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#6: Robert Demare - Season 1, Episode 6 - Talent is Everywhere!

About the Episode:

In this episode, Sylvie sits with Robert Demare, who is responsible for executive development at Maersk, a global logistics company.

Robert discusses the importance of executive onboarding, particularly amid significant organizational changes and a high influx of new hires.

He highlights Maersk’s comprehensive onboarding process, which includes personalized briefing documents, strategic meetings with key stakeholders, and a signature face-to-face experience to emotionally connect new executives to the company.

Talent is Everywhere is a podcast for people leaders who are passionate about the power of education.

We explore ideas on how to keep talent and how to develop talent in order to create the virtuous circle that builds strong businesses.

We’ll interview leaders to hear their experiences of how they invested in people.


We’ve just started that. But it’s been, I think, something that’s already added some value because we just caught a couple of things that we went “Oh!”, you know, that person doesn’t have an onboarding buddy yet. So we want to make sure that’s put in place.

Hi, I’m Sylvie Milverton, CEO of Lynx Educate. This is “Talent is Everywhere”. We’re here to talk about how to keep talent and how to develop talent in order to build a strong business. We’ll interview leaders to hear their best experiences of how they invested in people.

Today, we’re speaking to Robert Demare, who’s responsible for executive development for Maersk, the Global Logistics Solution, with over 100,000 employees worldwide. You have a key role in managing a focused portfolio of the top 400 of these employees. And we’re going to talk today about your initiative around executive onboarding in particular. So maybe we can start with why is onboarding executives especially important in general? But right now, and for Maersk in particular?

Super to be here. Sylvie, thanks for the invitation. Maersk is a big global logistics company and we’ve gone through a lot of change in the last few years. And some of that really points to why onboarding and especially onboarding at a senior level is so important right now. So Maersk is most well-known for being the company that runs these huge ships and has them going around the world. And it’s been actually gotten some press lately because of the Red Sea situation, you know, where we’ve had quite a bit of disruption in the shipping lines that we’ve sent around the world and have had to really adapt and work with our customers really closely on that.

Most people think of it as just shipping. In fact, what we’ve been doing over the past few years is really transforming into what we really call an integrated logistics company. So we really try to work with our customers to develop solutions that bring together might be shipping, warehousing, customs clearance, landside transportation, and the technology that connects that all together and gives a customer visibility and reliability on their logistics network.

And because we’ve done that, we’ve had to bring in a real different set of skills against what we’ve already got. So and that’s meant we’ve had to hire a lot of people with different backgrounds than we have in the past. So I was just looking at this data this week and in the last five years in our executive population, which we define as about 400 people, that and this is a population of around 100,000 employees globally.

So in our top 400, 40% of them have joined us within the last five years. And that spiked, especially in the last two years. So we’ve had lots and lots of new starters. And that’s bringing in sort of when you bring in a lot of new people, at the same time, you’ve got to really not only make sure they know how to navigate, they also understand your context in your culture, and that’s a challenge.

So we decided as part of our people strategy to really focus on the onboarding experience. And we’ve done that overall with all of our colleagues by building a sort of digital journey and an onboarding experience that covers people in the masses. I guess what I’ve been working on is really some additional enhancements for our executive population

That’s interesting when you say like we decided to focus on the onboarding was, you know, is this a different did something, was it a specific different thing that happened? Was it a decision by the CEO to say we’re refocusing because presumably a big company are always bringing in people and of course the executives are always going to be important?

Was it the changing business environment or how would you think of like a shift in the past two years?

I think certainly the number of people we’ve brought in from the outside has increased a lot. Typically, we Maersk had a really, really strong background or, you know, people would join the organization through sort of graduate program, kind of work their way up. And we’d sometimes hire people from the outside, but it had a very strong internal pipeline. But of course, when the skills changed so much, you can’t rely on that.

And I suppose when people were joining in the past, you have enough of a critical mass that when you have maybe, you know, one out of every 20 people is new or new, then you sort of adapt to the culture and pull yourself into it almost by the huge gravity of the culture when it’s four out of ten people joining that different, that’s when you have to try and manage that a lot more.

