Kristi Reinholz Knows How to Lead Through a Crisis

With twenty-five years of HR expertise, Kristi Reinholz breaks down silos to not only manage crisis but also lead transformation

Kristi Reinholz’s first lesson in managing a crisis began while at a sales conference in Orlando, Florida. She remembers walking through the hotel lobby when the news flashed on the lobby TV that an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center, close to her New York headquarters. Reinholz learned firsthand during 9/11, during a crisis, “the most important things are to remain calm, support your people by bringing them together, demonstrate strong leadership, and share transparently both what you know and what is unknown.”

HR is the “business of people,” and leadership teams look to her and the HR community to lead through a crisis by quickly bringing the right people together to develop action plans, align the right people to drive these plans, and ensure clear, ongoing communications. Focusing on leading the company, managing, and remaining intent on what needs to be done is essential.

“First and foremost, make decisions that focus on the health and safety of your people and business, and control what you can control,” Reinholz advises. “People will always remember how they were treated during a crisis, and this will pay dividends when business returns to normal operations.”

Kristi Reinholz Coty Inc.
Kristi Reinholz, Coty Inc.Photo: Devon Warren

Another example Reinholz cites is the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Her HR and business teams partnered using multiple forms of communication, including door-to-door searches and regrouping in parking lots, to confirm employees’ safety. Within twenty-four hours, everyone was accounted for and relief plans were put into place.

Perhaps most importantly, HR can lead cross-team collaboration and communication, ensuring that nothing is lost to silos during times of crisis and transformation. There were many of these situations during Reinholz’s twenty-four years at Pfizer Inc., and she sees them again now in her role as senior vice president of HR for the Americas and Asia regions at Coty Inc., one of the world’s largest beauty companies.

“It’s key to identify what we communicate globally as a company,” says Reinholz. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she guided her team to build a tool kit with global guidance, including preparation for various scenarios. Through briefings and other communications, she breaks down silos, remembering that transparency and protecting people are most important.

Keeping impacted staff at the center of the response, she and her team asked for flexibility and openness, developing new company principles and offering resilience support. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, her lead China team’s work to manage what was then a local crisis became the benchmark for the global team as they quickly pivoted to manage the ongoing crisis. Reinholz reinforces that the team was quick to focus on putting people first in closing offices, knowing from her experience with the China team that it would be possible to deliver work in new ways even in an environment that seemed nearly impossible.

“People will always remember how they were treated during a crisis, and this will pay dividends when business returns to normal operations.”

This work to break down silos is not simply a crisis response. It is work Reinholz began at Pfizer, from starting in an entry-level HR role through her last position as global vice president of HR. All of these roles prepared Reinholz for the work she does at Coty today.

Since Coty’s founding in 1904, the company remains ever changing. Now twenty thousand employees strong, Coty innovates vegan and cruelty-free lines while continuing to create world-renowned fragrances. Since arriving in 2018, Rienholz has been continuing the work of transformation as she leads strategic workforce design for more than eight thousand people through nineteen Asia Pacific countries, as well as North and South America.

This transformation includes huge shifts in the executive leadership teams as well as moving to a regional structure; rebuilding organizations; creating new operating models, roles, ways of working, and talent plans; as well as making choices about divestments and acquisitions. As she helps build strategies based on business perspectives, it is her role to develop and integrate people and talent plans.

In her first few weeks at Coty, it was clear a new approach was required. Reinholz launched an initiative to centralize workforce planning, asking for collective budget ownership and unifying hiring and talent plans with an intention to improve fixed-cost forecasting, especially around hiring and turnover. These efforts, in collaboration with the global president and CFO, led to $25 million in savings, but more importantly established a new level of rigor in cost management that was adopted across the company.

“We have amazing brands and great talent, and with that combination, anything is possible.”

Through the whirlwind of her year and half with multiple business leadership changes, three CEOs, and COVID-19, Reinholz remains steady. Central to creating a new functional model, Reinholz believes, is leading the HR team to drive greater connectedness across HR and the newly aligned business teams.

Looking forward, Reinholz focuses on talent needs to continue to drive greater business results. Post-COVID-19, she remarks that she and her team “will need to engage with talent differently, identify new opportunities to work, and learn global perspectives, as the workforce will be forever changed by this pandemic. We must continue our work to enable talent to gain new experiences, enhance diversity within teams, and deliver a better business.

“Our people are the heart of our company,” she continues. “When we focus on our people first, the payback is evident in their creativity, resilience, and commitment to delivery.”

Reinholz is energized and excited for the future, as she remarks, “We have amazing brands and great talent, and with that combination, anything is possible.”

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