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The CHRO View: From the Front Lines of Transformation at GE Healthcare

Dan Lett Article 3 min

leader rising to the top

After 17 years working for one of the biggest and best-known companies in the world, Brian McGarvey, HR Leader US & Canada for GE Healthcare, suddenly found himself facing his biggest career challenge.

It was spring 2018 and McGarvey—a lifelong employee of General Electric—was asked to join an executive team facing one of the most ambitious projects his company had ever undertaken: GE Healthcare becoming a standalone company.

To describe the challenge as daunting was an understatement.

The resolve of the company, the quality of our people, and the relentless effort to deliver is more apparent today than any part of my career, which gives me confidence we will be successful.
Brian McGarvey HR Leader US & Canada, GE Healthcare

 

With over 50,000 employees operating in countries around the world, GE Healthcare is one of the world’s best-known innovators in the Healthcare space and will continue to be a big player in the future.

But taking it from a unit within GE and forging all of the internal systems needed to make it a fully independent entity, separate from the “mother ship,” was going to be a significant challenge.

McGarvey had been with GE his entire career, and over that time he had become deeply invested in the company’s iconic culture. Even though a standalone GE Healthcare would be a product of that culture, McGarvey worried about whether or not the business was ready for this change.

However, it didn’t take long to realize that as daunting as the project was, it was also the chance of a lifetime. It had been a challenging time for GE as it rapidly evolved to meet a whole range of new market challenges. There was a lot riding on the GE Healthcare transformation, and McGarvey realized that he wanted a front-row seat.

“As I thought more about the 50,000-plus people involved and the transaction itself, I realized I wanted to be in the room for that conversation. I needed to be all-in on this.”

McGarvey said the first and most pressing aspect of the transformation was helping the Healthcare employees remain focused on their primary tasks even as the company was changing around them.

“Protecting the value of the business was the most critical thing I could spend my time on, which meant focusing my time on ensuring we were enabling our teams to win in the current market as we shape the new standalone company,” McGarvey said.

This process has turned out to be an immense personal challenge as well. McGarvey said that like many HR professionals, he didn’t always take the time to figure out exactly how GE made things.

McGarvey said he figured out pretty quickly that it would be impossible to help lead a transformation if he didn’t have an intimate, nuts-and-bolts understanding about how things were made and services designed.

“This curiosity is something I continue to spend time on as it’s about how we make the ‘right’ decision vs. celebrating the fact a decision was made,” he said. “I’m not sure [HR professionals] really understand how the widget is made in all parts of our business. We all talk about having a seat at the table, but when we get there, do we really know how things go from design to manufacturing to our customers? If we really want to be involved in leading change, we have to know those things.”

However, evolving from operating unit to standalone entity was not the only transformation challenge the company was facing. At the same time, the entire industry that GE Healthcare plays in was transforming.

“We’ve had to stay ahead of the fact that our competitors are trying to disrupt the business model. From our ‘seat at the table,’ we are trying to remain focused as HR professionals on bringing the right set of offerings to our customers,” he said.

McGarvey said he has learned many important lessons over the past six months of the transformation. Chief among them is the fact that even HR leaders need help.

McGarvey said too often HR leaders are focused on supporting others and forget that they also need to take care of themselves. Realizing that, McGarvey said he has set some limits on his workday to ensure that he has time for himself and for his family.

For example, McGarvey sets aside two hours each day—from 5 PM to 7 PM—to be with his family. The healthcare transformation is so demanding that unless he staked out this time every day, he was concerned he might miss watching his daughter grow up. So, he made it clear to everyone that for those two hours each evening, he was off the grid. 

McGarvey said his wife Jessica and daughter Eloise help center him, and time with them could never be negotiable. 

“A personal coach told me once that I’m always trying to be on, always trying to do 10 things at once,” he said. “She told me that I can actually give more to my job, and more to my family, if I separate these things and create time for family. I want to be a good husband and father, and this was my way of protecting that valuable time with my wife and daughter.”

Even with the transformation still unfolding, McGarvey said the company has responded in dramatic fashion. And that is putting wind in the sails of everyone on the HR team.

“The resolve of the company, the quality of our people, and the relentless effort to deliver is more apparent today than any part of my career, which gives me confidence we will be successful,” he noted.

“This is an exciting but somewhat frightening time for all of us. It’s one of my responsibilities to work with leaders in the company and let them know that we’re going to get through this. And you can see even now the confidence building in people. They are less anxious and more excited now about what the future has in store.”

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