Gabi Zedlmayer, Vice President and Chief Progress Officer, drives HP’s Living Progress initiatives that help improve the communities we serve aligned with HP’s business strategy. She leads a global team of experts focused on solving social and environmental issues in collaboration with non-profit organizations, governments, customers and partners. Her goal is to create solutions that improve communities and advance human, economic and environmental progress.
GlobeScan co-CEO Chris Coulter recently interviewed Gabi to gain insight on the value HP puts on stakeholder intelligence to help build recognized leadership in an uncertain world.
Some people say the world is becoming more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous – a VUCA world. Do you agree we are experiencing greater volatility and uncertainty?
I am not sure that volatile, uncertain, and complex are exactly the right terms, but we are definitely experiencing immense change. To a certain extent, I think the world has always been historically volatile and uncertain, but we are now much more aware of all this because of our access to massive amounts of information. Every two days we produce as much information in the world as we did from the beginning of humanity to 2003. It is truly incredible!
All of this information does mean we are often creating more ambiguity, as we seem to have more questions than answers. We haven’t fully figured out to use big data to help drive better decisions – this presents a great opportunity for the IT sector to create and apply new technology and platforms to make more sense of the data and reduce some of this volatility. We feel that we are now much more able to leverage this technology to direct the right resources in the right way, make better strategic decisions, and also to create more clarity and stability in the world.
What role can leadership play in this context?
Leadership has changed. In the past, leadership was about setting a vision and implementing a control and command system. But this has changed because the nature of the conversation has changed. You can’t push an agenda down into a large organization or onto society. You now have to be part of the discussion and lead with your specific role as one participant in a broader conversation. This represents a significantly different way of engaging people. Dialogue, and even planning, now flows in multiple directions rather than top down.
What’s exciting is that technology can play a key role in this new form of multi party engagement. I will share an example of what we are talking about in our own company. We are utilizing a new approach within HP to engage employees – if people have new, breakthrough ideas there are now internal forums where they can share ideas, vote and debate them, and where leaders in the company get engaged in the discussions. I think this a much better way for executives to prioritize issues with the team as they get to engage in them via discussions on a regular basis. Needless to say, this is so dramatically different from 10 years ago and this is now a part of how leadership is manifested.
What are a few examples of corporate leadership at HP you are most proud of?
We are involved in many initiatives at HP that we include under our HP Living Progress framework that defines the way we do business and shows how our people and technology come together to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges. An example we are really excited about is our HP Moonshot System. While the explosion of information and data is broadly a positive development, the servers needed to power the information revolution use a significant amount of energy, which poses a sustainability challenge that we need to address proactively. Moonshot was a direct response to the growing need for massive data centers that are costly, energy intensive and require a great deal of physical space. We were able to disrupt our own server infrastructure by asking ourselves how we can deliver the required server technology in an innovatively radical way.
The result is that HP Moonshot is based on smart chip technology. It’s a huge leap forward in infrastructure design that addresses the speed, scale, and specialization needed for a “New Style of IT.” These low power servers share management, power, cooling, networking, and storage. They are 89% more energy efficient, take up 80% less space and are 77% cheaper. We can now power our entire HP.com websites that receive 300 million hits a day on the equivalent of 12 light bulbs of energy. This is a disruptive innovation that we are proud of as it addresses the carbon footprint of our products and solutions which accounts for 61% of the entire footprint.
Another initiative that we are proud of, and one that also reflects HP Living Progress, is what we call the “Go West strategy” in our supply chain when we moved our manufacturing in China from the eastern part of the country to the west. This had multiple positive impacts. First of all, it was better for our employees: we found that most of our employees on the coast were actually from western China and were living away from their family and culture, and this was a challenge for them. By moving our operations to Chongqing, our employees are now much closer to family/food/culture and we immediately saw improvements in employee satisfaction, lower absenteeism and also employee happiness. Second, this move also had an economic impact – it created jobs in an area that needed more employment and allow people to make a living in the west. Third, it had a positive environmental impact: we found a way to move our products via rail across Eurasia and into Europe, rather than fly them to Europe. This represents a massive reduction in carbon – we can now move our products with 1/30 of the carbon!
Tell me more about Living Progress.
For 75 years of its existence, HP has always been committed to citizenship – this goes right back to our founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, and continues today. But we know that the corporate sustainability field has evolved and shifted over the years. A few years ago, we recognized the need for a more integrated framework to guide our environmental and social initiatives and commitments.
So, we began a review of our vision, mission, materiality, and stakeholder expectations (something that GlobeScan supported) and began to think through an updated strategy. People sometimes mistake citizenship for compliance, and while we do believe we have a responsibility to comply with the laws and social norms, we felt there was something missing and that compliance didn’t go far enough. We began to see that if we did this correctly, we could not only drive greater social and environmental value, but also drive greater business value in many instances via enhanced brand equity, stronger partnerships, being seen as more relevant and influential, and engaging employees (both current and future talent).
Global citizenship has been with us for a long time and we wanted to give it a more 21st century approach and connect it better with our corporate strategy to unlock the growth of the company by helping solve society’s toughest challenges. We simplified things under a clear framework – HP Living Progress – and focused on three pillars – human progress, economic progress and environmental progress. We feel this new framework has brought our citizenship commitments to life and we are better able to engage stakeholders internally and externally by answering key questions: what does it mean for HP, how we do business together, what are the stories and proof points of our commitments and values. It seems to be resonating with people so far and is helping drive greater purpose throughout our organization.
How does HP approach stakeholder engagement?
Stakeholder engagement is so important; otherwise you are really talking to yourself. When I had the chance to transform the social innovation function at HP, the first thing I did was to reach out to external stakeholders and get an external perspective. What is happening externally? What is best practice? What do they expect of HP? How can we make the largest impact?
Stakeholder engagement can be quite informal, including leveraging your networks, and holding ad hoc discussions. Or it can be quite formal such as creating an external stakeholder advisory council, conducting formal research or doing an online stakeholder forum such as our Living Progress Exchange. In this connected world, there are so many more opportunities to engage and obtain feedback from stakeholders. We see this as an important factor in our ability to create more value going forward.
What opportunities with stakeholders are you most excited about for HP in the next 5 years?
The challenge is that there are so many stakeholders now and the world is changing so quickly that you need to be more agile in your stakeholder engagement and ultimately your response to stakeholders. You have to keep asking yourself whom do I need to listen to, who can I learn from, who can I partner with, what do I change.
Historically, stakeholder engagement was much more staid and fixed. The opportunity now is in the flexibility and speed of stakeholder engagement. The important thing for us is to be alert, engaged and understand that we don’t (and can’t) know everything. We now have new worlds of information, knowledge and insight available to us to help guide us on our journey. This should allow us to be bolder in our actions and commitments. It is an exciting time but also a little overwhelming at times.
I really do think a critical piece is to understand how technology can support this area. The world is getting more virtual and digital and this being driven and embraced by a new generation of young adults. We know how influential the digital natives will be the coming decades. If you don’t know how to use technology, you really won’t be able engage these people, and we need a great deal more engagement in the area of sustainability and social innovation in the coming years. We can’t underestimate the power of generational change. We need to vision what is possible, different and better in the future. Utilize technology to our advantage and shape the world in a way that ensures we all have a positive future. With HP Living Progress we are creating a better future for everyone through our actions and innovations.