Skip to main content
Diverse teams perform better and are more innovative

— General HR

Diverse teams perform better and are more innovative

Every month #ZigZagHR interviews an international HR professional. This month Lesley talks to Hugo Breda, Managing Director J&J Medical Devices UK & Ireland, about Johnson & Johnson's mission to focus on Corporate Social Responsibility.

"Day in, day out, our products and services play a role in the lives of people all over the world. We don’t only see this as a great privilege, but also as a great responsibility. And with 134,000 employees, we can have quite an impact." Hugo Breda joined J&J 25 years ago and is currently working in the Medical Devices division in the UK and Ireland. He is proud of Johnson & Johnson's status as Britain's Healthiest Company and commitment to mental, physical and financial well-being.

Hugo's interest in medicine and passion for football (he played at a fairly high level) helped him choose his studies and the companies he ended up working for. First Nike and soon J&J - an iconic company, founded in 1886 by three Johnson brothers with three divisions: medicines (with a strong branch in Belgium), medical devices (used in hospitals) and consumer products (such as RoC, Nicorette and Compeed). Hugo Breda gradually climbed up the ladder, moving to another country, another division or another role every two years. A conscious choice by J&J: working in different countries and cultures, across departments and functions, creates strong(er) leaders.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is high on the agenda in the largest healthcare company in the world: not the shareholder, but the customer comes first. This credo dates back to 1944, when J&J was listed on the stock exchange. "An unprecedented event," says Hugo Breda. "J&J approached its shareholders with a double message: we would love to have your money, but our customers, employees and society come first. Everyone knows it. It is our roadmap to keep us on track and serves as the basis for our company policy, procedures and guidelines. It prescribes the behaviour we expect from everyone, and on which we evaluate our employees." Hugo Breda explains how this is put into practice.

1 First the customer

"We believe that we are primarily responsible for patients, doctors and nurses, and for everyone who uses our products and services. Our credo dictates that everything we do must be of high quality."

2 Then the employee

"Secondly, we are responsible for our employees. We want to create an inclusive work environment where everyone can be themselves. People should feel secure and satisfied at work. We want to improve our employees' health and well-being. For example, every employee is entitled to six psychologist consultations for himself or for someone in his family. We don't forget financial well-being either."

3 Then society

"We also have a responsibility to society. We feel responsible for the local communities in which we live and work. This is why we are committed to improving access to and quality of care wherever possible. Wherever there is a J&J hub, our employees support local initiatives. In Leeds, for example, we are located near a deprived industrial area where our employees offer support to schools. These initiatives contribute to a better local and global society, but also have a positive effect on the commitment of our employees. Employees can choose which initiatives they want to support; we have a CSR council for that purpose."

4 Finally, only the shareholder

"Of course, our company has to make a healthy profit. We must try out new ideas. We must continue to invest in innovation, continue our research, develop groundbreaking programmes, and invest in the future. Reserves must be built up for unfavourable times. Only in this way can we fulfil our mission." This credo also appears to be anything but non-committal: "We include the results of our annual survey in our evaluation. Our team makes sure that people experience our motto at any time, any place and every level, especially during the onboarding procedure. Every quarter, I make time to sit down with my board to discuss ethical leadership and ethical entrepreneurship. Every quarter we organise workshops to ensure that our credo stays alive and to avoid dependence on any one individual or leader."


Diversity, equity and inclusion are also important. "We are strongly committed to gender balance and BAME (Black, Asian & minority Ethnic) and recently won the UK Ethnicity Top Employer Award," Hugo Breda notes, immediately linking this to his passion for creating teams. "Actually, I originally wanted to lead teams in sports and now I end up doing this in business. Finding a transfer in football determines whether you will win or lose next season. The same goes for businesses. Diversity, inclusion and equality are crucial. Hugo Breda explains how J&J achieves this diversity:

1 Diverse teams perform better

"Diverse teams perform better and are more innovative," experiences Hugo Breda. "Every sport or business team is diverse. At J&J we have a balanced gender ratio, even at the specialist level. And we want to encourage even more diverse talent to grow. For example, it is not accepted to put forward a list of candidates with the same profile. Of course we go for the best candidate, but monocultural or monogenerous lists are answered with a request to look harder.

2 The infamous unconscious bias is barred

"We also work hard to reduce unconscious bias by making our recruitment teams as diverse as possible. We really want to be a reflection of society, also at management level."

3 You can also have a flexible career

"During their maternity leave, we invite women and their children in the UK to come to the company for our maternity coaching sessions. A plan is also made to facilitate reintegration so that women who are starting a family don’t have to take a step backwards in their career. Flexibility is encouraged anyway, for everyone: until I was 34, I played high-level football in parallel with my job at J&J. I trained six days a week and then went on to work at the same level. I trained six days a week, in July I often had practice sessions, and I was still able to make a career at J&J. Just because you don't work nine to five doesn't mean you can't get promoted. Every year we give a top performer award in the UK and this year it went to two women who decided to do one job together. We were sceptical, but in the end, they proved to be the best performing team." (Fortunately, there are more and more role models to inspire people. Just look at Hugo’s boss at J&J: Ashley McEvoy, Executive VP of Medical Devices, a woman with five children).

4 Ethnic diversity

"Ethnic diversity is an important topic in the UK. Research shows that access to the right people is crucial to career progression, and we try to address this through mentoring and reverse mentoring programmes. Tapping on the shoulder also helps: by doing this, you show that you believe in someone and stimulate this person to invest in their development and career, even though these two may seem impossible to combine at that moment. Not only does this approach appear to have a positive effect on employee commitment, it also works like a magnet for new employees, Hugo Breda points out: "And this certainly applies to high potentials as well. Working with different nationalities and fulfilling an important social role: many ambitious young people are pursuing this dream today."

This article was written and translated by #ZigZagHR.

Fierce recruitment at Yelp: the power of the Rooney Rule, discussions by the watercooler & high fives

Fierce recruitment at Yelp: the power of the Rooney Rule, discussions by the watercooler & high fives

5 helpful ways to persuade people as an HR professional

How can you persuade people? How do you turn a "no" into a "yes"?

The Big Reset Playbook: what’s working now?

Every month #ZigZagHR reaches out to an international HR professional. This month Lesley connects with Nuno Gonçalves, Global Head of Strategic Capability Building at the American multinational Mars Inc, senior faculty member of the Josh Bersin Academy and one of the contributors of The Big Reset Playbook.

Your company strategy can only succeed if your employees believe in it

Every organisation’s goal is to have a clear strategy. A strategy that is supported by its employees. A strategy that its customers feel in the customer experience they get. And yet many companies struggle with their strategies. Convincing and motivating employees to really support their company strategy remains a challenge for them. Why is that?