The drive toward human-centric organizations
By Ana Inés Giorgi
Beike van den Broek is a VP – Head of HR Global Retail Markets West, which covers 9 countries in LATAM & Europe at Liberty Mutual Insurance, the sixth-largest property and casualty insurer in the United States, and the 71st on the Fortune 100 list of largest corporations in the United States. In this interview with Rocking Talent, she shares her drivers, how she understands leadership, and the importance of creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable culture within the organizations.
First, tell us a little about yourself. How would you define yourself professionally and personally and which have been the points in common throughout your different positions?
My professional career has been a hybrid of talent and operational roles; always with a focus on transformations and operational excellence both at a people and process level.
I deliver my best work in ambiguous situations and in environments where I have a high level of autonomy. A red thread throughout my work is my curiosity in looking at how work gets done, being able to address the pain points, do away with the status quo, and courageously challenge what needs to shift but also dream/think on ‘what(else) is possible’. I feel an incredible sense of satisfaction if I can break through preconceived notions and silos and create synergies instead.
What are your motivations in life, what values accompany you, and what is your professional dream?
I am motivated by ‘to do what is right’ and to serve marginalized people; something that is deeply rooted in my upbringing. In my role that translates simplistically into doing right for people and right for the business. These can exist independently or in an integrated way and I see it as a dynamic process of give and take. I am honest with my leaders and activate them to lean into diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). To be authentic and unafraid in creating a safe space for people to have differing opinions; Knowing that friction really serves the best answer.
With all the uncertainties in the world, we have an obligation as an organization to show care, respect, and understanding to our employees and their unique realities– this is something I personally value in my job.
I enjoy coaching and mentoring people across all levels in the organization and elevating others in their careers to help them achieve their aspirations. I don’t really have a professional dream in the sense of titles. I am mindful of what legacy I would like to leave behind — hopefully, one that made things better, serving as an amplifier for others and creating inspiring and inclusive cultures that focus on priorities and work-life balance. I want to make sure I have the time to do the right thing as a mom and raise our son to be a curious, confident, and caring human. I surely do not want to miss out on the unconditional love I receive from him and the spontaneous multiple ‘I love you mamas’ that I receive daily.
You were born in the Netherlands, and you have 20 years of experience working in human resources for companies in different industries and from different countries: Libya, Indonesia, Singapore, and Miami. What can you tell us about the experience of living in different countries and leading teams with another language and another idiosyncrasy?
I left the Netherlands in 2005 and had the opportunity to live and work abroad, something I had been wanting to do for a while.
When you move to a new country to live and/or to work in, the tourist phase ends rather quickly as you must really immerse yourself in another culture and learn the differences. I’ve had to do this many times in my career as I’ve adapted to new environments and ways of working that are different from the culture I was raised in. Working in a different culture highlighted for me the need to flex certain attributes that are inherent to my culture, i.e. being direct, and adapting to new ones throughout my personal life and professional career that spans across four continents.
Coming to work in or with a different culture you need to realize fast that one is not better than the other; don’t come in as the person that ‘will show you how it is done.’ I also had to learn that and to remain curious, humble and take the best of both worlds.
The biggest challenge for me has always been balancing what I take on from the culture I am working in with ensuring that I do not end up with the feeling of losing parts of myself that define my personality.
Could you tell us how you create a healthy work culture, and which are the best practices for building healthy, human-centered organizations?
I grew up in the era when HR had very much a focus on being an administrative payroll and ER function. Yet early on I noticed I crave a more human-centric approach. I think one of my pivotal moments was in 2011 when I was working for a company in Asia and I was dealing with an unusual employee relations situation. It was an opportunity for me to not only address the acute issue but really challenge myself to step back and address the larger issue as an organization.
You have this phrase on your LinkedIn profile: “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be”.
That quote plays out for me on various levels. As a leader of people, it can be very easy to give people everything they want, and say the things they want to hear, but is that helping the person? I really value coaching and helping my team be set up for success now and in the long term. This includes having courageous conversations.