Yeah, that’s interesting. And I often talk with, you know, people, leaders about this tension, the good tension between, you know, the culture that got you where you are and preserving that culture, bringing in new people, needing new skills, bringing that into your culture, but not sort of wrecking what you already have. It sounds like this process is a way that you’re balancing that.

So maybe you can tell us, like in practical terms, so what does it mean? Like what is this onboarding process and what do you, you know, give offering new executive?

Sure. So there’s a couple of different tools we use in it and probably the easiest way to explain it is to almost sort of take the timeline of someone that’s joining. So one of the things we start doing as soon as we know someone’s coming in is we start working on an onboarding plan for them. So we call a meeting with all the stakeholders, the hiring manager, and the people business partner that would be supporting that person and the recruiter. And we start looking at pulling together a plan for the person.

One thing is we put together a briefing document that goes to the person six weeks, two or even two months before they start, depending on how much lead time we’ve got. And that is customized for the individual. So it talks about the company, their department, their role, the, you know, gets into things like org charts, you know, looks at even some of the people analytics we’ve got. So how is engagement? How is the team formed?

And what we find is that people really appreciate that because it’s that they’ve got this time before they’re starting where they’re really curious to get anything they can with it. So we’ve provided a document for people. Sometimes we do that digitally, sometimes we even, you know, bind it with a nice note from the leader and send it to them as a kind of wow thing. It depends. We sort of take each one on an individual basis.

Yeah, you know, I love that idea. It’s actually, you know, sending something, right? Like a wow moment. You get something in the mail. But also, you know, people are excited before their first day. And in fact, if you wait for the first day for them to start seeing, you know, the org chart and how we do things here, in fact, you’re losing an opportunity. They could have sort of hit the ground running and already known all that. So that’s a lovely idea that I think I might actually borrow from you.

Yeah. I mean, I remember when I joined Maersk, I, you know, there’s a couple of books written about the company and I, you know, read them. And it turned out, you know, the books were written sort of 15 years ago. And the culture is, you know, massively different now as well as then. But, I really appreciated that at the time. And I was so hungry to just read anything I could. So that’s one component.

Another one is having them meet different people in the organization and those are planned in advance and we have a real purpose behind each person they meet. So they will meet one at someone joining it or vice president level. They’ll meet our CEO within the first couple of months and we schedule that out. And the CEO really is talking about leadership when they meet. So it’s not just we’re going to talk about anything. They actually go in and say, we really want to talk to you about being a leader at Maersk.

They meet our head of safety and resilience and they really talk about our safety culture. They meet our head of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and they talk about, of course, their role as a senior person in terms of upholding being in an inclusive and diverse environment. They also would meet with someone that looks at how do we actually govern decisions around technology, and we have a whole process that’s been quite a new thing where we’ve adopted a lot of practices from very product-focused companies to look at how do we govern the investments we make.

So we have someone actually talk them through that as well and they meet our Chief people officer and that is really to check in on on how they’re doing, what they think they could bring in from a culture point of view, how they’re seeing our culture so far. And those are all planned in the schedule

It is really a sense of get a first one-on-one with all of the senior people that they’ll be interacting with to sort of open the door. And is that the idea that that person is sort of presenting to them or it’s a conversation or they’re bringing their idea of their job to that person?

Yeah, we really keep it conversational, but with purpose behind it in a way. So the CEO, it’s a conversation about leadership, but there’s a purpose behind that. And some of those people I mentioned probably wouldn’t be at the top of the list of someone in an onboarding plan. People tend to come into a role and they want to just, okay, I need to understand my own department, my own piece of the puzzle here, and they focus a lot on that. And we really want to elevate certain concepts so they come in and this idea of our safety culture, we want everyone to say, Hey, you’ve got a meeting with our Chief safety officer and we’re really going to focus on a conversation about what that means.

And it takes someone who’s, you know, leading a big software engineering team and they might ask, you know, that’s a different meeting. But okay, I’ll go. And they really talk about what that actually means in terms of creating not only physical safety but psychological safety as well.

Yeah, and it’s interesting because often we talk about like the tone at the top or how do you get a culture? But actually this is a pretty good way. Like how do we know that Maersk cares about safety? How do we know that you care about diversity and inclusion? Well, because when anyone joins, these are the conversations that you’re having in the first two months. And so you don’t need to put a sign on the wall saying we care about safety. Like, no, I had you know, they had me spend 2 hours speaking about this right at the beginning. You just start right away. It’s like a very exacting.

