Our people initiatives are borne of candid conversations: Penguin Random House India’s Aditi Kumar
The publishing industry is an ever-elusive and evolving space, even more so with the rise of new technologies. There are clear shifts in how they are hiring people, upskilling and empowering them with the best career growth opportunities to compete with the speed of transformation. This also comes with the simultaneous urgency to build the right organisational culture to not only elevate employee engagement and performance but to champion innovation and lead the market of books to new heights.
To dive deeper into this and explore how the publishing space continues to thrive, we get into an exciting conversation with Aditi Kumar, Senior Vice President - People & Innovation, at Penguin Random House India. An HR Professional with over 15 years of experience across Consulting, Business & Corporate HR roles, Aditi shares exciting insights on Penguin’s hiring outlook, their impactful DEI policies, what makes them a long-term employer and more.
The future is all about skills, which have been evolving rapidly. What do you believe are the capabilities that are needed to thrive in the publishing industry?
Firstly, it’s all about passion. We work with a bunch of passionate people, and it's their love for books that drives them to excel. That's the one attribute we seek irrespective of the function. Secondly, we are excited to welcome professionals with creative ambition, who are unafraid to experiment, have conviction in their ideas, and have the zeal to follow through and make them happen.
Rest we believe can be acquired. Of course, certain roles will have specific functional requirements for instance, a Performance Marketing role must have a data science and analytics skillset but at a macro-level, we remain open when it comes to their background. We don’t want to miss out on amazing, creative talent, even when they might not have the necessary qualifications.
Ensuring career growth opportunities is one of the key pillars of retaining critical talent for the long term. How does Penguin champion career progression and presents itself as a long-term employer?
Employees are encouraged to constantly upskill and look at gathering the right experience, exposure and knowledge that will develop them for the future. Penguin has always laid great emphasis on providing the right career development opportunities to empower employees to grow within the organisation. We approach this as a shared responsibility where employees are equally dedicated to continuous learning, reinventing themselves, embracing newer opportunities, diversifying their skill sets, building on their experiences by balancing multiple responsibilities and shifting across functional boundaries with agility.
To support this philosophy, we have an extensive Onboarding Program for our new joiners, which offers them a comprehensive view of our business priorities, culture, and systems. This is followed by a 3-month ‘Onboarding Mentorship’ program to expedite the learning curve and act as a development aid to unlock their potential.
We also provide various opportunities including Management Development Programs, Leadership and Team Collaboration Programs, Cross Company Externships, Conversations with Influencers, and forming Network teams to work on business-critical projects. Additionally, we leverage the power of Periodic Career Conversations and Feedback Exchanges to chart a path where our talent’s ambitions and business needs converge. This is why we have many homegrown talents who have been nurtured to lead our business results and growth.
Being a people-centric organisation also calls for strengthening a culture of DEI. How has Penguin solved these and ensured that DEI thrives in the overall employee experience?
It starts with a commitment to making our workplace more inclusive by bringing in diverse voices, not only in our books and the authors we publish but also within our company where everyone is empowered to be themselves. We must recognise and celebrate the diversity around, and treat everyone as equal partners in this journey where every contribution counts.
Holding leaders accountable for our DEI Commitment, setting DEI priorities, and enabling the achievement of results are important pillars. We take immense pride in sharing that 70% of our top leadership team consists of women, which is a testament to the inclusive work culture we have nurtured over the years.
It is also of utmost importance that we learn the art of approaching our work and decision-making without any biases. Recognising our inherent biases and opening our minds to different perspectives is critical. To foster the same, we ensure people go through learning modules around ‘Uncovering Unconscious Bias’, ‘Creating Psychological Safety ‘, and ‘Gender Sensitivity’ to overcome hidden prejudices and embrace diverse teams. While we also have Influencer Conversations with our stellar authors to champion groundbreaking discussions, we don’t limit DEI to a scorecard. The focus is on a qualitative experience. A lot has been done but there is so much more to do.
Coming to another much-discussed facet of building the best EX, wellbeing, what have been the employee wellness policies launched so far?
Fostering an inclusive, positive, and happy work environment does not always require major initiatives or policies to be launched. I strongly feel creating an engaging, welcoming, and a vibrant office space we all love to come to is important. Laughter, and celebrations to foster community-building, having compassion and empathy towards our colleagues, and establishing a safe place where we can all bring our authentic selves to work, can go a long way in minimising work-related stress and supporting a mentally healthy and happy workplace.
The overall well-being of our employees has always been an important consideration for all critical decisions. It is at the heart of everything we do. We have an Employee Wellbeing Assistance Program to support people with concerns that impact their emotional well-being. Communication channels for this are accessible, and flexible with confidentiality guaranteed.
We also constantly monitor employee well-being, mental health needs, examine benefits, and oversee workplace programmes. There are initiatives such as Long Sabbatical Leave which provide a long break on completion of defined years of service to rejuvenate and pursue personal interests. Unblock Your Calendar declares a company-wide off to lessen fatigue and recharge ourselves, while Periodic Group Programs are around fitness and sports.
We all know that talent is the key to long-term organisational growth, impact and success. What is the one piece of advice you would like to share with our community on designing the right work culture and unlocking the potential of your people?
I can’t overemphasise the importance of open communication. It is the biggest enabler in crafting a culture that’s conducive to growth and success. At Penguin Random House India, anyone can walk into the CEO’s office to engage on a raw idea or challenge a process or a viewpoint. We also have explicit channels that foster two-way communication like Penguin Skip Level Connect, Anonymous Q&A at Town Halls, Weekly Catchups, Opinion Polls, and Annual Employee Surveys. All of these enable people to freely express their opinions and be equal partners in driving the company’s success. The genesis of a lot of our initiatives as they stand today is a result of these impromptu and candid conversations.