Medtronic: Where Inclusion and Diversity Are Mission-Critical
At Medtronic, one of the world’s largest medical technology, services, and solutions companies, a 60-year-old mission guides the development of every present-day innovation, product, and program. The bedrock of that mission, drafted by co-founder Earl Bakken in 1960, is “to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.” This first of six tenets serves as the lens through which nearly all company decisions are viewed. The strong commitment to core values seems to be working: the company’s therapies currently improve the lives of more than two people every second. For Medtronic, adhering to time-honored principles not only serves as a compass to guide its actions, but offers a clear business advantage.
Current CEO Geoff Martha, whose tenure began on April 27, 2020, has already demonstrated that he plans to continue putting the mission first, calling it the organization’s “North Star” in his introductory letter to the company. Martha made it clear that establishing a culture of inclusion is a critical component toward achieving Medtronic’s overarching goal of improving lives:
Diversifying our company will play a large part in creating the workplace of innovation and ingenuity we need going forward. Inclusion and equity must drive every single action we take.
Fortunately, Martha’s predecessor laid a solid foundation for him. Driven by the fifth tenet of the Medtronic Mission, which calls for recognizing “the personal worth of all employees,” former CEO Omar Ishrak led Medtronic on a nearly decade-long journey (2011–2020) toward building a culture that is intentional about inclusion. Medtronic has made substantial strides toward that end, even earning the 2020 Catalyst Award for its work to empower and advance the careers of women on a global scale through the Medtronic Women’s Network (MWN).
MWN’s focus on advancing women’s careers has helped Medtronic move the needle on some ambitious goals, including having women hold 40% or more of the company’s leadership roles, and 30% or more of manager-level roles in Research & Development (R&D) globally, by 2020. Medtronic currently reports a rate of 39% for women in global leadership positions and 25% for women in global R&D roles. MWN will continue aiding in Medtronic’s quest to meet its aspirational goal of women holding 50% of management positions worldwide.
Medtronic’s pledge to prioritize inclusion and advance the careers of diverse populations extends well beyond gender. Including MWN, there are five networks—with over 20,000 members—to help diverse employees thrive personally and professionally: the African Descent Network (ADN), the Hispanic Latino Descent Network (HLN), the Asian Impact @ Medtronic Network (AIM), and the recently formed PRIDE Network, which supports LGBTQ+ employees globally. Each network is led by an executive committee-level sponsor who helps accelerate the work of the group. CEO Geoff Martha, for example, has served as the Executive Sponsor of ADN. In addition to the networks, Medtronic’s 12 employee resource groups (ERGs) support the company’s inclusion efforts across the globe.
One program established with the African Descent Network—Leadership Inclusion from Mentorship Toward Sponsorship (Lift)—has made a measurable and lasting impact on the careers and lives of its participants. At its most fundamental, Lift is an intensive nine-month, differentiated development program intended to reduce turnover and increase advancement for diverse top talent at the mid-career level. To accomplish that, Lift pairs a sponsee with a senior sponsor, and utilizes coaching, classes, and a group capstone project—aimed at solving a real business need—to help the sponsee learn how to think like a senior leader. Ideally, that sponsee leaves the program with a lasting sponsor who, in time, can advocate for them when it matters most.
Lift has been meticulously crafted to combine a once-in-a-lifetime career experience with the very real potential for advancement. The program’s architects spent nearly a year hammering out the details prior to its launch in 2018, ensuring leadership engagement and active involvement at the highest levels, building a curriculum with multiple layers of teaching methodologies, and, perhaps most critically, determining the criteria for participation for both sponsees and sponsors.
Artie Miller, recently retired Vice President of HR, Minimally Invasive Therapy Group, ADN Leader, and Lift co-creator, explains that “the rigorous selection process is one of the key ingredients in Lift’s ‘secret sauce.’” Candidates are hand-selected by a core team of Lift leaders and HR professionals who review quantitative and qualitative information to determine participation. Miller continues:
We consider not only their merit and past work performance but more nuanced characteristics like drive, raw talent, and examples of commitment to a program of this nature.
Another critical component of the program is that candidates for the role of sponsor—even those at the highest levels of the organization—are likewise subject to screenings and interviews with a Lift leader. The goal is to understand their intrinsic motivations, gauge their willingness to commit the time Lift requires, and evaluate their level of cultural sensitivity, even addressing tough topics like unconscious bias.
Once the pool of Lift participants and sponsors is established, the core team begins the pairing process, matching participants to sponsors based on factors like shared interests, backgrounds, education, and business units.
But work for Lift’s core team does not end there. Says Miller:
Over the course of the program, a core team member checks in with everyone on a monthly basis. They touch base with sponsees and sponsors to see how in-person connecting is progressing, get feedback, and share learnings. They even connect with the sponsee’s manager to see if the participant’s work performance has changed one way or another and give a sense of what’s being asked of the participant program-wise.
Currently in its third cycle with an ADN-based cohort of 22 participants, 45% of whom are women, the retention and career-advancement results coming out of the program are truly impressive: 86% of the 14 participants in the initial (2018) cohort have stayed at Medtronic, while 95% of the 18 participants from the second (2019) cohort have done the same. Thus far, 71% of participants from the first cohort and 50% of those from the second cohort have received a promotion, with more likely on the horizon. What’s even more impactful is this work is now being cascaded across all diverse populations. The Hispanic/Latinx group completed their first cohort in the summer of 2020, the Asian descent group launched in September 2020, and a Women in Sales cohort is due to launch in January 2021. Although the basic foundation remains the same, the content is customized to meet the unique needs of each group.
More than half of Lift participants are women. Jasmine Curtis, Director, Global Society & Physician Relations, Medical Education and Field Development, Neuromodulation, whose career at Medtronic has spanned 14 years, says Lift was nothing less than transformative for her:
Lift came along at just the right time for me. I was at a pivotal point in my career and really needed support…and I got so much. From Lift leadership, who believed in me, from the other participants in my cohort—who I grew so close with after encouraging and challenging each other for months—and from my sponsor, who pushed me to deliver my best and evolve as a leader, not just a talented contributor.
Lift gave me the framework I was missing so I could continue my career journey. Whenever someone tells me they’ve been nominated for Lift, I say, ‘Just wait. It’s going to change your life!’
After completing the program, Curtis went on to join Miller as part of the ADN leadership team and as a member of the Lift Alumni Advisory Board, and explains how that helps her represent “the mission in action” for the next generation of high-potential African American talent:
We are constantly talking about critical pipeline leaders. Asking ourselves, colleagues, and ERG leaders, ‘Who needs support? How can we help guide them, and identify their skills and strengths?’
At the end of the day, it seems that Lift’s “secret sauce” may actually be the combination of the incredible amount of hard work, planning, and foresight contributed by a very passionate team of leaders, and the unshakable commitment to the cause on the part of everyone else involved—ingredients that have also ensured the success of MWN and other Medtronic programs. Given Medtronic’s history of putting its mission first, it comes as no surprise that employees at every level are willing to put in the extra effort to ensure that the company’s leadership pipeline is full of capable talent from the widest array of backgrounds who can work together to make better decisions, champion more innovation, and improve human welfare, one life at a time.