We’ve talked in this process a lot about sort of sending signals and the signal that each of those meetings sends. And we continue to really look at, well, what’s who are the right people for someone to meet and how we do that. But it’s it’s been really well received and we’re we’re talking now to all the people they’re meeting and they are really enjoying the experience of meeting the new starters and being able to get to know them right away. So that’s that’s a really important part of the whole piece.

And one other component that we have in it that is I was one of the first things we developed was a sort of signature face-to-face experience. We have a leadership center north of Copenhagen. It’s a beautiful old it’s like an old mansion. And it’s it acts as like a little hotel as well for about 30 people. And we bring everyone and we bring everyone there, regardless of where they’re starting in the world. If they started a director-level plus, and that’s even bigger than what we would call an executive at Maersk.

So we do that four times a year and what happens there is we really bring the people together. A lot of our executive team, including our CEO, come out, spend time. There’s a fireside chats, we introduce different concepts. We really build them together as a group that are that can support each other as well. And that was something we developed even before we thought of the whole comprehensive journey of someone who was part of my team before.

Her name is Michelle Loynes. I gave her got her permission to give her a shout-out. She was the one who kind of was the architect of this piece of the program. And we worked together on that now. And it has been it’s meant to kind of be, I would say, something that brings people emotionally closer to the company. And it really achieves that. I mean, without exception, at the end of that, people are like, wow, I am so glad I’ve joined this company. It also happens usually 4 to 6 months after they’ve joined. We don’t do it right at the beginning because we really believe that it’s just too early to have that kind of experience.

People, you know, do some of those other parts of the onboarding experience. And then what we want them to do is they get into their role and then we want to bring them back up and look at things from a very high level again and look at the strategic considerations that worked really, really well.

That’s interesting. And so you’re so you have a group it’s almost like a cohort of new joiners who get this like fun off-site experience and that maybe bonds them in a certain way. And then, you know, people that are already at Maersk are coming into sort of visit them at their offsite. But they create almost like their own special club that must also help them, like in the company. Then they have like a close group of people who they know they can always connect with.

Yeah, exactly. And, and I mean people it’s one of these things where people will say, you know, even we’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, and they’ll say, you know, they some of them sort of meet together and, you know, they have this sort of map of the company. One of the exercises we do in the program is we actually have this big organized, huge map that we lay out on a on a table. And it’s, you know, sort of half the size of a basketball court. And it’s a map of the organization. And what we do is this exercise where they sort of find their place on that map and then they are really like they sort of draw the connections of where they’re working.

And it really helps. And we find that in those 30 people, we’ve got a lot of the map covered. So, you know, in this group you can probably find the answer to whatever you’re struggling with going forward.

So yeah, that’s interesting. It’s almost a way, you know, how do you make a massive organization of over 100,000 people function in some agile manner? So of course it can never be fully agile because it’s just too big. But yeah, something simple and practical, like look at the map when you have this question. This is how we’re organized, this you to talk to. If you need help about this, go to this person. In fact, one can lose two or three weeks just trying to figure out who do I call.

Yeah, exactly. And I think that the final thing that we do in this process is something we’ve just started. In fact, we’ve only had two or three people go through this step now, and it’s actually not a step that the person sees. It’s shortly before the person starts. We gather the hiring manager, the people business partner, myself, and as well as the executive recruiter. And we basically come together for a conversation about this candidate that’s just about to start in the role. And it is about our it’s called a readiness brief. And we talk about what’s happened along the journey of them.

Is there anything that we want to adjust in their onboarding plan to help mitigate any possible risk to this person having a great experience? And that could be everything from we want to really focus on kind of closing a skill gap that, you know, we love this person, but there is an area where we need to do a little bit more and it also could be, the person’s relocating. And it’s been a little bit tough for the family to make that adjustment. And we want to really support in any way we can. So we we sit down, we actually put together kind of a one page document. So we’re all agreeing on the points and we have a conversation and then take some actions out of that.

And we’ve just started that. But it’s been, I think, something that’s already added some value because we just caught a couple of things that we went, you know, you know, that person doesn’t have an onboarding buddy yet, so we want to make sure that to put in place.

