"Transformation requires forward thinking": Wiley's EVP & CHRO
Holding the reins
In an open and frank conversation with People Matters, Archana Singh, EVP and Chief Human Resource Officer at Wiley shares her outlook on change and transformation at Wiley, getting the right talent on board, leveraging the strength of a people-centric culture, and culture and brand as the two sides of the same coin.
By Suparna Chawla Bhasin
From Hay group (a global management consulting firm) to Wiley (a global leader in education and scholarly research) — how different has the experience been in developing HR strategies and initiatives?
As CHRO at Hay Group, I was working with consultants advising Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies on people and organizational matters. These teams knew my job as well as I did! What was important about that experience for me was the process of building confidence in the leadership team and across the organization. We “drank our own champagne” and enabled our consultants in the same way that our consultants enabled their customers. I had the opportunity to bring that thinking inside the organization and emphasized pragmatic design and practical application as we tested, learned, and practiced on ourselves.
When the Wiley opportunity came up, I was impressed by the organization’s long-standing history and even more impressed by the transformation journey that lay ahead. Wiley was at the pivot point of evolving into a more customer-centric, technology-enabled organization advancing scholarly research and education. This was an amazing opportunity to leverage the strength of a people-centric culture and team and help lead a 210-year-old company at an inflection point in its history.
When you say that you joined Wiley at the time when the business was transforming. Can you share some of the direction you have been taking the business in recently, and the strategy for success going forward?
As change and transformation leaders, we often tend to look at things that are not working well. Over the years my thinking has evolved to ensure that we focus on things that are working well and build from those areas.
Transformation requires forward thinking. We do a disservice to that if we spend too much time looking back.
You can glance at the rearview, but you don’t drive the car by looking back. I could see that nobody was talking about where we were going. My challenge was to shift our way of thinking and create a culture of looking ahead. My efforts of over the last two years have been about creating the energy and mindset that appreciates the past and using that to focus on the future. This has influenced our talent agenda and the culture and decision-making of our leadership.
Getting the right talent on board and ensuring they work together is one of the most important challenges facing a transforming business environment and corporate culture. How is Wiley managing this?
The coming year is going to be a watershed year when it comes to building our talent. We are thinking about how we develop our current talent and acquire new talent with targeted skills and capabilities necessary to propel Wiley forward. We have identified a set of skills and capabilities around data and analytics and are focusing some of our learning and development efforts on enhancing our digital mindset. We are proactively creating a talent pipeline in these key areas through a formal early career hiring plan which includes internships followed by placements into areas where talent can further develop. We have also invested in technology to foster collaboration between people across different functions and geographies. Increasingly, we are looking at developing our workforce to enable self-initiated change and development.
In one of your articles you have mentioned that “culture and brand are two sides of the coin.” Can you elaborate more on that?
This was really inspired by my work at the Hay Group. At Hay Group, our customer value proposition was that we help customers realize their true potential. I turned this on its head for our employee value proposition: We enable our employees to realize their full potential. The talent agenda, the organizational climate, the culture, and a whole combination of other things need to be geared towards enabling employees to realize their true potential. I strongly believe that there needs to be an authentic link between the brand, the culture, the customer value proposition, and the employee value proposition. It was important that the way we talked about Hay Group aligned with the experience employees had on a daily basis. This continues to ring true for me at Wiley. It is important that we be the client zero. We deliver on our value proposition for our employees which build the conviction and clarity for them to deliver on our value proposition for our customers.
Digital transformation is actually not about adopting new technologies or new tools. It is also about the way people think, the change in the way people perceive things including how an organizational culture supports all that. From a very traditional model you are transforming into a digital base, so, tell me how are you doing that? Do you feel any resistance from your employees when you talk about this digital transformation as such?
Change and transformation are inevitable and necessary for continued growth. There is always going to be some resistance. I have to enable my leadership team, our managers, and the organization to feel confident that individuals have the information and tools to lead themselves toward change. We also must build an organizational culture to support that. This is where mindset shift is so critical. If you think about Wiley’s history in the traditional publishing business, the standard is perfection. A print run should be perfect. The digital world, on the other hand, is constantly evolving. It is agile and requires the constant evaluation and reevaluation of data to improve. We are making a mindset shift that moves away from the ‘traditional’ and embraces agile decision-making and continuous adoption.
As a 210-year-old organization, Wiley would have a unique mix of employees: the Generation Y, and a new group of the millennials, with new ways of working. What efforts do you have to integrate these two generations at the workplace? What are you doing to engage them so that it drives them to engage with your brand and your readers?
We have established an onboarding process that is a combination of focused efforts for both our executives and stakeholders with goals for 30-60-90-120 days and a deeper emphasis on integration. The onboarding plan has a strong buddy alignment that makes it easier for new joiners to integrate and mingle with existing teams. We use our internal social media channels to share news about colleagues actively across all offices. Personally, I reach out to new hires in their first few weeks and months and seek their early impressions as guidance for us. Our CEO is himself reaches out and engages with the workforce on multiple occasions. Enhancements to our onboarding program have continued into this year as we focus on being more connected globally. In addition, our leadership team and hiring managers are playing a more active role along with the overall team at Wiley to create a perfect blend of new and existing talent and a thriving culture for seamless, integrated, cross-functional teams.
We are making a mindset shift that embraces agile decision-making and continuous adoption
Wiley has a unique culture that supports open dialogue, candid feedback, and enduring relationships and believes in the motto “human beings first, professionals second.” How is Wiley integrating the cultures of its different offices and incorporating the unique character of each into the day-to-day work?
We have amplified and extended our communications channels broadly, making them globally accessible and modular. We use several formats that enable this —Yammer, Update (an informal monthly global news piece written by the employees for the employees on what matters), town halls, leadership brown bags, executive leader’s panels, and our employee resource groups that beam their panel events globally. Our Chief Marketing Officer also leads a global innovation program where 20+ offices engage in 24-hour sprints on design thinking and creating ideas that can help our customers achieve their goals. Additionally, there is a huge focus on soliciting inputs from colleagues on what matters and using SWOOP analytics for our social platforms. We are promoting innovative ideas across offices and truly value each and every initiative that supports strengthening relationships across the Wiley business.