The Work-Life Equation: Lars Minns, Chief HR Officer, Mercedes-Benz, North America

Lars Minns

Do you want your employees to be happier and more productive? Are you looking for a solution to improve their work-life balance?

 

Look no further. Join Christine Michele Carter, Priya Krishnan, and Lars Minns, CHRO of Mercedes-Benz, North America, we discuss the key to achieving greater employee well-being and satisfaction. By implementing effective strategies, you can create a workplace environment that prioritizes the mental and physical health of your team. This will result in increased job satisfaction, better work-life balance, and a more engaged and motivated workforce.

 

Let's work together to create a workplace culture that supports and values employee well-being.



Read the full transcript

00:00:06 - Christine Michel Carter
Hello, everyone, and welcome to The Work-Life Equation, a Bright Horizons podcast, the only podcast featuring candid conversations, stories and strategies from corporate leaders, public figures, and everyday people who are putting the pieces together to make life work. I am one of your hosts, Christine Michel Carter.

00:00:26 - Priya Krishnan
And Priya Krishnan.

00:00:28 - Christine Michel Carter
Priya, how have you been?

00:00:30 - Priya Krishnan
I've been good. Look at us. Twinning with glasses.

00:00:32 - Christine Michel Carter
Today we're twinning and we're winning.

00:00:36 - Priya Krishnan
That is true. But today's guest is a husband, father of three, and a Chief Human Resources Officer. He's played a pivotal role in onboarding unprecedented numbers at his current organization, which has been the largest single year of hiring in the history of the company. We'll meet him in a second. But first, I thought we would go into this week's Here We Ho conversation. Other people call them dinner table conversations. Most of you who've listened in before know that Christine and I call these are Here We Go conversation, because who really has dinner at a table these days? Mine this week was Christine actually post our episode around social responsibilities. I had this conversation around taxes with the kids and what do you think taxes are used for? And they were talking about school and health care and the differences because they've lived all over the world. The fact that it's healthcare is free in the UK. It is not in India, it is sort of quasi some semblance of those here. And one of the questions that they asked me was, if we know women don't women aren't able to participate in the workforce. Just given my work, why isn't childcare part of a tax infrastructure? And it got me thinking. So it's interesting again, in a world where kids think like this, but I don't know whether you had one of these or how Maya feels about this.

00:02:16 - Christine Michel Carter
No, Maya’s biggest thing when it comes to taxes is just wondering why she had to pay $2 on a $30 bill. So I can't even imagine her thinking about childcare infrastructure. My little entrepreneur is more so worried about hoarding as much money as she possibly could. I don't know that she's going to be a great global citizen. I can't promise that.

00:02:39 - Priya Krishnan
Yeah. As she grows up, perhaps things will change.

00:02:43 - Christine Michel Carter
We'll see.

00:02:44 - Priya Krishnan
But without further ado, let's introduce today's guest. Today's guest is Lars Minns. He's the Chief Human Resources Officer for Mercedes-Benz. Welcome to the show, Lars.

00:02:57 - Lars Minns
Thank you very much, Priya, and great to meet you, Christine.

00:03:01 - Christine Michel Carter
Pleasure to meet you, Lars.

00:03:03 - Lars Minns
Thank you very much.

00:03:05 - Priya Krishnan
So you've been with Mercedes-Benz since 2015, and then you were with the Home Depot before that. And how do you think during that time, hiring and retaining employees has changed? Because we've all had various experience, and certainly that's changed during the pandemic. And what are some of the things that you feel still remain addressed unaddressed across organizations in terms of attracting and retaining talent?

00:03:36 - Lars Minns
I'd say the workforce. The macroeconomic effect on the workforce has certainly created an impact on our organization and certainly organizations nationwide. And it's largely because of the decline in the amount of people available to work. Either because some of them have gone on to do their own thing, they have side hustles or you name it, there's just been a significant decline. So it's created, it's changed the equation, no pun intended, it's changed the equation significantly. What's made it even more challenging is trying to understand what the future of work will be. Because at the end of the day, the employer and the employee, the value creation for both or the currency is work. And so it's really forced us to really think about what work needs to look like and what's that balance, that fine line that we need to have in helping people even out their week and even out their lives.

