Innovating in HR: Building the Team that Builds a Better World

October 9, 2015

A message from Kim Hauer, vice president and chief human resources officer at Caterpillar. 

I remember it like it was yesterday, driving to Caterpillar’s corporate headquarters in Peoria, Illinois, to interview for my first job out of college. 

I had my foot in the door (maybe more like a toe) since I was already interning at the company’s engine factory in Lafayette, Indiana. My manager at the time, Tom, was impressed I had landed an interview at corporate but was worried my old Ford Tempo wouldn’t make the 144-mile drive. So, Tom was kind enough to get me a rental car – on his own dime. 

He believed in me. He saw my potential. 

That’s what our jobs are all about in HR, isn’t it? We exist to see our people’s potential. Whether it’s a new recruit, a star or struggling employee, a manager, director or president … we ensure the right talent is there to meet the needs of the business, today and in the future. 

But the competition for that talent is strong, and customer needs are changing at a rapid pace. A quality product or service isn’t enough anymore – customers want integrated solutions to make them successful. The landscape for us to meet these new customer demands is different than it’s ever been; new competitors are popping up in places we never dreamed. 

To meet these ever-changing demands, we realize we need to shake up what we’re doing in the HR community. So we’re trying some new things to better enable our people’s success and innovation. Even though you’ve probably been hearing the word “innovation” recently everywhere you go, it’s how Caterpillar has been around for ninety years and how we’ll be around for ninety more.

To achieve ninety more, here are a few things we’re giving a shot…

Breaking down the walls … literally

How can our work environments enable the success of our people? We’re trying to figure out what that looks like for Caterpillar; so, we’re piloting some different concepts, including a variety of collaboration spaces, neighborhood concepts and improved access to daylight and amenities. At many companies, these new work environments are being driven by facilities groups to better accommodate fluctuating headcount and cost. But at Caterpillar, HR is driving it, because we feel the work environment should be a strategic enabler of our people. 

As a result, we’re experiencing faster decision making, better collaboration and increased comradery amongst our teams. If you ask those in pilots who would go back to their office or cube, you would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful who would. 

Augmented reality – it’s not just for engineers

You know we’re utilizing cutting-edge technology for product development and support. Thanks to the brain-trust of our engineering and design experts, we’re now utilizing augmented reality at recruiting events. And this isn’t just for collecting resumes and applicant information. With this technology, we’re able to immerse recruits in the Caterpillar story, enabling them to experience not just what we make, but what we make possible around the world with our equipment. We’ve found this energizes recruits about the impact they could make by joining our leadership development programs. 

Committing to our people’s wellness – inside and outside of work

We’re all focused on our employees’ well-being, but how are we really taking action in that space? We’re trying new things, like wellness challenges (I was challenged and accepted by participating in a local “dancing with the stars-type” competition … that’ll be interesting). We’re going out to the factories and offices where our people are and providing information and resources that can help them live a healthier lifestyle, from better eating and exercise to the dangers of tobacco or distracted driving. And we’ve continued to enhance our employee assistance programs and partnered with our corporate medical team, ensuring they have the resources they need for their physical and mental well-being. 

These are just a few things, and remember, innovation isn’t always something shiny and new. Sometimes the greatest innovations come from integrating things that already exist. In fact, many of the greatest innovations happen at the intersection of disciplines.

HR is often stereotyped as cold, corporate and hard to do business with, but we can’t enable our people’s success if this is how we come across. We have to be human, approachable. We have to take HR from transactional to interactional, and do this while keeping pace with today’s technology. 

We say we build the team that builds a better world. To do this, we have to adapt to the changing needs of the workforce. In other words, innovate. 

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