Case Study

Sony Music Publishing’s leader development initiative

Since joining the company in 2019, Elicia Felix-Hughey, SVP, Global Human Resources at Sony Music Publishing, has led a significant transformation with a brand-new leadership development programme. myGrapevine magazine caught up with her to find out how it works…

Words by Kieran Howells

Sony Music Publishing’s leader development initiative

Since joining the company in 2019, Elicia Felix-Hughey, SVP, Global Human Resources at Sony Music Publishing, has led a significant transformation with a brand-new leadership development programme. myGrapevine magazine caught up with her to find out how it works…

Words by Kieran Howells

The state of L&D

The turbulent coronavirus period has proven how essential learning and development is. In fact, a recent report from IBM found that the majority of companies relied on continuous learning to gain the skills, through development and upskilling, they needed to navigate this testing time.

As a result, L&D, for many firms, is nearer the top of the HR agenda - at least after the initial period of chaos and total. Whilst other areas of the function’s remit may have suffered, a LinkedIn study of over 3,000 people managers found that L&D had actually risen up the list of priorities for many, with 63% classifying it as essential in March, compared to 24% in March of 2020.

Human capital is our greatest asset. If we have performance challenges, our ultimate goal is to work out how we get those people back on track

Leadership L&D

However, whilst ensuring that people within the organisation have the knowledge that they need to navigate their ever-developing roles is important, just as, if not more, crucial is ensuring that their leaders have the tools to do the same. Coronavirus highlighted just how pivotal the right kind of leadership can be – it’s one of Josh Bersin’s key takeaways from the period; that leadership matters more than ever – in ensuring revenue, the executive team, safety, and other metrics remain stable.

Yet, there appears to be a disparity between an understanding of the importance of developing leaders and leadership development being delivered. An Infopro study concluded that 83% of businesses believe that it’s important to develop managers at all levels, yet just five per cent have actually fully implemented this development. As a result, a massive 71% of companies do not feel confident that their leaders have the skills they need to lead their organisation into the future.

This is a pitfall that Elicia Felix-Hughey, SVP, Global Human Resources at Sony Music Publishing, is determined not to fall into. To achieve her vision of providing the company's leaders with a sustainable source of continuous learning, and an opportunity to ‘level up’ their people leadership, she set about building a brand new programme that would priotise mindset, performance indicators and managerial capability.

Elicia Felix-Hughey,
SVP, Global Human Resources

On February 10, 2021, Sony/ATV rebranded as Sony Music Publishing. The company is the number one music publishing company in the world by market share.

Sony/ATV was established in 1995 through a joint venture with Michael Jackson that brought together the original Sony Music Publishing with Jackson’s ATV Music.

Sony Music Publishing is headquartered in New York City, with a network of 38 offices across the globe.

Sony Music Publishing is home to artists including The Beatles, Queen, Carole King, Leonard Cohen, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones.

The company also has a roster of contemporary artists including Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Calvin Harris, Cardi B, Daddy Yankee, Gabby Barrett, Jay-Z, Kanye West.

Sony Music Publishing’s solution to leadership development

When Felix-Hughey took her role in April 2019, she was surprised to find that learning and development within the company, as in various other elements of her new remit, was non-existent. Her immediate focus was on bringing HR to the fore as a strategic business partner, ensuring that people felt that added value and drove sustainable impact on a global scale. “We’re just getting started but we're in a completely different place now,” she tells HR Grapevine. “I’d like to think that our employees see that we’re more progressive. It’s a full-cycle HR transformation – that’s the best way to describe it,” she says.

One of Felix-Hughey’s highest priorities was ensuring that the managers’ ‘toolbox’ as she puts it, was fully stocked with the resources that they needed to truly tap into motivational leadership. The resulting initiative was a six-month development programme that she believes has led to a huge transformation within the business. “Human capital is our greatest asset. If we have performance challenges, our ultimate goal is to work out how we get those employees back on track. We needed to shift the mindset of managers from a fixed to a growth mindset, and differentiating between managers and leaders has started to create a really big impact; that creates a whole ripple effect that not only affects the leader, but team members and the organisation as a whole for the better.”

