The International Benefits’ Dance
Andrea Herron 00:02
Have you ever wondered how a company is able to offer unlimited time off or be a pet friendly office? Curious how HR leaders manage the well being of remote or essential workforces? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Hi, I’m Andrea Herron, head of people for WebMD health services. And I’d like to welcome you to the HR scoop. On this podcast, I talk with other HR leaders to explore the world of unique employee benefits, and about the challenges of managing unique workforces, because well being isn’t a one size fits all approach. Welcome, everyone to another episode of the HR scoop. I am so pleased today to have Keagan Kerr VP of people and culture at Vestas here with us. So welcome, Keagan.
Keagan Kerr 00:49
Yes, thanks. Thanks for having me. Happy to be here today.
Andrea Herron 00:52
Yeah, we are happy to have you and you know Vestas is a unique organization for the HR scoop, because it’s our first truly international organization with the main corporate HQ in Denmark, I believe. So looking forward to learning a little bit from your perspective about the international sphere.
Keagan Kerr 01:13
Yeah, for sure. Vestas. You know, 30,000 employees globally 17 billion in revenue last year. So it’ll be fun to talk about, you know, this size of company also on the podcast.
Andrea Herron 01:25
Yeah. And I guess just to jump right in for, you know, our HR listeners, you know, from your people and culture, career perspective. You know, what, what are some things HR folks should know about if they were thinking about joining, or even aspire to join an international organization, either personal or professional career paths, benefits, kind of what do you see? Yeah, I
Keagan Kerr 01:49
mean, I’ve, I’ve worked for a couple of large global companies at this point in my career, and how best this is set up. And this would be the advice for, for people in the HR space, we’re set up in business units. So as the head of people and cultures for the US and Canada, I’m responsible for everything in those two countries. But I have peers around the globe that you know, are responsible for different geographies. Also, with headquartered in Denmark, a lot of the programs and policies that come out of Copenhagen, are really kind of through a European lens. And so as a business unit leader, Windows programs and policies come down to implement the unique opportunity for HR leaders is to say, Hey, okay, I understand this is the European context. But for the US, we have to do this, this and this, or in Canada, we have to add these three things, to either be legally compelled compliant, or just, you know, the culture of the US and Canada and make sure the programs fit what we’re trying to do here. So make sure if you’re going to get into a global company like that, that you understand that, you know, in most companies, you don’t have free rein to do whatever you want. You work within a large kind of matrix organization.
Andrea Herron 03:04
Yeah, I mean, it’s hard enough, honestly, to keep track of all the various state laws. So you know, even up being a level tonight, you have to know not only state and local law, but country law and practices and policies, especially I would think, with the GDPR. And some of the, you know, more specific to Europe, rules and regulations. And even how people leave jobs, or the benefits that they want, or expect, I imagine would be pretty different. So it sounds, it seems like a big learning curve, but an area that could be really fascinating if you had interest in it,
Keagan Kerr 03:38
for sure. And I would say, you know, just, for example, the GDPR, it’s very much something in Europe that our Danish colleagues take into effect, but in the US, it’s not relevant. And so when there’s a GDPR rule that comes down, we just say, sounds great. Sorry, you have to deal with that. But in the US, we’re okay. Right? So those kinds of things are the interesting parts where if you know your country specific laws, then you’re going to have an advantage, right? Because you know, what works and what doesn’t, and what’s implemented and what not to?
Andrea Herron 04:09
Yeah, and I would think, even just from the cultural perspective, it would be so fascinating to see what people do for various holidays or traditions or, you know, different celebrated days off and then there’s probably some good knowledge and ideas, sharing that maybe is unique and different that, you know, their friends at other companies down the road may not have because you do have that more global perspective.
Keagan Kerr 04:34
Yeah, and I think, you know, for those for those HR leaders, those HR practitioners, that are just generally curious about other cultures and other countries, maybe they have, you know, a knack for travel in their in their off time. You kind of get the best of both worlds when you work for a global company because you’re getting exposure to different countries and colleagues from around the world. In every week, sometimes three times Once a week in meetings, right, you’re on conference calls at 5am. And then sometimes at 10pm, just because the time zones, and that’s how they work. So another thing I mentioned is that, in my view, the US is very much employer friendly, when it comes to, you know, the employer employee relationship, in a place like Denmark is very much employee friendly. And so you see longer leave times for maternity and paternity leave. It’s socialized medicine, right in Denmark. So there’s no benefit payments, for example, like college is paid for, because of the taxes taken out, you know, in Denmark through through someone’s life. And so, when we compare apples to apples, it is quite different between the two countries, Denmark and the US, but there’s, there’s really positive things to learn from both sides.
