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How Rolls Royce is using AI to look under the rocks of complexity

Sarah Aryanpur Profile picture for user saryanpur July 1, 2024
Mary Glowacka, Head of Learning & Leadership Development at Rolls Royce, talks AI, HR and organizational complexity.

Rolls Royce

As noted previously, Rolls Royce is in the middle of a multi-year transformation program.  The company that was founded in 1906, now has nearly 42,000 employees in 48 countries, and its business is divided into civil aerospace (45%), defense (29%) and power systems (26%).

Mary Glowacka, Head of Learning & Leadership Development at Rolls Royce is in charge of what’s called the enablement function of the business enterprise wide strategy, which aims to turn Rolls Royce into a growing, competitive, resilient and high performing organization. She explains:

We support and enable the execution of the business strategy, and are focused on being one of the driving forces behind the transformation.  We have 120 years of phenomenal legacy behind us, and we are taking broad and deep steps to ensure that the company can continue to thrive for another 120 years.

The company is also investing strategically to deal with the global skills shortage that often inhibits so many organizations. Glowacka comments: 

We are re-skilling, up-skilling, and cross-skilling our people. We have some phenomenal talent, and it's one of our missions to make sure that we make the most of the talent that we have, that we create an environment where people can build a long term career, and have internal mobility opportunities throughout their careers.

The average length of employment in Rolls Royce is a whopping 20 years, with some people second or even third generation employees from the same family. Glowacka says: 

I think it's a testimony to the internal mobility and career development opportunities the company offers.

Rolls Royce’s philosophy is to empower and evolve leadership capability across all levels in the organization, to enable internal mobility and sharing talent.  Glowacka argues:

If a person who sits directly in my team has the right skill set and capability to add value to a project or a piece of work that sits completely outside of that, then we enable that and drive for that. Over time, this reduces the need, for instance, on relying on external consultants and other types of support.

Glowacka says that this approach can also cut costs in a big way:

In some cases, we have got reports from senior leaders that within six months of starting to reorganize their team and tapping more into the team capability, one part of the organization saved £60 million on consulting fees.

AI leadership

While others are only beginning their journey now, Rolls Royce has for years been at the forefront of using AI. Glowacka notes: 

AI is really a thread through the whole ecosystem. Just look at our tech stack, and the AI piece is in there, whether it's your HCM, like Workday, whether it's your Applicant Tracking Software, like Greenhouse, or whatever you may be using. AI is an inherent component of these technologies.

She says that gen AI is currently positioned in the emerging technology bracket, and the scale of its use is smaller, but she believes that will soon become a non-negotiable in organizations. For example, Rolls Royce is an early adopter of The Josh Bersin Company’s AI Assistant, Galileo, which is designed to help HR with hiring, talent management, leadership and management.

But Glowacka cautions that how much and what sort of gen AI an organization uses is an important consideration, particularly for a company like Rolls Royce, which is in the top three organizations in terms of the number of cyber-attack attempts every day. She explains:

There is a paradox. Rolls Royce is by its very nature, progressive. Experimentation and innovation is in its DNA, because it's an engineering organization. But that is coupled with low risk appetite, particularly because of our IP. So in terms of scaling any generative AI tools that are external, that does take a while, because we need to ensure IP and cyber security. We're not the only organization, the financial services sector has the same challenges.

She says the other scenario is working with a third party, to evolve an ‘out of the box’, Large Language Model to your organization, suggesting:

You don't have to start from scratch building that model. You work on a partnership basis with a third party to develop it to the point that it is your own at the end of the day. That's very much the trend in organizations these days. We have these pockets of experimentation. We are experimenting and testing about 15 different solutions right now in different parts of the organization.

HR function

The HR organization structure is aligned with the business organization so within it Rolls Royce has some centers of excellence enabling teams that operate enterprise-wide. As part of that structure, it also has functional teams which focus on day to day support of particular parts of the business, according to Glowacka:

The magic for me lies in a big global team being completely aligned to the business strategy, and that we all sail in the same direction day to day. So whilst there needs to be an element of customization and personalizing, certain approaches based on the region and regional dependencies or constraints or on the other side of that spectrum, possibilities, what it boils down to day to day is that we ensure that we all understand what our strategy is, why it is, what it is, and how everybody in that big global team adds value day to day, through their skill sets and their experiences and their expertise.

For her part, Glowacka doesn’t have a traditional HR background, but came through the operations route, but says she fell in love with the world of learning and leadership development many years ago, and has now been in it for around 15 years. Implementing various HR Technologies has been an integral part of her career as she explains:

I support organizations that are evolving at a fast pace and are taking their business to the next level. That's where I would typically be able to really add value in helping an organization grow in a sustainable way through its people. I like to see myself as a change maker.

She believes being progressive comes with a lot of pain along the way. 

Often there is no blueprint to what you're doing, and everyone around you is looking at you, and either they don't believe it's possible, or there is a lot of fear, because it's new and different. But that's the space where I like to operate.

The pace of change is where the likes of Galileo provide invaluable assistant, she concludes:

Galileo is one of those tools that will help with the depth and breadth of capability. With 40% of the skills people have today becoming irrelevant in the next two years, it increases in the speed to productivity. Tools like Galileo can do the basic investigation, and then if you want to go deeper you have that choice. It is like a thinking partner and very low risk. It allows you to be introspective before you go public with an idea. A safe space for ideation. Every time you look under a rock there is more complexity. I’ve been humbled by the complexity of Rolls Royce.

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