The Irony and Urgency of HR

Share This
Author: Nick Horney | Source: HCI | Published: February 16, 2016

Leadership Agility is becoming a business imperative for an organization's leadership talent as well as the transformation of the Human Resources function.  My colleague, Gruffie Clough, and I had the fortune to recently interview Ben Hill, the VP of Talent Management for TURNER, about his company's talent challenges and solutions now and in the future.

AS A TURNER LEADER, WHICH ASPECT OF TALENT MANAGEMENT IN THIS VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT IS MOST CHALLENGING?

Ben Hill, VP, Turner Talent Management

Ben Hill, VP, Turner Talent Management

The current pace of change in our industry is exceptional. It's evolving due to forces that have largely been outside of our control. As a company, this requires some blind flying because we don't know what - exactly - the next technology innovation or shift in consumption habits will be. Our CEO, John Martin, explains this very well during a recent interview. But if we fortify ourselves by creating great content - or better yet, by driving the direction of the changing media landscape with our own technologies, we know we can continue to be successful.

In talent management, we can play a significant role in helping Turner's employees embrace and make the most of this change. This is why agility is one of the skills we are focusing most in the acquisition and development of our talent right now. Because of the volatile period we're in, I often tell my team that this function has its greatest opportunity to make an impact of any moment in Turner's history. I believe that by attracting and growing employees and leaders who think differently, who take risks, and who can adopt to changing circumstances, we can positively affect the trajectory of this company. That's being at the front lines of getting this organization to evolve, and that's why it's exciting to be in this position right now.

One of the great challenges every leader in our HR organization is facing right now is that a VUCA environment can feel like chaos. My wife, who really doesn't like to fly, grabbed my arm during some turbulence on a recent flight and said, dead seriously, "This plane is going way too fast." Trying to rationalize the situation by explaining that the speed was actually responsible for keeping us aloft turned out to be a big mistake. But the clear analogy to Turner later dawned on me: as with the plane, our function and company need the speed and pace of organizational change we're experiencing in order to stay aloft. We need to feel a little out of control and even embrace this chaos in order to fly. Encouraging that acceptance is a particularly interesting - and necessary - leadership challenge.

IS THERE A TECHNOLOGY OR SOMETHING SPECIFIC THAT YOU CAN REFER TO THAT IS DISRUPTING OR CREATING SO MUCH TURBULENCE IN YOUR INDUSTRY SECTOR?

You probably rely heavily on one of our disruptors... an iPad, or an Android mobile device, an OTT service like Netflix or Hulu. All of these things are unsettling the traditional cable ecosystem. Roughly half of our revenue comes through subscription fees from cable, satellite, and telco distributors. The number of subscribers to those traditional services isn't growing as it once was. And because we have increasing numbers or consumers accessing content through non-traditional means, we have to go out and find them wherever they are.

There's an interesting paradox at play here: the more we chase non-traditional viewers, the more likely we are to undermine our traditional revenue streams. At its core, that's the challenge that we as Turner employees must work to overcome: how we take advantage of new and growing revenue streams, while not forsaking our profitable core. It's a delicate balance, and the timing of the pendulum shift is key.

THINKING ABOUT THIS VUCA ENVIRONMENT, THE TALENT YOU'RE RECRUITING, SUSTAINING, AND RETAINING NEEDS TO MEET, BUT ALSO DISRUPT COMPETITION. TALK MORE ABOUT WHAT THIS SKILL SET IS.

Part of this skill set is intangible. Prior to these industry changes, Turner was aligned to the preservation of a business model that was working extremely well (and was going to continue working well into the foreseeable future). Our infrastructure was not about taking risk, and a great example of that positioning was in our recruiting practices. We hired for consistency - people who had appropriate degrees, years and years of particular experience, and were "safe bets." The thing about safe bets is that they often yield predictable results... and Turner needs to perform better beyond predictable results right now.

So we are working hard to move from this culture of preservation, to one of generation. As I said earlier, we can't exactly predict what we'll need, but we do know that we need to generate new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new revenue streams. So that's the intangible skill set we're looking for: a significant number of people who are game changers in a game without defined rules. We need people with (I'm borrowing this phrasing) "the interpersonal and intellectual skill sets to prosper in an environment of uncertainty."

"The Box," Turner's innovation kit, provides employees with the tools, guidance, and an expense account to make their ideas a reality for the business.

"The Box," Turner's innovation kit, provides employees with the tools, guidance, and an expense account to make their ideas a reality for the business.

If I'm a hiring manager, it's probably not entirely comfortable to take a gamble on a person who wants to push us and our system. That person might not contribute as much to a department's goals as those goals are defined today. And that's where our recruiting consultants come in: to challenge traditional, safe thinking in the hiring process. Maybe we can't point to a tangible skill set that's needed, or maybe we can't even define what the role should be. But we should be actively working to get smart people who aren't afraid to upend things into our company. It's a level of flexibility - a lack of prescription - that's new to Turner, and I'm happy my team is helping to drive it.