Andrea Herron 05:51
Have you seen people getting jealous or asking for things like pay leave or, you know, other perks that, you know, various companies that they may have colleagues that now they zoom all the time they feel very connected to in this global way, as we do all when we’re on a screen doesn’t matter how far we are, you’re right there, um, have you seen that come up as almost not a complaint, but, you know, or a request for more benefits that aren’t as typical in the US, but that they see their peers getting, you know, same company, just a different location?
Keagan Kerr 06:27
Yeah, leave is an example that I just brought up. And so it’s much it’s much more robust. In Denmark, in Denmark, or in a lot of European companies, people start with five or six weeks of vacation. And, you know, for us here, we started three weeks, right. And after so many years of service, like most US companies, that ratchets up. Another thing that when I first joined Vestas, I really couldn’t get my head around. But now it’s just become kind of an inside joke. Most European countries in the summer, take the summer holiday, which is essentially anytime between like late July, and the last week in August, were literally like, no one, everyone’s on vacation. And so getting something done in a global company can be challenging when those cultural aspects come through, or just the annual calendar with the different holidays and different leave times for people. I’m used to it now. I try to take vacation when they take vacation. But at first, I just really couldn’t believe that. A company of our size could just have that many people off for that long. I mean, I’m jealous of that one, Andrew.
Andrea Herron 07:38
I mean, are we all moving to Denmark?
Keagan Kerr 07:41
This podcast? I think so. I think
Andrea Herron 07:43
this is what put you over the edge? Well, I mean, it is a good point, because it just reiterates that. You have people and companies can be more flexible than perhaps we think we can, because of a company like Vestas can take advantage of longer breaks, you too can take a couple of days of vacation off or maybe even a whole week. So maybe we can all feel inspired by that to take our PTO or vacation that maybe has been stacking up this year? For sure. Absolutely. So from a benefits perspective, you know, I know we we do have a few offices around the globe. And the benefits have been different. I mean, socialized medicine, for sure. But you know, even other things of who’s on the plans, or what type of plans or what extra benefits or perks people expect just vary based on culture and norms. And really what the employer down the street locally has to offer right, same here. So have you noticed, you know, how they’re different? Or do you have any examples that might highlight? You know, really some interesting things there?
Keagan Kerr 08:49
Yeah, I think so let’s, let’s use holidays, as an example, right? So we have, you know, the business has a p&l. And so we manage that p&l, and we were trying to hit our budgets every year and hit our targets. And so when something like, you know, adding a holiday, like Veterans Day, or Martin Luther King Day comes up, and that’s this in the US, of course, wants to recognize those holidays and add those holidays to our calendar, we have to really make a business case to get Denmark to approve the additional cost that it would be to observe those holidays because as HR leaders, we know that a lot of your hourly staff non exempt staff would get paid time and a half for those days. And so that’s a cost of the business. And sometimes there’s a conflict when we say we really want these extra holidays, and then we do the business case, and we get told no or maybe next year because it’s an additional four to $5 million on the p&l. So that can be a bit deflating to, you know, our leaders and our people on the ground especially, who are really adamant about adding those holidays but We have, we have an advantage to do other things. So for example, our medical, dental and vision plans were a self insured plan. And our premiums are quite low, our cost share is quite low, because we control that in the US because we’re self insured. We have a benefits committee that manages that. And we determined the premiums every year, we determine how much we’re going to charge employees for medical, dental and vision every year. And that’s something that is kind of nice, because Denmark, for example, doesn’t have the knowledge around how us benefit plans work. And so when we have the chance to control something that much, that really gives us a chance to provide those benefits to employees that they’re really looking for. Yeah, that
Andrea Herron 10:43
makes a lot of sense. Because you’re still depending no matter which direction it’s going, you’re still depending on the local expertise of the local culture and expectations and retention markers. And I think there’s value in that even if you are a US based company, I mean, just think about your own staff, if they’re across various states, what works in one office or location, probably not gonna be exactly the same Bullseye in another location. I know, between our Portland office and our Indianapolis office, there’s some pretty big cultural differences, because the types of workers are different the types of jobs they’re doing the local office culture is different. Now, we may have the same benefits plans, but the culture and how we show up and do work and have fun and collaborate together is different. So it’s like that, but extrapolated.
