“Talent is the most significant source of competitive differentiation. If you don’t have the right people and you don’t have a high performing diverse team, you are certainly not going to be able to deliver on your strategic goals and your commercial business will flounder”, Faye Woodhead, executive director and global head of talent attraction and mobility at investment firm MSCI, tells UNLEASH ahead of her appearance at our upcoming INSPIRE European summit with iCIMS on 21 October.
This is why she loves working in the HR, and particularly people-focused space. Woodhead’s career began in the early careers space at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, then in 2004 she joined the HR team at Deutsche Bank also focused on graduate and early careers talent acquisition.
After 15 years at Deutsche Bank she took the “very difficult decision” to leave and seek out a new challenge in the “smaller disruptive and growth environment” of MSCI. The investment firm only employs 3,500 employees but has a $50bn market capitalization, which is the same size of competitors with 150,000 workers.
MSCI shares Woodhead’s passion for the need to prioritize the needs of employees.
According to Woodhead, the firm has “a performance and growth culture” meaning “we operate based on trust and results”. Presenteeism has no place at MSCI – “it is not about face time, it is not about hours, it is about trust between employees and their managers”, as well as engagement and transparency.
D,E&I as a cornerstone of MSCI’s culture
Another related central pillar of MSCI’s culture is diversity, equity and inclusion (D,E&I). Woodhead explains: “We are an incredibly inclusive organization. It is something that not only do we measure, but there is also a [formal] link to our executives’ pay”.
This links back to MSCI’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) focus. “Every managing director at the organization has a proportion of their pay that is either paid or not paid depending on the results they drive for D,E&I”, notes Woodhead.
Ultimately, D,E&I is part of everyone’s job at MSCI, no matter their level. Everyone is empowered to create and join employee resource groups to tackle issues or advocate for certain demographics.
For instance, Woodhead herself co-founded the All Abilities employee resource group, which “looks at varying abilities whether that is wellbeing, mental health, neurodiversity or physical disabilities”. This is a passion area for Woodhead and some colleagues so they put together a business case and launched.
Other examples include groups focusing on the needs of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the Black Leadership Network, the Women’s Leadership Forum and the Pride group.
Ultimately, “we are an organization that sees commercial value in diversity, and [is] also very much led by inclusion”, states Woodhead.
The shift to remote working
Prior to the pandemic, MSCI was an office-based organization. But when COVID-19 emerged on the scene in December 2019 that all changed and MSCI’s crisis and business response teams jumped into action.
Woodhead notes that MSCI decided very quickly to put “employee health and safety first”, then the client’s needs and then the firm’s needs.
This involved ensuring that all 3,500 employees globally were able to work from home safely. MSCI funded people’s home office and ensured they had the right equipment – whether it was a laptop, extra screens, a keyboard, a proper office chair and phone – to be able to work from home sustainability.
In addition, “we mobilized very quickly from Skype to Microsoft Teams to allow people to use the tool that best suited them, but also [the tool] that our clients were using,” explains Woodhead.
Further to this, MSCI dialed internal communication, particularly between the C suite and the rest of the business. “Our CEO [Henry Fernandez] hosted many Town Halls last year virtually, and he was able to connect with far more employees virtually, than he had done previously”, notes Woodhead.
Embracing virtual recruitment
Like all organizations across the world, MSCI had to pivot to virtual recruitment during the pandemic. The firm developed a “virtual onboarding module for every new hire that joined”, and according to Woodhead, MSCI has successfully hired more than 1,000 people since March 2020.
What this experience taught Woodhead and MSCI is that “whilst the office has a place in recruitment, it probably has less of a place than perhaps we had thought”. “What it has shown us is that you can hire brilliant people without meeting them in person”, states Woodhead.
While the recruitment piece wasn’t too challenging, Woodhead notes that it has been difficult for new hires to build relationships with their colleagues virtually during the pandemic.
