Jason Mullens, Chief Human Resources Officer, and Sonia Vora, Head of Talent in Human Resources at Cetera Financial Group, talked about keeping the soul of HR strong through organizational challenges.
Mullens began his and Vora’s keynote presentation at the 2016 Human Capital Leadership Forum held on September 28 in Los Angeles by asking how many in the audience were in their job in 2008 or when a new CEO came on board or when their company went through a bankruptcy or ownership change. “We at Cetera have gone through a bankruptcy and are on our third CEO in the last three and a half years,” he said.
“I decided, for this presentation, that Jason and I should collapse the last six months of our experience into twenty minutes and talk about what we’ve got going on,” explained Vora. “For the last few years, we’ve been in a constant state of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s been one shoe after another, every three months. How could we prepare for an upcoming bankruptcy? Everyone at the company was great at emergency response, but, I asked Jason, ‘How do we do long-term planning based on this reality?’”
“I believe HR should never be at the front of what happens in a company,” Mullens stated. “We should be the invisible facilitator to move companies along in a positive way. When a company is going through a major change, this is our higher calling. Our role is to be optimistic, energized, and focused on the priorities. We do this normally, but we especially need to do it in a crisis situation.”
“I believe HR should never be at the front of what happens in a company. We should be the invisible facilitator to move companies along in a positive way.”
“Not long before the bankruptcy, we were working through 11 acquisitions and restructuring as a result of that,” said Vota, “so we had to regain the muscle memory of what we did in HR before. Jason reminded me about the soul of HR—determining the mission, vision, and guiding principles of the organization and aligning our senior leaders with these. ‘Our leaders are utterly distracted,’ Jason said at the time. So,” Vota asked Mullens, “how did you accomplish that alignment?”
“We began a re-recruiting strategy to reassure our senior leaders and keep them on board,” replied Mullens. “We needed people to pivot and get excited again about the possibilities. We got the CEO, the President, and other leaders on board while we appealed to our influencers at lower levels. Once we had momentum and support as part of the culture again, this is what we did,” he said, handing the baton to Vota.
“We began a re-recruiting strategy to reassure our senior leaders and keep them on board. We needed people to pivot and get excited again about the possibilities.”
“We started with the leaders in a sort of town-hall forum in which we discussed mission, vision, and principles, but we now had new principles,” Vota continued. “Leaders told us it was important to have someone real talking to them about the way forward. We’re now implementing these ideas and weaving them into performance management, learning and development, reward and recognition, and other things we’re building out right now. We’re seeing a few green shoots of the culture shifting.”
“A new CEO always helps to drive people to do better,” observed Mullens. “We’re through the bankruptcy and we’re getting our focus back. I informally encourage people in every way I can to try to keep that momentum going. Our customers are excited about where we’re going, and we’re also seeing the effects on the recruiting side.”
Mullens asked Vota what she would have done differently during those challenging times.
“I believe we should have made more time to travel around the country (if that’s where your people are) to do interviews and focus groups to bring people more into the process at the design stage. People want to be a part of idea generation and they also want a venue to productively complain,” Vota said.
“We in HR are the stewards of company culture, and it can be difficult to maintain that vision when the company appears to be in trouble,” added Vota. “We have to find that soul in ourselves to keep the culture strong.”
“We in HR are the stewards of company culture, and it can be difficult to maintain that vision when the company appears to be in trouble.”
ABOUT JASON MULLENS:
Jason Mullens is Chief Human Resources Officer for Cetera Financial Group and a member of the executive management team. He’s responsible for leading all aspects of Cetera’s human resources and works closely with leaders throughout the organization to increase engagement among associates, helping them deliver outstanding service and support to advisors.
Jason has spent nearly two decades developing expertise across the portfolio of human resources functions and programs. Along the way, he gained significant experience in supporting companies acquiring businesses and helping to integrate thousands of employees.
Before joining Cetera, he served as Chief Human Resources Officer for QBE the Americas, where he helped transform its human resources function while supporting the businesses to integrate four legacy organizations and a large acquisition. He was also responsible for their marketing and communications organization.
Prior to QBE, Jason held positions with a series of Fortune 500 companies, developing a reputation for working closely with the business to build and execute on value-added human resources programs. He spent nearly nine years at Bank of America, where he supported a range of business areas from investment banking to corporate risk management and, ultimately, the consumer bank. He began his career and gained his foundational financial services and human resources knowledge at Goldman Sachs.
Jason received his Bachelor of Business Administration from Stetson University in DeLand, Florida.
ABOUT SONIA VORA:
As the Head of Talent for Cetera Financial group based in Los Angeles, Sonia is responsible for building and leading a suite of talent solutions for a high-growth financial services firm. Prior to this role, Sonia was the Head of Global Development for the Northern Trust Company, focused particularly on international expansion, change management, and leadership development. Her early experience in investment banking and strategy consulting helped her bring a financial and consultative approach to HR. Sonia has an MBA in international finance from Georgetown University and an MA in Creative Writing from Temple University.