Keagan Kerr 11:35
Yeah, Andrey. I think that’s a really good point. And I’m glad you’re you’re seeing that also, because, you know, investors, we have our Portland office, it’s around 300 people. But then we have manufacturing facilities that are actually building the blades. And, you know, shipping those out for our wind farms. And the employees in Colorado, are very much different than the corporate office employees are versus even our service technicians. We have service technicians in multiple states throughout the US and Canada. And they’re in very remote areas of the US, right, not in a major city. And so even that watching that take place service technicians versus manufacturing workers, versus an exempt staff in Portland, one of the challenges and actually one of the things that makes this job so exciting, is that you have to come up with benefits that satisfy all three groups, right, you have to come up with programming that satisfies all three groups, sometimes you don’t get it right. But most of the time, at best this, you know, we are getting that right. And that’s what helps our employee engagement or retention scores, and really just the attraction to come and work at a renewable energy company likes us.
Andrea Herron 12:49
Right? Yeah, that’s, that’s good insight. And, you know, earlier, I know, you spoke to the fact that it is a matrix organization for many of the reasons you’ve discussed. And also, it’s a very large organization globally, but still pretty significant in US and Canada. So I’m wondering if there are any, I don’t know, unintended consequences, or just things that come up, because you are the US Canada based arm of a European company, versus having it HQ in America with the arms being oversee this kind of a flip dynamic from you know, how we probably sent our own thinking here. So anything you can share, there’s, you know, stakeholder management, you know, all of those types of things.
Keagan Kerr 13:33
Yeah, one of the one of the key items we have in our strategy in the US and Canada is to you know, collaborate with the corporate office, right? I mean, a notion is very far away. And and, you know, people are quite different, as we just talked about. And so the more you can collaborate with that corporate office, whatever it may be, the more you can engage with people, you know, on a weekly basis, like build your network, build those stakeholders that you talk to that you keep informed, be transparent. I mean, it definitely helps. One of the things that was challenging for me, when I started this job, Andrea was just getting up to speed with how a large company like this worked, and then building the network. Now, after about four and a half years, I mean, I have colleagues that I talked to, in India, in Denmark, in South Africa, on a weekly basis in Brazil, weekly basis. And I’m just like getting a vibe from what’s what’s going on on the ground there. What are the struggles you’re having? That all the things that we’re working on together there? Hey, what are you doing there that I can apply it in the US and Canada that works? And so people that work at global companies, I’m sure would say the same thing. But for those that are new to global companies, I would definitely recommend that.
Andrea Herron 14:49
I mean, ultimately, everything you’re saying really goes back to very basic relationship building skills, and learning people’s baseline learning what motivates them, you know, How you can work together how you can build that relationship. And you maybe had a head start because you were already on Zoom or phone calls, and the rest of us are catching up, you know, given we’ve all been remote, and building those relationships, and that fundamental trust online or on video chat is harder than in person, but it’s doable. And I feel like you might have your company might have mastered it a little bit earlier. We’re all just trying to catch up.
Keagan Kerr 15:29
Yeah, we’re, you know, we’re definitely at the Masters of it. We still have struggles this morning, I was on a three hour meeting right with our with our extended leadership team, the top at leaders, investors, and you have some people want video for some people, it’s nighttime in Australia. So it’s, we’re still doing our best always, always gonna improve every day,
Andrea Herron 15:50
I’m gonna speak on behalf of all of us and say that makes me feel better. I mean, I know we have, you know, as we have been more global. The other day, I was on a video call with someone in our London office. And it was the end of her day, it was the beginning of my day. And I just in the moment caught myself almost looking at it from a removed perspective. You’re on one side of the world. I’m on the other side of the world, and we are having a standard business conversation on video, like we are in person and how crazy and amazing is this?
Keagan Kerr 16:26
area? That’s so funny to me. I personally just keep a map right by my desk, just because when someone dials in, they say, Oh, I’ve been, you know, Brussels today. Let me just do a quick check. Holy cow. That’s very far away. Right. And it’s so clear, right? I mean, with today’s technology used to have to fly around the world to have that meeting. Right. So what advancements it’s so fun. For sure.
Andrea Herron 16:49
Yes, I, I think a lot of it is, you know, people want to idealize it and say, Oh, well, you get all of the global stuff. And maybe I get to travel. And it’s so glamorous. And I think the reality of it is like maybe you’re tired, and maybe it is a different time zone. And maybe there are cultural slip ups and differences. And, you know, there’s a lot there that, I think is culture and you know, HR people, we can learn unconscious bias and being open to different perspectives, even within our own staff, even if we’re not global. All of those same ideas still apply to your workforce, because it’s still diverse, even if you’re all from the same place. So I think that’s a really a good tie there as well.
