People and Strategy

Beth Benevenia on Reformulating People Leadership at Global Enterprises

Episode Summary

In this episode of People + Strategy, LIXIL's Beth Benevenia speaks with host Tony Lee about how organizations can make returning to the office appealing for employees, the role of culture in attracting and retaining talent during The Great Resignation and developing an adaptive leadership style at a global organization.

Episode Notes

Beth Benevenia is the leader of HR in the Global Manufacturing and Commercial Division of LIXIL, a global enterprise and manufacturer of water and housing products with 60,000 employees in more than 150 countries.

She speaks with host Tony Lee about how organizations can make returning to the office appealing for employees, the role of culture in attracting and retaining talent during The Great Resignation and developing an adaptive leadership style at a global organization.

This episode of People + Strategy is sponsored by ADP.

Learn more about the SHRM Executive Network.

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1 (00:00):

Business success requires thinking beyond today. That's why ADP uses data driven insights to design HR solutions to help your business have more success tomorrow. ADP, always designing for HR, talent, time, benefits, payroll and people.

Tony Lee (00:20):

Welcome. I'm Tony Lee, vice president of content for the Society for Human Resource Management and the SHRM Executive Network, which is the premier network of executives and thought leaders in the field of human resources. We advance the HR profession by engaging HR executives, as well as top practitioners to create solutions and drive success for people and organizations.

I'm excited to speak today with Beth Benevenia. Beth is the leader of HR in the global manufacturing and commercial division of LIXIL. LIXIL is a global enterprise with approximately 60,000 employees in more than 150 countries that manufactures water and housing products. Beth has more than 20 years of HR experience in such industries as healthcare, finance and academia at such companies as Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, Merrill Lynch, and Rutgers University. Thank you for being here, Beth.

Beth Benevenia (01:12):

Oh, thank you for having me, Tony. It's a pleasure.

Tony Lee (01:14):

Well, it's our pleasure. Thank you. So let's start at the beginning. How did you become interested in HR? I mean, it looks like you've been involved in HR one way or another for your whole career.

Beth Benevenia (01:25):

Oh, almost the entire thing. So I started out actually in finance right out of college and I was in a rotational program for J.P. Morgan and my last rotation ended up being in HR, kind of unplanned. And I did a lot of work on compensation, a number of different things. And to be honest, I fell into it accidentally, but I loved it. Then I proceeded to go on to graduate school, to get a master's in HR and I've been in it ever since.

Tony Lee (01:53):

Wow. They got their hooks in you, didn't they?

Beth Benevenia (01:56):

For sure.

Tony Lee (01:59):

All right. So, let's talk about what's going on now. So the pandemic's receding and companies are working to try and make return into the office as appealing as possible. I know LIXIL has done some interesting research on this. So what should leaders focus their efforts on to make the office more welcoming to employees?

Beth Benevenia (02:16):

Yeah, sure. We, as an employer, obviously, we're thinking about it for ourselves but we've also went a step further and partnered with the Harris Poll to get some outside in Intel on this. And interestingly enough 84% of respondents to the survey said health and hygiene practices at a potential employer or their existing employer were a big deal. They really mattered. Which no one would've ever thought of that two years ago. You want to have a pleasant workplace, but truly like the physical presence of the workplace just is a new phenomenon. And if you think about it, office spaces are now competing with the comforts of home, a phenomenon that we would've never considered.

So, we're re-imagining workspaces and companies should be re-imagining workspaces to make them inviting enough for people to want to give up being in their home environment. And that they see a benefit from going into the office. So certainly the health and hygiene factor that comes into touchless, the kitchen spaces, the bathroom spaces, making everything be as kind of pristine and clean as it possibly can, but also making the general environment being comfortable, welcoming and attractive versus continuing solely in the remote setting that so many of us have been in.

Tony Lee (03:35):

And what else came up high in the survey results for what would appeal to employees?

Beth Benevenia (03:40):

Flexibility is a big deal. So we've got this interesting dichotomy right now where people are concerned about health and safety, it matters, they've gotten used to being at home, but they also miss being in the office for certain reasons. So having that flexibility, that option to use the home versus the workplace for different purposes is something that's key for people. And we hear this not just in the poll, but when we talk to candidates and existing employees all the time.

Tony Lee (04:11):

Yeah. So what's your approach? Are you fully back in the office? Are you remote? Are you hybrid?

Beth Benevenia (04:18):

So interestingly enough right now, at least in North America, we obviously have different situations in different countries, but in our North America HQ, we are just going back in April. So we've been home for over two years. We're reopening in April, it's a new office actually, and we are coming back highly flexible. So own your own day. Employees to really figure out what works for them and to capitalize on that. We've had a slow return, maybe slower than some other companies. And we've just said that it's an unwavering commitment to being part of the solution, not the problem for this pandemic. So, we're coming back slow and we're letting our employees respond to that in the way that feels good for them.

