When Archana Singh signed on as EVP and CHRO at John Wiley & Sons in 2016, she knew she was taking on a tall order.
Wiley, a global leader in research and education, was in the midst of a large-scale global technology transformation to shift the company’s focus to digital offerings.
“The business was changing, and we needed to adapt,” Singh said. “Wiley is about education, research, and learning,” Singh said, “but the way these things were being consumed was changing. Our challenge was to pivot to get ahead of trends in consumption and continue to build value for our assets.”
It was Singh’s goal to position HR squarely in the middle of that change.
“I intended to re-energize HR as a catalyst for organizational change,” she said. “It was about transforming HR to shape and support business goals and objectives. It was up to me to say: What holds us back as an organization? What are we moving toward? It was a process of discovery.”
Singh and her team looked at several key areas through an HR lens.
Singh started by looking at Wiley’s organizational structure.
“We had three times the number of managers that we should have had. We needed to be more limber than that. The organization had to move with agility.”
All of those layers of managers were bogging Wiley down in bureaucracy and red tape.
“We’d have to go through five layers of approvals to make a decision,” she explained. “That’s bureaucracy. We needed to make a change so junior managers weren’t waiting for approvals. We had to identify the barriers holding us back. Who owns decisions? How can we simplify decision making?”
Strengths vs. weaknesses
In any company, transformation can address weaknesses, but it can also impact existing strengths. Singh sees this as a positive. She points out that strengths can change over time and become barriers, so she also looked at the company’s core cultural strengths with a critical eye.
“At Wiley, one of our strengths is that we’re nice,” she said, “but that can morph into people being indirect. Our challenge is making sure we maintain the good elements of this behavior while encouraging changes toward more direct communication and feedback.”
One outgrowth of changing the culture of indirect communication was the need to get back to basics and define what optimal performance would look like.
“Managers need to enable performance, not manage performance,” she said. “We needed to be more direct and candid instead of having conversations behind closed doors.”
Indirect communication styles between managers and employees significantly contributed to a lack of engagement in the performance evaluation process.
Singh sought to change that by bringing in business leaders to have discussions about the positive impact performance evaluations have had on their careers.
“We have 40 business leaders front and center talking about performance discussions,” she said. “Our organization has never heard from business leaders in this way, so it helped employees understand the value of performance evaluations.”
HR processes are business processes
The key underlying all of Singh’s efforts was to align HR processes with business processes.
“The HR process is not an HR process, it is a business process.” Over the course of 12 to 15 months and three CEO changes, she has guided a mindset shift that centers performance reviews as a critical business process.
She continues her work to enable decision-making and management, while partnering with the CEO to keep HR front and center of Wiley’s business goals.
“We are extending and connecting our new CEO’s vision to HR to drive business goals even further.”