Part of the solution at MSCI has been so-called ‘mystery coffee sessions’ where “everyone at the organization is matched to somebody else on a monthly basis for an informal coffee to help build their organic network”.
Managers are also supported to best manage virtual hires; regular team check ins are recommended and new hires are encouraged to join employee resource groups.
Social events, many of which are virtual, are also organized by MSCI’s Office Head network who focus on local engagement and networks around each of the firm’s global offices.
Further to this, Woodhead tells UNLEASH that MSCI is a “camera on organization” to help with relationships building. “That doesn’t mean to say that if you are having a busy day or you are tired because of the video interaction that you can’t turn it off, but our default is camera on”.
MSCI’s new normal
Since the world remains in the midst of a global pandemic, “there is absolutely no requirement to come back into the office [at the moment] and we are leading on trust”, explains Woodhead.
But, of course, MSCI has already started to plan for the future of work, and Woodhead is the firm’s future of work lead.
“We are not going back to how we were before”, notes Woodhead. In fact, MSCI believes “we owe it to the people who have died, and their families, to reinvent ourselves and the way we work”.
This also goes back to MSCI’s D,E&I focus. In a LinkedIn open letter, CEO Henry Fernandez stated: “I have found the virtual world to be a democratizer and an equalizer.
“We have seen the inside of each other’s living rooms and our camera boxes during virtual meetings are of equal size, no matter where we are working from or who we are talking to, creating greater opportunities for participation and collaboration and stronger connections than we ever thought possible.”
In addition, Woodhead states: “We’ve proven that we don’t need to go back to the way we were. We’ve proven that engagement goes up if you trust people.”
It has followed a similar approach to Standard Chartered by implementing a hybrid model that is linked closely to the requirements of job roles. Woodhead notes that the future of work is “not about an employee wanting to work at home, it is about the role they do and whether that can be done out of the office”.
There are three job categories linked with the firm’s and clients’ needs – roles that must be office-based, roles that are purely remote and hybrid roles. “We have categorized every single employee so they know which role category they all into and whether it is office, hybrid or remote”, notes Woodhead. “Every employee knows what is expected of them and when it is safe to do, we will move into that future of work” model.
In addition, MSCI has decided to redesign its office space to make them more inclusive and collaborative. The office will act as a hub to build relationships with colleagues and clients.
“We have eliminated private offices – whether you are CEO or the receptionist, everyone can sit together”, explains Woodhead. “There will, of course, still be private rooms that you can book, but we don’t have senior leaders sitting behind closed doors”.
The future of talent attraction and retention
MSCI is also planning to continue with virtual recruitment in the future. Virtual hiring allows us to “be far more efficient with people’s time – both candidates and hiring managers” – but ultimately it’ll be the candidate’s choice if they want to do an in-person interview instead.
Woodhead is confident in MSCI’s ability to retain its existing employees and continue to recruit in the current ‘Great Resignation’ circumstance and in the future; this is unsurprising given how well the company did with hiring during the pandemic.
“Our attrition globally is low and always has been. People enjoy working here and they work incredibly hard”, explains Woodhead. This links back to MSCI’s focus on inclusion, but also its heavy investment in learning and development.
Also, instead of getting worried about attrition, MSCI is taking a proactive approach to retention. “We have a performance driven culture. Our talent knows they are top talent and are developed accordingly” explains Woodhead.
“We have very transparent conversations between our managers and employees about how they are feelings so we can help employees well before they get to the point where they’re thinking they might want to leave.”
Ultimately, Woodhead is looking at the positives of the ‘Great Resignation’ for MSCI. “It is fabulous for opening up the talent market. We and other firms will be able to attract more diverse, more quality talent, because people are re-evaluating their lives” and looking for “a really attractive proposition and culture” like MSCI’s.
If you want to hear more of Faye Woodhead’s thoughts about the future of work and talent, register now for your complimentary seat at UNLEASH and iCIMS Inspire HR European Summit on 21 October.