That being said, we will come back at a reduced capacity. We have changed all of our facility over to completely touchless. We've increased our cleaning protocols. We've changed our ventilation. We've went kind of to an extreme on the physical space in order to support the return. But yet we are also offering high levels of flexibility to people as we bring them back.

Tony Lee (05:31):

So, there's been a lot of discussion that having people in the office at the workplace is critical for culture, for innovation, just for comradery sake, but with a hybrid workplace, you may not necessarily gain all of that. How are you seeing that? How did your research see that?

Beth Benevenia (05:50):

Yeah. To be perfectly frank, the research didn't see a lot of that kind of come to the surface, but we all know HR practitioners, the majority of leaders, that balance is going to be critical and possibly hard to strike. I think this is kind of one of the biggest experiments in human interaction that we're ever going to have when it comes to ways of working and teaming and engagement. So there is no perfect answer.

But I believe that I've seen both sides of it over the last two years, both in my own company and through contacts in my own network where some aspects of culture have actually improved, some aspects of relationships, engagement with people I've seen actually get better. And in other ways, some of that collaboration and the planning and the iterating that comes with being together in person has eroded a bit. So, we're going to have to be quite focused in how we gather and how we use the workplaces to capitalize on collaboration as the main goal of the workspace to actually get some of those benefits back.

Tony Lee (07:04):

Yeah. It's funny in some of the reporting we've done at, we found the very practical things rise to the surface very quickly, such as how do we meet? If half the people are in the office, half the people are remote, we may have the technology to do it, but are we effective meeting that way? Are the people in the room getting more heard than those who are... I mean, how do you deal with those kinds of practical issues?

Beth Benevenia (07:29):

Yeah, it's, I think it's probably going to be the biggest challenge, but also a great opportunity to be creative about the way we meet. I found in the past that before this situation we could begin to fall super heavy on all day meetings, planning meetings, budgeting meetings, different types of things like that, which aren't healthy either for the balance of work that people need to do to have that happen on a regular basis. So this remote situation forced us out of really being able to do that, because that's not practical.

So now we come to a place where we have to do things in combination. So if we have a task at hand, is there a piece of it where everyone can come in for short spurts? Can we do some of it remote to knock out certain pieces of the preliminary work, some of it together? The hard part about this is once again, the onus falls on leaders to be quite creative about how they lead their teams. Now it's a meeting management issue too, when we go into a hybrid world. And I think we've also read a lot about how much has fallen on leaders to manage so much through this time and now this is yet one more thing on top of it that leaders are looking at and that HR is trying to help them manage in the most practical way possible.

Tony Lee (08:47):

Right. No, definitely. So we've talked a little bit about culture, LIXIL has a very thoughtful culture with strong purpose and goals. So how does that structure help with attracting and retaining employees given the great resignation?

Beth Benevenia (09:01):

Yeah, and we certainly have not been immune to the great resignation. I think that we felt the pain that everyone else has faced. We've worked very hard, not just locally here but globally, to send out a message about who we are as a company, to our employees, to our leaders empowerment is a big deal for us. We try to engage at all levels of the organization. It's an accessible culture. So leaders are there, anyone can speak to anyone. We try to remove hierarchy. There are a lot of somewhat intangible things about working at LIXIL. It's a 60,000 person company and on a given day, you could almost feel like you're working for a small employer because you have that accessibility to the folks that you need to work with to get things done, to get decisions made.

So we've emphasized that with our workers, we've emphasized the fact that we're embracing flexibility as we're going through the hiring process, that we're trying to empower people to structure their own days, we're trying to relieve some of the old ways, again, of heavy meetings of heavy hours and give people that flexibility back. It's helped us quite a bit in recruitment and retention. Also, as you said, the purpose driven nature of who we are. We have many, many employees that feel a sense of emotional attachment to who LIXIL is, not just product wise but some of the humanitarian work we do with our SATO products. And we have a lot of employees that want to be at a place where they feel moved by the purpose and that has helped us quite a bit.

I would also say that the way that we've treated employees throughout the course of this pandemic has been another way to show them who we are as an employer. I can honestly say that I've felt proud every step of the way on the decisions that we've made, especially when I think about our frontline workers and our production facilities, that's been an everyday challenge because we're working, we're producing, but we're also needing to protect people. All of the decisions that we've made have been people first and that's gone a long way to help us retain those people and to build that credibility in the marketplace to be able to hire new people too.

Tony Lee (11:23):

Yeah, no, that makes perfect sense. So the flip side, of course, especially when you have manufacturing operations and you have people on the front line is that burnout and mental health can be a real struggle for some employees, but frankly also for top leaders. So, how do you measure what's happening and how do you address it?