00:04:38 - Christine Michel Carter
It's interesting. The 9th annual Modern Family Index that was commissioned by Bright Horizons and conducted by the Harris Poll showed that employees with children just continue to struggle. 47% of working parents, working hybrid or remote feel isolated and 41% of hybrid or fully remote working parents say that they are at times feel like they need to hide their personal obligations from work. How can companies better support working families and their overall well being?

00:05:11 - Lars Minns
Well, Christine, I think, number one, now that we have gotten past the sensitivity around COVID and everyone's back at work or back at the office, I think really thinking strategically about whether or not you go hybrid. If you decide not to go hybrid, what's the level of impact on your employee? At the end of the day, as I said, work is the currency, but the output is productivity. And I think if we expect the productivity trend line to move in the right direction, which is for every company, it's always going to be up, I think we need to take into consideration the importance of families. You have to take into consideration the importance of the family. And of course a component of the family is the working parent and in most cases the working mother. So trying to figure that out, I think is key. At Mercedes, we decided to go with a three two hybrid. We made a statement about a year ago that this would be our permanent structure. So we wanted to make that very clear for our existing workforce, but also for those that we intend to attract.

00:06:17 - Priya Krishnan
And it's interesting given that there has been this whole shift to flexibility and hybrid, again, as an organization, we don't see flexibility replacing the need for support. But a lot of organization and people feel like it can negate the need for childcare, especially onsite childcare. And Christine referred to our Modern Family Index work and 77% of working parents feel that childcare support is a really important part of how they feel productive at work. And if productivity is the output that is a critical piece, even though you've gone to a three two structure and you've been really purposeful about that. How have you thought about offering childcare, and how have you thought about these hybrid structures for your employees?

00:07:08 - Lars Minns
So Priya, the ideal is for us to have a childcare solution for every single employee across our entire network. The truth is that's much more an ideal than it is practical for us. We do have an onsite daycare at our headquarters in Atlanta. We've also entered into a few, I would say, early discussions with Bright Horizons about the potential of another solution outside of Atlanta and outside of this environment where we have an onsite daycare. I think about it a lot. As you mentioned in the Preamble, I have three kids. They all went to either Bright Horizons daycare or some other daycare. I know what it's like to feel that rush and feel the pressure of not only get them in, get them settled, say good morning to the teacher, take off, compose yourself, and head into the office, and then do it all over again in the evening. And that's just the beginning, that's not the end of the evening. So having that onsite support, I think it provides some wind in the sales for the employee. And again, if you just think about what I said earlier, there's work and then there's productivity. And I think we have an incredible opportunity to continue thinking of creative solutions. And I would say for your guests that are considering it, do quite a bit of research. And if you can have one on site daycare, certainly think of the alternatives.

00:08:34 - Christine Michel Carter
So let's be honest. Mercedes-Benz does incur a cost as an institution right to provide childcare to support employees. Where do you see the return on investment?

00:08:47 - Lars Minns
Christine that's a great question. I liken some of it to some of the other partnerships that we have that don't necessarily have a tangible effect or show up tangibly in the balance sheet. I think it's right along the lines of employee satisfaction and engagement. Employees that are engaged and satisfied, they become examples or become beacons of light for other employees. And I think that return on investment, while it can't be quantified necessarily, I think to have employees feel good about their employer, that their employer thinks long and hard about their overall satisfaction and how they can balance their lives out, I think it's an intangible effect, certainly, but I think that's our return. I also think it would be a bit foolhardy to think of everything that you give or you provide to your employees as needing a return. I don't know that this is necessarily a need for return, and it's not charitable. This isn't goodwill necessarily. This is us saying, we want to help you put some guardrails around what you have to face every day. And as you and your family continue to progress and you grow older and you develop and your kids grow older and they develop. We want to be right there alongside you.

00:10:09 - Christine Michel Carter
It's funny you talk about employee retention, and I do want to just double click on that and ask you, because we tend to acknowledge why employees choose to leave companies as opposed to why they choose to stay. You've mentioned a few already of why people choose to stay, but are there any other reasons that you think post COVID folks are choosing to stay with the company long term?

00:10:34 - Lars Minns
Yeah, I think, number one, can I see myself thriving in this environment? If it's an open question for me, are there any other guarantees outside of my current employer? I think we all go through that a bit. Thriving to me is akin with establishing a career and developing one's career. And then thirdly, when I think of my family over the arc of time and I think of the time I need to spend outside of my family, where's the next place that I spend a lot of that time? Of course, that's the employer. And which one do I want to do it with? I think if we can solve that as an equation and look at the dichotomy of those three elements and be thoughtful in how we do it, then we have a real opportunity. I can't tell you how many times I've entered into discussions with managers and employees where we talk about one component, and oftentimes I'm trying to force the conversation in the direction to think about all of those components. I think as an employer, if we stay consistent with that and there's some congruency with that message, I think in the end that goes a lot further.

