Q&A with Zebra Technologies' Senior Director for Human Resources, APAC

08/06/2017
HQ Asia speaks with Barbara Zhang of Zebra Technologies about how company cultures changes during a merger and acquisition, advice for HR leaders managing an M&A and how to foster a culture of innovation.

1. How was Zebra Technologies’ culture affected by the merger and acquisition with Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise business?

It is inevitable that cultural differences arise after an acquisition as two organisations with distinct cultures come together; this could be in the form of unique working styles, thinking habits, experiences, and personal values.

Acknowledging this fact even before the acquisition is the key to our success in a smooth and fruitful integration. Rather than “assimilating” colleagues from both sides, Zebra set out to build a new culture - one that is neither from the old Zebra or the old Motorola Solutions Enterprise business.

Tapping into the strengths of the two companies, the approach has paid great dividends, with Zebra elevated to a stronger position than ever before – not just as a business, but as a place to work, for our nearly 7,000 employees globally.

We launched the Zebra Leaders in Action programme in 2015 – in consultation with a leading culture-shaping consultancy – shortly after the acquisition. The programme was designed to align the company’s culture with its five core values plus our mission and vision.

2. How is Zebra Technologies fostering a culture of innovation?

We believe that success and strong corporate culture go hand in hand. As part of the culture-shaping strategies, five core company values were introduced: innovation, integrity, teamwork, accountability and agility. These values are the guiding principles on which our culture-shaping programme is based.

Zebra’s Leaders in Action programme aims to turn everyone into culture influencers, and to hold everyone accountable for personal and team effectiveness by understanding how to work with others who may have different behavioural styles, opinions and experiences. While the workshops introduce the concept of culture-shaping and sets us thinking about how we can better collaborate and work with others, the programme extends to “Culture Clubs” and regular engagement surveys.

These activities are just the catalyst to allow our colleagues to shape the culture. There are many takeaways from the Leaders in Action programme, among which we encourage participants to stay curious, and also assume positive intents versus a negative viewpoint.

The spirit of innovation is crucial to our sustainable growth. We challenge our employees to be bold in their ideas, and to question the status quo so that we are able to advance our business and help our customers address their challenges. It is not only promoted as our core values, but also supported by awarding and exposure opportunities – such as our Star Award programme for receiving patents, and our annual technology day at our research and development (R&D) site in India.

Our culture of innovation has driven our innovative streak of products that have won industry awards around the world. Take our TC8000 touch mobile computer for example. We were not content with just a few percent productivity gains through upgrades to the old “gun-style” mobile computers so our engineering and design teams started on a fresh sheet of paper. They spent time at our customers’ locations to observe their operations and how their workers used our older products – which was when they realised that warehouse workers were wasting precious time with repetitive scan-and-tilt actions on the older gun-style devices. The solution to the seemingly minor issue was a revolutionary design that has proven to increase worker productivity by an average of 14 percent. This could not have been done if nobody had questioned the status quo.

3. What impact has Zebra Technologies seen from the Leaders in Action programme?

Zebra’s Leaders in Action programme has brought many tangible benefits to our organisation. The programme has proven to be a success in APAC, and 84% of our colleagues in the region have attended these workshops.

The programme includes workshops aimed at transforming everyone into culture influencers. The workshops also sought to help employees better understand how to work with others who may have different behavioural styles, experiences and opinions.

The workshops in the programmes helped verbalise and lay out the concepts of our culture-shaping programme to us. Most importantly, colleagues no longer see one another in terms of where they were from previously, but rather, see one another as members of “One Zebra”.

In addition to workshops, the programme is also comprised of “Culture Clubs” and regular engagement surveys. Zebra’s Culture Club is an open community where everyone can participate in culture-shaping activities ranging from conversations and mini workshops focused on specific concepts, to networking opportunities among colleagues. Attendees are then encouraged to internalise and incorporate Zebra’s shared values in their day-to-day activities. We have 28 culture champions across APAC to lead the conversations in each market that we operate. During these sessions, employees are encouraged to share their experiences pertaining to culture-shaping efforts and value behaviors as a “leader” instead of follower.

To ensure we leave no stone unturned, Zebra regularly conducts employee engagement surveys, to measure the effectiveness of our programmes. This helps us to receive and digest first-hand feedback from our colleagues, allowing us to identify the strengths and improvement areas within our work culture and environment.

One key outcome resulting from the programme is the understanding that disagreements are perfectly normal and are bound to happen. The only thing we can and should do is to understand and respect one another’s points of view. Outcomes like these have benefitted Zebra as we are seeing a more cohesive workforce where precious time is put to better use. This allows us to accomplish much more, now that we can find common solutions in our work by keeping open minds and utilise team’s wisdom.

The programme is also helping our employees perform more effectively at work and in life. A great example would be the “Be Here Now” concept, implemented during our culture-shaping workshop. “Be Here Now” encourages colleagues – no matter their seniority – to focus on the ongoing conversation or meeting they are in to best utilize every minute. This increases the meeting’s productivity, as well as their own, as the attendees would not be distracted by the likes of laptops or mobile phones, allowing the meeting to be focused, constructive and meaningful.

4. What two pieces of advice would you give to an HR leader who is managing an M&A?

Cultural integration is just as important as any other issues as your company is undergoing merger and acquisitions. Sure – there will certainly always be many pressing issues such as the integration of systems, products, and customers. However, creating a culture that works well for employees from both companies is even more crucial.

Once you have managed to create a new company culture, it is imperative not to take a back seat and assume things will run their course. Culture-shaping in an ongoing endeavour, and organisations need to ensure that their culture-shaping programmes are sustainable and systematic. A successful culture-shaping exercise is comprised of a comprehensive strategy, a theme that is relevant and reflective of the world outside of the organisation, a broad group of participants, and a wide range of activities and tactics.

At Zebra, we have experienced the benefits of shaping and practicing good corporate culture. As we put our cultural differences behind, we have seen a significant rise in employee morale and engagement, and productivity has also taken a leap. Our teamwork, innovation, agility, accountability and high integrity have enabled us to bring better satisfaction to our partners and customers – enabling them to become as smart and connected as the world we live in.

5. How does Zebra attract top tech talent?

Zebra attracts top tech talent by building an innovative, rewarding company culture. Such a culture creates an engaging employee experience, which helps us successfully attract and retain skilled employees.

We started by creating a values-based workplace environment where employees are treated as the company’s greatest asset. This approach allows us to understand and improve our employees’ experience, which is critical for organisations like Zebra – who operate in a highly competitive global economy.

Zebra’s ongoing dedication to company culture and employee relations has borne fruit. We were named by Forbes as one of “America's Best Midsize Employers” in 2017 and "America's Best Employers" in 2016 – accolades that rank Zebra among the top 800 employers across 25 industries, based on recommendations from current employees and industry professionals.

Even as we take pride in this achievement, work to build on this solid foundation will go on – we will continue investing efforts towards fostering an environment that attracts top industry professionals.

To find out more about Zebra, please visit this site

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