Ever since studying business administration in college, David Bruce has been fascinated by how much a company’s success is impacted by having the right people with the right training in the right positions. As vice president of human resources at Volkswagen Group of America Inc. (VWGoA), Bruce must rely on that mind-set to navigate an industry going through transformative changes.
“In an age of adapting to everything from battery-powered vehicles and autonomous driving to ridesharing services, we have to clearly identify what new capabilities are required,” Bruce says. “That’s true not just for addressing customer demand, but also for new technologies that are driving the changes.”
That means VWGoA is competing with software innovators such as Google and Apple in addition to traditional rivals such as GM and Toyota. As a result, Bruce focuses on developing competitive offerings and prioritizing employee engagement and satisfaction.
He began creating innovative HR strategies when he worked at the Henry Ford Health System. The healthcare industry has always faced critical talent shortages. As a result, Bruce helped develop new approaches to recruitment, retention, compensation, and reward strategies, such as hiring bonuses, shift premiums, and flexible contracting—options that were unusual at the time.
That experience has helped Bruce foster a more flexible workplace and create new hiring models at VWGoA. Departments are given more autonomy on how and when work gets done, which allows for flexible schedules. Benefits now include more comprehensive healthcare and work/life balance benefits, such as paternity and adoption leave and emergency day care.
The company’s hiring function is also using social media more. Candidates who are not active job seekers and currently working for nonautomotive companies might be proactively contacted through the platforms about opportunities at VWGoA.
Within the HR department, Bruce is also leading an initiative to shift toward a more consultative role in which HR teams act more as partners to the business.
“By shifting some of the more traditional transactional HR activities to specialists in areas like payroll and benefits management, we’ll be free to solve other business issues by leveraging talent solutions and improving employee engagement and satisfaction,” Bruce explains.
In one instance, HR held team action-planning sessions that resulted in customized training and professional development strategies for members of a product strategy team.
“Working directly with the clients let us identify issues and develop action plans that targeted the specific topics that were negatively impacting employee engagement,” Bruce says. “It also helped us offer more strategic support and drive more value for the business.”
He has also helped promote other changes across the enterprise. Four years ago, Bruce introduced an employee survey program. Common among the most successful Fortune 500 companies, these surveys help to increase performance levels and commitment and motivation among employees. At VWGoA, however, the surveys presented a fresh tool to create an open, positive, and inclusive environment.
The company has made numerous, meaningful improvements since the surveys were introduced. The survey results have led to initiatives such as the People-First model of leadership, which is based on three core elements: communication—listen first, speak last; collaboration—work toward common goals; and consideration—make their day better. These results also helped improve a comprehensive suite of leadership development programs that have increased the number of internal promotions.
Bruce points out that survey results are useful as well in areas where scores may have been flat or declined. “Even poor survey results provide value because they help us better understand where needs are and what people view as barriers to creating a more positive culture,” he says. “Once we can identify what they are, we can effectively address them.”
Throughout his career, Bruce has believed that developing the broadest possible perspectives and capabilities are essential parts of his HR expertise. As a result, he’s defined and redefined himself on numerous occasions in order to address organizations’ most pressing strategies and priorities. At PCG Campbell, for example, he had to quickly develop expertise on total rewards planning, HR technology, benefits administration, and program management. That knowledge helped expand his reputation throughout the company and led to new opportunities later in his career.
“When I came to Volkswagen Group, a lot of changes were underway in the benefits programs,” Bruce recalls. “Because of my previous experience, I could speak to those from a business perspective, which strengthened my credibility, made me more effective in my job, and led to more opportunities.”
When it comes to developing his own staff, Bruce pursues a strategy of engaged problem solving and participatory management. He likes to leverage employees’ existing talents and abilities, which leads to results he characterizes as being greater than the sum of their parts.
For example, when Bruce asked a project team to develop new roles and align responsibilities for HR business operations, the team ultimately created an expanded approach that also included assessing potential skills gaps and a comprehensive change management strategy.
“I’ve been amazed at the level of creativity and innovation that comes out of this type of approach,” Bruce says. “I can’t tell you how many times the results are well beyond the scale and scope of what I could have come up with on my own.”
Looking ahead, he is exploring implementing data analytics and other new strategies and methodologies. In essence, he is applying his personal philosophy to the benefit of VWGoA: “Never be satisfied with your existing skill set,” he says.
Photo: Patrick Pho
BarPellam is a leading Managed Services Provider (MSP) specializing in Contingent Workforce Solutions. Leveraging proven processes, technology and supply chain strategies, BarPellam enables Volkswagen to attract and retain experienced talent and improve quality while mitigating cost and risk. BarPellam is certified by the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC).
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