How CHROs Can Be The Best ‘Keepers Of The Culture’

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Healthy corporate culture doesn’t just happen; it has to be intentional, says Kevin Silva, CHRO of Voya Financial.

Companies can have “cultures by default” or they can have cultures that are “planned, well-managed and continually developing,” says Kevin Silva, CHRO of Voya Financial, a financial, retirement, investment and insurance company based in New York City. The goal, of course, is the latter.

Silva spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about how CHROs can play a critical role in shaping constructive company cultures, the CHRO-CEO relationship and what pandemic changes you can’t undo.

Voya is known for having a strong culture. What have been some cultural enhancements to the organization since you became CHRO?

Culture is the output of a multi-dimensional formula as well as thoughtful and planned investments. Every company has a culture, and it is recognized by employees as the sum of leadership and management behaviors that they see. A company can have a culture by default and, in those cases, it is defined by the random acts and behaviors of a senior team. Or, a company can have a culture that is planned, well-managed and continually developing, which is the result of a significant investment over time.

Key elements of a planned culture include the tracking and training of leadership behaviors; an investment in diversity and inclusion; and a rewards program that identifies and rewards behaviors that support the culture.

How can an organization attain a planned culture?

Culture is not what management says it is, and it is not what companies aspire to—it is defined by the daily life work experience of employees. That can be understood and validated through employee surveys. An organization should start with a benchmark to understand how the culture is perceived by employees and then establish an aspiration for where you want to go.

You must be intentional about developing and measuring the path from where the culture is today and where it needs to be. When a company establishes that aspiration and employee survey results conflict with that aspiration, that’s a culture in crisis. When survey results align with the aspiration, the culture is in harmony with the organization. My advice to CHROs and CEOs is to ensure they know where they are on that spectrum.

Post-pandemic, what is Voya’s approach to the future of work? What is the role of HR in charting that course?

Voya’s approach is to use the pandemic as a platform to evolve, unlock the full potential of our employees and enable us to service our customers in new, innovative ways. We’ve learned a lot from the crisis. People have adopted new work styles and habits, as well as new ways of communicating, and we want to take all of those learnings and make them part of our future competitive advantage.

What advice would you share with other CHROs on how to approach the future work environment?

HR leaders need to talk to, listen to and survey employees and senior leadership teams. Understand that you will find differences. Then, determine what you want to accommodate and implement based on what you heard from both groups. Force-fitting a solution that came from a single point of view will not lead to success.

This is a new world, and we shouldn’t try to re-create the past. People have rethought their living locations and their commuting patterns, and they have incorporated their families into their work lives. It’s hard to undo that—especially the pieces that work well for them. There are aspects of our new working environment that have a positive impact on people’s lives, and leaders need to understand what those are.

The pandemic isn’t over. There are disparities in populations and regions getting vaccinated. There are strains that are spreading. Organizations are going to need to be agile to manage the trailing challenges of the pandemic.

As a strategic advisor to the CEO, what are key components to being successful in your role?

In order to be an advisor to the CEO, one needs to understand how the CHRO and the function adds value. It is the CEO who gets to measure that value as well. Successful CHROs provide counsel to the CEO, senior leadership team and board of directors that is unique and incremental to advice that the CEO can get from other sources, and they partner with the CEO in moving major strategic initiatives with the board. Successful CHROs understand the CEO’s strategic and personal goals and determine how the CHRO supports those goals—as such, they understand how to identify, qualify, build and continuously develop the strongest senior team surrounding the CEO.

Successful CHROs also understand how to improve the productivity and quality of the entire workforce, while reducing the expense of that workforce and providing appropriate awards for meaningful contributions. Overall, CHROs are the keeper of the culture, in partnership with the CEO.

How does HR lead the way on inclusion, diversity and equity?

As a key driver of culture, HR is integral to establishing a culture where employees feel supported, empowered and comfortable in bringing their full, authentic selves to work. At Voya, our HR team is working with senior leaders, who have accepted ownership of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), are accountable and actively working DEI plans within their respective organizations.

We recognize that employees with differing skills, ideas and backgrounds enables us to look at things differently and, collectively, design better solutions for our customers. With that in mind, one of our priorities is targeted recruitment, development, advancement and retention of underrepresented talent.

While hiring diverse candidates at every level should be a priority, companies should be intentional about attracting, hiring and promoting underrepresented talent into leadership level roles. The ability to attract and retain diverse talent will only improve when people are able to visualize themselves in their leaders and have a solid career path.  

Additionally, HR plays an integral role in the establishment of employee resource groups (ERGs), which are led and comprised of employees who share a characteristic, whether it’s gender, ethnicity, lifestyle or interest. At Voya, 30 percent of our employees belong to one of our 11 ERGs, and they are instrumental in informing and advancing our DEI work. 

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