Keagan Kerr 17:37
Yeah, and I know, I mean, I’m sure this has been a topic before on this podcast, but what are your views Andrea, on, you know, the idea of the in person meeting has gone to the side. And you know, you can do more online? You don’t have to spend 910 hours on a plane for a two day meeting? I mean, what are some of your views there? Because it’s a very interesting topic right now.
Andrea Herron 18:00
Well, I have thoughts. I always do. Yeah, um, you know, I think there’s pros and cons. The biggest concern I have about it is the lack of social connection and feeling of loyalty and belonging to the actual value in missions and each other. Yeah, maybe we could be more efficient. But is that a better product? You know, are people feeling more loyal? Or do they say, Well, I can sit at my computer and do this with you? Or I can get paid more to go do it for somebody else that I can look at my computer and do it. So I I think the in person collaboration is better for us as humans, and the online collaboration is better for our work product.
Keagan Kerr 18:45
Yeah. I mean, I liked that perspective. I haven’t heard it said that way. But that’s, that’s right, right. We just had a large meeting a large global meeting in Sweden and Denmark, about three months ago. And it was great. And it was because it was, you know, post COVID. And, you know, it was the first time seeing some of those colleagues in 1819 months. But it did remind me I was out of practice. I was out of shape when it came to global travel, because I hadn’t done it so long. So gotta get back in shape there for sure.
Andrea Herron 19:15
Well, and just to be completely transparent, this social awkwardness is absolutely real. I mean, I’ve lost the ability for small talk, and what do you do with your hands? And I don’t know, it feels very awkward, but we’ll practice.
Keagan Kerr 19:30
That’s true. I mean, I think I actually told someone the other day, like, I’m really not trying to shake hands right now. And it just felt weird, right? Because their hand was out. And I didn’t know what to do. And so I just said it and then afterward I kind of regretted it. So it’s it. It’s gonna take a while. I think
Andrea Herron 19:43
just let’s all agree to be awkward together.
Keagan Kerr 19:47
We will push through That’s right. That’s right. I like that.
Andrea Herron 19:50
Yeah, I mean, the the in person meeting I do think is richer because help. It’s an crazy high amount of information is body language like 75 percent or something is body language and tone, and you just can’t get that over a screen, especially if people aren’t using video. I mean, there’s so much nuance lost, that you might get the work product done. But it probably could have been more collaborative creative, and you would have felt better and more energized by it. If there was at least a visual and even better for a big collaboration or big strategy session, to be in person together versus by yourself in a room looking at the screen.
Keagan Kerr 20:31
Absolutely. And one of the things I personally have to work on as a leader is just that, that that attention span, right? Because after 90 minutes on a on a video call, I mean, it gets tough, right. And I think I think there’s a lot of people can relate to this, just like staying focused, staying, paying attention to whatever the topic is, in person. That’s not as hard. It’s not bottom line.
Andrea Herron 20:53
Yeah, it’s brutal to do those long meetings. And we’re so conditioned to, you know, the phone dings. And, my goodness, people, if you have not turned off your new email notification, pause the podcast, go into your settings, turn that thing off, because it breaks your flow and your concentration. And it’s, it’s just not good. If you want to have any semblance of a focus, you’ve got to turn your notifications off as much as possible.
Keagan Kerr 21:20
For sure. And going back to that concentration point you just mentioned, one of the things that, you know, being in the office reminded me of when I started going back to the office was the daily interruptions, right. So when you’re in your office on a call or working on a project, and someone kind of peaks around the corner and looks, you know, in your workspace or in your office, and like that’s an interruption to and one thing that you didn’t get when you were at home on back to back teams or Zoom calls, were those interruptions. And so there’s Gibson takes on both sides of the house, right? For sure.
Andrea Herron 21:52
Absolutely. And you can’t you can’t even schedule that, because it’s always a pop in. However, I have found that those little two minute Poppins save two or three emails or a 30 minute meeting that now shows up on your calendar, where it would have just been Oh, I bumped into you in the break room. And since you’re here, let me ask you this. And now I’ve saved an email or an official meeting on the calendar.
Keagan Kerr 22:15
And that was the chat function in teams, right? I mean, it’s that chat had ended that’s like the new poppin because I can be on a phone call. And the chat function starts going off. And I’m just like, what, what’s going on? What a phone call, and then they still go, they still keep typing?