00:11:49 - Priya Krishnan
It's really interesting that you talk about it's a little bit of how we think about child care. The child spends their waking hours with us. What is the influence we could have? And you're sort of taking that into saying, the employee is spending a ton of time with us. How can we support them? I wonder, is it because we, as Bright Horizons, have several clients who do onsite childcare? But your experience from Home Depot to Mercedes-Benz, they're very different industries, very different margin structures, very different employee sizes, but both very committed employers in terms of wanting to do right by their employees. What do you think staying with Christine's question on ROI? Do you see this as a measure of the success and the size of the company, or is this just companies being intentional about doing this?

00:12:45 - Lars Minns
I think it's both. I think it's and relative to your question, I think it's highly necessary. Every company sorry, not every. There are a number of companies today that have talked about the big word transformation. That's just not going to happen by itself. I think you need your employees to push the water uphill for you in that respect. I think being cognizant of what their challenges are outside of the framework of the work environment, I think is so key. So we are not only intentional about it, we see it as necessary. The company's heritage has always been to take care of employees dating way back to the early start in Germany and now worldwide is to really think about the employee. And I can't tell you how many programs that we've had and kept over the years, because we think first about the employee. The game has changed slightly. I think we thought often about the individual, and I think now it's time to think about the family as a whole. Of course, we have to stop to a degree when it comes to Childcare at the three to four year old mark. I wish we could do what I'm hearing from other companies where they have elementary schools in some of their sites, in their overall vision. But I think as much as you can to really challenge your thought, have you done enough to assist your employee? Because, again, back to Christine's question about ROI, to me, that's where you get something back when you think along those lines.

00:14:24 - Christine Michel Carter
Let's talk about that intangible something back, because I don't think I'm getting the vibe that you really just don't sit in an ivory tower as an HR executive, and I applaud you for that. Is there a story that you could share where offering certain benefits to support employees, like having onsite Childcare directly impacted them positively?

00:14:46 - Lars Minns
I can. One was a decision we made, so we contemplated whether or not we would close our daycare during COVID And of course, we had to in the early goings, but we opted not to. And it was a pretty active discussion that we had where we could save cost. Our employees are driving from home to our office to drop their kids off and then head back home. And I said, yeah, but at the end of the day, they're actually going back home to work for us. So they're not going back home in and of itself. They're going back home to work for us. And if we really expect for us to have a good return on that day, that week, we should think about this a bit more strategically. I think about the other. I want to give you a good story. So that was maybe an event or scenario. I'm trying to think, Christine, of a really good story of a moment that we had. You may have to come back to me. Maybe this is the first time ever in one of your segments your guess.

00:15:55 - Christine Michel Carter
No, not at all. How about this? Laws? Let me ask you this question, because when you said that you've used Bright Horizons and you know what it was like to do the pickup and the drop off, that really resonated with me. Can you share a time that you said to yourself, man, I'm really glad that I put that into action, not just as somebody who decides to sign the contract with Bright Horizons, but as a parent who said, oh my God, I'm so happy that we have childcare.

00:16:25 - Lars Minns
I'll give you a story dating back to my time at the Home Depot. It has a bit of a dark twist, but if you bear with me, just for the emphasis. So the director of the time at Bright Horizons perhaps faced something that no director or no parent would want to face. We had an employee at the Home Depot who unfortunately left their child in the vehicle, and this was deliberate. That's the dark side of the story, regardless of the outcome, because I'll spare you that detail. The way in which the director handled the situation, not only for the sake of her staff and the overall center to represent the center in a professional way, but just the contact and communication she had on the day and then post event with the parents, although it was remarkable. So often you look at anyone in administration and you just say, they are just fulfilling strategic objectives. This person had a lot of heart on the day, spent a lot of time with the class of the child that was affected, and from what I understand, spent several weeks on a daily basis interacting with the parents. Not only the children, but also with the parents. And I thought that was pretty important. The thing that I find special about Bright Horizons and this is the feedback that I get from a lot of the parents. There's never a shortage of communication, direct communication with the parents. And we don't have it easy. We have a capacity constraint at our center, but they spend a lot of time talking to the parents. So much so that they are actually filling in the gap for when HR needs to speak to the parents, because it's a benefit. It's a benefit that we provide. But Bright Horizons is actually under the auspices of our relationship. They spend a lot of time directly interfacing with the with the parents and the parents. And I think that sort of thing goes a long way.

