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Announcing the 2nd Annual People Pioneers: Honoring the leaders of the people-first revolution

Accelerating Employee Growth Through Learning & Development Opportunities: Q&A with Joanna Wise, SVP People at Whip Media

Dec 6, 2022| Reading time: 10min

BY Kerrel Brown

Senior Marketing Manager

Joanna Wise joined Whip Media, an enterprise software platform and data provider to more than 50 of the world’s largest entertainment organizations, as Senior Vice President of People in 2021. Joanna also has the distinction of being named a 2nd Annual People Pioneer, honoring her work as a forward-thinking HR leader who has driven impact with people-first strategies.

Read on to learn what it takes to build a people-first People program.

ChartHop: What are your responsibilities at Whip Media?

Joanna Wise: I oversee all things People at Whip Media globally. In a nutshell, I own the creation, delivery, and effectiveness of all People programs, initiatives, and policies across the employee lifecycle to enhance A-level talent attraction, retention, and development. Since we are a small team, I roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty in every facet of Human Resources, while also working closely with the entire executive team to help generate ideas, set strategy, outline risks, and implement plans.

 

CH: You have a unique background in both HR and entertainment. How has that shaped your approach to making Whip Media an attractive place to work? 

JW: Whip Media is at the crossroads of technology and entertainment, which is why I felt this organization would be a great fit for me. Being able to blend my experience and learnings from various industries over the past 25 years, and especially working with global entertainment companies like EPIX and MLB, has enabled me to provide a fresh approach and perspective to making Whip Media a great place to work. Plus, loving movies and television doesn’t hurt either!

 

CH: You’ve implemented a series of initiatives geared towards driving continued learning and development for all employees. Can you tell us more about how you developed these programs and why they’re important? How do you see employee development fitting into the overall HR strategy?

JW: I have always been passionate about learning and development, so I was excited to have the opportunity to bring new mentoring and manager development programs to Whip Media. One of our company goals this year was to accelerate employee growth – which gave me the opportunity to expand our current L&D offering and offer innovative employee programs. 

The mentorship program was designed to help employees to adapt, grow, and be successful. This is important to help employees identify and achieve career development and personal growth goals that support business objectives, while also building a bench of leaders who have people development skills. The program also fosters higher levels of learning and engagement, equips employees with the tools necessary to perform to their highest capability, and provides opportunities for creating a more inclusive, open, and connected workplace. Lastly, our goal was to promote a culture that sees mentorship as an effective way of developing individuals, sharing new ideas, and creating a shared vision.

For the first time, I used an online platform that allowed employees to build their profile and enabled us to select the best match for their mentoring experience. The platform also provided session agendas and the ability to leave feedback. 

When I joined Whip, I spoke with many leaders across the organization and one of the biggest requests was for management training. As part of our commitment to employee growth, and to ensure that our leaders are all equipped with the proper knowledge, skills, and resources to effectively lead people, I launched the Manager Development Program. This program consisted of a DISC assessment and a manager bootcamp, which was a hybrid experience in that there was self-paced learning combined with virtual roundtable discussions. As a global and primarily remote organization, we felt this model worked best to allow all people leaders an opportunity to participate. The Manager Development Program is designed to grow our people managers’ self-awareness and competency in key areas of management such as delegating, coaching, navigating difficult conversations, emotional intelligence, setting expectations, as well as giving and receiving feedback.

As we move into 2023, my goal is to continue to expand on L&D at Whip Media and provide additional learning opportunities for all levels across the organization.

 

CH: Did you see any tangible results as it relates to employee retention since implementing these programs? 

JW: For both programs, survey results show that employees felt that the company was investing in their careers and that they gained valuable tools to help them grow. 

 

CH: What were you seeing or hearing from employees that led to creating solutions to mitigate burnout? What did you implement in response?

JW: Given that most of our employees have been working remotely the past 2-3 years, there has definitely been the loss of traditional working hours. It is recognized that employees are working harder and longer, often without being able to set boundaries between work and home. 

One of the solutions to mitigate burnout that I implemented this spring was “Focus Fridays.” Focus Fridays allow employees to be free of non-essential meetings from 1pm onwards (in their local time zone). This ensures that everyone has a large block of time each week to do focused, heads-down work with minimal distractions. This dedicated time can be used to actually get work done, make headway into never-ending to-do lists, and/or plan for the week ahead, so that we can prevent weekend work and head into the following week with a clean(er) slate. Employees may also opt to carve out time for professional development on Friday afternoons. 

 

CH: What has been the impact on employee engagement as a result of these initiatives?

JW: The general sentiment and impact is that Focus Fridays has been well-received from the top down. Employees tell us they appreciate having an uninterrupted block of time in their schedules to get work done and leave work on Friday afternoon feeling less stressed.

 

CH: What does being a people-first People leader mean to you?

JW: My HR philosophy for 25 years has always been that your people are your biggest asset.  I had a manager many years ago say to me, “Employees should just be happy they have a paycheck,” when I simply asked about having fruit delivered to the office once a week. I was immediately appalled by that comment and knew that company was not the place for me – as I was clearly not aligned with that manager’s vision for how to lead HR.  

That said, I thrive in organizations that prioritize employees first and strive to do the right thing by them. When I was interviewing in 2021, this role at Whip Media spoke to me as the first line in the job description said, “One of Whip’s primary objectives is to foster an engaging and fulfilling environment for employees; we believe that is the key to achieving consistently outstanding business results. As Head of People, you will be the organizational leader charged with ensuring that objective is continually met.” 

I am honored to be a Whipster for the past year, helping to fulfill that mission. I strongly feel that making people your priority will build trust, confidence, and commitment. Being a people-first People leader means you also understand that the importance of employees’ wellbeing, both physical and mental, is essential for organizational success and that you take proactive steps to create conditions that allow employees to thrive. That also means encouraging employees to bring their whole selves to work and showing vulnerabilities, sharing experiences, being open, and being transparent about challenges and difficulties. 

 

CH: What advice would you give to other People leaders looking to transition to a more people-first way of doing HR?

JW: HR professionals walk a fine line between being a people advocate and a business advocate – there is no doubt we are 100% there to support both. But to transition to a more people-first way of doing HR, you will need to find a balance with your leadership team and emphasize that the value of the well-being and happiness of employees matters just as much as the bottom line. Depending on the organizational culture, there may be a strong headwind, but start small and celebrate each win as you build trust to do more and more. 

More Lessons from the 2nd Annual People Pioneers

Interested in even more lessons learned from senior HR leaders? Check out the full list of 2nd Annual People Pioneers and read more about the people-first initiatives they implemented to drive impact through creating a connected team, growing intentionally and sustainably, implementing wellness benefits, and much more.

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