In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Manu N Wadhwa, CHRO- Sony Pictures Networks India talks about her rollercoaster journey, the importance of being agile and the benefits of aligning HR Systems with business strategy. She further emphasizes the importance of investing in innovation, intrapreneurship and AI & technology. She also shares some good tips for achieving work-life balance and being happy in the present.
The key to success in today’s world is taking everyone along and that is only possible when we co-own goals as well as the rewards that come with it. It has always helped me garner support from stakeholders across all walks of life.
With your rich experience of over two decades across multiple industries and countries and having worked for globally dynamic organisations, how would you describe this transcending journey of yours? What were some of the key elements in your journey which helped you soar professionally?
I would describe it in 2 words – Rollercoaster Ride – filled with excitement, highs, lows, and most importantly, fulfilment. Starting from my first work assignment in Tata Unisys, as branch accountant, to progressing in my work profiles in world-class organisations like GE, American Express, Coca-Cola and now Sony Pictures, life has been kind and leaders have been progressive to have provided me with opportunities to learn and contribute towards challenging assignments while giving me constant guidance and air-cover along the way.
The key elements that helped me soar professionally in my journey are –
1. Raising my hands for complex assignments- This pushed me to have an accelerated learning curve rather than a normal learning curve, alongside raising the bar
on personal excellence.
2. Failing fast – Resilience, when things didn’t / don’t go my way. It’s very easy to stop the course of one’s effort
when faced with push back or failures, but I have constantly worked hard to not stop, especially when the going gets
3. Collaboration – The key to success in today’s world is taking everyone along and that is only possible when we
co-own goals as well as the rewards that come with it. It has always helped me garner support from stakeholders
across all walks of life.
4. Focus on holistic wellness – I strongly believe that focus on self-wellbeing is the key to sustainability – I don’t believe in –running sprints but rather believe in having the stamina to participate in a marathon.
As digital technologies make it easier to work in a distributed manner, flat structures will become increasingly common. In your opinion, why is it time to re-design traditional company structures? Also, how will leadership work in these flat structures and self-managed teams?
Traditional organisational structures are hierarchical, and employees are departmentalized with all employees following a chain of command. The time where organisations were treated like machines, has seen a paradigm shift
in the way that organisations now balance stability and dynamism.
We are living in a VUCA world, where AGILITY is the key to an organisation’s growth and sustainability. In an ecosystem, where market dynamics shift by the minute, it’s imperative and rather urgent to re-think our approach
to structures and re-design them to enable the organisation with nimbleness and address the needs of the market with speed.
The keyword in today’s environment is Agile.
• Agile Leadership: The ability to see the future; having the foresight and being proactive if you can’t predict the future, is essential.
• Agile teams: While having a stable backbone organisation structure, the need to build on non-traditional, non-hierarchical swarm teams which are scalable and flexible.
• Agile Learning: Getting learning personalized and building models of lifelong learning which incentivize and motivate employees to invest in developing new skills.
While the above is important, one key message would be, not to lose your sanity in this time of supersonic change.
Successful agile organisations consistently exhibit trademarks which include a network of teams within a people-centred culture that operates in rapid learning and fast decision cycles enabled by technology, and a common
purpose that co-creates value for all stakeholders.
For teams to work effectively, they will have to un-learn formal administrative structure-based working and get into collaborative project-based work patterns where teams come together basis their skills, expertise, experience to work on a common goal and disband to work on another key work agenda.
As leaders, we can span the scope of our business by engaging people outside of their direct control and getting them to work as a team with a common goal – more importantly, getting employees together at all levels with clear accountability.
HR is evolving and gradually becoming a partner with the top management in the growth of the organisation. Can you explain how can organisations benefit from HR and management collaboration and by aligning HR Systems with business strategy?
Preparation for the future workforce means more than just reacting to changing trends, it requires that workforce
issues, including developing talent, implementing learning programs, succession planning, and onboarding, be on the C-suite agenda.
