Innovation

Andrea Darweesh: CHRO “tip of the arrow” during organizational change

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When you’re in the business of predicting the weather, you know everything can change in an instant. From their massively successful television station the Weather Channel to multi-platform digital powerhouses like weather.com and Weather Underground, the Weather Company is able to understand what it takes to deliver trustworthy insights in real-time like few other media companies can. As the largest provider of atmospheric and weather information, they operate one of the most powerful—and most volatile—data sets in the world. That kind of reach and influence requires carefully building a team of the right people. Enter the Weather Company’s Andrea Darweesh, Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO).

The Weather Company manages 20 terabytes of data daily from over 800 sources. That’s a lot of raindrops.

Science runs through everything we do. It’s no different with my team’s work—we are all driven by data. On a weekly basis, we ask ourselves: what are our hits on LinkedIn? What’s our feedback from candidates? We look at employee engagement surveys, turnover numbers, exit interviews. If you were to walk into an executive team meeting with a presumption and no data, you’d be shot.

Millennials are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce. What does this mean for you and your team at the Weather Company?

I’m still waiting for the person to write the book on what the boardroom is going to look like when Millennials are running it. But as far as HR coaching goes, it’s no different than learning how to treat Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. It’s just a different working style. Historically we haven’t been great at telecommuting, but we are trying more flexible work arrangements—those soft benefits that those like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook use to attract staff. For Millennials, it’s all about ideology and passion.

So how do you get Millennials excited about the weather?

At least from my perspective, I’ve found nothing that resembles a silver bullet. Our people truly live and die by the work that they do because they’re scientists by background. Even though we’re constantly going back and testing what levers we can pull from a retention standpoint, my team spends 80 percent of our time serving the business, and 20 percent protecting the culture. If business is going well, you can make people want to work here.

What keeps you up at night?

The company is changing. We’re really two businesses under one umbrella: the traditional TV business, which is slow growing and experiencing bumps industry-wide, and a fast-growing media business focused on mobile apps and digital products. I was brought in to be a strategic partner to the CEO during these changes. Because I think of everything through a business lens, I have to constantly think about where the revenue is coming from. For example, if I knew that we were about to drastically expand in our mobile arena, my team would have to manage the impact of this shift internally. This affects internal communications, employee engagement, salaries, training, recruiting and attracting talent—really everything we do in HR. This really does keep me up at night.

How has the field of Human Resources changed the most over your career?

Today we have meaningful data. It’s more than just a gut feeling; we feed insights back into the business and make good HR decisions based on that. The speed in which we move is really impressive—our CEO’s motto is “velocity.” I can have a decision made and pushed through in 36 hours that would take other places weeks. Everything they told me about my role when they brought me on has come true: the magnitude of change, the ability to change business for the better, to invest in people who really care. I get excited to get up every day because of my team.

A recent survey of C-suite executives at global companies found that 42% of high-performing CHROs are female.* That was the highest female-to-male ratio in any C-level leadership role—and more than double the next-highest representation of high-performing top leaders who are female (CMOs, at 16 percent).

Wow, that’s impressive! There are more women in HR, which is likely what’s driving those numbers higher. Some might say it’s because women are more caring, more thoughtful, but I don’t know about that. I don’t think people would ever say “Andrea is soft” when it comes to my work or my approach.

So what makes a successful CHRO?

You have to be direct, transparent, honest, but you truly need to care about the business. I once asked a mentor of mine, “How am I going to know when I’m successful in my role?” He told me the day he overheard a conversation in a meeting between me, finance and operations and couldn’t tell who was who, then he’d consider me a success. Everything we do has to have a clear business objective. From a change standpoint, HR needs to be the tip of the arrow.

*Harvard Business Review, Why Chief Human Resources Officers Make Great CEOs

Senior Writer, THINK Leaders

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