HR2IT Trailblazer: Schneider Electric’s Amy deCastro Accelerates the Digital Journey

by Dan Roberts

There’s a lot to be said about someone who’s been with the same company for her entire career. In her tenure at Schneider Electric, Amy deCastro has seen the global energy management and automation company through its transformation to becoming the digital transformation leader. Today, Schneider operates in over 100 countries with 137,000 employees worldwide. Taking on the role of talent acquisition in the age of digital takes a blend of upskilling long-time talent while ushering in digital natives to push forward the constant evolution of business. As the vice president of Human Resources, Amy partners with the Chief Digital Officer, Hervé Coureil, and the Global CIO, Elizabeth Hackenson, as well the rest of the senior leadership team, to drive the overall employee strategy and engagement. I got a chance to ask Elizabeth Hackenson about Amy, and she was effusive: “Amy has been instrumental in our journey. She’s great at equipping leaders, identifying those leaders who are struggling and helping them get to the next level. Amy also helps people with their career journey and get to the next job quicker.”
 
That’s quite an endorsement, and only made me more excited to talk with her.

 

Q: Schneider Electric has embarked on a game-changing digital journey. Can you bring us up to speed and tell us a bit about your role?

 

After the acquisition of APC, in 2014 Schneider Electric merged 60 IT organizations that had been under Schneider, our partners or newly acquired companies, into one group, with one strategy and one leading organization. I moved into this organization about three years into that journey and started partnering with our now chief digital officer. From 2013 to 2019, we have driven an incredible amount of transformation, building a sustainable enterprise IT organization and also a digital acceleration arm, further driving Schneider Electric’s digital strategy.


Throughout this journey, I have been lucky enough to partner with leaders who value the HR function and the impact that a strong talent strategy can bring. The contribution of HR has been the ability to work with our business partners to help grow our organization from a backend function to a value adding organization that partners to operationalize and accelerate our business’ digital journey.


I have a global team supporting employees in Europe, Asia and the United States. The team is made up of HR Business Partners as well as teams focused on Schneider’s technical fellowship program, the Digital Academy and Communities of Practice.

Q: Often, HR leaders don’t have that fabled “seat at the table.” How did you earn your prominent and respected role?


I think it’s two things. First, it takes a good business partner who appreciates the HR function, and I’ve been fortunate to have worked with business partners who truly appreciate the value that HR brings. Hervé Coureil as our CDO and Elizabeth Hackenson as our CIO are both leaders who truly understand the value HR can bring.


Now, I also think I earned that invitation, mainly by being an HR professional who thinks not HR first, but company and customer first. I think about how the work we do can truly impact the growth of our organization and make our customers’ lives easier. To do that, I have to understand the business, our top and bottom line needs, the programs we have running, and most importantly, the talent. 

Q: You worked some long hours with your CDO and CFO to build this new org.


It was months and months. We started in June of 2017, and we didn’t launch until January 2018. Six or seven months may not sound like a long time, but we had certain documents with revisions in the hundreds.

 

We sat down to really figure out how we create a high-performing organization that would accelerate the digital journey of Schneider – pushing the boundaries from the traditional Enterprise IT into also new digital innovation, R&D processes, ecommerce, better sales enablement, etc. It was really a catalyst to drive everyone to think differently.  As an example, we have a huge customer base with field services. Traditionally, we’d send our field services out to a job with lots of paper and a flip phone. Now they go in with a tablet, scan a QR code, and they can “see” inside the product via this digital solution, and provide quicker, better service. With new applications, they can capture and submit customer data and leads to sales, such as: “I see an upgrade opportunity here—you may want to send out a salesperson.” That’s how this organization now does things, because we built it that way.


Q: In the past, you’ve said you focus on three pillars: Culture, talent and organization. Can we start with culture?

 

As the external market changes fast, we need to respond with agility and find new way of working – both individually and collectively. New core values and leadership expectations were launched company-wide as we created Schneider Digital. Our Values include ‘‘Embrace Different”, “Dare to Disrupt”, “Act like Owners” and the Leadership Expectations are “Shape the Future” and “Build the Best Team”. They define our collective behaviors, driving meaningful purpose while also continuously creating an inclusive environment that empowers us to do our best and innovate. These were our anchors as we determined our talent strategy for Schneider Digital.

Q: What about the organizational challenges?

