After stints at some of the world’s top companies—including Disney and Marriott—Michele DiMartino left the corporate world for consulting and thought she was done being an HR executive. But a phone call from Intuitive CEO Gary Guthart changed her mind. Below, Michele explains what made this a one-of-a-kind opportunity; reflects on the learning, listening, and transformation that marked her first year; and shares where she and her fast-growing team are headed next.
What were you doing before Intuitive, and why did you decide to join the team?
Before I came here, I was a partner in an organizational design consulting firm. I worked with C-suite teams at a number of companies, helping them rethink their operating model and organization design in order to deliver their growth plans. One of those companies was Intuitive, in 2018 through early 2020. Then a little more than a year ago, I got a call from Gary Guthart, Intuitive’s CEO. I thought he just wanted to talk to me about another consulting engagement, but he asked if I would ever consider joining the team.
I’d gotten that question from clients from time to time, but I had already held several executive roles in corporations before I moved into consulting, and honestly, I never thought I’d go back. But Intuitive’s leadership team had really impressed me, especially the way they kept the company’s values front and center. In our debates about organizational design choices for the company, someone consistently asked, “How will this be better for patients, for physicians, for our team members?” The opportunity to be part of such a mission-driven organization that knows who they are—that felt right to me.
And of course the growth is also exciting; joining a high-velocity company means a lot of opportunity to develop new capabilities, and to develop people. So really, I probably could have said yes on that first phone call! I knew I wanted to join right away.
What stood out to you in your first year here?
It’s been a whirlwind, as you’d expect. This is a complex company—we have complex products, and we’re part of a complex ecosystem. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming, and I’m exhilarated by what I’m learning. For example, visiting one of our manufacturing plants and seeing how they create tiny lenses that get attached to endoscopes which surgeons then robotically control to see inside patients’ bodies. That our team can dream up and build these things is just amazing to me. I’m not that smart!
All the stories stand out, too, of how our products have helped physicians change people’s lives. Just a couple of weeks ago, we had a facilitator here doing a trial run of a new training program. When she got up and introduced herself, she started to get teary. She proceeded to tell us she’d been a patient—she’d had emergency surgery, and a doctor using a da Vinci robot had saved her life. Then I got teary-eyed, too.
I think the other thing is just the opportunity we have in front of us. Because Intuitive has expanded so quickly, we’ve outgrown some of our core infrastructure, including in HR. We have started transforming the function—revamping structure, jobs, processes, technology. That’s something most people only get to do once or twice in their entire career. It might sound geeky, but to me, it’s exciting.
Tell us more about how the HR function is evolving. What has that project looked like so far—and what’s been challenging about it?
We started with the growth plan for Intuitive as a whole—the number of procedures we’ll be doing, the businesses we’ll be in, the countries we’ll be operating in, the number of employees—and then the question is, “What does the HR function need to look like in that future world?” We need to build new capabilities in areas like workforce planning, organization effectiveness, and leadership development. To be able to put resources toward these new areas, we need to become more efficient at the core, high-volume, transactional HR work—whether that means infusing artificial intelligence into our processes or just pooling expertise.
But change is hard—it’s unsettling. When we change structure, what we’re ultimately talking about is impacting how people make a living. That said, I couldn’t be prouder of how the HR team is navigating the uncertainty of the HR transformation—they’ve really pulled together to puzzle through design challenges and support one another, all while supporting the changing business around them. Because we can’t say, “I’ll help you next year, after we’re done re-organizing.”
My HR leadership team and I have tried to take a very transparent, participatory approach to the transformation. We have design sessions with our team members around the world to get everyone involved. And even before I joined, I started having conversations with other leaders in the company; I’d ask, “What’s working well with the support you get from HR? Where can we be better? What business priorities do they need help executing?” We’ve kept these business requirements top-of-mind as we build the future HR org. And my HR leaders have been terrific at circling back to those constituencies to keep them apprised of changes that may impact them or their teams, pressure testing new design ideas. It’s really important that we think in these terms: what the business needs from HR in order to grow and deliver on its mission, and what our employees need from HR to thrive at Intuitive. That’s our north star as we build the HR function of the future.
What are your priorities as a leader, especially in terms of that process?
It’s my job to set clear direction and coach my team—to help them grow as HR leaders and professionals—and it’s also my job to build community, to have a function that is high-performing, collaborative, and where people feel safe and connected with each other. This is always important, but particularly when you’re doing this hard transformational stuff. We’ve put the A-team in place over the last year, and when we work together, we can do anything we set our minds to.
It’s also part of my job to help prioritize what is the highest and best use of our HR time and resources. In a company like Intuitive, with a bunch of smart, driven people, there will always be more great ideas than hours in the day. The HR team is passionate, committed, ambitious—and that’s wonderful. But the downside can be overextension and poor work-life balance, and I don’t want to run an organization where people feel burnt out. So I think one of the greatest gifts I can give as a leader is to help set boundaries, and to offer guidance on what is more and less important at any given time.
It’s a work in progress, honestly. But as a leadership team, we’re being intentional. We’ve recruited an extended HR leadership team of our direct reports to help vet and refine our priorities and make sure we’re not taking on too much, both as an HR team and in terms of what the organization at large can absorb. It’s a living process—we’re continually reassessing our priorities as new things pop up, and making trade-offs rather than just adding things to the to-do list.
What can a new HR team member expect, joining the company at this moment?
It’s an exciting time to be at Intuitive and in our HR Function, especially for someone who gets jazzed by building something new and being part of a mission-driven team. Intuitive continues to grow, but it’s still small enough so you can quickly make an impact, which is so fulfilling.
The company is investing in accelerating the operating maturity of the HR function. We’re building an organization that can operate at scale, with the right technology, and teaming with business leaders to set and deliver on talent and organization strategies.
Our transformational work will continue over the next two years. It has already created a number of new HR jobs and career paths—and this will continue. And we are investing in our HR community, helping them to build the skills and abilities to confidently deliver the support and services our employees and business require.
So if someone is looking to join an HR function that’s investing in its people and organization, and they want a mission-driven environment in a company that meaningfully impacts people’s lives, Intuitive is the place to be.