Learning the lesson of courage

In unprecedented times like these, it is when we must find the courage to continue to move forward.

With a degree in Economics, Annette sought out a temporary agency to find a job while she looked for a “permanent job”. Her first placement was in a human resources department and nearly 30 years later, Annette is still energized by human resources. Annette joined ABB 2 years ago after spending 17 years with GE. Her career spans a variety of industries including fast food, workers’ compensation insurance, public education and manufacturing.

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most challenging things HR professionals have encountered this year. In the initial weeks of the pandemic, HR business partners (HRBPs) were faced with countless questions from employees. In the midst of uncertainty and fear, HRBPs were the voice of calm and confidence in the facilities and offices across the business. The pandemic has changed the way we have operated and made us reexamine the future as it resurges in many areas.

From working countless hours to reassure employees and support all efforts to keep our employees safe; to conducting temperature scanning on multiple shifts; to calling employees who tested positive to inquire how they were doing; to talking to scared, crying, and angry employees and at times also to spouses/partners, children, and parents of employees, HRBPs have been called to operate outside their traditional roles. We had little time to put new protocols in place for temperature scanning, quarantining employees, ensuring employees are notified when co-workers test positive and other safety protocols put in place to help ensure the health and well-being of all our employees, while keeping our manufacturing and distribution centers functioning. It was a team effort with our business leadership, health and safety team members and human resources.

In unprecedented times like these, it is when we must find the courage to continue to move forward. Spanning my career, I believe the greatest lesson I’ve learned is how important it is to have courage. Courage to know and admit you do not have all of the answers and that you need others. Courage to take accountability for your mistakes and learn from them. Courage to say “I don’t know but I will find out.“ Courage to ask for help and acknowledge you cannot do it alone. When you are asked what you think, having the courage to answer honestly even if you are unsure how the recipient will react to your response. Courage to share feedback with someone when no one else will.

I work in a 125 year old business division which offers more than 200,000 products marketed under 38 brands. Most of our products are manufactured from raw material and as you walk through our plants you can see intensely manual labor processes all the way to highly automated processes. Our employees are as diverse and varied as our products and processes, from pickers at our distrubtion center to those who program and maintain automation robots. Our employees are proud of their products and brands and they have every right to be. These employees have been on the front lines to supply critical infrastructure products in electrification, across needed industries in medical, data centers, transportation, food and beverage and others. As one group had to adjust to working remotely, we had a larger population that adjusted to having temperatures taken upon arrival and wearing masks as common practice.

In thinking about my earlier days, I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up because I loved, and still do, love animals. But, I discovered a different path that provided personal satisfaction. When asked for career advice, I always tell people to find the things that energize them or that they can be passionate about. Give thought to the things that you do not like to do. Play to your actual strengths…not the things that you think should be your strengths. If you’re looking for the next opportunity, find the things that energize you, the things that you are passionate about as those are typically your strengths. If you play to those, you will be able to give your best to that role, to your company while  getting the best out of it for yourself.

Over my career I can say with confidence that with each position I’ve taken, I’ve left things better than I found them. Sometimes that is better results, other times it is a better structure and stronger teams. When you are passionate about what you do and have the courage to make needed changes, ask for help and learn about what you are unsure of, you can accomplish so much more.

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Annette Waters

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