GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt talks culture change
Behemoth needs to behave like a start-up
General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt offered his views on the many changes at his company in a recent LinkedIn discussion.
GE’s future involves a transformation into the world’s largest digital industrial company and the company’s evolving culture that’s focused on decentralized decision-making, speed and startup-like mentality.
The economic potential of connecting a locomotive or a jet engine to the cloud is so much bigger than the consumer internet! We can now use software and analytics to unlock the incredible value of machines and increase productivity, something that wasn’t available before.
Which brings me to how we will get there - our culture. We may be a century-old company, but we need to move quickly, take risks, fail fast and behave like a startup to keep winning. I joined GE 34 years ago, and until recently our management could make every decision in the headquarters. Those days are over. We have to embrace decentralization and use technology to help our people to stay connected and allow more automated decision-making so you can look at an app and see what’s going on inside the company.
“You are going to learn code”
But culture is not just apps. It’s a combination of people and technology. If you are joining the company in your 20s, unlike when I joined, you’re going to learn to code. It doesn’t matter whether you are in sales, finance or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code. We are also changing the plumbing inside the company to connect everyone and make the culture change possible. This is existential and we’re committed to this.
Culture and attracting the right talent are also why we are moving from suburban Connecticut to downtown Boston. It’s an ecosystem made by and for innovation. In Boston, we can be challenged by a doctor from Massachusetts General or by a student from MIT. We need to be in this environment.
We are also changing the way we evaluate our people. We’re trying to end anything that was annual or quarterly and make everything more real-time. We wanted to make the feedback process more like how we give each other advice in the real world. Instead of an annual review, we have an app PD @ GE where our people are getting continuous insights from their colleagues that they can use to get better every day.
My real task is to run a great company. There are 330,000 people who work at GE. They don’t want their CEO to be a politician. They want him to make good gas turbines, good jet engines, make them competitive, things like that. So that’s really most of what I think about it.
The strength of our company is the GE employees and our supply chain. Our suppliers, our customers, the people who work for us, that’s what we have to recapture. It’s not some fat cat in D.C., but it’s workers in Cincinnati, Ohio, Greenville, South Carolina, Houston, Texas. They have voice and I think that’s where business needs to pick up on all the people. Because at the end of the day, look, the people that work for GE in Cincinnati and Houston, they basically like their company, they love their company, right, they want to see good things happen in the economy and that’s in some way who we’re fighting for in all of this.
Changing personnel policies
Susan Peters, senior vice president, human resources at GE, recently wrote an email to all GE employees:
“As a learning culture, we want to help you grow whenever and however you choose. We launched several new digital learning platforms such as BrilliantYou, expanded the number of global learning centers, continued to enhance our Crotonville leadership institute – including our main campus and the more than 200 GE locations worldwide where we deliver Crotonville leadership courses – to help you discover new interests and pursue your passion for learning at every stage of your career. We invest more than $1B on employee learning and development every year.
“In the United States, where benefits are provided through the employer, we have made significant changes over the past few years:
• We know that as a GE employee, you are at your best when you can bring your whole self to work, every day. In return, you need greater flexibility to create a schedule that works with your life. So we began to roll out last year a permissive approach to paid time off for exempt employees, where you can coordinate with your manager to take the time you need to relax and recharge outside of work.
• We’re also making it easier for new moms and dads to enjoy more time at home through our enhanced parental leave benefits. You can now take up to 10 weeks of GE Parental Leave (6 paid and 4 unpaid) following the birth or placement for adoption of a child – this is in addition to disability benefits for birth mothers. You can even get personalized advice from registered maternity nurses through our “GE Babies” program. And a few of our businesses are now piloting a new program called “Moms on the Move” that enables GE moms in the U.S. who are nursing and traveling for business to ship their milk back home for their baby.
“GE is a mission-based organization. We’re fortunate to attract leaders who want to make a difference – on the job and around the world. And we work hard to ensure we have an inclusive workplace where everyone can fully participate and grow their careers while helping GE businesses succeed. That approach has helped us earn broad accolades, including a perfect 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index and recognition once again as a Best Place to Work. Our global affinity networks have helped tens of thousands of us strengthen deep, diverse relationships and create new ones.
“We may not always be perfect – but we will always make progress. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the GE for Me portal on oneHR recently, please take a moment now to learn more about all that GE offers you.
“Let me know what you think about the progress we are making together. We will continue to enhance our policies & practices, and welcome your continued feedback.”