The art of constant adaptation: HR at ninemsn

by 16 Apr 2012

In its simplest form, Krista Parcell’s role as ninemsn’s director of people & culture is about creating a workplace culture that enables employees to be the best that they can be, to harness their strengths and their creativity to bring innovation to the workplace. It is, she says with a laugh, an environment that allows people to bring their personalities to work, and “not a corporate stereotype of themselves”.

“Sometimes I have a wry smile as people are dressed a little too casually but it’s certainly a very eclectic group of employees and that is really part of the culture. It’s about ensuring we create an environment where people can be creative and feel good – there’s lots of colourful hair and I see Gen Y in very interesting outfits at times. It’s a very exciting environment to be in.”

ninemsn is home to some of the biggest brands online including Windows Live, Hotmail, Bing, Cudo and 80+ sites including 9News, Wide World of Sports, Grazia, Women’s Weekly, Cleo, Dolly, TheFIX. Reaching some 9.3 million people per month, ninemsn is the largest online portal in Australia.

With this in mind, ninemsn is a dynamic and unique workplace that brings together a number of young highly skilled professionals. The average age of a ninemsn employee is approximately 28 and even ninemsn CEO Mark Britt is in his early thirties.

 Great expectations

Although Parcell is wary of entering into debate on ‘generational wars’ at work – she believes it’s perhaps been overhyped – she concedes there are differences between generations but these come about as societal norms change, as technology changes, and we interact differently.

“There are certainly differences but I don’t think we need to play so much on those,” she says. “The more interesting challenge is ensuring we’re catering to the diversity of your employee group, regardless of whether that diversity is around age or around different cultural experiences, and even around different values and how they present at work.”

She adds that it’s about understanding where people are within their individual lifecycle as well. Flexible work practices, she says, may be important not just for people who are having kids, but it might also be appealing for people who are training to do a triathlon, or people who are learning how to cook, or doing something outside of work they are passionate about.

“It’s important to ensure that what you put in place from the HR structure perspective can flex to do that. And people should be able to bring elements of their life to work as well,” she says.

That said, with such a young average age employee, Parcell is in a unique position to track what is important to this younger demographic. In terms of what they expect from ninemsn as an employer, two things stand out: a commitment to social responsibility and diverse career paths.

“There’s an element of social responsibility that comes to the forefront more with Gen Y than it has with other generations. What I mean by that is while there’s always been an element of being socially responsible as a company, organisational success for Gen Y’s tends to look a little bit different; it’s not just about how successful the company is from the monetary or financial perspective, but it’s also about how the company uses those assets or those skills to then support the community.”

ninemsn employees undertake volunteer work with The Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN) and KidsXpress that enables employees to use skills that they have in the workplace in a way that benefits those externally in the community. “It’s really important for Gen Y,” says Parcell. “Just having the traditional day off to volunteer isn’t enough – you need to have something that’s far more impactful and talks to a greater purpose.”

In terms of career planning, Parcell says younger workers are particularly interested in seeing some diversity in their career paths instead of the hierarchical process of moving up through the organisation. “For example, it’s not ‘if I go from one role to the next to the next it’s mapped out forever more that I will be a producer’. It’s about being able to traverse across different functions and develop different skills within the organisation and create a meaningful career that has breadth and depth in experience.”

From there, Parcell adds, it’s about HR providing the structures to ensure people are remunerated appropriately even if they are not necessarily moving up the corporate ladder, but are adding a different level of skill or are broadening their skill base.

Parcell feels this flexible and tailored approach to career development is one of the major benefits for an organisation of ninemsn’s size (around 380 employees). “We run a talent planning process twice a year that’s quite a deep dive where we look at each individual, what their strengths are, what we know about their career aspirations and what their succession plan might look like.”

She adds that the whole process is made much easier by having leaders who take an interest in employee development, and who encourage a culture whereby those career discussions are commonplace – not just once a year.


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