This HR Rising Star’s key to innovation? Curiosity

Early in her career, Mana Fletcher had the opportunity to move into a short-term HR assignment—and she never looked back.

- Advertisement -

Fletcher, one of five of Human Resource Executive‘s HR’s Rising Stars for 2023, says the introduction to HR impressed upon her how vital people professionals can be in shaping the experience employees have at work. And that’s what she’s striving to do now as senior director of HR at West Pharmaceutical Services, a Pennsylvania-based global manufacturer of containment and delivery products for injectable medicines, which employs 11,000 people.

Once she got the HR bug, Fletcher spent time working in recruiting, as an HR generalist and in HR leadership at organizations including Staffmark and TransAmerica before joining West in 2015.

HR's Rising Star Mana Fletcher of West Pharmaceutical Services
HR’s Rising Star Mana Fletcher of West Pharmaceutical Services

“I think [HR] is the really perfect blend of understanding people, driving success of the business and shaping the overall culture,” says Fletcher, who notes that she was particularly drawn to West by its mission—and the fact that the products the company makes have likely been used by her own loved ones to support their health. “That was a really special feeling for me, and I wanted to be a part of it. It was about being a part of a team that’s making a difference in the world.”

Toward that aim, West is guided by three strategic priorities: execute, grow, innovate—objectives that have come to define Fletcher’s own HR journey.

Executing on change management

To drive operational excellence, Fletcher led an organizational transformation effort to align the digital and R&D teams with West’s global organizational model, working closely with the chief technology officer on a restructuring plan. As part of the planning process, Fletcher visited West sites in Israel and Serbia, meeting one-on-one with employees in roundtable discussions and town halls. Through those experiences, she says, she was able to learn more about local and cultural perspectives and how different teams operated—and communicate West’s vision for the new structure.

The visits helped build trust and collaboration, she adds, and enabled leadership to consistently convey its messaging about the project—for which Fletcher developed a timeline, leadership guidance and a communication plan, wrote Annette Favorite, West CHRO, in Fletcher’s Rising Stars nomination.

- Advertisement -

Her change-management expertise, she adds, allowed the company to “achieve greater efficiencies and scale.”

Fletcher’s work on the organizational transformation reflects her broader approach to HR.

For instance, as an HR business partner, she says, if a change affects her client base, she first works to learn about their challenges and objectives—and then goes about solving those issues in a collaborative way.

“This approach has really helped me align my goals and our team goals to the business,” she says. “It’s important to figure out what’s working and what challenges exist in the business so that we can design our strategies to have a real impact.”

Growing with curiosity

One of Fletcher’s most impactful contributions was the strategic work to stand up a new R&D lab, which opened in January to help West meet its goal of advancing into systems and therapeutic experiences.

Fletcher led the search for the new site—evaluating seven locations over three continents, researching everything from labor regulations to government relations to scientific talent availability and proximity to therapy developers in the local areas.

Read more HR leadership stories here.

As she undertook the search process, Fletcher says, her innate curiosity—which she credits as being an accelerator throughout her career—was a driving force.

“There were so many factors we had to consider … and the team and I did not have all the answers but my curiosity kicked in, and we started looking into it,” she says. “There’s so much access to data today from credible sources, so I sought that knowledge and I learned—which opened the door to new ideas and possibilities.”

For example, West didn’t end up going with a location it originally was eyeing—after Fletcher’s research, it instead decided on the Philadelphia area as the ideal spot for the project.

Once the location was identified, Fletcher partnered with talent acquisition to hire more than 20 PhDs with specialized expertise to staff the lab, along with an HR partner for the site, whom she coached.

“Today, we don’t just have the lab space, but we have a team of really bright, talented people working in the lab,” she says. “And I think curiosity is what really led the way and helped me overcome those initial uncertainties we faced.”

Innovating for talent attraction, retention

As a company centered on scientific advancement, innovation is core to West’s mission—and nurturing that drive to innovate among its workforce gives it a more competitive edge.

To that end, Fletcher designed and implemented an inventor incentive program to drive up the number of patentable product inventions and improvements. As the head of a cross-function team, Fletcher led extensive intellectual property research, secured executive buy-in, established workflows and rolled out comprehensive messaging about the program, including in new hire onboarding and town halls. Launched in January 2022, the program allows employees to submit ideas through an online platform for review by intellectual property, R&D and product management teams, with both monetary and non-monetary recognition available.

In the program’s first year, West saw a 112% increase in idea and inventions submissions, a 120% increase in invention approvals and a 92% increase in patent filings, Favorite said in nominating Fletcher.

While the program has the potential to drive real scientific change, Fletcher says, the initiative is also helping to position West as an employer of choice among top scientific talent.

“It sets us apart as an employer that’s forward-thinking and creative, and it sends a message that we as a company value and support innovation—and we’re willing to invest in it,” she says, noting it’s also become a powerful retention tool. “We’re creating a culture and environment where people want to stay because they get to learn and develop. They get to be creative and invent and be rewarded for it.”

Skills for the future

Fletcher’s work at West reflects the capabilities she hopes to bring when she ultimately moves into a CHRO role.

Empathy is at the top of that list, she says.

An empathetic mindset, she says, can help HR fuel effective collaboration, navigate conflict and create more inclusive environments for their employees.

“It’s something I really value and try to practice daily,” she says. “Getting to know people on a deeper level, understanding their backgrounds, their experiences and what matters for them—that’s what lets me connect with them on a deeper, more genuine level.”

The ability to be flexible is also something Fletcher has honed throughout her career—such as through her willingness to pivot during challenges like the organizational restructuring project—and she predicts it will be essential in the future, as the pace of change in HR doesn’t appear to be slowing.

But the core of her HR skill set, Fletcher emphasizes, comes back to curiosity.

“It’s a quality I really value and I think it will be instrumental in my career. Having a curious mindset,” she says, “helps me stay informed about industry trends, emerging best practices and it really helps me challenge the status quo, be more innovative and make informed decisions.”

Avatar photo
Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].