HR Leader Interview – Vanessa Morley from Nine.

Vanessa Morley is the Director of People and Culture from Nine. Vanessa shared with Tim some of the challenges and changes that she has encountered over the past 18 months.

Vanessa, the majority of our readers will know about the Nine / Fairfax merger in 2018. As the People & Culture Leader for Nine, what has that meant for you and your team over the past 18 months?

It’s been a wild ride! I had only been at Nine for about 6 weeks before I found out about the merger of Nine and Fairfax, so to say it has been a steep learning curve is a massive understatement. Not only was I still getting my head around the media industry, I was suddenly thrust into planning the integration of these two iconic organisations.

But in many ways, there was no better project for me to work on to demonstrate the value of the People and Culture function. We had to quickly work on how to become one team so that we could support the business. And that’s not an easy task when you come in with completely different cultures, ways of working, systems, policies, processes and structures. We had a mantra as we went through – life is like a rollercoaster, you can either scream at every bump, or throw your hands in the air and have some fun! And for the most part, that’s what we did. Each and every member of my team have come out better People and Culture leaders as a consequence of the transaction. And I hope they would all say the same about me.

What have been the major People & Culture projects you and your team have focused on?

We’ve been really focused on integration at every level – teams, processes, policies etc. Importantly, we recognised and valued the need for different sub-cultures across our very diverse business, so one thing we didn’t do is try to drive a homogenous culture across the business. Instead, we’ve focused on the things that are core to our identity – passion, curiosity, confidence – so that no matter where you are within Nine, they will shine through.

Across the business we’ve implemented a number of new things. In development, we’ve introduced a new Leadership Program, Take the Lead, as well as a Women Leading @ Nine Program.

We’ve built on our Continuous Listening Strategy, with regular opportunities for our employees to give us insight into what matters most for them right now.

We’ve done a lot of work in Mental Health and Wellbeing, and accredited Mental Health First Aiders across the business. Our industry is somewhat unique when it comes to mental health, as we have to consider not only our own employees like our journalists (who are often first responders to some pretty difficult scenes) but also increasingly for reality TV participants.

We’re preparing for a huge cultural change when we relocate our Sydney businesses into one Nine Sydney later this year – so we’ve led the change strategy across all sites to help ready our people to come together into a new home for Nine.

And we’ve changed our People Operating Model, so that we are focused on doing the work that delivers the most impact and delivers what the business needs and values.

We’re now doing all of that again, with bringing Nine Radio (formerly Macquarie Radio) into the business. But thankfully that transition is a lot easier because of all the work we have already done.

What has been the appetite for change in the business?

The great thing about media is that it constantly changes and is prepared to take risks – so the appetite has been huge, though not always easy. That said, we very deliberately tried to minimise the amount of change initially. We allowed people to get comfortable with the fact that we were a new business before we rolled out too many changes.

From a specific People and Culture perspective, everything we’ve introduced over the last year has been positively received – and whilst not everything has been perfect, our ability to experiment, iterate and constantly evolve what we are delivering has meant we’re supporting the business through change. If we demonstrate the impact we will have, generally our leaders have been prepared to give it a go! That’s of course all been built on trust that we wouldn’t be suggesting change unless we thought it was necessary and was going to deliver.

The biggest catalyst for change is coming up, when our Sydney offices relocate into one building. That’s where our biggest headcount is, so having all our brands in one home will have a phenomenal impact on our business and the way we work. As I said, we’re closely and deliberately managing that change process so that our people are informed, excited and ready for the opportunities that relocation brings.

Would you do anything differently if you had to start over?

We moved from announcement to merger in three months, with a view that we’d start day one as we intended to continue. That meant we did a lot of our organisational design virtually, without really knowing the structure or the individuals involved. Or we had to take on board the feedback of leaders who were exiting the business without having the opportunity to form our own view. We got some things wrong as a result and had to revisit our structure quickly in some parts of our business, which was difficult when the message we’d sent to our people was that we were done. In an ideal world, we also wouldn’t have been doing all of this in the lead up to Christmas – but then we don’t live in an ideal world!

What has been the most rewarding part of your role?

I love the creativity that comes with being part of this business. Working with incredibly creative people and seeing the approach they take to building great content has been fascinating. It’s allowed me to be creative in the approach we take to People and Culture – we do things slightly differently here and that is ok! It’s really rewarding to see the impact that we are having on the business. We’re invited into conversations that we wouldn’t have been in a couple of years ago. We can really see the difference we are making at a leadership and cultural level, and how that benefits the business. And I’m incredibly proud of the team we’ve built, both my leadership team and beyond, and the way they have embraced change and come on the ride with me.

Being part of Nine is also its own reward. I love being part of a brand that connects Australians – millions of people engage with our product every day whether it’s for a trusted source of news and current affairs, or for entertainment. That’s something I feel really proud of!