It also plays out in the business; how do you create the alignment with your leadership and your employees to do the things that serve the greater good?
At my employer Liberty Mutual, I feel we really are intentional about evolving the employee experience and creating a human-centric culture. In the region, I am representing we have been named a Best Place to Work in 5 out of the 8 countries in 2022 in the region by Great Places to Work which is a huge statement of the commitment to creating human-centric cultures.
As a global organization, we’ve received many awards and accolades for our work environment and commitment to DEI and the community. We work every day to help employees align with our company purpose of helping people embrace today and confidently pursue tomorrow by creating a high-performing, equitable and inclusive culture to empower the best talent of all backgrounds.
Last year the company was named by People magazine as one of the 100 Companies that care bout people. What actions helped achieve this recognition and what policies do you have to promote diversity and inclusion?
With one of our values ‘Putting People First,’ caring for our employees and communities where we live and work is a priority. We take a holistic approach and look across our Employee engagement practices, DEI, our philanthropic work, and our Office of Sustainability. All pieces of the puzzle have an impact on the consistent culture we create and appeal to people we want to attract and retain.
This shows up in actions and practices like providing flexible work arrangements and mental health and well-being resources, among others. But we also look at the business side: what do we insure, what is our underwriting philosophy, is this congruent with our values and commitments?
Liberty Mutual has a steadfast investment in DEI. Our EVP, Chief Diversity Officer, Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, and her team are very intentional in using DEI as a strategic business enabler and making DEI part of our everyday actions. This comes to life by addressing barriers to equitable career experiences for all employees and creating more equity in every area of the employee experience, including hiring, performance reviews, development, and advancement. We are supporting managers to provide all employees with a positive and inclusive experience in their growth and development. Strengthen inclusive mindset and behaviors and use tools to grow in how we connect across differences so that our day-to-day interactions help everyone feel they belong.
In this new labor reality, there is more and more rotation, and remote employment and the attraction and retention of talent is a challenge for organizations. How do you deal with this problem?
The world has gotten bigger with geographic limits disappearing. This provides us with the opportunity to extend our reach and attract people despite geographic location. We know that jobseekers today are looking for the whole package and don’t necessarily value the same things that were most important even several years ago.
We were recently named the #1 Insurance Company on the American Opportunity Index—a list of the best employers for upward mobility. We were also a top performer in the following categories: advancement without a degree, career launchpad, and growing talent. This is a huge advantage, especially with a Gen Z jobseeker/employee population that is focused on more opportunities for growth.
As we now work in fully virtual or hybrid working models it also shifts how we connect with each other. This means that leaders need to navigate this new reality, which means more focus on how leaders lead. Do they show up with curiosity, empathy, and authenticity to connect with people across a multitude of backgrounds and realities? Do they have the growth mindset to navigate through challenges, and lead confidently through change?
What is the biggest challenge facing HR teams today? What are those skills that are a must in HR professionals?
As mentioned previously, we need to continue to lean into DEI, invest in digital technologies, invest in employee experience, invest in skill building, data and help navigate change with people that might be fatigued by all the changes that keep on coming. We need to ensure that the business does not lose track of the people aspect or make trade-offs that could impact the future success of the company.
We need to remain relevant as a function, and as an HR professional, you need to have a solid understanding of how your business works, and what your competitive landscape is like. You must embrace the change and have a growth mindset, to continue to evolve or to be ahead of the game; You must have the curiosity to learn new things and be brutally honest with yourself in how you show up and be courageous in how you help others lead. The work will never be done, so choose wisely.
‘You cannot be everything to everyone’
I am a big fan of Emmanuel Acho and one of his quotes is: ‘Delight in the detour.’ I love this quote as it provides you with an opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the moment, and trust what is happening versus focusing on the ‘what’s nots’ as that is stifling for your progress.
‘Always stay on the road to collaboration.’
Beike Van den Broek | VP – Head of HR Global Retail Markets West