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on a positive impact

Agility, Humility and an Unwavering Aspiration: How My Company Continues to Unlock our Employee Talent During COVID-19

When the COVID-19 outbreak started to spread across the globe earlier on this year, it left many of us in great despair and uncertainty. At Johnson & Johnson, the Talent for Good employee engagement strategy had a multitude of global in-field programs that were just about to start. Employees were poised to embark to their destinations and our frontline partners were awaiting their arrival to kickoff their direct support.

But as more and more countries went under lockdown and travel bans were put in place, we knew that our programs were going to be affected as well. Be it suspended, postponed or even canceled.

Working directly and closely with NGO partners, like the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), Save the Children, CCBRT and mothers2mothers, we had to act quickly whilst being agile in our approach and pivot to virtual support models. Not an easy task I can tell you! We had a colleague in the field working on a long-term assignment with one of our long-standing partners the AKDN that we needed to repatriate. We had to tell another colleague, on the morning of his departure to Kenya, that he was not allowed to travel and that his assignment had been suspended till further notice.

Making these calls brought disappointment all around as you can imagine: for us on the global Employee Engagement team, our business and HR leaders who were keen to see their talented employees take part in meaningful social impact programs, and the selected employees who had been about to embark on a life-changing experience to share their skills. But above all for our frontline partners, who would have received much-needed relief and skills-based support to help achieve their goals. Our employees support such a wide and vital range of needs for them, from strengthening their business model, communication efforts or delivery of services, to supporting the health workers or the community health system as a whole.

Based on available and factual information, within a couple of weeks we came up with a revised Employee Engagement COVID-19 strategy. Here were our two proofpoints to guide us:

1) We knew that many of our employees were looking for ways to continue to give back to their local/regional and global communities and grow their skills and capabilities in safe and responsible ways.

2) Our aspiration as a Global Team had not changed. We were more determined than ever to find ways to continue to offer – be it in different forms and shapes – our partners and their communities with support from our employees.

So what did we do to set our partners, our programs and employees up for success?

Lead with agility. Firstly, we reassessed our existing portfolio of employee engagement offerings and took tough and often not popular decisions by canceling, postponing or redesigning programs from in-field experiences to virtual settings. At all times, we put the health and well-being of our employees, partner organizations and their communities first. During this time, we also actively engaged and involved key stakeholders to make sure we didn’t lose track of our long-term goals.

Reinforce the triple win. In our team we live by the term ‘creating a triple win’, meaning that any employee engagement program or opportunity we design and implement should always address a benefit (a win) for our NGO partner, our employee and our Company as a whole. We believe that by focusing on all three stakeholders together we set ourselves up for success and can jointly, positively contribute to supporting and championing people on the frontlines.

Provide clear direction and guidance for immediate and long-term engagement opportunities. Providing clear direction and guidance was an absolute necessity! We came up with three opportunities for employees to get involved with clear guidelines in light of COVID-19:

Opportunity 1: Fundraising. In response to COVID-19, J&J made the commitment to donate $1 million each to the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and the CDC Foundation’s ALL OF US Campaign. The WHO fund enables the WHO and partners to support countries to strengthen its testing and diagnostic ability and coordination and delivery of PPE, and the CDC campaign helps communities prevent, detect and respond to COVID-19 and deploy emergency staffing to the front lines. For all of our employees and retirees who contributed, we enabled their donations to go further by matching individual contributions dollar to dollar up to $1 million to each organization.

Opportunity 2: Volunteering. For the near-term, we actively reached out to our global and regional partner organizations to submit their virtual short-term volunteerism needs directly on our globally accessible platform. For example our partner One Young World requested support to strengthen its digital communications strategy, and our partner SOS Children’s Villages was seeking support in the development of a regional COVID-19 Humanitarian Appeal for the CEE / CIS / Middle East region. Both needs have successfully been filled. Another virtual offering we are currently piloting in the LATAM region is online social acceleration marathons. The goal of a marathon is to enable NGOs to further develop the skills of their staff by collaborating with J&J employees in solving management challenges through design thinking processes. This eight week program (2 hours per week) is aimed to allow for greater employee reach and flexibility.

For this year’s mid- to long-term opportunities, we are shifting our fully immersive in-field programs like Secondment and Global Pro Bono to virtual skills-based efforts. Individuals or teams of employees are offering their support based on a dedicated number of hours per week.

Opportunity 3: Storytelling

In the past few months, you’ve hopefully been able to follow or take part in our online #BackTheFrontline conversation on this platform, or on @JNJGlobalHealth’s Twitter or Instagram, where we shared the multitude of actions our employees and partners alike are taking to support frontline health workers, from medically-trained employees returning back to the frontlines through our employee medical leave policy, or tireless, homegrown efforts to provide and produce PPE. To date, over 120 global videos from 28 countries have been submitted and many of them can be found here.

How does a company best support frontline health workers in times of crisis?

To me, this is done not just by investing financially in strategic partnerships, but also by reinforcing, enabling and empowering your employees to use their talent for good through holistic skills-based and needs-driven training and learning opportunities — opportunities that build and strengthen your goals and those of your partners. To get to this point, you will need to be humble and listen to the needs of your stakeholders and adopt an agile way of working, be it virtual, in-field or hybrid, and one that is based on building trust with your valued partners.

As we continue to listen, act and evaluate, I welcome your thoughts and ideas below on how you are approaching employee engagement in these unprecedented times. Let me know in the comments!


#JNJ #BacktheFrontline #MyCompany #TalentForGood #EmployeeEngagement #HealthWorkersCount

About our Employee Engagement Strategy ‘Talent for Good’

Our Talent for Good strategy aims to empower our nearly 140,000 employees from across the globe to grow personally and professionally by applying their time, their skills and their resources to build healthier communities around the world. We are not looking at a specific employee target audience (or pay grade), but aspire and strive to activate all employees within the Company, no matter what level and/or stage they are in their career within J&J. We offer opportunities for all employees, from donating to fully immersive assignments with NGO organizations, so that they can play their part in creating positive and meaningful change by sharing and enhancing their skills whilst pursuing their passions.