Brian Will, Global HR Partner at Momentive, shares how he has been successful during a time of transition
Editor’s Note: Almost a year ago now, we spoke with Brian Will, who was just taking the reins as Global Human Resources (HR) Partner at Momentive. We checked back in with Will to see what he has been up to, how things are going now that he is past the six-month mark, and what additional challenges he has overcome.
Forefront: Hi. It has been awhile since we spoke. How have things been on your end? What’s new?
Brian Will: Things, I think, are going well. I’ve been with Momentive now about a little over a year. I relocated from Chicago, and started a new life here in the Columbus, Ohio, area. I’ve been really focusing on four groups of corporate functions, specifically Global Procurement, Global Legal Groups, Corporate Environment Health and Safety—which is a critical function for a chemical company—and Business Strategy. Things have been going well. I feel like I’m being integrated into the groups, and traveled all around the world the past year to attend meetings and work with associates and employees, in different parts of the world on team development, training and sustainability. I can’t be more pleased at this point.
Forefront: That’s great. I was looking back at your last interview with us, and you mentioned that one of your biggest concerns was having credibility. How did you overcome that challenge?
Will: That’s a good question. I think I’m still working on it, but I think compared to where I was a year ago, I feel really good and it’s progressed mainly because I’ve attended so many different meetings and I have gone to plants around the world. I have been involved in business strategy meetings. In this organization, people want HR’s opinion, not just on people issues but on business and strategic issues. I think my willingness to speak up and step outside of my own comfort zone has helped as well because particularly when you’re new, you don’t always feel comfortable commenting or making a suggestion on business strategy, for example. Sometimes you have to take that risk. Sometimes you have a great idea.
Forefront: I also saw that you mentioned that they brought you on to influence change, both culturally and strategically. Have you met those goals?
Will: That’s an ongoing process. Culture often takes up to 10 years to really change. When I was interviewed last year, Momentive had just gone through a major merger with another company, a spinoff from GE. The cultures of the two organizations coming together were very different. At times, there was—and still are—culture differences that leads to conflict. Sometimes people get frustrated. My role has been to really assess that and monitor it, and sometimes call it out when I see that there’s still people not working to support the integration or to bring the cultures together, to call it out.
For example, I attended a meeting yesterday with one of my groups. One of the leaders consistently referred to the two divisions as separate companies, and would refer to the other organization as though the people were very different. I had to call her out on it and say, “We are one company. We’ve been together now almost three years. We are one company.” This is one of the few organizations where I still see that happening—that we have this competition in comparing the old company to the new company. We’ve got to stop doing that. We’re one company.
By and large, most of my groups that I work with have made great progress, but there’s one or two that still struggle with culture integration. It’s usually because there’s a leader who’s not willing to change, and who’s maybe not seeing the potential or is a little insecure. We are making progress as a company. I think even in the past year we’ve made significant progress in that. It’s something you have to work at all the time.
Forefront: That’s really good to hear that, one step at a time, you’re reaching those goals that were set. Do you think that your role has changed in the past approximately year that you’ve been there?
Will: I think it has in one respect: that when I came to the company, I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do. I thought that I was really meant to be more of a traditional HR partner, somewhat tactical in dealing with the day-to-day issues that came up. What I’ve realized as I’ve gotten deeper into the role is the company is looking for me to be more strategic and to get away from the tactical day-to-day stuff. I’ve gradually distanced myself from a lot of those day-to-day, tactical matters, and really started to focus on strategic, long-term matters for the company.
Forefront: Going off of that, relating your experience now to your experience then, is there any advice you would have given yourself say six months ago?
Will: Yes. Probably the piece of advice is, “Don’t get involved so much in the day-to-day tactical matters,” that there are other people on the staff who are very qualified who can do those. What you were hired for is to be more strategic, and focus on the strategic. Do everything you can to avoid taking on a lot of the tactical work, day to day because what we really need help with as a company is strategy. The way I started, I was doing a lot of day-to-day tactical activities, and people got used to that, and they liked that. I’m not necessarily the person that processes, for example, payroll documents or puts together letters of offer or sets up interview schedules. My job is to work on more long-term strategic issues that will impact the success long-term of the company.
Forefront: What do you feel has been your biggest success, and where do you see your future?
Will: Probably the biggest success is gaining credibility. I feel that that is something that I’ve worked hard at. Even though I’m still working on it, I feel much more comfortable confronting a leader or challenging a decision now than I would have a year ago. I have been told by leaders that they appreciate that about me, that I’m willing to speak up and challenge them. They’re willing to make changes, change their behavior or change a decision as a result of that.
I think the only reason I can do that is because I’ve gained credibility. People know that I’m going to treat them respectfully. I do have their best interest at heart, as well as the organization.