00:18:33 - Priya Krishnan
I couldn't be prouder and thank you for saying all of those things. We make sure that we pass it on to the team. And it's great that you were a parent at the center and you saw this behavior. But staying with your theme of saying there is more to a person beyond work, what is your parenting style and how do you take some of that into your leadership style at work?

00:18:57 - Lars Minns
Well, I'd like to think that mine is a work in progress. I'm a developing parent. I look at my wife and she's a class act in that respect. So I'm a disciplinarian my kids. That's probably the first thing they would say. I believe in them providing me instant feedback when something did not happen. There are five members in our household. It gets very loud and there's a lot of spirited debates. But I'm hopeful that I'm the type of parent whose style is defined by my children, not by me. Because while I believe that being a disciplinarian and being very tough and providing tough love is important, it's only as good as what's consumed by my kids and how they see it. In that respect, I leave it to my three kids, my daughter, who will aptly define what her dad is like, and my boys, who perhaps may have a slightly alternate view, but my style is, in the end, to love them and to develop as I expect them to develop.

00:20:13 - Christine Michel Carter
That's very impressive. I can only imagine that their first car is going to be a Mercedes-Benz. So I'm quite jealous. But I'm sure that you're doing a great job as a working father.

00:20:24 - Lars Minns
But I don't think their first car will be a Mercedes. I could tell you that.

00:20:29 - Christine Michel Carter
We'll edit that part out. We'll edit that out. They're definitely getting a Mercedes. Their Aunt Christine signs up for it, it's fine. But as an HR executive, how do you see the role and expectations of HR continuing to evolve? I love that HR has now started to even be called people operations, which sounds like how you handle the HR department at Mercedes-Benz. So how do you think it's going to continue to evolve? And then what do you think human resources teams will need to think differently about to support that future?

00:21:05 - Lars Minns
Well, I can tell you at present, I think HR is very much a strategic partner of the business. And as I remind my team, we are the only entity within our overall business environment that is intimately in touch with every employee. If you think about it, we not only responsible for paying the employees, which I always say is right up there with oxygen, we are responsible for their health care benefits, their future retirement, in our case onsite childcare, we are intimately involved with our employees, and again, much more so than any other part of the organization. So strategic in that respect, we have the pulse on what the future of work will look like, and therefore that becomes a potential gain or loss for the company depending on how we shape it along the strata of everything that's HR related, by all means. But I think even more than that, I think HR, because we interact with such a broad spectrum of individuals, we are the one group that can communicate where we're headed, why we're headed there, and certainly what we expect the future gain of the organization to be. And we can do that at any level because we spend time doing it at any level. We can speak at a third grade level or even at a much more advanced level. And everyone else is completely consumed with their own objectives, which are great for the company on scale, but as far as HR is concerned, we have to be deeply in tune with all employees and helping to drive this business in a direction that can make all of us proud. So very much big partners. I think it'll be interesting in the future where it all goes now with some of the talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence and all of those technicalities. But I think at the end of the day, understanding that we touch employees in a way that no one else does or can, I think is the starting point. And I think we'll define the future of HR.

00:23:17 - Christine Michel Carter
Absolutely.

00:23:20 - Priya Krishnan
This is going to be my last question to you, Laz. You talked about businesses going through transformations and you referred, I lead transformation for Bright Horizons, and this is what I do for living day in and day out. But the impact of AI and ML, et cetera, what are your views on the human transformation that needs to take place? And again, I come back, all my lessons have come from working with my kids, right. My leadership style actually has been formulated largely by that in terms of adapting to change. But how are you viewing that human transformation? HR has gone through so much in the last three years. You've had to move people remote. You're now you said, bringing them back into the office. Then it was hybrid, and then there's all this overhang of technology. So how is that transformation?