The growth agenda of organisations require HR to become business advisors in the true sense – to provide talent, development and succession partnership. By creating ownership of these key workforce agendas in the management’s priorities, HR is able to co-own and drive accountability leading to value beyond ROI – more
innovation, high-performance culture, agile processes and increased collaboration, ultimately leading to business growth and profitability.
Many firms today are looking to boost their competitive advantage through intrapreneurship and structural innovation. What role does HR play in the innovative process? In your opinion, how can HR leaders foster a culture of innovation through intrapreneurship?
It is important to invest in culture-building blocks thinking about consumer first, creating offerings that maximize value, taking bold decisions & lastly failing fast. This needs us to act as change leaders by contributing to process change and improving the organisation’s capacity to do so.
At SPN, we believe in building a culture where ideas thrive. In line with this, we launched the first edition of ‘SPNI Pitchers’, a unique contest which gave our employees a platform to share their own original show concept ideas.
Earlier this year, we also launched the first edition of ‘Live Your Dream’ Contest for all our women employees where they could share a personal dream project that they are passionate about and pursue them with financial assistance from SPN. Initiatives like these have impacted the environment and created organisational change, alongside bringing about a culture of intrapreneurship.
When we talk about Artificial Intelligence and Technology on strategy, innovation and execution, how is Sony Pictures Networks India undertaking some unique experiments in this area? What challenges have you encountered so far in implementing these strategies?
As technology continues to develop at a rapid pace, artificial intelligence is no longer a future concept to work toward. We, at SPN, are constantly looking at ways to leverage AI and technology, thereby improving overall
employee experience and business performance.
From introducing a work collaboration tool to a chatbot that will integrate our systems to offer employees instant responses to their queries thereby improving the employee experience, to moving to agile performance management systems, we are on our way to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to embracing AI and technology.
Some of the challenges encountered have been:
As I have been saying, ‘Junk the Job description’, it’s high time that we look at skills and experiences gathered rather than job titles. As predicted, AI would lead to the creation of more, however different jobs. In the long- term, jobs would become ‘Superjobs’- jobs that need to focus on the human dimension of work and AI would be able to
provide significant productivity gains. The workforce/people would need to embrace this rapid change and upskill to understand AI-driven technology and be prepared for the redesigned roles.
Ultimately, the success of AI implementation within an organisation depends on how well the solution integrates
with existing infrastructure and business functions. We need to be flexible enough to adopt new business models, new team models, and new workflows across all departments and teams. Incorporating AI into the business
is as much a people and process problem as it is a technology one.
We need to be flexible enough to adopt new business models, new team models, and new workflows across all departments and teams. Incorporating AI into the business is as much a people and process problem as it is a
Furthermore, in your opinion, CHANGE MANAGEMENT how has social media, social conversation, and digital in general changed the characteristics of “good” leadership over the last few years and how will this continue to evolve?
The social media revolution has created a new reality that pervades almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives – and the revolution continues. It has created a shift in how people communicate with each other, discover, read and share information.
There is an increasing need for leaders to optimize their influence in a world where there is a fusion of psychological and technological skills –they need to be internally as well as externally more consumer-centric, employee-centric and yet efficient and profitable.
There are many benefits of a social media presence – the ability to build and strengthen the corporate brand, to manage crises and to reveal a human side that consumers and employees can relate to.
In my view, through this channel, the characteristics of leadership have changed in the below ways:
1. Leaders can take better decisions through easier access to unfiltered information –they can grasp on-ground reality in a fast, continual and accurate way. The increase in transparency and flow of information is becoming all
the more critical to success, particularly for the large, global, complex systems that our organisations have become.
2. Building networks and relationship is a much-required competency for all, and senior leaders in particular. There
is a need to have connections that arise within communities, born from a shared sense of belonging, acknowledgement of emotions and co-creation of work, thereby engaging consumers and employees in the real sense thus leading to better business performance through relational engagement.
