"Thomson Reuters' Culture of Organizational Curiosity" Interview
Interview between Devin Wenig, former CEO, Thomson Reuters Markets and Robert Reiss, host of The CEO Show, which features leaders who have reinvented industry through exceptional customer experience models.
What’s your view on strategic planning?
We have a strategy and a plan about where we’d like to be in three years, but we never let the plan get in the way of the first shot in the battle.
I see a lot of organizations trying to make the world fit their plan. It’s not possible. The world is changing too quickly. The ability to be nimble is the single determinant between those that are succeeding and those that are failing. Rigidity is the enemy of progress. The most successful companies embrace the world’s chaotic energy. Chaos opens up opportunities.
I understand Thomson Reuters has a constitution.
Yes. This constitution, which we call “the trust principles”, drives our DNA and ensures that we are ethical, honest, and not conflicted in the way we report news. Trustees – not the board, not our shareholders — manage this constitution. They are in place to ensure that our news organization runs according to the values that have been in place for over 150 years.
Describe Thomson Reuters’ culture?
We really believe we’re doing something for the world. People are passionate and incredibly energetic. Bringing fact-based news to the world is a terrific mission, and great business. And at the core of our culture is organizational curiosity.
How do you drive organizational curiosity with 27,000 employees?
It’s particularly interesting because those people are in 100 countries. And what’s happening today in Shanghai, Mumbai, Moscow, Chicago, San Francisco and New York are all very important inputs to our business.
So we take data from our people constantly. We read it, we listen to it. Whether that be what a client said or a competitor is doing; what the local newspaper or the Chicago Tribune wrote yesterday; what a newspaper or a television station or a blog in India is saying about our industry.
I think curiosity is an enormous determinant of organizational and individual success. Ultimately, the organization is just the people and the ability to process a lot of information that comes in, the ability to read a lot, the ability to network a lot, the ability to hear a lot of things you don’t want to hear about where you’re not doing that well. All of these things are hugely important to the ability to be adaptable.
I try to push our company out into the world. It’s very easy for companies to get introspective. It’s very easy for companies to be convinced that the actions inside are the answers. When you’re a big company, there’s a lot of action inside, but we must be curious and nimble utilizing real time information. That is why rigidity is the real the enemy.
How do you build organizational curiosity with your executive team?
I do something called “Deep dives” with everybody from my general council to my head of sales to my head of marketing 3 of 4 times a year. We don’t talk about results. We talk about the world and the business and strategy.
We don’t discuss, “How are you doing according to your plan?” Instead we discuss, “How are we going to be the world’s best in India?” “How are we going to double the size of this business in three years?”
And a lot of times, those are just very whiteboard-type thinking sessions which I think ultimately drive organizational curiosity.
I’ve heard you reward failure.
I believe under certain conditions it’s fine to reward failure. The hardest thing to do is to understand when to reward a failure that occurred for the right reason. If you never fail at anything, you surely are not taking enough risks as a company or your people aren’t telling you everything. You have to have an embedded rate of failure or you’re not being ambitious. We understand that in performance cultures, which is what I believe we are, you have to take some risk and with that comes failures.
What’s the future of mobility?
With mobility, we haven’t even scratched the surface. Imagine all constraints are gone and anything can be done with devices. Imagine there’s complete information ubiquity, where the screen size and bandwidth constraints are gone … and that’s probably 3 – 4 years away. That forces you to really rethink things.
Every U.S. business, and I’d argue global business, is now an information business … whether you make steel or you run a news organization, you’re an information business. And the ability to have information anywhere, anytime in any place has enormous implications for the way organizations run, and how organizations connect with their customers.
Talk about your leadership philosophy.
I try to avoid being hierarchical. I try to be optimistic and curious and encourage innovation everywhere.
Running a company is fine. Changing a company is what energizes both me personally and the organization. There’s no such thing as going sideways. If you’re going sideways, people get antsy, they get miserable, the organization stagnates and you’re going backwards even if you kid yourself that you’re going sideways. So I try to help the company get into that energizing innovation and breakthrough.
For further information regarding Thomson Reuters, see the page on Thomson Reuters Case Study.