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Setting the Bar Higher for Agility After the Pandemic

This article reflects a portion of the topics discussed in the opening session “Resilience Through Rewards — Our Chance to Change the Future.” There will be a second article on the opening session that will focus on the future of remote work, employee well-being and other rewards topics during COVID-19.


The COVID-19 pandemic has flipped everything upside down in the world of work, but organizations are adapting, prioritizing the well-being of their employees now more than ever and finding a path forward.

This was the theme of the opening keynote of WorldatWork’s “Total Resilience Virtual Conference & Exhibition” on Wednesday, which kicks off a nine-week virtual event centered around how employers are navigating a brand new terrain brought on by the pandemic. Scott Cawood, WorldatWork president and CEO, led a panel discussion between Susan Brown, senior director of compensation at Siemens, Kumar Kymal, managing director, global head of compensation and benefits at The Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon, and Steve Pennacchio, senior vice president of total rewards at Pfizer Inc.

Cawood emphasized that the conference will focus on the importance of resilience and where organizations are headed, noting “we’re much stronger together.” In that same vein, Brown said the pandemic has brought about a profound change by her company and many others.

“In the past, they often talked about the business results and that whole conversation changed with COVID-19 hitting,” Brown said. “From our global CEO in Germany to our local CEO, to every message that went out weekly to our employees, it started with the health and safety of our people.”

Kymal echoed that sentiment, as he said BNY Mellon, a global banking and financial services holding company that has roughly $1.8 trillion assets under management, became laser focused on improving the health, safety and well-being of the company’s employees.

“We really had a series of program changes and rollouts and that hasn’t slowed down,” Kymal said. “I’m a little bit tired, but I’m really proud of the work I’ve accomplished together with my team, because we’ve shown that we can make a real difference in our employees’ lives and how critical and vital a comp and ben function is to an organization.”

Pennacchio provided a unique perspective to this conversation, as Pfizer, a multinational pharmaceutical corporation, is currently on the frontlines of developing a vaccine for COVID-19. Pennacchio said the company has been focused on supporting its employees — including those in Wuhan, China, where it’s believed the outbreak originated — during this trying time, but their top priority is working toward producing vaccines and antivirals to combat the virus.

When the panel conversation shifted to the topic of agility amid the sudden disruption COVID-19 brought on, Pennacchio said what’s happening at Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies across the globe right now is exhibit A of the increased productivity that appears to be taking place at many organizations.

“Vaccines never happen in less than five years. We’re expecting to see a vaccine in less than a year — that’s unheard of,” Pennacchio said. “All of the major pharmaceutical companies are working really hard at it, cutting through the bureaucracy and doing the testing. Most importantly, they have to be safe. You cannot rush it and avoid the safety aspects — that is paramount.”

Brown said Siemens, a global manufacturing company with a health care division, was empathetic with its messaging, which centered around the need to adapt to the changing circumstances, a tact she said led to successful outcomes.

“We were able to move fast to support our customers and in particular to support hospitals. We quickly converted a manufacturing line from what they usually produce to material for hospitals,” Brown said. “There were cases when customers needed to get up and running and our supply chain group moved so fast and collaborated worldwide to get shipments of materials there that would’ve taken six weeks normally in less than two. It’s unbelievable the speed and agility that we saw internally.”

Kymal said that BNY Mellon has been “driving 100 mph on the highway” over the past several months and the crisis has removed previous organizational roadblocks in getting things done, because speed in decision-making was and is of the essence.

“It has taught us that we can collaborate really quickly and effectively and can do it while we’re remote. We can be agile and can quickly make decisions, change decisions and work with our partners,” Kymal said. “We’ve broken all of the excuses we may have had before COVID about how we can get things done and how fast we can get things done. We were able to get decision-makers on board and execute really quickly.”

“I think we’ve set a high standard that’s going to stay with us. The expectation is going to be higher going forward, because we’ve shown we can do it.”

About the Author 

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.

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