How Technology Innovation Can Attract, Retain, and Cater to Employees

  • Steve Mizell, CHRO at Merck, joined Pharmaceuticals Leader in 2018.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated an ongoing digital transformation within the HR organization.
  • Mizell told Insiders how data and technology innovations help develop employee programs and attract talent.
  • This article is part of the “Innovation C-Suite“Series about business growth and technology change.

Steven Mizell, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of leading pharmaceutical company Merck, has served as a CHRO in industries such as energy and manufacturing for nearly two and a half decades. Most recently, he worked for the agricultural giant Monsanto for 14 years.

But Mizell’s decision to join Merck in 2018, with its long history of groundbreaking drugs and vaccines, was “an opportunity to be at the center of what I believe will be a major transformation in the pharmaceutical industry,” he told at one time Insider where there is a huge unmet medical need for a growing and aging world population.

In the future, we need to figure out how to make decisions faster and use technology to support this. It’s about keeping our employees satisfied and motivated to be at Merck.

“It was very appealing to me to build on the history and tremendous legacy of Merck to support the needs of humanity and the planet,” he said.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which Mizell said accelerated the already significant digital transformation of the HR organization, including the introduction of virtual communication, training, development and assessment tools.

“Technology is no longer just comfortable at a leisurely pace,” he said. “Attracting and retaining talent in a global workforce is an absolute must, so the HR function has to think very differently.”

Interviewing employees to assess needs and work ethic

In the past, he explains, human resource efforts have been driven by intuition and anecdotal information. But now, data and analytics can help develop programs that better address employee needs.

During the pandemic, Merck used online tools for employee surveys, which the company now conducts quarterly and sometimes on demand. They found that there was a great need for childcare and other support for employees and their families.

“We now have the data to quickly analyze comments, sort people into different groups, roles and regions, and gain insights,” said Mizell. “We were able to take steps to get things done much faster.”

Attract more talent with technology

Technology can also help with the recruitment of highly qualified workers: For example, Merck uses tools from companies such as LinkedIn, which use AI to make job descriptions as broad and gender-neutral as possible. “We want to make sure we can attract a wide range of people from historically underrepresented groups in the pharmaceutical industry,” he said. The company also aims to improve its ability to attract candidates with in-demand technology skills – including data science and coding – that go beyond traditional industry skills such as chemistry and biology.

In addition, the workforce is very diverse today and has high expectations of their employers, said Mizell. “That’s why it’s extremely important for us to use all of the tools and technology we have to create a great place where people want to come to work and make the most possible contribution,” he said.

virtual interview

Merck hired almost 11,000 employees last year and brought them on board remotely.

Getty Images

Remote onboard thousands of employees

Last year, innovative digital technology was essential to one of Merck’s biggest HR challenges: hiring nearly 11,000 employees through a virtual process during the pandemic. “These are people who have never been to a Merck site,” said Mizell.

The biggest obstacle to hiring remotely, he explained, was introducing employees to remote interviews and making decisions without being able to see candidates in person. “From an HR standpoint, I’m very happy with the team that they can essentially go for a dime and do something we’ve never done before,” he said.

Building partnerships between HR and IT teams

When it comes to technological innovation, a key success factor has been a strong partnership between HR and the IT organization, Mizell said. “It’s a deep partnership with technology people embedded in the HR role,” he said. “The CIO and I have a cross-functional agreement where I have people from their organization who will directly support my team in innovating HR skills.” This partnership was essential when implementing Workday, a cloud-based HR solution, for example. “It has helped us develop, update and use technology much more efficiently,” he said.

For the next 2-3 years, Mizell said applying technology to employee engagement and satisfaction will be one of his team’s top priorities. In addition, building an increasingly seamless technology experience in a hybrid workplace will be critical.

Equally important, he added, speed will continue to increase across the company. “Going forward, we need to figure out how to make decisions faster and use the technology to support that,” he said. “Our aim is to make our employees satisfied and happy to be at Merck.”