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- Kerry O’Donnell, Executive Director, Technology Lead for Global Communications & Public Affairs, Global Corporate Citizenship & Sustainability, Human Resources, ID&E, Lauder Family
What makes a truly inspiring and beautiful digital workplace? In this latest podcast episode, Estée Lauder Companies’ Kerry O’Donnell talks about the organization’s recent digital makeover – one that has just resulted in the MyELC intranet being named a Nielsen Norman Intranet Design winner.
MyELC acts as a front door to the organization, representing the world-famous brand visually. It also demonstrates a real investment of time, care and resources to help employees to do their jobs well, wherever in the world they are located.
In conversation with host Nancy Goebel, Kerry shares more about her role as Executive Director, Technology Lead for Global Communications & Public Affairs, Global Corporate Citizenship & Sustainability, Human Resources, ID&E, Lauder Family, including her career learnings and approach to risk and pushing the digital boundaries.
Together, they discuss how Estée Lauder fosters strong partnerships on complex global initiatives, Kerry’s next digital workplace ambitions, and offer advice for digital workplace leaders and practitioners everywhere.
Listen today, for a refreshing conversation set against the backdrop of this innovative company; one that is known for tying together technology with elegance, luxury and quality.
Show notes, links and resources for this episode:
[00:00:00.250] – Kerry O’Donnell
You must take some risk, you must do new things. You’ve got to kind of be willing to lean forward and it’s okay to be a little bit scared.
[00:00:09.510] – Nancy Goebel
Today’s featured studio guest is none other than Kerry O’Donnell. DWG member. Kerry is currently the Executive Director of Technology for Global Communications, Citizenship, Sustainability, Inclusion and Diversity, Public Affairs and HR at the Estée Lauder companies. Upon learning that MyELC was recently named a Nielsen Norman Internet Design Annual winner, I thought it would be interesting to sit down with Kerry to chat about not only her career as a digital workplace leader, but also her learnings and insights about MyELC’s digital makeover, the organization’s approach to fostering strong partnerships on complex global initiatives, her ambitions for ELCs digital workplace, and even some salient advice for digital workplace leaders and practitioners. In addition to tapping this pod for insights about this very award winning intranet, I’d equally suggest downloading DWG’s 2022 research entitled Celebrating the Best Digital Workplaces: Five years of trends from the DWG Awards. The link to this and several other resources are available in the show notes that accompany this episode. As always, this podcast is brought to you by the Digital Workplace Group. Happy listening.
[00:01:34.680] – Nancy Goebel
So Kerry, it is just fantastic to have an opportunity to catch up with you today in the Digital Workplace Impact podcast studio. Welcome.
[00:01:45.840] – Kerry O’Donnell
Oh, thank you, Nancy. I’m excited to be here today and kind of share our story and it’s an honour to be on your podcast series. I’ve listened to them a lot myself and it’s nice to be in the club now.
[00:02:00.910] – Nancy Goebel
Well, you’re certainly a welcome addition and one of the things I love to do, particularly when I’m talking with practitioners and senior leaders like you, is to get a little bit of context around your career. And so I just want to jump in by asking, once upon a time, what was your dream job growing up?
[00:02:25.850] – Kerry O’Donnell
That’s a great question. My dream job was to create music videos. Obviously I didn’t end up doing that, but looking back, they really were kind of a nice mix of technology, art, design and having to create a product for audience engagement, which is all kind of things I do today in my current role of Estée Lauder Companies working on our digital workplace.
[00:02:53.190] – Nancy Goebel
It’s one of those things that many people can say that becoming a digital workplace leader was their dream job, but I think there are some distinguishing characteristics about those who are part of the circle of success and I certainly put you in that realm. And so what actually put you on the path to becoming an executive director at the Estée Lauder Companies? I know these days you’re sitting within technology and you’re working very closely with areas like global communications, citizenship, sustainability, I and D and public affairs and HR. I think I got that list right.
