LEARNING ACTION RECORDING WITH BAE SYSTEMS' MIKE KESSLER - 12/17/20

This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted special guest Michael Kessler, Chief Learning Officer at BAE Systems, a British multinational defense, security, and aerospace company, that has over 85,000 employees including 35,000 spread over 30 US states. He was interviewed by i4cp co-founder and CEO Kevin Oakes and i4cp Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone. Here are some highlights from the call:

  • At BAE, the combined L&D and OD team was already virtual and spread around the country when COVID-19 hit. What changed was that after a 4-6 week adjustment period, the team saw an increase in pull for their services from across the organization.
  • Kessler's team listened carefully to what their customers (learners across the organizations) were saying they needed. Their focus then became to provide solutions that were timely (good is better than delayed perfection), relevant (fit for purpose), and worthy of people's depleted energy and time.
  • Overall, the organization broadened their listening strategy, increasing the number of surveys (with some timely topics such as remote work, safety, etc.), while also conducting 1:1 conversations with a broad range of employees, not just those at the top.
  • Kessler noted several things have surprised him in 2020, starting with how quickly people have adapted to change: there was less time for planning and people needed to let go of decision-making perfectionism. Employees have also really taken care of each other via frequent check-ins and a well-being focus.
  • Kessler's team has focused on what he calls "hybrid leadership," meaning leaders who have some employees on-site and others that are remote. How do you create a safe, inclusive, and inspirational workplace for such a varied team? The resources and workshops they've created focus on this, and also enabling leaders to take on new challenges with new thinking.
  • BAE Systems diverted some funds to support their employees via an employee relief fund, focused on COVID-19 related hardships.
  • A new leadership program has been created called "Leadership in Five". Each topic covered includes a "Facts in Five" information segment, a "Discuss in Five Minutes" aspect, and blog postings on the topic. One of the more popular areas covered of course has been well-being, though the organization is careful to delineate that they do not expect their managers to become therapists, and to refer employees for help where necessary.
  • BAE Systems has continued to hire employees, with approximately 6,000 new hires in 2020. To do so, they had to pivot the process to be virtual. The challenge going forward will be to preserve the best of these changes while settling into a hybrid hiring and working model.
  • On the diversity, equity, and inclusion front, BAE Systems responded strongly to the events of 2020 with a three-level approach. They first defined their purpose, their why, as an organization and this included a moral imperative around racial equity. They established a leadership commitment via powerful and open storytelling from Black employees. And they provided employees support via the CARE initiative, which stands for Colleagues Advancing Racial Equity, which included seven vision teams to recommend actions to the organization for 2021 and beyond.

Please also see the i4cp Coronavirus Employer Resource Center for new research and next practices to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.

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