 

We knew we needed to shift away from a legacy of internal focus to accelerate the digital journey, to do that, we needed to look at things like customer experience, employee experience, security, IoT, data, and excellence at the enterprise IT level. We needed to shift our organization to think customer first. We needed to find the right leaders, with the right skill sets, to drive growth in these pillars. And they weren’t always typical technology leaders, but people who could think digital-first and who brought business experience.

Q: Which leads to the talent challenges … 

 

Absolutely. We were transforming a global organization that had been formed in 2009, so we needed first to understand who we have, and who would be open to reskilling—people who understand that this is not just a tweak but a full-blown transformation. 

 

For instance, we needed to help our people see that our customers and employees have come to expect the same quality of interface from us as they do in their personal lives. That means we need to step up and create these no-touch web experiences, mobile applications, voice features, chatbots—that’s all new to a legacy IT organization, so it puts a completely new demand on our talent. To empower our people to be able to do more with technology to do more for our customers. 

 

We had a build, buy and borrow strategy. We knew we needed a reskilling campaign, and that has been largely around agile. We have a huge campaign right now and while traditional project management skills are essential, we are retraining some of our waterfall program managers to become scrum masters and agile coaches.

 

But we couldn’t build it all internally. So, we also went to the market for what we absolutely needed to buy. For the most part, that was in data and security. And then borrow, when we need to go to external orgs, to borrow talent because we can’t build fast enough, and don’t necessarily need to buy. Then there is always the need for cutting-edge technology, which we wouldn’t need to recreate and instead invest. 

Q: A holistic approach. Having led through much of this transformation, how are you refining and sustaining it?


We assess and adjust daily. We’ve found, for instance, that our build strategy isn’t necessarily moving fast enough. And for borrow, we wrestle with whether to keep borrowing from external organizations or move to the gig economy and bring in individuals as we need them.

 

That’s an interesting challenge, actually. So many people talk passionately about the gig economy, but I haven’t seen it materialize as promised. It seems that people have been sort of forced into taking multiple jobs and freelancing, and when we bring in certain skill sets, they want to be a full-time employee, which is not necessarily how we were looking at the role. I’m wondering, where are those people we keep hearing about who want to drop in and drop out, drop in and drop out? We are not really finding them. So, I’m struggling with how to answer my organization’s question around what we’re going to do about gig. I’m just not sure yet.

Q: When you talk about reskilling and shifting the culture toward a customer focus, specifically how do you drive that?


Last year we launched the Schneider Electric Digital Talent Framework. We created a digital citizenship model around expectations and core values that looks at the combination of technology skills and behaviors. We’ve baselined our entire white-collar workforce, categorizing them as basic, intermediate, advanced or expert digital citizens. Digital is everyone’s job. Everyone needs to be at least basic from a digital standpoint, and we’ve given them ways to continue to grow in expertise and behavior. Our Digital Academy has a Digital Learning Corner, where you can go to build on, say, your basic skills and move to intermediate, and on to advanced and expert. We are collectively upskilling ourselves from the ground up, building an inclusive environment so that everyone can feel empowered in their work, allowing for more innovation, better engagement and drive more results. 

 

In addition to the education, experience and exposure around digital talent, we are also working hard to drive our customer-first approach. If it doesn’t ultimately impact the customer and/or growth of the organization, we stop doing it.

Q: I know you have set lofty goals. How would you rate your progress?


Talking with others, we realize we are more advanced in our journey, yet we always feel like we’re behind. That said, the Schneider Electric brand is helping with talent acquisition. And flattening the organization has made it easier to cascade information. We have had our second-highest employee engagement the past three years, even during the big changes we implemented.

When I asked CIO Elizabeth Hackenson what is it about Amy that makes her so successful, she said, “One simple word: trust. One of Amy’s greatest wins is that people ask, ‘Where’s Amy?’ when she’s not at the table.” After even a brief conversation, it’s easy to see why—and why our HR2IT community is fortunate to have her at our table.

HR2IT is an exclusive community of HR executives sharing resources and best practices for supporting the unique needs of IT.  Read what other HR2IT Trailblazers have to say about the their dynamic roles, companies and the HR2IT community.

Interested in joining Amy and other HR leaders in the HR2IT community? Please contact Lorraine Ludwicki, Executive Director, at lludwicki@hr2it.com.