This article accompanies This HR Executive of the Year is Transforming IBM.
Kevin Silva recently uncovered a letter his 19-year-old self wrote to his mother, who was worried about his career path.
“I will do something meaningful in life,” he wrote. “Maybe one day I will get into personnel.” Years later, his words couldn’t be truer–he currently serves as executive vice president and CHRO of Voya Financial, which, for six years, he has steered through becoming a public company, three organizational-health surveys and plenty of transformational change.
In 2012, financial-services company ING U.S. was divesting its U.S. interests, which included retirement, life-insurance and asset-management divisions. Silva partnered with CEO and Chairman Rodney O. Martin, Jr. to examine all possibilities for the company’s future. Once it was decided that the best option would be going public–which it did in 2013, changing its name the following year–Silva was tasked with spearheading a culture makeover.
“Going into Voya, we understood that culture was the accelerant of financial performance. It created someplace that retained, inspired or drove people away,” says Silva. “It was a really unique opportunity–a chance to build a purposeful culture.”
Steering the Battleship
Going public and transforming into Voya gave the organization an opportunity that not many companies get–to start from scratch.
To avoid the trap of an aspirational culture–a vision of what a company wants to be, not what it is–Silva says he knew the behaviors of leaders must align with published company values to fuel cohesion and harmony, which wasn’t always easy to achieve.
“Building, creating and changing a culture is like turning a battleship,” Silva says. “It takes time, consistent effort, an alignment of a senior team, tools, rewards, consequences, evaluations, patience, relentless perseverance and an ability to link cultural changes to strategic business outcomes. Changing culture is massive.”
Most employees experience company culture narrowly–through their work environment or their supervisors–so the real challenge was helping them see themselves as part of something bigger, he says.
Silva conducted an organizational-health survey with McKinsey in 2012 to gather employee feedback. The results led him to focus on three initiatives, the first of which was the development of a rigorous talent-management agenda. Silva implemented continuous-improvement training for all employees, simplified the performance-management process so it emphasized feedback and coaching, and focused heavily on succession planning for future leaders.
These efforts led to a 95 percent retention rate among high-performing talent in 2017, a growth in female and ethnically diverse hires (56 percent and 48 percent, respectively), and a 23 percent increase in training participation.
Silva’s next task was to support Voya’s development of a new business-operating model to increase revenue and reduce expenses, as well as transform areas such as workforce planning and employee-transition management.
The third prong of Silva’s strategy was to promote a “One Voya” culture by breaking down silos and building an inclusive environment. He expanded Voya’s diversity and inclusion function, increased participation in corporate-responsibility programs and created a Voya Foundation investment strategy to align charitable investments with values.
External, Internal Applause
According to Martin, Voya’s CEO, Silva has been a key member of the executive committee who has helped grow Voya into the company it is today.
“Kevin has helped architect and drive the cultural transformation that has taken place at Voya Financial, building a culture of trust, transparency and continuous improvement,” says Martin. “The initiatives that Kevin has led have made a tremendous impact on Voya’s bottom line and in the communities in which we live and work. As a leader, Kevin’s vision and character are simply exceptional.”
Silva’s efforts in diversity and inclusion are arguably his most recognizable. Under Silva’s direction, Voya was named to the National Association for Female Executives’ 2018 Top 70 Companies to Work for Executive Women list, received a perfect score on Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Corporate Equality Index, was named to Fortune’s 2018 “World’s Most Admired Companies” and Dow Jones’ Sustainability Index, and became a certified Great Place to Work.
External recognition is laudable, but internal appreciation can help build an engaged and productive workforce.
Jen Centrone, senior vice president of HR, retirement and employee benefits, reports to Silva and says she has nothing but respect for his vision of One Voya, particularly his commitment to diversity and inclusion. Voya’s independent board of directors comprises 44 percent women, and women make up half of its executive committee.
“Kevin leads by example,” she says, “having built his own HR-leadership team to be 60 percent ethnically diverse, and is a strong proponent for disability inclusion in the workforce.”
Silva spearheaded the creation of a Disabilities and Special Needs Employee Resource Group, and serves as its executive sponsor. Voya is backing new federal legislation to support people with special needs and has also worked to ensure its website complies with accessibility guidelines. It is sponsoring the U.S. Business Leadership Network to help people with disabilities obtain meaningful “career-track” jobs.
From 2012 to 2015, the company saw a 10-point increase in its score on its organizational-health survey, along with an 88 percent participation rate.
“These high scores proved that you can go through a tremendous transformation–business structure, focus and culture–and maintain good scores,” says Silva. “Getting awards from outside Voya is important, but getting equal recognition from employees is another verification that we’re on the right path. We believe we’re a company with a special, noble purpose, underpinned by high-potential performance and culture that we continue to invest in every day.”