3. Social media channels generate new types of interaction and are fundamentally experiential. This enhances the capacity to welcome diverse input. As a result, culture becomes reflective of more voices and leaders can synchronize the complexity of the world to transform disruptions into opportunities.
The positive effects for leaders, who choose to dive right in, extend well beyond the leaders themselves, potentially rewire organisations for the better.
It is a time where the world around us is always changing and handling change becomes critical to an organisation’s success. According to you, what is the right strategic approach to ‘change management’ and how can one ensure preparedness and stability for change by empowering the human resources department?
It is a great time to be in the workforce when we are transitioning to Industry 4.0; we are witness to the many changes that are transforming organisations, and as leaders responsible for managing the ambiguity and volatility with speed and agility.
Refresh: Leadership Context
My focus as a member of the leadership team is to leverage our collective ability to develop and foster organisation performance. It’s about, how we as leaders can combine our experiences and our traditionally sought expectations
with new leadership competencies to help our organisation pursue success and work on more integrated solutions
Rewire: The Way We Work
Collaboration is multiplication, the need for cross-pollination for solutioning is the way to work. New mindsets and technologies are easing the shift to new team-based models of work. The focus is to build on talent practices and
behaviours that fully support a team-based operating model.
Reimagine: Engagement & Learning
Changing demographics, employee expectations and the war for talent has challenged organisations to appeal to the most in-demand and diverse workforce. What we are focusing on is – curating new and hyper-personalized experiences, movement among and between jobs and non- linear career portfolios to appeal to talent. Also, new models of life-long learning where we look at alternative forms of learning for the workforce to be geared up
for the new roles and bringing meaning to work.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
The percentage of women tends to decrease as they climb the corporate ladder. According to you, how can build a pipeline of female leaders at all levels of the organisation help to get more women into leadership roles?
I think it all starts from the root – when the inflow from the education system itself is low, then trying to solve for issues with women in leadership positions is myopic, and entails looking at just the symptoms. Women constitute
almost 50% of the population, however, only 27% are enrolled in tertiary education. In order to move this number upward, a partnership with the education ecosystem of the country is a must.
Alongside, at an organisation level, one of the key things to manage is a culture of inclusion and flexible working patterns when women need it the most – different life stages of marriage, mobility and motherhood. It is essential to
institute greater flexibility and a more empathetic approach to empower women to excel at fulfilling their multifaceted roles and responsibilities. At SPN, we aim at creating an environment that is conducive to striking the right balance between personal and professional life for all its employees, with a specific focus on gender diversity. Supporting
SPN’s policies include flexible working hours, forward-looking parental support for women like preferential parking for expecting mothers, on-site mother’s room, to enhanced maternity benefit (for birth, adoption and surrogacy) and free daycare support across all India offices for unhindered career development. Through regular awareness campaigns, SPN reiterates its stringent anti-sexual harassment policy and prioritizes women’s safety.
Another important area of focus is to build the pipeline – spot women talent early on and give them ample opportunities to grow and learn along with providing the right support along the way to help them transition into leadership roles.
In your opinion, is happiness a consequence or cause of career success? Also, what are some of your good tips for achieving work-life balance in today’s competitive work culture?
Happiness is essential to the existence and sustenance of human life. Being a staunch advocate of IKIGAI, I believe that our core purpose should be centred around “Being Happy in the Present” and the surrounding ecosystem should support this cause – whether it’s our mission, passion, vocation or profession.
My mantra to achieving my IKIGAI has been to integrate my life goals and operate in harmony around them. For example, my goals (at this life stage) focus on my holistic health, family, professional prosperity and contributing to the advancement of my country’s vision to be a superpower in the global economy.
I take each day at a time and make sure that the 24 hours in my day have a prevalence of most of these life goals – a constant check-in also helps. There are times when one goal takes precedence over the other – it’s ok if I can fulfil them all in the course of my timelines.
Most importantly, the key to achieving one’s IKIGAI is to accept what life brings you since things are not always in your control and you may not always get what you want. It’s the spirit of still making the best of what one has – which eventually leads to happiness.