Our Reimagined Learning interview series shines a light on thought leaders, innovators and role-models in the Learning & Development and Human Resources fields.
At Dee is for Digital we’re always in search of the next big idea. We want to bring you new ways to learn, and help your own learning curve by connecting with others who are doing amazing things. This week we have a super interesting interview with the HR Process Innovation Director for The LEGO Group - Mr. Thomas Lybaek. I found it so interesting to hear a Process Innovation perspective on Human Resources and Learning & Development. Thomas's expertise in this field is second to none, his career trajectory is inspirational and as you will see from this interview, the best is yet to come.
You can check out my interview with Thomas (39 mins), read a summary of the interview below (9 mins) or download the audio version HERE.
Get to Know Thomas
What was your very first job?
My very first job was during my master's degree. I worked as an analyst with PA Consulting Group in Denmark.
When you're not working how do you like to spend your time?
With my family. I have three kids and spending time with them is what I enjoy most.
What's one thing you're excited about that's coming up in 2021?
The European Championships (UEFA Euro 2020)
What was your favourite subject in school?
What's the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?
What's one thing about you that surprises people?
If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
Don't ask for permission just go ahead and do it.
What is your biggest professional pet peeve?
When people don't step in or get actively involved in finding solutions.
If you had to choose only 3 adjectives to describe yourself which would you choose?
Curious, brave and concerned.
Our Reimagined Learning Questions
What has been the most impactful learning experience you have had in your career to date?
I don't think I can single out just one but if I can build on the best advice that I was given by my leader at IBM, it has to be the opportunity that I was given when I first started out with them - more specifically being thrown into a huge organisation and having leaders who trusted and believed in me. It was so great to be told from the get go "we hired you, you can do this so just go out, do what we ask and we believe you will achieve great results". And even if things went wrong the approach was that we would be able to figure it out. This learning opportunity, to get to try so many different things, with such a huge company and to work on fantastic projects and be told "just go do it" was fundamental for me and has continued to influence how I approach my work now. The level of trust that was placed in me was incredible. I learned to discover my own direction, to figure things out, to crack problems, find solutions and all whilst knowing that my leaders had my back.
Who is the person who has had the most positive impact on your career from a learning perspective and why?
There is my first leader Brenda who I really owe quite a lot to. And then about 10 years ago, I moved to Vestas Energy. There I had a leader who exhibited the same kind of trust and support I had experienced at IBM. He really coached me in my thinking as regards my career direction as well as how to reflect on things. For example, he made me consider important questions like ..... which basket do I really want to put my eggs in? And why? What is it that I want to achieve and what aspects of that are most important to me? Beyond that we had some really great conversations about my professional career and life balance. The time spent with these leaders helped point me in the direction that I have followed over the past 15 years.
If you could go back in time, what is the one piece of advice you would want to tell your younger self in hopes that it would positively affect your career?
When it comes to my career I had some conversations, early on, with all sorts of headhunters. They told me I needed to make deliberate choices about my career. I had spent the early part of my career trying out things, exploring roles for three or four years at a time and then moving onto the next thing that interested me. These headhunters told me I had two options. One to continue as I was, basically following my interests and passions or two, set a specific ambition, to pursue an executive position which would require me to be very disciplined and solely focused on that outcome. I chose the first option. I have always wanted to be driven by my passion and whether I achieved an executive position or not didn't really matter as long as I felt I had a leader that supported me and that I respected. And now I still enjoy what I'm doing AND have become a leader in my field. In the end it really is about having fun.
What key lesson did you take from the more challenging times during your career?
The key lessons I have learned are really about how important it is to be able to take a deep breath, step back and evaluate a situation as well as to ask for help if I can't figure something out.
What is the most important skill or behaviour you have learned that has been essential in getting you where you are today?
It's definitely discipline and problem solving. Although this might seem to go a little against being creative and innovative, but this is more related to my approach to problem solving. I try to deconstruct the problem into smaller parts and ask myself, "what is the best way to tackle this?" It's not about trying to eat the elephant whole, as they say, but rather one piece at a time, right? It is so important to be disciplined in this respect and not get overwhelmed by the sheer size of a problem. This approach has helped me so much in all aspects of my career.
What are the biggest challenges facing employees today when it comes to their professional development?
I think one of the biggest challenges is that employees need to take more responsibility for their own development. In this day and age you cannot expect that your leader will come up with all the answers, tell you your next move or even open all the doors for you. It is more about each employee taking the time to contemplate, brainstorm and reflect on what it is they really want to do and the different paths they can take to get there. That also includes considering what are the most appropriate learning opportunities (formal, elearning etc) to take and what specific support they can ask from their leader. And if a Learning & Development program is not an option, for whatever reason, get creative and come up with alternative ways to develop skills etc. job shadowing, mentoring, networking with employees in other companies. It is really about challenging yourself and always asking "what can I do to learn more?"
How do you see your profession changing as technology advances or changes over time?
If we look at the technological advances over the past 5 to 10 years, we see a lot of global companies moving to the same platforms like Workday, Success Factors, Oracle and so forth. So from a technology stack perspective the core is becoming more and more similar and because of this - differentiation isn't necessarily coming from technology per se now it's increasingly about HOW we go about delivering key business processes.
I am particularly very interested in how technological advances can help us to have a complete view of our workforce and how automation and AI can help us answer important future business challenges like our ageing population and lower birth rates; as well as improve critical processes like how can we attract the right people? There are so many important questions that technology can help us answer like what are the tools and platforms that can empower us to model how we up-skill our talent pools? And how might we increase employees learning agility and redeploy them successfully throughout the business? I am sure that these areas will see huge advancements going forward.
Is there a particular area you would like to see organisations focus on more, from a process innovation perspective?
When it comes to process innovation the foundation of everything starts and ends with the quality of your master data. As you can imagine, with a multinational organisation data sets are often localised e.g. payroll, time and attendance etc. making it impossible to have a consistent and coherent view across the entire business. If I could standardise pay or wage types across the world .... that would be fantastic! It is also important to mention the whole area of GDPR which is very much top of mind for me especially in light of all the recent developments with diversity and inclusion. The big question though is ... how are we going to report on all of this?
The fact of the matter is in some countries we're not allowed to register employee data related to thinks like sexuality so we don't know if we are fairly represented or not in that aspect or not. In some countries homosexuality is illegal. So you can imagine how difficult it is to get the ball rolling on important initiatives and get a holistic view of where we are from an organisational perspective.
I really wish that we could find some way around that so that we can protect the interests of our employees as well as gather the data we need to actually be able to say, yes, we are inclusive or yes we have met this target. And, clearly know where we are not as well represented in a particular area or with a specific employee group. We don't currently have all the technical capabilities we need to do this. Of course we can distinguish gender in most countries but aside from that data regarding sexuality is more challenging to gather because of either data privacy and or local compliance issues.
We can of course continue to innovate and make progress in important areas like inclusive recruitment but without more of the right kind of data being made available we will have to question whether we are really creating the impact we intended.
And last what are your professional goals and aspirations?
That is a very good question and something that I'm already contemplating with my leader. She asked me a few months into my employment "what do you wanna do next Thomas?" We have a program called The Purpose of Impact and my purpose is to be a Swiss knife - by that I mean to tackle whatever problems come my way. Whether I move up or sideways is not really the most important driver for me. What's most important is that I get to fully utilise the skills, competencies and experience that I have and not feel that I being held back or stuck in a role that doesn't give me room to apply myself fully. Of equal importance, it's also about my leader, the trust and relationship that I have with them and of course my colleagues. So I'm pretty flexible as long as those three conditions are met.