric

With Open Talent Market, the entire global array of projects, gigs, mentorships, and full-time opportunities is accessible to everyone, ensuring that the candidates who are matched to each opening are truly the best fit for the role.

Put Transparency at the Top of Your Priority List

It’s very clear that the employee-employer relationship is changing. As the Great Resignation demonstrates, many workers are taking a step back, re-evaluating their careers, and questioning what they’re looking for from their jobs in the future. So what can leaders do to make sure their organizations are living up to employees’ evolving expectations?

It’s important to understand what people are really looking for and what drives us all to work in the first place. As our own data revealed, it’s not all about the money. Growth opportunities are a powerful motivator, and in turn, a lack of mobility is the biggest reason why many of us are considering leaving our current roles.

Transparency sits at the heart of these discussions. All too often, employees can’t see the opportunities that may be available to them within their organizations and they may not be aware of what they need to do to take their career to the next level. As Summlar notes, “The world is a much more transparent place. Employers can’t afford not to be transparent right now. Transparency has really changed the game for employers.”

He goes on to credit Schneider Electric’s talent marketplace as a key part of the enterprise’s approach to creating more transparency and democratizing access to opportunities.

Open Talent Market has really created incredible transparency. It has created a de-biased process because the decisions are not in one manager’s hands, all of a sudden our entire online workforce has access to it.

Dean Summlar, VP HR Pacific Zone, Schneider Electric

See the Bigger Picture

When it comes to developing a strategy for success in the new world of work, leaders need to ensure they’re seeing their organization as a whole and devising solutions that will work for employees across the enterprise. “HR teams are maybe not always focusing enough on everyone,” Summlar says. “We focus a lot on the top few in the organization but we don’t always think about how do we liberate the 90% of people that will stay with us, that have infinite value and potential that we are not able to tap into to our fullest extent?”

As we approach our next chapter, no business can afford to lose talent, particularly as the turnover tsunami continues to gain momentum. To get everyone excited about their future at your organization, you’ll need to showcase the kinds of opportunities that are available and ensure people feel connected, both to their colleagues and to ways to develop their careers.

This can be particularly challenging for large enterprises, where some employees may be used to working with only a small subset of their co-workers. As Summlar explains, 

In an organization as diverse and powerful as Schneider Electric, you’re going to have specialist teams that are most likely working primarily with others on their teams. So they might not have as big of a network, so we wanted to create more visibility and opportunity for people across our organization. It really changes the dynamic when people have this level of transparency.

Dean Summlar, VP HR Pacific Zone, Schneider Electric

Stay One Step Ahead in the Race for Skills

All signs point to the need for an upgraded approach to upskilling as a key part of our next chapter. With the World Economic Forum predicting that half the globe’s workforce will need to be reskilled by 2025 and the half-life of skills shrinking, learning new things is quickly becoming an enterprise-wide priority. But what does it take to make sure your people are picking up the capabilities they’ll need to push your organization forward?

Summlar explains why impactful upskilling requires more than a one-size-fits-all curriculum. “There’s a skills need, and while there will be a level of education involved, people also need opportunities to practice these skills. We will not be able to grow skills at the rapid rate they need to be grown without projects and gigs.”

To get everyone’s full support and maximize the knowledge within your organization, employees also need to understand how upskilling will benefit them.

Historically organizations had to design cumbersome programs to ensure skills are practiced but now you want to empower people to know that it’s in their best interest to go and practice these skills so they can grow and progress their careers.

Dean Summlar, VP HR Pacific Zone, Schneider Electric

With a talent marketplace, your people don’t just get access to immediate opportunities; they also have dynamic career pathing tools so they can see how the work they’re doing now will contribute to their long-term professional goals.

While gaining insights from pioneering organizations like Schneider Electric can certainly point us in the right direction, at the end of the day, every leader will need to forge their own strategy for the new world of work. At a time when many organizations are looking for an edge to outpace their competition, Summlar leaves us with the following advice: “If you want to be near the front end of transformation, you’re not going to be fully ready. The real question isn’t if leaders are ready, but if your employees are ready for a change.”

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