00:24:12 - Lars Minns? I don't know that this is necessarily transformation, but I think it's important for us to now be much more pronounced about the importance of connecting with every individual. I think we stand to learn so much from our employees because they understand our business at a much more intimate level. Granted, executives and middle managers, they understand the business because we are equipped and we've been working longer on the future direction. However, what's happening real time, you need not only talk to your employees. So I think having the ability to actually connect with employees more than we ever have and more than we have because of the because of the hierarchies that we've set up across our organization, I think is really critical, number one. Number two, I think it's critical that we also have a mindset that we actually want to measure backwards or said differently, measure progress. I think oftentimes as a business, we get really stuck along the lines of measuring to an ideal. We need to measure progress. That's really what's going to give transformation the biggest gas or juice. And perhaps the last thing is, I think we have to allow an environment where failure is absolutely okay. None of us really know what transformation looks like. I worked for the Home Depot. They went through a massive transformation, but it's a different industry, totally different sector. You don't know what transformation is until you actually get into the throes of it. And even then, you're still trying to figure it out. So I think being okay with failure, I think that's going to be important for a younger generation. We do not have scripts for them to follow, and frankly, we'll both have to write it together.

00:26:05 - Christine Michel Carter
Lars, thank you so much for being a guest on the Work Life Equation podcast. But before you go, we require all guests to provide us with gifts from their organization. So a GLS SUV, please, shipped to Baltimore, Maryland, would be appreciated.

00:26:24 - Lars Minns
I'll do you one better, Christine, now that you said it. We have a vehicle preparation center, which is actually the Baltimore near the Baltimore Harbor, and you are more than welcome to visit. I cannot promise any more of a gift, but you can take a tour. I can make a call right now and see to it that you walk in. You can see all of the eye candy that your heart can consume for that day.

00:26:50 - Christine Michel Carter
Oh, my goodness.

00:26:51 - Priya Krishnan
That is super. Kids are going to love this.

00:26:53 - Christine Michel Carter
Yes. That would be so appreciated. I was just teasing, but that would be so appreciated. You're so kind. Priya, what did you learn today?

00:27:06 - Priya Krishnan
My takeaway from the conversation was I also talk about the distance from the ground and not the distance to the peak or the summit of a hill and staying focused on progress and being okay with failure, failing fast, failing Jeep. But learning from those experiences, I think, is critical. So it was good validation to thinking as we're taking on this journey. Christine, what did you learn? What was your takeaway?

00:27:35 - Christine Michel Carter
Yeah, my takeaway we talked to Ariel Foxman on the podcast, and he talked about diversity, equity, and inclusion and the importance of inclusion when making those decisions. Related, I love, Lars, that you are a working parent who you've used Bright Horizons and you made a critical decision to have it with the workforce as well at Mercedes-Benz.

00:28:01 - Priya Krishnan
Yes. I think, just as always, people can go to Bright Horizons.com resources, and there's tons of resources for working parents. But specifically, in the context of this episode, I think talking about how employers can best support Millennials and Gen Z, five generations that work with them. There is a really interesting blog on that which I think people could read and reflect on, and one of my favorite blogs is We Can't Go Back. How do we evolve from this point in today's talent market? I think it's a great resource for employers, but also for employees. So I'd like to share that on the podcast, and I'm sure people enjoy reading it. Bright Horizons is the world's most trusted education and care company. We partner with employers to provide exceptional early learning, family care, and workforce education that transforms lives and organizations because we believe education and care can change the world one child, one family, one organization at a time. Are you looking for a job? Visit Careers BrightHorizons.com, where you can join our talent community and receive the most up to date news and events at Bright Horizons. And don't forget to subscribe to Teach. Play. Love, our parenting podcast, where you'll get expert advice from our education team and learn what really matters and what doesn't in your child's earliest years of learning, growth and development. Follow us on our social media and stay up to date on company news. Join live events and see what's happening at our centers. Join us by following Bright Horizons on LinkedIn and @Bright Horizons on Instagram.

00:29:39 - Christine Michel Carter
You've just listened to an episode of The Work-Life Equation with Christine Michel Carter

00:29:43 - Priya Krishnan
And Priya Krishnan.

00:29:46 - Christine Michel Carter
Until next time, guys. Thanks for joining us.

00:29:48 - Priya Krishnan
Thank you so much.

 


Priya Krishnan, Senior Vice President, Client Relations and Growth Operations
About the Author
PRIYA KRISHNAN
Chief Digital and Transformation Officer
Priya Krishnan comes to Bright Horizons after founding and running India's largest childcare business. She is the winner of many awards for her work in the space, including Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Young Turk, FT1000 for Asia, and Red Herring Asia.
Lars Minns