Yeah. that’s so lovely. Like to really think like, how do we set new people up for success and be like, deliberate and thoughtful about it? And also that feels if you kind of step back and think, Wow, that’s like a lot of work getting a readiness briefing. But in fact, when you put it like that, like a one-page document and we’re getting specific people in the room to talk about the person, you’re probably like reducing churn and, you know, improving outcomes just by that effort. Who do you have in that meeting like their new hiring manager and people from your team? Or how do you put.

Yeah, it’s the hiring manager, the people business partner or H.R. Business partner myself, and the recruiter that’s been working with them. So those are the four people that likely know this person best along the way. And in fact, my role is more of it’s almost my introduction because it’s a bit of the handover between recruitment and onboarding, although we’ve really worked hard to make sure that there’s a seamless transition between recruitment and onboarding. And we’re talking our head of executive recruitment, and I talk constantly around who’s coming in it.

This whole process requires a lot of kind of just checklist management. And I’d love to say that this is like a perfectly automated digital process. It’s not where, you know, we have real meetings, we sort of get out the spreadsheet and go, Who’s starting this month and who’s starting next month? And but the volume of people isn’t that big. But we really we focused a lot on, on sort of what happens and, rather than sort of building something more digital, we do that for the the the bigger population of people when they join and of course, the executives go through that as well. But this is more of the extras that we put in place.

Yeah. Like a bespoke thing. And you mentioned before, before we were speaking about someone internally who gets like promoted to a vice president level that they also go through some version of this is a full thing. Or what do you think about like internal executive growth?

Yeah, I almost forgot about that. So, we started with just doing these extra steps for the externals. Then we added that some of these things happen for the internal people so that, you know, the three-day face-to-face thing that doesn’t happen for the internal promotions, but the meetings do happen. So that idea that someone might have been in the company a long time and then, you know, they get invited to meet our head of safety and resilience or they meet the other person that I didn’t mention that they meet one of our top people in our commercial organization to talk about our customers.

It’s a signal to that person even though they’re internal, that saying, well, we really want to talk about expectations of you as a new vice president, for example, that, you know, your responsibility for DEI even goes beyond your own role. It is you are meant to be an ambassador and a role model for that. And it’s it’s again, it’s that nudging, it’s that signaling and expectations setting with people. So, yes, we have the journey for the internal people.

We also do something called a new leader assimilation, which is a lot of companies do this. We do that for internal or external hires, and that is essentially a facilitated workshop with the team and the leader to really help set expectations. Sort of contracting around things, maybe dispelling some myths, myths, you know, we unpack what do people think they know about this person? You know, what are the things that the leader really likes and what are the things that might be triggers? And they talk openly about that. And that’s something we do for an internal or an external. And I know lots of organizations do that, but it’s a great practice

It must be nice like as someone is getting a promotion to get sort of a formal onboarding because it can happen that you sort of, you know, you just, as you say, your focus on the day to day, you got a promotion because you’re doing something right and you sort of want to get into it, but to maybe psychologically almost mark the difference and say, okay, now you’re in a different group, you have a different way of thinking, you have a different responsibility.

It’s again, if you’re trying to maximize for success and for someone to make the, you know, the mental switch from the level they were before to the new level, is that a great idea? And so you’ve had about how many some several hundred people now go through this process. You know, what kind of feedback have you gotten or what kind of results? Or do you have any like almost at all feedback?

We’ve introduced parts of the solution and we just keep iterating and try to say what can we improve? And so some parts of it we’ve had about 200 people go through the three-day intensive. That was actually the first thing we did. And the feedback has been fantastic on that. We ask people six months in about their onboarding experience, and that’s one of the metrics we’re trying to look at. Of course, we’re looking at metrics like the first-year attrition rate and you know that we’re also looking at engagement and things like that. But so the feedback has been really positive.

Some of the other steps, like all the different meeting cadences and things like that, that is about six months old and we’ve probably had, you know, 40 or 50 people go through that piece of the process and we anecdotally are getting some really good feedback. We do that six-month check with people as well. And then a couple of the steps are just brand new. You know, this thing with the readiness brief, that’s not even something that the person is going to experience directly. And of course, we’re really looking ultimately we want to make sure that our people, we onboard are successful.

