A Poetic Path to a Perfect Fit

Nancy Flagg Human Resources, Issue 16 - March/April 2015 Leave a Comment

How avid reader and appreciator of journalism Greg Giangrande followed the human resources path to Time Inc. as CHRO.

How do most Human Resources (HR) professionals get into their field? Some earn college degrees in the subject, others obtain professional certification and still more come up through the HR ranks. Greg Giangrande took an uncommon route from journalism and broadcast media to the HR suite, and he now serves as Chief HR Officer of Time Inc., one of the largest media companies on the planet.

From Publishing to Recruiting

Working in HR was never in Giangrande’s career plan. As a boy growing up in Brooklyn, New York, his windows to the world were the stories he read in magazines such as Time, Sports Illustrated and Life. Those publications inspired him to begin a career in journalism and later broadcasting.

While at a crossroads in his career, Giangrande took a sideways step into a job at Random House, where he visited colleges and promoted careers in publishing. The job was set in the HR Department as a placeholder until Giangrande finished his assignment and transitioned elsewhere in the company. But after getting his foot in the door, he made a “natural segue” into a newly opened recruiting job.

Once he was officially inside the HR unit, Giangrande observed that it ran like an old-fashioned personnel department, filled with traditional methods and rigid procedures. Bringing a creative perspective from his media background, Giangrande began sowing the seeds of change. He developed relationships across the company, learned about the publishing business and used his recruiting skills to bring fresh talent to HR. Before long, with encouragement from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Giangrande became HR Manager, a role via which he was able to recreate the HR function.


Giangrande_Gregory_sidebar2Unbolting HR

Giangrande finds that too many people learn to be HR professionals by assimilating textbook HR practices without developing enough connection to the business. “HR often feels likes a consulting group that’s bolted onto the department,” Giangrande acknowledged, rather than being integrated into the company.

When Giangrande builds an HR team, he always starts with the talent. When he joined Time Inc. in 2012, the HR function had been without a leader for 18 months. The department was fractured, decentralized and lacking in business strategy and global outlook. Giangrande rebuilt the function by assembling a team with the right skills and who believed in his model of a business-integrated HR.

Bucky Keady, Vice President of Talent Management at Time Inc., agrees that it is the quality of people across the organization that makes the company. To engage consumers, Time Inc. must continually recruit the “brightest, most progressive and innovative” talent that exists.

Keady describes the HR role in identifying talent as proactive versus reactive. Staff members “are constantly out there,” attending conferences, meeting people on panels and networking, she said. “It’s our job to know who the competition is, traditional and nontraditional, and to make sure they know us and get introduced across the organization.

Proactive recruitment is not seen as the sole purview of HR. The department trains executives and managers in networking, recognizing the competition and spotting the new stars in their area, Keady added.

In addition to upping the talent factor, Giangrande rebranded HR so that staff across the company would recognize how much value the department brought to every area. HR became “all about robust talent management,” he said, and not about prescriptive procedures and transactions.

The rebranding occurred gradually. Giangrande brought in new team members, many from other functions in the business, who were able to develop internal relationships and demonstrate to their business partners that they could be trusted to give good advice and solve problems.

Katie Christiansen, HR Generalist and Strategic Projects Lead, praised the new model. She added that she feels like an integral part of groups and that rather than being there to process information, she contributes creative ideas drawn from her life and work experiences.

“HR doesn’t have to be reactive and boring and administrative,” Christiansen said. “It can be extremely dynamic and a really vital part of the business.”

The HR-CEO Connection

Another lynchpin in Giangrande’s integrated HR model is that the function must report to the CEO. “Every company is as much about the talent as anything else, and it sends a horrible message to the organization if the head of HR doesn’t report directly to the CEO.”

With a straight connection to the top, the HR leader can talk openly with the CEO about issues and strategies and make an impact. In addition, direct access affords an intimate view of the CEO’s day-to-day responsibilities, actions and challenges and thus a chance to see how he or she deals with issues. Being “at the hip” of the CEO is priceless and like getting an Executive MBA, according to Giangrande.


Unique Biological Mix

In a creative business such as that of media, Giangrande acknowledges that it is important to create a culture where the uniqueness of the individual is celebrated.

“People matter no matter where they are,” he said, “but we are in an industry where the uniqueness of the individual is key to overall company success. It’s all about the people—each unique person is part of an interesting biological experiment putting all of this DNA together. If you take someone out, it has a material impact.”

People in the creative mix make the extra discretionary effort because they know what they do matters, Giangrande added. As such, he encourages his staff to thrive by giving them chances to flex their talents.

Christiansen explains that Giangrande “reads people and their talent really well” and wants them to let their best selves shine. She says that he has given her free range to take on an incredible variety of work

Giangrande_Gregory_sidebarDelivering the Goods

In the “Star Wars” movies, Jedi Master Yoda teaches young warriors the secret to mastering their craft: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Giangrande’s philosophy of work is similar to Yoda’s.

While working in network television, Giangrande realized that there are no awards for trying hard. “It’s not the people who try very, very hard or work very, very hard who are successful,” he said. “It’s the people who deliver.”

Giangrande learned the make-it-happen mentality early in his career. When producing live TV, there cannot be any dead air time. “We didn’t have the luxury of not delivering,” Giangrande said. “We can’t say, ‘Sorry, we’re not ready’ or ‘Sorry, we couldn’t finish it on time.’”

Giangrande instills his get-it-done drive in his staff. He requires his people to be producers, Christiansen said, noting that her colleague can be tough and demanding but always puts people in a “place where he knows they can succeed.”

The Great Poetry of a Career

The “great poetry” of Giangrande’s career is that he has come full circle from a boy inspired by reading Time Inc. publications to being a leader of that very same company. After his early years in journalism and “a lot of mileage in between” working at Random House, Conde Nast, Hearst Corp., HarperCollins and Dow Jones-Wall Street Journal, he joined Time Inc. and became an integral part of a company that reaches more than 138 million people with its news and stories.

Yet, Giangrande is never far from his personal storytelling roots. He writes a weekly career advice column called “Go to Greg” for the New York Post and makes occasional TV appearances to offer career tips. For Giangrande, rich satisfaction comes from opening others’ windows to the world through the power of stories. ♦


Nancy Flagg

Nancy Flagg is a freelance writer based in Sacramento, California.

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