May 19, 2014
special report

HR strategies that WORK

HR strategies that WORK

When it comes to attracting, developing, and retaining talent, what worked in the past may no longer be effective. Here are some human resources strategies that speak to today's work force.

By Toby Gooley

Ask professionals in logistics, warehousing, and material handling what's keeping them up at night, and you're likely to get a simple one-word answer: people.

With the baby boomers who shaped modern industry retiring in droves, and younger folks who have grown up in a very different social, educational, and technological milieu replacing them in the work force, companies are finding it difficult to attract, develop, and retain the right talent—not just to fill individual jobs, but also to manage and lead their businesses. What worked in the past may no longer be effective; what's needed now are human resources (HR) strategies that speak to today's work force. To learn more, we asked HR executives at three companies that are recognized leaders in human resources management to tell us about the strategies they've found effective.

To attract potential new hires, you have to let them know what your company has to offer them and what sets it apart from other employers. You can do that most effectively by "branding" your company, says Tom Luers, senior director, corporate human resources at Intelligrated, a Mason, Ohio-based company that designs, manufactures, integrates, and installs material handling automation solutions. "Branding your company means showing why the company is exciting," he says. "If you have an innovative company that's growing, the best people will want to hitch their wagon to it."

One way branding manifests itself, Luers continues, is through a company website and social media, including Facebook, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn. But anything you do online must have real substance behind it. "You can have sexy, glitzy branding, but if it doesn't resonate with the job seeker you want, you'll miss an opportunity," he explains. Instead of beautiful scenery or stock photos of attractive models, show real employees working at real jobs and highlight what your company actually does, especially what's cutting-edge and innovative. "You have to have a good story to tell about your strategy and products," Luers says.

A diverse work force has many different ways of communicating, so effectively reaching today's job seekers requires adapting to their preferences, says Eric Stewart, group director of recruiting at the Miami-based logistics and transportation giant Ryder. To a large degree, that means making use of websites, e-mail, texting, and social media. Ryder also holds an online career fair that's been quite successful. But Stewart cautions against buying into the stereotype that only young, college-educated people are adept at social media and other means of electronic communication. "Even those demographic groups that are not seen as tech-savvy are using smartphones," he observes. "You can no longer look at it strictly along generational or economic lines."

Although electronic communication is a given nowadays, Stewart warns against letting technology "dehumanize" the recruiting process. "Technology helps us move quickly and manage information, but in the end, a face-to-face conversation is critically important for both sides," he says. Meeting candidates at career fairs and forming partnerships with colleges and technical schools can help to make that happen. "Companies have personalities just like people—and you won't get that from technology," he says. "We talk a lot about intangibles like safety, professional development, and respect in our company. Applicants need to hear that coming from a live person."

Forward-looking companies that want to hire future innovators and leaders have well-designed diversity initiatives in place. Ryder, for one, believes that having a work force whose makeup reflects society at large is a business imperative that benefits the company and its investors, customers, and employees, says Kirk Imhof, group director of diversity and inclusion. The company has developed formal programs to attract talent from demographic groups like minorities, women, and military veterans, and for nurturing their personal and professional development once they are hired.

The intense competition for logistics and technical talent can lead companies to usher candidates through the hiring process quickly—sometimes **ital{too} quickly. The result can be a mismatch between employer and employee, says Anne Harris, vice president, human resources at the distribution services and engineering firm Fortna in Reading, Pa. "We don't rush recruiting," she says. "Although it can be tempting to fill a job as soon as possible, it's better to take the time to make sure the person is the right fit. We want to be sure we have all the right conversations, that the environment and culture are what they're looking for, and that what we can offer is what they want and vice versa."

Harris recommends creating a talent-acquisition team whose members thoroughly understand your operation and work closely with hiring managers to acquire the skills and capabilities required for current and future positions. "They operate more like talent scouts and recruiters, building relationships over time," she says. That approach maintains a pipeline of appropriate candidates for certain positions, she explains. (That's also one advantage of college internship or co-op programs—they allow you to take stock of potential employees' abilities and assess how well they fit the company's needs and culture.)

Today's jobs are becoming increasingly technical, complex, and demanding, so it's more important than ever to help employees develop their skills and capabilities. This is especially critical in today's talent-constrained environment. "There are certain roles where you can't easily hire enough people who have the right skills and fit, so there should be a real emphasis on developing skill sets internally for those critical roles," Harris recommends.

Effective career development that benefits both employee and employer depends on a comprehensive approach that stretches far beyond the classroom, however. "We define development as learning that is an integral part of the employees' and managers' roles. It's not a one-time-a-year event or something we only do in connection with annual performance evaluations," says Amparo Bared, Ryder's vice president of talent management. "It includes an individual development plan, with an ongoing discussion between employees and their managers that combines formal and informal activities and feedback."

Similarly, Fortna's evaluation process focuses on coaching and development. "Traditional performance evaluations are not particularly effective," Harris says. "We don't rate employees on a numerical scale. Instead, we are looking for qualitative feedback: What does someone do well, and where does he or she need to improve? Then we turn that into development goals." That goes for employees at all levels, by the way. Fortna uses peer feedback and other methods to assess current and emerging leaders on their leadership competencies and to identify areas where they would benefit from training or executive coaching.

Mentoring is another must. Intelligrated has a voluntary but formal coaching program for employees who are in the first stages of their career. "The coaches help to guide the employees on career decisions, and this ensures that when they have issues or opportunities, they have someone they can go to and talk through it," Luers explains. "We've found this program to be very valuable."