Andrea Herron 22:29
Yeah, don’t understand instant gratification. That’s what it is. Oh, that’s awesome. Was there anything else that you thought would be helpful for, you know, our listeners? As far as your experience with the global perspective? I know you also have, you know, Canada, which is our northern neighbor, of course. But if there was anything else you wanted to share, or give your perspective on?
Keagan Kerr 22:55
Yeah, I just think, you know, I mentioned it a couple of times. But if you’re curious about other cultures, you know, this is a great way to get to know those cultures just naturally with your flow of work. And also, make sure you collaborate right with with the other business units that work at your company, or with the Corporate Center, because that’s going to really help enrich your career and make your job a whole lot easier. Right. I mean, one of the things that I would also say is that, when you’re looking to go to that global job, make sure it’s something that you’re actually passionate about. And that’s one of the things that’s great about Vestas is, you know, it’s renewable energy, it’s wind energy, we’re looking to reduce carbon emissions. We’re looking to, you know, really save the world if you think about it. So that that’s what makes work going to work exciting everyday to is that there’s a passion for what we do at Vestas.
Andrea Herron 23:48
Yeah. And when you have a strong value proposition, and you attract the candidates that truly believe in that and do feel passionate about it, I mean, from a culture perspective, that makes your job a lot easier for engagement. If anything, you know, you may have to temper how much they care, you know, if they’re having a hard time setting boundaries of working too much because they feel that drive. But what a good problem to
Keagan Kerr 24:10
have. Exactly, exactly. And yeah, I just think go for it. You know, I mean, you got a long career. Most people work on average, 40 years. So give it a shot. There’s there’s nothing wrong with it right now. It’s the best time, right. I mean, there’s so many job openings available. There’s so many possibilities right now. So now could be a chance to explore a new career.
Andrea Herron 24:32
Yeah. And maybe you’ll get to enjoy a summer holiday. Who knows?
Keagan Kerr 24:37
Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. I like that.
Andrea Herron 24:40
Yeah. And, you know, I think the thing that is a big takeaway for me, and hopefully some of our listeners, is just how much of the global perspective and being successful in that dynamic really comes back to the basics of communication availability, relationship building, being curious, you know, trying to be strategic TJ, I mean, all the things you’re already doing. But if you have that interest or passion in exploring that in the context of other cultures, then you know, a global route might be really fulfilling.
Keagan Kerr 25:12
Yeah. And also, I mean, this is it’s really a development plan, right? So when you work at a company, this size that he hadn’t before, or a company that’s operating in this many countries, you’re naturally doing your own development plan. Because every day, you’re learning things are changing, you have to adapt, you have to be nimble, and it just makes you a better person and a better employee for whatever company you’re gonna go to next, right? Or if you’re gonna stay with your current company. So if you also look at it through that lens, it’s really exciting.
Andrea Herron 25:43
Absolutely. And if global is not your thing, which that’s okay. We need people to, you know, be a US focus as well, you could still take a lot of those tenets and apply them to your your current job as well. Yeah, definitely.
Keagan Kerr 25:55
I agree with that, Andrea.
Andrea Herron 25:58
Great. Well, I know it always goes by so fast. But before we let you get out of here, I would like to ask you our final question, which is, do you have something to share that most people might not know about you?
Keagan Kerr 26:11
Yeah, one of the things that that I would share is I’m a big fan of Major League Baseball, so much. In fact, Andrea, that I have been to all the major league baseball parks, except for two Cleveland Indians in Kansas City Royals. I started this journey when I was 19. And I had plans in March of 2020. To go to those two stadiums. And then COVID So it’s back on the list, but I love baseball. I loved watching it just in person. So that’s one thing that Yeah, most people wouldn’t know.
Andrea Herron 26:46
Oh, well. That is cool. I have been to many St. Louis Cardinals games myself. Wow. Nice night. My grandpa’s favorite team. So that’s probably the only one I’ve been to but Oh, you’re so close. You’re so close.
Keagan Kerr 27:02
So close. Cardinals. I mean, I’m a Cubs fan. So I mean, this cubs Cardinals rivalry is real danger. Okay. Watch that. Yeah.
Andrea Herron 27:09
That’s a good thing. We discovered that at the end of this podcast. That’s right. All right. Well, thank you so much, Keagan, for joining us today. It was such fun and I hope helpful to all of you listeners out there. So thanks again. And we’ll see everybody thinks.
Keagan Kerr 27:25
Andrea, thank you.
Andrea Herron 27:29
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