[00:03:44.010] – Kerry O’Donnell
You did. Yeah. My role has gotten a little bit broader as my time here at Estée Lauder Companies has grown, but originally I started out as a computer programmer at a large advertising agency, and I really enjoyed working on projects for large companies selling consumer products. I found it really fascinating is the CPG industry is ever changing. And at one point during my career, I ended up switching from the consumer facing side of the business to the internal facing side of the business, which had led me down to the path of my current role at Estée Lauder Companies, servicing our internal clients of our global departments that you listed.
[00:04:31.080] – Nancy Goebel
And have there been any key players who have served as mentors for you along the way?
[00:04:39.750] – Kerry O’Donnell
Yeah, I’ve had mentors who were my managers, I’ve had mentors who are my peers, and in some ways I’ve had some mentors who are people who were more junior than me. I’ve always kind of had a mantra to never take a job unless you’re a little bit scared of it, and it’s a chance to kind of leverage your strengths, but also kind of work on developing your skills and work on your weaknesses. So I’ve kind of taken mentorship from a couple of different directions. There’s always new things to learn and new ways to grow. I don’t see myself as ever done. Even when you’re an expert at something in your role.
[00:05:25.540] – Nancy Goebel
And change-making and making change is such a big part of the work that we do in the digital workplace arena. And so having that 360 view, whether it’s in the mentorship realm or in the day-to-day execution side, is critically important. And I know earlier in June, you, along with your key business partner, Nancy Maloney, hosted the DWG member meeting in New York City. And one of the things that you and Nancy talked a lot about was MyELC’s digital makeover. And of course, that was grounded in transforming employee engagement and productivity at quite a challenging time in the corporate world, let alone the world at large. And so can you share some highlights about why that story was important to tell now and within our member circle?
[00:06:32.190] – Kerry O’Donnell
One of the things about the member circle that’s fantastic is we’re all on our own journey as practitioners. And I remember when our company first joined DWG, I found it really helpful to hear people who were at a big milestone of their journey. And not only did I get tips, but it was also inspirational for my own journey. So recently, we kind of reached a milestone completing a multi-year creation of our own digital workplace intranet, which we call MyELC. And I thought it was important to share back there. Our journey, like others, had many challenges along the multi-year path. It had. Our old Internet lacked the capabilities of basic features that our employees needed. It was painfully slow to load the pages. The content management system was too complicated for people to pick up quickly at the pace of business we have now, it just wasn’t working. We lacked reliable usage measurement, which made it hard to show KPIs, and we were really limited with our visual design. So now we reached this great milestone where we’re on the Unily platform and we have what we were missing. And it’s just in time too, because our retail business is evolving more rapidly than ever before.
[00:07:56.940] – Kerry O’Donnell
It’s more competitive. Consumers’ expectations continue to rise and then add on remote and hybrid working, and more teams, at least within our company, with members on different continents working together, our company really needs the digital workplace to work right. Our employees need easy access to the latest news, information, how to connect with each other more than they ever have done before. So the timing of this couldn’t be better.
[00:08:28.670] – Nancy Goebel
So that’s a pretty clear synopsis of some of the challenges that you and the team were looking to overcome. Looking back over the last two years, what would you say are some of the key accomplishments that you’re most proud of and why?
[00:08:46.230] – Kerry O’Donnell
I think what we’re most proud of, honestly, is how well our cross departmental team partnered together. It hasn’t been an easy path, and we did it during a time of even added challenges with COVID and the court team especially came together to solve issues we’re all very proud of our site and employees are finding it useful, engaging and beautiful. As a beauty company, it needs to represent our brand, which is all about beauty. And it recently won this year’s NNG Intranet Design Award for outstanding Intranet design and excellent user experience, so that’s like kind of the cherry on the top of the accomplishments that we’ve had.
[00:09:36.110] – Nancy Goebel
And it is a great one. I remember once upon a time when I was at JPMorgan Chase, we too hit that coveted list for the Nielsen Norman Design Annual. Why was it important to you and your team to apply for the award?
[00:09:58.530] – Kerry O’Donnell
When we started out, we decided we wanted to build the best that we possibly could. And one of our kind of quiet internal team, KPIs, was to be an award winning level. And it’s great to achieve that. I think we all feel like it’s an honour to be on that list. And it’s also, to the company, kind of a reminder that our company cares about giving employees the information they need to do their job. It invested in a project like this, which is not directly revenue generating. Right. It’s about engagement and efficiencies and connections and inclusion, which is very important. But it could be a little bit in competition with projects that are quick, direct revenue generators.