IT'S ONE THING TO HIRE NEW PEOPLE WITH THE AGILITY MINDSET WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT. HOW DO YOU WORK WITH CURRENT EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE HAD AN OPERATING MINDSET AND SKILLS THAT SERVED THEM WELL IN THE PAST? HOW DO YOU CHANGE THAT AND HELP THEM ACCEPT AND BE A PART OF THIS TRANSFORMATION?

The first thing we have to come to terms with as an organization is that not everyone is going to make the commitment to this level of change. Some people want stability and a more certain environment. They joined this company when there was that certainty. They have been rewarded for safe, successful execution. And they will seek employment elsewhere, in an environment that's right for them.

 That's OK. We need to focus our development efforts on the people with whom the new vision of our CEO resonates. With our Turner Leadership Experience (TLX), VP-level leaders can learn how to set the tone with their teams for a different way of operating, including more tolerance for risk and error, rewarding different ideas, and highly valuing new approaches. We have worked hard to fill out upcoming TLX class with leaders who are willing to assume this new mindset, and are looking for the tools and knowledge to help them do so. They are about to set into a development experience unlike any one offered prior at Turner, one meant to mirror the new spirit of the company, and one that ups the game on development - just as we're asking our 12,000 employees to do every day.

IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE RAISING THE BAR FOR TALENT MANAGEMENT. YOU ARE REQUESTING, ENCOURAGING - ACTUALLY EXPECTING - LEADERS TO TAKE RISKS THAT CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO.

The huge irony is that HR - a function that grew from its inception largely to mitigate risk and provide a level of control - now must be a key driver of risk tolerance, bold action, and change readiness. We must pivot as a function, embrace a new type of role, and consult in a different way.

Much like the business we support, there are still traditional, core tasks we need to do exceptionally well. Yet these things need to be done with less energy and time, so that we have the ability to spend increasing resources on new and different ways of working. Just as we are driving agility across Turner, we must fully embrace it ourselves.

TURNER EMBRACES A NEW, FLEXIBLE APPROACH ALLOWING FOR CREATIVE SELF-REVIEWS.

TURNER EMBRACES A NEW, FLEXIBLE APPROACH ALLOWING FOR CREATIVE SELF-REVIEWS.

An example of this pivot is the concerted effort we're undertaking to develop our HR generalists to become coaches, with the hope that they will be able to drive change through that type of role. This is a new stake in the ground. Not only are we skilling up our HR team, but we are asking them to immediately apply those skills by assigning them as Leadership Agility Profile 360 coaches to our TLX participants. We (candidly) have a track record of sending people to certifications and workshops only to see the new concepts and skills never applied. It's not going to happen this time around.

Other examples including building out a new learning web site specifically for Turner employees, developing a learning app that can be accessed on any mobile device, and expanding our social media reach with active Twitter and Instagram profiles. We've adopted a new flexible approach to Performance that's done away with ratings and allows for creative approaches to self-reviews. And we're investing in both virtual and in-person learning experiences, many of which are unexpected - like this recent session with Ron Clark, the inspirational founder of the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta.

Inertia is a strong force and can easily take Turner and its HR team right back to the same old ways of working. We must fight inertia on every front; under the leadership of our CHRO, Angela Santone, we're not only doing so in development and recruiting, but also in diversity, rewards and recognition, benefits, and every other aspect of HR.

In short, we are undertaking a holistic HR transformation, and we know that time is of the essence. Our relevance and impact depend on it.

Leaders in HR and talent management have an important business imperative to focus on HR and Talent Management Agility. Please join Angela Santone, SVP and Chief HR Officer for TURNER for her Keynote Presentation and other HR professionals at the 2016 Human Capital Summit in New Orleans, March 29-30. The theme of that conference is “Agile Talent Strategies for Managing Change and Shifting Priorities,” and we would love to see you there. Click here for more about the HCI Summit. 


About Nick Horney
Nick Horney, Ph.D. is The Agility Doc and Founder of Agility Consulting & Training. He first discovered the value of agility during his 23 years of service as a special operations naval officer responsible for diving and explosive ordnance disposal teams. In these rapidly unfolding and changing circumstances--and now, as an organizational psychologist--Nick discovered that the key ingredient separating good leaders from great leaders is agility.  Learn more about Nick at www.nickhorney.com.

About Gruffie Clough
Gruffie Clough, founder of Clough & Associates, is a consultant, facilitator and trusted advisor to leaders and teams. Her firm's focus is on enhancing the work you do, and producing the measurable, sustainable outcomes that you identify.  Additionally, Gruffie works in high-powered, challenging, and sensitive environments, working to help individuals and teams resolve conflict and stress. Learn more about Gruffie at http://gruffie.com/.