Adapting to disruption continues to be an overarching theme at WorldCity events in 2017, and the latest HR Connections panelist expressed just that. Dario Kanevsky works as Vice President of HR for Emerson Automation Solutions and spoke about how plummeting oil prices in recent years have forced his company to change how it approaches hiring a sales force for its products that help the oil industry.
Phones would ring off the hook with orders when oil prices were peaking, so much so that Emerson would hire workers just to answer those phones. Now, the price of oil is staying down, and the phones stopped ringing.
“From order takers, companies now need people that can be hunters,” said Kanevsky. “People that can look for opportunities, maybe new customers, because the traditional customers are not actively buying anymore.”
That massive change in approach to Emerson’s sales force came with a complex change in culture, leading to vigorous discussion around the HR Connections table as to how Emerson is approaching its new reality.
Be Open and Transparent with Current Staff About Change
“What has worked for you, in terms of communication?” asked Juan Carlos Egas, Regional Americas Head of People Performance and Development at the International Air Transport Association.
Kanevsky said it’s important for HR to push and engage respected region leaders to align behind the new strategy. If those respected leaders buy in, then it becomes easier for the sales force to adopt the strategy.
“To reflect the importance and scope of the project, our global senior leaders called for a ‘Road Show.’ In a matter of two weeks, we visited each one of the countries,” said Kanevsky. “We sat with the people in the markets and said, ‘This is what is happening.’”
A Change in Talent Acquisition Strategy
In the past, Emerson would approach candidates for open positions and tell them the history of the company and what it has meant to work for Emerson. All that has changed.
“We were reactive, what you’d call ‘CV takers’,” said Karnevsky. “Now you have to be a hunter. You have to be proactive…You also need to think what is the (candidate) profile you will need in the future for the market you are foreseeing.”
Candidates might teach you today what the company needs, not vice versa.
Sales Optimization May Mean Eliminating Products Altogether
“We changed the plan itself to focus on more profitable products,” said Claudio Fernandez, Senior Manager for Regional Compensation and Benefits at Baxter International, a health care company. “There was a decision in some of the markets to just not sell some of our products, because (those products) were losing money.”
Fernandez said the company then trained those markets how to track profits to Baxter’s liking and trained for sales of new products, when necessary.
Emerson Sales Force Strategy Changed with Market Shift
The price of oil dropped below $100 per barrel in 2014 and has yet to bounce back above $60 per barrel. This is not 2008-2009 when oil fell below $50 per barrel but later rose again above $100 per barrel, following the pattern of so many oil scares in decades past. It took Emerson’s leadership a long time to realize that.
“How long did it take senior management to realize it was not a temporary market shift?” asked Marjorie Kean, Managing Director of Diversified Search.
“During a full year, senior leaders showed their skills on dealing with crisis. They learned with this uncertainty in the market and listened to the local teams in order to find opportunities for growth,” said Kanevsky.
Emerson and others in the oil industry thought they had seen this movie already.
“How do you prevent needing another year to adapt to market change?” Kean followed up.
Kanevsky said it helps being from Latin America, as Latin Americans are resilient and have braved the rough waters of market shifts in the past more often that Americans or Europeans. Kanevsky also said, at Emerson, recent gatherings of corporate HR officers have evolved more into conversations and discussions about what is needed, rather than the presentations of the past with corporate marching orders.
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