[00:10:53.250] – Nancy Goebel
Well, I think that external validation is always important, especially after a significant programme that’s complex and global in scale, just as you’ve described. And so what do you think was the core behind becoming an award winning team? You talk a little bit about the partnership across technology and global communications and the strengths of what you were able to do working in collaboration. Any other things stand out for you?
[00:11:32.610] – Kerry O’Donnell
Yeah, I mean, there’s a partnership across kind of the core departments, right, as you mentioned, and it’s IT, global comms and for us, also, HR, there is also a partnership with our vendor, mainly with our platform. They were open to hearing feedback about what we needed from the product. Right. Every business is a little bit unique and helped us find a balance between the customization versus using out of the box configurations to meet our business goals. And we had some moments of friction along the way, but we always found a path forward. So that partnership really made a difference, I think also to making sure that you’re keeping the best practices as guardrails in your project. And this is something that Nancy DWG was really helpful for us to make sure that we knew of all the best practices, right. Not just in visual design and usability, but in technology and governance. That really was key to our success. And then finally building a strong muscle for perseverance and adaptability. No matter how well you prepare for a project, the unexpected will happen. For us, it was COVID there was no way to predict that, but you’ve got to find a way to just keep moving forward through it, regardless.
[00:13:04.180] – Nancy Goebel
And I’m taking away the importance of active listening as part of that, whether it’s with your key partners, internal and external, the voice of what the employees need, and then, of course, the connections back to the organizational priorities. And when you layer in something like a global pandemic, your ability to pivot is challenged within that active listening as well. And so we sometimes hear, whether it’s with members or people in our wider circles, that senior leadership can come back to a winning team and challenge them and say, So does that mean we’re done? Have we arrived? What would you say if someone hasn’t already leaned into that comment?
[00:14:00.130] – Kerry O’Donnell
I think it’s an expected question to ask. Right, because you’ve reached a level of excellence. Right. What I say is that employee experience is a journey, not a destination or one moment. Our employee needs keep changing as the business marketplace continues to change, as the technology continues to change, what people have at home in their daily lives changes to people expect that level at work, at least.
[00:14:30.350] – Nancy Goebel
I think you always have such crisp insight, Kerry, I’m going to challenge you a step further. We’ve talked a little bit about the digital makeover of MyELC. We’ve talked about the work that happened on a global scale. We talked about the strength of the partnerships that helped enable not only the accomplishment of the makeover, but hitting that award winning status at the same time, global communications where Nancy and Maloney resides, is one of the businesses that you’re working with day to day. And so I’m just thinking your role touches so many other aspects of the digital workplace at the Estée Lauder Companies. How do you balance such a diverse and complex roster of business groups?
[00:15:28.990] – Kerry O’Donnell
Well, it’s not easy, but it is becoming easier. The digital workplace does touch so many different parts of the business where a lot of times the needs of one of my other areas of the business also benefits from the digital workplace. The digital workplace, the business sponsor is global communications, right? So, for example, for inclusion, diversity and equity, we make sure that the technology that in the digital workplace is fully accessible and we have some tools we’re putting in place to help us make sure the content is fully accessible. And by doing that, we’re also servicing ID needs. So I look for a lot of things we can do that has kind of a value to at least two groups of the ones that I service. The same thing with sustainability, that’s such a core aspect and always has been to our business. And the digital workplace is one of the primary platforms that group communicates out to the organization. So that helps a lot that these worlds are kind of overlapping and coming together.
[00:16:47.420] – Nancy Goebel
And what would you say is your next stage ambition for the digital workplace at large at ELC?