And so that is ultimately the metric we’re looking not is is that, you know, we sort of say, okay, two years in, has this person come in and thrived in the organization. And so that is still to come. And, you know, of course, you know, you can look about to what extent does the onboarding process explain the outcome in a way, you know, you can’t claim 100% of that for sure. There’s a lot of factors, as you know, that, you know, we of course, know that someone who comes in, if they have a great manager, that’s probably the most important thing that’s going to happen. And so other things we work on in our people function is making sure we have great managers at all levels.

Yeah, I was even thinking like one metric who knows if this will be relevant? But looking at general employee engagement, I’d like to be able to see a correlation between the way that the new leaders were onboarded and then the reaction of their teams to that leader could be another measure of success that it’s working.

Yeah. And, and one that you could actually kind of look at the time scale of it. And I think with some of these metrics when you can actually look at it over time, you can see if there’s an inflection point when something happens. So you bring in a new leader. They have a great experience. Of course, you know, the leader themself is going to explain a lot of that. Hopefully, you know, if we’ve done a good job at bringing in great leaders, that can explain it, too. But if that person also feels really supported and engaged and brought into our culture, that is that is super as well. Yeah.

Now, that’s interesting. I had another question for you, too. Given that you’ve had these two roles, you know, thinking, you know, now in this moment of doing this very hands-on bespoke experience for a small group of people before thinking about L&D for like a massively large employee population, how do you think about the role of human resources in terms of properly touching everyone and that there’s like a necessary imbalance?

Of course you have to give more to leaders because there’s the impact they make. But how have you thought in your two roles about, you know, the way that companies can, you know, help everyone in the right way?

Well, I mean, I think ultimately you’ve got to make when you think about the massive my old role was head of learning and development for the organization. And not that we have a federated structure. It didn’t mean all L&D was sort of in one team, but I had a large team and we were trying to do things at scale, you know, a combination of broad-based L&D resources for people as well as targeted, upskilling, of course, leadership development programs, things like that.

And I mean, ultimately, I think you’ve got to make that the leadership doesn’t come from the people working in the people function. It comes from the leaders themselves. So, yeah, it’s one of the reasons most organizations disproportionately focus on leadership development within their learning and development portfolio, because if you can have a great leader, you don’t actually need to have that much. You know, a great leader can do so much for that. My first organization, a big organization I worked for in Canada, was a charity and now one of Canada’s largest charities, the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

And it we had at that point something like 5000 full-time employees. And there was one person working in the people function. They’ve now changed since then. But the reason back then we got away with that is every leader had to do a jar. You just had that. And so it would only be the one person you’d call when something really, really went wrong. And it wasn’t when you had to call this one person. Her name was Agnes. I remember that. It was usually like she was a wonderful person, but you know, it was usually something went wrong

And that’s what I think when you are, you know, But with, you know, we have the luxury to have a small team focused on our executive population and trying to really make sure that things go very well and they’re very planful and intentional.

Great. Yeah. And then just a last question, like looking forward, If you’re thinking about, you know, your goals or what would be your vision or dream, you know, for this overall process, and where do you see your role going? What would you say your priorities are?

Well, maybe we can talk again about I mean, onboarding is one piece of what I work on. The piece that I’m most excited about is thinking about experiences that we have for executives to develop them to the next level or a succession plan. So I am very passionate about experience-based development and that is something that I’m working on and is going to be a big focus this year, is really making sure that if we’ve got if we want to look at our next chief commercial officer, we think about what things that person should experience in order to be ready for that role.

And we work with our pipeline to get them ready. And that is, again, it’s a very hands-on process working with very individual talent pools. And that’s that’s a super exciting thing that I’m working on in my portfolio.

Yeah, that’s great. Yeah, we will definitely have to catch up again so you can hear how that’s going. And this has been a great chat and especially I love, you know, your whole onboarding journey. And I am definitely going to borrow the idea of the briefing document. Even in my small startup, this could definitely facilitate the onboarding of new team members. Well, thank you so much for sharing this experience and we will have to talk again in a year or two to see how it’s all done.

Great. Thanks for having me on. Great to be here today.

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