Manu Wadhwa, CHRO of Sony Pictures Networks India, joined the company in 2019 to create a compelling employee experience while establishing leadership and promoting best talent practices. With a career spanning over two decades across various industries and countries, she has piloted the workplace and people agenda for dynamic global organisations like American Express & General Electric, in roles as Head HR, Talent & Development, M&A, HR Transformation, Change & Digital Innovation. Before joining SPN, Manu was associated with Coca-Cola as the Head of Human Resources - India and South West Asia. She is a member of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) – National Leadership & HR Committee, Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) – Asia Pacific Advisory Board, Chandigarh University Corporate Advisory Board and Jombay Advisory Board.
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Manu shares her take on the growth and expansion of multimedia corporations, designing people strategies from the heart, embracing sustainable work practices, exploring the potential of new age work formats, and so much more. Here are some excerpts.
With Sony Pictures strengthening its foothold as a content company backed by rapid digital transformation, what are some impactful trends in this sector today?
A medley of demographic, consumer and technology trends is dramatically reconditioning the media landscape. It's indisputable that the digital transformation of the media industry has already begun.
This transformation is largely driven by changing consumer dynamics patterns anticipations specifically amongst the millennials, who constantly demand instant access to content anytime, anywhere, and therefore the growth of any media house in the sector will be backed mainly by personalised and contextualised content.
The second is content dispersion. Again, as I stated that we are seeing all segments of the media industry expanding, and content fragmentation is happening, but at the same time, streaming services are making content available across multiple platforms, at your desktops, on your smartphones, anytime, anywhere. And that I think will continue to expand the dispersion.
Last but not least is collaborative partnerships. Media companies technically always used to be standing on the pedestal of unique content creation at the back of their helms. But collaborative partnerships are a must today because companies cannot continue to add overheads and need to be leaner, nimble, agile, and more open to working with a large spectrum of ecosystem partners, which wasn't the reality till yesterday. And that, for me, will be the major factor driving the digitisation of the media industry over the next decade.
One of your pieces of advice which remains evergreen is how purpose, passion, and profitability need to be centred around excellence to drive meaningful change in the workplace. So, being an expert on transformation and change management, how is Sony Pictures empowering its workforce to thrive in the face of disruption and unpredictable changes?
The future of human capital can be very powerfully led by organisations having purpose, passion and profitability as a central focus point. We at Sony Pictures Network have constantly struggled to integrate these elements into everything that we do, to reach the last mile of the consumer who is watching our content and is getting their own life satisfaction and liberating themselves out of the stress and the bust which they face in their everyday lives.
With the support of leadership, our people every single day want to bring this purpose of creating digitally agile content accepted by the diaspora across the globe, to life in everything we do.
Our approach to ensuring that leadership continues to instil that sense of purpose into every individual’s role is helmed by our flagship leadership connect initiative, LEAP (Leadership Engagement Amplification Program). This effort ensures that the leadership's voice is connected to every single employee, workforce partner and our suppliers across the industry. It involves activities around holding the Nukkad, which are very casual town hall formats; to Coffee Conversations; to Dear Diary efforts in which leaders showcase their vulnerability and their aspirations for the organisation; Rap Sessions, which are lighter moments to balance every aspect of their lives; Golden Moments, which highlight the business's integral performance across various facets in the quarters gone by in the months gone by and so on.
Along with these, we also have leadership and development offering such as Pivot Up, aimed at revitalising the organisations towards a digital reset; Dastangoi, which infuses content capability and creativity amongst us and the SPN Innovation Hub, which endeavours to have a futuristic gaze on the consumer voice on entertainment.
As you zoom out and look at the future, what is the #1 trend or force that you see ahead of us that will change our business landscape in the near to mid-term?
Firstly, constant upskilling and digital dexterity will take precedence. This is because so many budding professionals from all walks of life create success and value for the organisations they work in. The second biggest trend changing how we work is using an on-demand gig workforce. I have been proposing the gig workforce for many years, and I am so glad to see that not only is it having its place in the regulatory books, but also organisations are exploring a variety of employment formats given the necessity of specialised skills that are needed to drive value for the business today. Lastly, the definition of the workplace is changing. We need to reimagine workplaces which blend inclusive formats of ways of working and ensure that there is a diverse set of minds and bodies who can contribute to the organisation's goals. And if nothing else, COVID-19 has taught us that we can do it.
As you zoom in, what is the #1 roadblock or barrier that needs to be broken to make the most out of these opportunities?
The last couple of years has had a lasting impact on work, worker and the workplace. HR and business leaders are dealing with this historical challenge of an exhausted workforce facing a highly competitive labour market. With technology advancements, the need to upskill has risen multifold along with realisations that work goals are only a part of life goals.
The second challenge concerns leaders' difficulties as they question whether they want to embrace hybrid working models. However, employees, on the other hand, feel liberated from the constant pressure of being in the office and delivering results that can now be successfully driven sitting out of their homes. This pressure of embedding hybrid in the ways of work and thinking is a much easier conversation than actual implementation. In my opinion, organisations who feel challenged to imbibe hybrid models could also find it very difficult to attract and also retain the quality of manpower that their job needs.
As the theme of the event this year is Rethink What’s Possible, how is Manu Wadhwa rethinking what's possible? At a personal, professional and societal level?
Rethinking what’s possible has been a journey for me to create a paradigm shift where we focus on designing from the heart by not being clinical about human capital goals to deliver profitability but also ensuring that employees see a sincere approach by the organisation to care for them. The second piece is building agility and speed into everything we do by shifting away from the age-old approvals cycle.
The third is owning the narrative. As individuals and collectively as organisations, we are always positioning the best picture of ourselves. We very rarely go ahead and talk about the narratives of where we failed.
COVID has taught us that it's the best narrative for the consumer and our workforce is to be transparent and authentic about the realities of what's happening so that it's a co-participation in creating the future.
Finally, is the focus on sustainability. As an organisation, we are struggling with how to create a sustainable business model while being agile and nimble. But this rethinking is something that we're trying to build into our ways of work and, hopefully, spark innovation that defines our future and the organisations.
What is your word of advice to other leaders in inspiring them to look at the world with fresh eyes? What is one thing to start and one thing to stop as they venture into this new era of people and work?
HR leaders have had a big learning curve in the last few years. I commend every single HR professional who has not just safeguarded the organisation’s sustainability but has constantly driven the spirit of agility to drive the business in the face of challenges. One piece of advice I will give is to ensure that the learnings of the last couple of years don’t go to waste and to passionately protect a diverse and inclusive workforce format that is ready for the future.
Additionally, HR leaders must avoid information overload and burnout and ensure that they give themselves the space to assimilate the change happening in the ecosystem and then be able to stand to promote that very change and build up your organisation's culture thereon. I often use the example of airlines giving security warnings that say, please take care of yourself before helping somebody else. So I would urge Human Resource professionals to please first take care of themselves.
If you want to know more about what it takes to become an enterprise that embraces the future of work with authenticity and leads the way for growth and innovation, join us this 4-5th August at People Matters TechHR India. Register now and book your seats for our conference in Gurugram less than a month away!