Beth Benevenia (11:43):

We're feeling it, there's no denying that. We're no exception. We've interestingly seen some of the burnout happening from the folks in the salaried or the professional roles just as much as the plants. I think partly because of the trap that we've all fallen into. You go remote, you start working from home, you have global calls and the boundaries start to blur between home life and work life. So, we're seeing a bit of that. And we've really pushed for blocks of time that are meeting free. We've put rules in around times of day when things are acceptable or not to expect people to be working. And our leaders have really jumped on board. They're not expecting people to be engaging in crazy hours or weekends. They've embraced everything we've brought to the table as a challenge.

The production workers, they have been pushed because we have unprecedented demand and we manufacture the majority of what we sell. So unprecedented demand goes immediately to our factory floors. We have augmented with additional help. We're not putting it all into overtime. So, we've brought on additional staff to help get us over the hump. We've made compensation type adjustments. We've helped with additional benefits, even things that extend to people's family members. We've really made a lot of accommodations, there's no perfect answer to all of this. But I feel like in the grand scheme of things, we've really kept our engagement levels in the plants extremely high, considering the challenge we've had in front of us.

Tony Lee (13:23):

So you mentioned the global aspect of business and it being a 24/7 business. So you are a leader over several regions worldwide. So, how do you keep a global mindset and adapt your leadership style for all the different locations and audiences, especially coming out of a pandemic?

Beth Benevenia (13:40):

Yeah, it's been a great learning experience for me. I won't pretend to have gone into this role knowing all the answers. But doing this job and interacting with people from all over the world has brought in my own view of how you lead people, how you listen to people, how you put aside your preconceived notions of what matter to people because that comes from your own cultural individual experience. So, I've had to myself kind of step back and do more listening than I've ever done, engage differently with different people. So more kind of situational leadership, more than I've had to in the past. And for me, it's been enlightening and interesting and an opportunity. That being said, there are a lot of other leaders who are now doing the same thing and doing that in the midst of a pandemic when you can't even get out there to make a face to face connection or break bread is tough. It's tough. Everyone's working through it, but it's been one of the, I think for us, for me, one of the larger challenges of this time period.

Tony Lee (14:44):

Yeah. So we've got time for one other question and it's kind of the traditional question of a leader, which is, how are you helping the next generation, the folks who are coming up after you and maybe even the folks who are trying to decide if HR is the career for them? With so much job hopping, they may have started in HR and they're thinking, oh, maybe it's time to go try something else. What would your advice for them be?

Beth Benevenia (15:06):

Sure. I think that this time period right now when we're experiencing so many things that we never expected to experience, it's anything and everything you can think of. It's a pandemic, the great resignation, now a humanitarian crisis which is impacting a number of my team members. Everything that you could think of that we probably didn't think that we would have to deal with in our career is an opportunity for HR to be at the forefront of everything that goes on in an organization, the value of people and employees to companies has never been stronger than it is right now. Now with that for the HR professionals comes workload sometimes emotional stressors, if you will, you have to keep a clear mind to get through it. But the impact on the other side of it is like nothing else that you could experience being in this career. But you have to be resilient. You have to take care of yourself. You have to take time to take care of yourself. You have to rely on your colleagues. You have to have confidantes. There's a lot of things that you can do to kind of build yourself up to work through what we're in right now, but you have to want it and you have to be wedded to the value that you're providing to organizations by being in this profession right now.

Tony Lee (16:28):

Yeah. I have to ask before I let you go. If you had to choose an HR specialty, comp and ben, recruiting, HR generalist, what area would you recommend folks focus on?

Beth Benevenia (16:44):

This is an interesting question. So as a almost career long HR VP, that would tend to be my answer. But I will say that the whole field of total rewards comp and ben and everything around it, whether you choose to make a career out of it or not understanding it foundationally, I think is critical for any HR professional to be successful. It's not the sexiest part of what we do, but it's foundational. And every one of those comp and ben type decisions can really make or break how successful your organization is at attracting and retaining people. So I would encourage all HR professionals to at least get foundational appreciation and understanding.

Tony Lee (17:31):

Well, there you go. And it's changing every day as we all know so well.

Beth Benevenia (17:36):

Yes, it is.

Tony Lee (17:40):

Well Beth, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us, that we really appreciate it. And, for more information on the topics we've discussed today or for further details on the SHRM Executive Network, please visit Thanks and have a great day.

Speaker 1 (17:57):

Business success requires thinking beyond today. That's why ADP uses data driven insights to design HR solutions to help your business have more success tomorrow. ADP, always designing for HR, talent, time, benefits, payroll and people.