"We have our mojo back"

Increased confidence and a renewed sense of purpose were the dominant sentiments across Sanoma in 2014. Chief Human Resources Officer Jackie Cuthbert says that Sanoma will now continue to focus on culture and skills in 2015 in order to return to growth in 2016.

A lot has changed in the three and a half years since Cuthbert assumed leadership of Sanoma’s HR function. Back then the mood was one of uncertainty, since it had not yet been possible to convert the urgent need for transformation into a clear focus. Last year’s restructuring and the acceleration of the transformation agenda has changed all that. "The transformation process has turned a corner and the mood is becoming more positive and forward-looking now. We have our mojo back,"  Cuthbert says. In 2014, Sanoma made the tough decisions that were required to manage the company’s cost base, the portfolio was streamlined and a new matrix organisation was put through its paces. Cuthbert believes that the company will build on that momentum in 2015 and return to organic growth in 2016. "We are ramping up our innovation and exploring new business models. And increasingly, we are playing as one company in a game that we’re determined to win."

Energetic leadership

Sanoma also launched two Pulse surveys in 2014. "Some 80% of our people indicated that in spite of uncertainties and massive changes, they still felt engaged." The results also reflect an evolution in Sanoma’s leadership style. "Our leaders are increasingly embracing uncertainty and acting as a catalyst for change. It's leadership that brings the energy that is so essential to a creative business." Pulse results are directly linked to bonus targets for the top 150. "Few companies have the balls to make that link, but we are really serious about this transformation." 

An Employee Engagement Survey was also launched at the end of 2014, with a response rate of 77%.The results clearly show that employees are supporting the company’s direction. "There is more focus on innovation, we are becoming more agile in adopting new ways of working and our team spirit is strong. Also, sharing know-how is becoming part of our DNA and our employees are feeling supported during these exciting but turbulent times. At the same time, it is clear that we need to shift the focus towards Sanoma’s bright future and make employee well-being a bigger priority."

Workforce planning

By streamlining its organisation, Sanoma has increased its scope for investing in its people. Workforce planning provides Sanoma with an opportunity to forecast which capabilities are needed to return to growth in a fast-paced media market.

"We will be strengthening our capabilities in areas such as online and mobile development, marketing and sales, technology relating to architecture & IT sourcing, whilst data analytics also continues to be a skill in demand.  In our Learning business, instructional design in editorial expertise, education method development and didactical skills and knowledge) will be some of the focus areas for us to develop."

In addition to clarifying future capability requirements, workforce planning enables Sanoma to deal systematically with risks related to growth. "One major workforce risk is our organisational structure, which needs fine-tuning after the major changes in 2015. Competences are another risk. Do we have the right people on board and do we understand which skills we will need in the future? We have undergone some significant changes that have had an impact on the way we operate and increased the organisation’s readiness to move forward. However, change always leads to uncertainty, so we need to allow time for employees to get used to a new and different way of working."

Attractive employer

Fortunately, Sanoma remains an attractive employer. "Originally, we enjoyed a strong reputation in print. Over the past three years we have invested in TV, carved out a digital business and become a truly cross-media, multi-platform company. In Learning, we are the frontrunners in the digital transformation in all our operating countries. In other words, this is a cool place to work."  Efforts are underway to further increase the company’s employer brand and reputation, with the aim of making Sanoma an employer of choice. With Sanoma moving so fast, succession planning becomes vital in order to ensure that the leadership remains consistently strong.

"Over the past three years we have invested in TV, carved out a digital business and become a truly cross-media, multi-platform company. In other words, this is a cool place to work"

"In 2014 we identified successors for all the Executive Management Group positions and we are doing the same for the top 80 ‘chairs’. We have identified internal candidates who we feel could rise through the ranks, but in some cases we will turn to external hires. They will also bring in fresh ideas."

Learning and development

For the remainder of 2015, Cuthbert’s team will focus on culture and skills. The Pulse surveys showed that more confidence is needed, so Sanoma will help people to understand their role in the transformation process with the support of the performance management cycle. Sanoma will also create more opportunities for rewarding the right behaviours when they lead to tangible results. This will be achieved by launching recognition initiatives that allow all Sanoma employees to recognise and be recognised for Sanoma’s successes, thereby reinforcing Sanoma’s values. 

On the skills side, Sanoma will further expand the learning and development curriculum, focusing on new media know-how, industry knowledge and well-being. In keeping with Sanoma’s new-found entrepreneurial zest, the company will adopt a ‘launch and learn’ approach to skills assessment and development. This will involve moving quickly from a pilot scheme to measuring results and then replicating what works. By offering employees the opportunity to assess their current digital skills relative to future requirements, Sanoma aims to build up the organisation’s digital know-how gradually among all employee groups. 

This approach makes sense in a media & Learning industry that is in permanent flux. And while not one media company out there has found ‘the’ answer to the constantly changing landscape, Cuthbert believes that Sanoma is in a position to be a game changer. "We have the capability, we have the willpower, and we have the history. There is a feeling at Sanoma that we are in a position to build up a legacy, both for the company and the industry."