CorporateInvestors2021-02-17 11:21:00

CEO Nancy McKinstry shares insights on creating a strong business foundation to withstand change

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended virtually every organization across the globe, forcing leaders to evaluate key aspects of their business on an ongoing basis. Like many areas of life currently, there are shifts that need to be identified and managed with foresight and precision, but according to Nancy, a strong foundation and a strong team can weather any storm.

Strategic shifts and digital journeys

Nancy was appointed CEO of Wolters Kluwer in 2003, and she immediately began to drive digital transformation. “The first decade of my tenure was really this journey to go from analog to digital,” says Nancy. That journey took longer than many people imagined in part not just because Wolters Kluwer had to get their portfolio aligned to the end-markets, but also because all the products needed to be converted into digital formats. Crucially, said Nancy, customers also did not move overnight: “So even today, we have print in the portfolio, but if you fast-forward that print-to-digital journey took over a decade; today we're over 90% in digital and services.” According to Nancy, there were three key elements that enabled such a large strategic transformation of Wolters Kluwer's entire 19,200-person organization: portfolio changes to achieve strong market positions, reinvestment in innovation, and talent transformation. Each of these forms the foundation for where we are today and where we’ll go next.

Market trends shaped by customer needs

Future planning, says Nancy, is driven by what customers need: “We do have a three-year strategy that we execute over the timeframe, but what becomes part of that strategy is really driven by customers.” Pain points such as having to navigate the complexity of change, as well as being asked to do more with fewer resources are a common denominator across the marketplace. Nancy recognizes these issues from the professionals across the board, including accountants, lawyers, and doctors. Creating a market-driven strategy of being an expert solutions company comes from listening to these customer problems, and addressing them effectively, through providing innovative expert solutions, which combine deep domain knowledge with advanced technology.

Accelerating change

Any discussion regarding market responses and strategic planning right now has to include the impact of COVID-19. The trends that Wolters Kluwer was already addressing have been accelerated greatly by this sudden and massive disruption, but this has meant that Wolters Kluwer was well placed to help customers to respond to the demands placed on them by the pandemic. “There's a high demand for digital transformation,” says Nancy. “So, while many of our customers were already on that journey, there's always the laggards in any market. And I think now the vast majority of customers recognize they have to move digitally.” Cloud is another key area, says Nancy, noting that Wolters Kluwer has seen an acceleration of adoption of cloud technologies. “Even customers that historically did not want to move to the cloud are now saying, 'We recognize the advantages of the cloud,' so I think that what we're going to see in the marketplace is this acceleration of cloud adoption. Print is really in decline. We don't have a significant amount of print overall, but we have a couple of portfolios where we still have a bit of printing." Coming out of the pandemic, Nancy believes, it may be a final period of print being in our customers' portfolios.

Talent, innovation, and diversity

To support its digital transformation, Wolters Kluwer has undergone a major talent transformation since the early 2000’s. Today, the biggest category of employees at Wolters Kluwer are technical knowledge workers. “They know coming in that we reinvest 8%-10% annually in innovation, and that’s an attractive proposition for motivated people,” says Nancy. “We’ve also invested a lot in talent development and in really driving home for our employees what our values and mission are. We talk about our values consistently and that is part of what attracts people to come work for Wolters Kluwer. Having a defined mission of making an impact with the products and services that we deliver to our customers serves as a great motivator for people. It helps them want to stay and develop their careers here.” Real world impact is what drives our employees, the chance to see their work make a difference every day. “A high-powered technologist, for example, knows they’ll get to work with customers directly, to really see the impact of their work,” says Nancy. “Combine that with big investment in explicit career development – training, access to educational materials, the kinds of things that the next generation really wants – and we think we have a very compelling case for getting great people to come work here now and well into the future.” And the key to innovation according to Nancy? “What we’ve seen at Wolters Kluwer is that the most diverse teams produce the best results – not just in terms of innovation but also with regards to accountability and driving the financial results we need in the business.”

Looking ahead

After a year where organizations globally pivoted to working from home due to the pandemic, the world of work will likely be permanently altered by the pandemic. But that doesn’t need to be taken negatively – there are always silver linings. “I think many of the positive trends in the media, information sectors around cloud computing, around virtual learning, virtual meetings, and virtual selling will stay,” says Nancy. “Some things will, of course, return to the way they used to work, but I think elements will stay, and that is very positive for us because we have found, over and over again, once our customers work in a digital way, once they're in the cloud, that the opportunities for us to serve them with products and services extend. I think you'll see more digital transformation among teams, and I think there will continue to be a lot of focus on talent development, particularly if people aren't coming together in the same way that they did historically.”

Finding balance in leadership

During such a difficult time, it can be difficult to manage professional and personal challenges, how does Nancy find balance in her role as a CEO, and how does she encourage employees to do the same? The successful digital move to working from home was key for Nancy. With Wolters Kluwer well placed to face this challenge in March 2020, 94% of our workforce pivoted to working from home in just 16 days. This smooth transition made it easier to face the new challenges wrought by COVID, but also, Nancy says, time management is key: “I try more than ever to make sure that we're really productive as we are doing this virtually, because I think what I am finding, and what I think many people around corporate life are finding, is that people are working longer hours because there is no longer a line of demarcation between their work life and their private life. And so, as a result of that, I'm trying to make sure that we make our time together productive and impactful so that they can turn off the computer and do something else. I try and reinforce that throughout all the levels of the company.”

Nancy McKinstry shared these insights with analytics and consulting firm Outsell as part of their Signature series.