It’s a complete HR transformation – that’s the best way to describe it

Performance and leadership are two different skillsets

Initially, the focus on managerial development was quite a challenge, as the company was experiencing a time of great change. Felix-Hughey joined Sony as one of the first senior executive hires made by its newly appointed Chairman and CEO Jon Platt. Under Platt’s watch, the company has renewed its songwriter-first mission and transformed its culture, resulting in Sony/ATV’s launch of its new brand identity under one clear banner as Sony Music Publishing in February of this year. While there was much work to be done, Sony Music Publishing’s cultural transformation presented an ideal chance to give teams a ‘fresh start, a clean slate, and a new way of thinking’. But for Felix-Hughey, her presence meant drawing a clear line between high performers, and good leaders, giving them opportunity to improve in areas where needed, and putting people on the path to better development.

“People don’t know what they don’t know. We can’t expect everyone to automatically have the skills that they need to lead. Just because someone is really good at their job, it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily a good people leader. So, we created a leadership development programme to provide resources, education, and training that professionals need to drive success as leaders. It’s my responsibility to ensure we are supporting our team. I can’t just come in and say that they aren’t good enough people leaders, I have to help them get there,” she says.

We can’t expect people to automatically have the skills that they need to lead. Just because someone is really good at their job, it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily a good people leader.

Sony Music Publishing’s learning for leaders

According to Elicia Felxi-Hughey, SVP, Global Human Resources at Sony Music Publishing, the process of upskilling leaders starts with a six-month training course, in which time those undergoing the course are encouraged to first critically analyse their own skillsets, highlight their own key areas for growth, and then learn how to create the structure that employees need to thrive within the company. They also learn how to coach high performance teams, and about the keys to good communication. When the six-month programme is complete, leaders can then supplement their learnings with continuous education.

The tools that leaders need are not set in stone; as our teams develop and the work that we do develops, and the world changes, those skills must shift and change with them.

A six-month journey

Providing managers with the tools they truly need to lead takes time. In the Sony Music programme, leaders are taken on an initial six-month journey, which starts with being given the tools to critically assess their own performance, before delving into creating the structure and support that their people need. The aim of this self-assessment is to work out where peoples’ natural aptitude for leadership lies. Working this out provides a platform on which to further build out a robust development plan. “Someone may well be strategic, but some others may potentially not be, and may well be more compassionate. So, we’ll go into who we are as leaders, and identify our own strengths and improvement areas, with the focus that those natural aptitudes will lead us as we move on.”

“We’re aiming to create this cycle of continuous learning to make sure that people are well equipped,” she continues. “The tools that leaders need are not set in stone; as our teams develop and the work that we do develops, and the world changes, those skills must shift and change with them. That’s how you prevent skillsets from falling away and becoming stagnant.”

Encouraging leaders to use initiative

A large part of the development, which Felix-Hughey says is possibly the most essential, is the ability to deliver clear and strong feedback to employees to help them in shaping their own future development. “When we talk about creating high performance teams,” she says, “we’re talking about feedback. That’s really important to me. I’ve seen in previous roles that leaders have identified who in their teams is a low performer, but they simply won’t effectively address it. If one person isn’t pulling their weight, that has a negative effect on the whole team.”

However, Flexi-Hughey also strongly believes that managers must use their own initiative to continue to develop their own skills. The six-month development plan is intended to be a jumping-off point of sorts. “We’re not the people police,” Felix-Hughey jokes. “Our leaders set their own goals, and it’s their job to see their progression through. We’ll touch base after a month, and then we’ll continue to do training around growth mindset, offer additional coaching, and supplementary learning opportunities. So, it doesn’t just stop there – it’s designed for continuous learning in bite-size form,” she says.

Top performers aren’t necessarily good leaders’

No ‘tick-box’

So far, the programme has been an unprecedented success. 50 managers have currently gone through the six-month initial training, and Felix-Hughey states that 50 more are already lined up to follow. Yet, as the company grows and changes, she’s adamant that it should still be an employee-led initiative. “It’s not a check-the-box exercise. If you’re looking to go into a role where you can just tick a box, working for us is not a good fit,” she says. “We want people who are continuously building on what they’ve done before and who are committed to ensuring that they’re better, more educated as time goes on. We’re setting the bar high, and whilst we still have work to do, we’re aiming have the best managers we could possibly have. Anything we can do to get them there, we’ll do,” she concludes.

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