[00:16:57.310] – Kerry O’Donnell
We have a long list, as usual. One of our biggest next steps is to create a personalised and highly targeted onboarding experience to our company. The MyELC digital workplace is the front door to our employees and we want it to be the big front door for all our new joiners to the company. And to do that, we need to expand beyond our global business languages to support more local languages across the globe. And we’ll need to deepen our use of targeting and personalization to get the right content and links and shortcuts and stuff to the right individuals at the right time. The needs of a new joiner on their first week are very different than their first month or their second month, or their first year. And being able to filter up quickly the you need to know now and what’s coming up I think will be highly valuable to them. And then also on the technology side, we want to expand the Unily platform beyond our MyELC digital workplace to service some other groups. There are tools in there that we can leverage with other groups, such as other microsites or newsletters.
[00:18:25.030] – Kerry O’Donnell
There’s other services that really can be leveraged and get more value out of the platform that we have.
[00:18:32.680] – Nancy Goebel
And so part of what we’ve been talking about is your career trajectory, the work that’s been happening around digital transformation at ELC. And I guess one of the things I’m wondering next is for those who have similar ambitions to yours, what would be your best advice to them?
[00:19:00.070] – Kerry O’Donnell
You must take some risk, you must do new things, you’ve got to kind of be willing to lean forward and it’s okay to be a little bit scared. A way to do that is to kind of share your strengths with others and continue to expand that span your skill set. There’s a network of people out there to support and help you, the DWG team, and that membership is one that I personally lean on. You’re not out there all by yourself.
[00:19:28.100] – Nancy Goebel
I would say just watching you in action and even thinking about this conversation as a whole. I would also add that the art of storytelling is quite important because you’re bringing people along on a journey, whether it’s in mounting the business case for all of these changes that have been undertaken, influencing people to come on board that agenda, being able to tell the story of what makes the team’s achievements in and around MyELC, unique and compelling enough to become award winning. And balancing that story with not only clarity around what the objectives are, but you also talked about the pain points that you are trying to solve so you can tell, as part of that story, what the business impact has been, both in numbers and in impact. And that’s a skill that tends to be less common in our industry vertical, but one that I think even goes back to your early beginnings of what your dream job was. Because when you’re working, aspiring to work, even in the video world, you are a storyteller at heart.
[00:21:05.050] – Kerry O’Donnell
Exactly. And I think that one thing we would do is we’d always kind of tailor the messages to include the wisdom. What’s in it for me? Right. Everybody needs to know their value to contributing and what the value of succeeding with the project is on all different levels, whether it’s somebody on our help desk, global service desk team, one of the senior executives, corporate finance and of course, the different areas of different employees around the globe.
[00:21:42.650] – Nancy Goebel
And so we’re fast approaching our final moments together. So my last question for you is whether you have any final reflections you’d like to share based on the story that you’ve been sharing today.
[00:21:59.530] – Kerry O’Donnell
Yeah, well, I really believe that the digital workplace is such an incredible value to organizations and it’s challenging. It is ever evolving, it’s multifaceted, it’s such a journey worth taking. So if there are listeners thinking about getting more involved and joining a team or evolving their digital workplace, just do it. And if you’re someone already on the journey, remember there are others who share your experiences. People can feel free to reach out to me, I’m sure, other members. Right. I’ve had the help of other DWG members along the way and I’m happy to do the same and offer anybody else if they could benefit from any of my experience. So I was really excited and honoured that we said to do this podcast right. Because it’s kind of a nice first step in that direction.
[00:22:51.010] – Nancy Goebel
Well, I can tell you, it’s always such a great pleasure for me to have a chance to chat with you, but to do that with the backdrop of the podcast allows us to give a wider window to a conversation like this, and it’s been a story worth telling. So congratulations to you and the MyELC team and we’re looking forward to continuing to follow the evolving digital workplace story in the weeks and months to come.
[00:23:24.070] – Kerry O’Donnell
Yeah, thank you, Nancy. Thank you very much. Appreciate that. And I’m excited about it, too. The journey continues.
[00:23:32.590] – Nancy Goebel
Digital Workplace Impact is brought to you by the Digital Workplace Group. DWG is a strategic partner covering all aspects of the evolving digital workplace industry, not only through membership, but also benchmarking and boutique consulting services. For more information, visit digitalworkplacegroup.com.
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Book a free one-to-one consultation to discuss the current status of your digital workplace. Each consultation is followed up with a bundle of useful resources to help get you started.