Ryder also utilizes mentoring and coaching. One example is its Leadership Bridge Program for "high potential" employees. "If an individual demonstrates capability and potential to take on greater responsibility, we offer them the opportunity to participate in a year-long program that exposes them to senior executives, best practices, and formal leadership development training," explains Bared.

Participants in the program do a lot of self-assessment and get feedback about their work style and behavior. They share that feedback with their peer coach—someone whom they trust and who can offer suggestions for improvement. According to Bared, this approach has been highly successful. Since its launch four years ago, the program has graduated more than 80 "students," and more than half have been promoted to higher, more responsible roles, including some at director levels or above. Furthermore, the retention rate for those who have been through the program has been high—about 75 to 80 percent.

In Harris's experience, how you acclimate new hires to their jobs and to the company—and then follow up with them during their first year of employment—plays a big role in determining their success later on. In addition to the typical corporate HR orientation, Fortna includes sessions designed to help new hires understand the company's business strategy, its internal structure, and how to negotiate their way through the organization to get the information and resources they need.

That's not the end of it, though. When new recruits go back to their teams, they work with their managers to develop a first-year plan that aligns their personal goals and objectives with those of their team and the company. HR stays in touch with new hires, surveying them after the first week, at three and six months, and at the end of their first year. There are opportunities for them to suggest improvements, which Fortna tracks and incorporates into its programs where appropriate.

To help employees be successful and satisfied with their jobs and their progress, you need to place them in the right position, not just in terms of their overall responsibilities but also in regard to specific projects, says Luers. Intelligrated works with project managers as they build their project teams, making use of HR's "talent evaluation tools" to match the right person with the right project and role. "This should be based on objective assessments of individuals, not on your gut feeling about them," he says.

Harris agrees that how you assign people to projects plays a big role in their job satisfaction. Carefully planned assignments are very effective in helping employees who show promise expand their knowledge and experience, she says. She recommends formal cross training in different parts of the organization and rotating up-and-comers through different practice areas (and even overseas, if they're interested) to build their skills and understanding of different areas. "It's like in college: You take core classes before you choose a major. Rotations help you figure out what you love and are passionate about," she says.

You've hired the right people and have invested a lot of time and effort in helping them develop professionally and pursue a satisfying career path. Now, how do you keep them happy and loyal? A concerted effort to keep employees engaged and demonstrate that they are valued should be at the top of your list.

One way to do that is by regularly sharing information with **ital{all} employees, not just with management. Employees will feel a greater commitment when they know what is going on, how it affects them, and how their actions contribute to their employer's—and their own—success. At Intelligrated, for instance, the CEO and the president/COO hold quarterly companywide meetings, traveling to the largest sites and broadcasting the events via webcasts so everyone in the organization has an opportunity to watch. The executives do more than just give updates on financials, Luers says. "They tell employees what's good and what's bad, and ask how can we help you, and what questions do you have," he says. "This kind of candid and productive face-to-face meeting is invaluable."

Another method is to provide recognition and rewards for a job well done, either individually or as a team. One of many examples is Ryder's "Top Tech" national competition, where truck fleet technicians compete to diagnose and repair increasingly difficult problems in vehicles. The competition culminates with the best technicians competing at an event attended by the company's top executives, with a new pickup truck as the grand prize. (Recognition was one of the "things that would make me happier in my job" cited by respondents to our 2014 Annual Salary Survey; see the sidebar for more of the survey takers' responses.)

Demonstrating that you value and care about employees' personal well being also plays an important role in retention. Many companies offer wellness programs with such features as access to fitness facilities, health and diet advice and support, and employee assistance programs. Fortna's Rest and Recharge program goes a step further by giving employees extra vacation time every five years. "This is a business where people are on the road a lot. We don't want them to burn out," Harris says. "They know we want them to be healthy, not just productive."

Any retention program depends on employee feedback, often gathered through surveys conducted by a third party to maintain confidentiality, for its success. But simply gathering information is not enough. To get genuine benefit from such research, the experts say, you need to analyze it, share your findings with employees, and act on it.

Ryder, for one, conducts employee engagement surveys worldwide. The surveys ask for employees' opinions about the company's leadership and management, commitment to employees, clarity of direction, recognitions and rewards, customer focus, and other topics. While this type of survey confirms what a company does well, it also identifies where employees think it could do better. Ryder takes that information and provides managers with the results, along with guidance on how to address important issues at the local level.

The value of this local angle should not be underestimated, says Bared. "Research has shown that organizations that do this well address pain points at the local level. This is where employees have a voice in identifying opportunities for what we can do to make a better working environment for them."

While implementation may be local, corporate-level executives should listen to what employees have to say and be involved in developing solutions to problems identified by the surveys. At Intelligrated, for example, Luers, the CEO, president/COO, and CFO read and discuss every response to the company's annual employee engagement survey. That's as it should be, Luers says; employees need to see that corporate executives—not just HR—hear them and take their concerns seriously.

When it comes to attracting, developing, and retaining employees, the consistently successful companies are those that make talent management part of their overall business strategy and treat it as a high priority, worthy of attention at all levels of management. The companies mentioned in this article, for example, religiously include human resources topics in weekly or monthly leadership meetings.

Another attribute of leading-edge companies is that HR and hiring managers work closely together to ensure that everyone's needs are met and to identify effective solutions to any problems or gaps in staffing. At Ryder, that has led to the creation of cross-functional, cross-division committees and councils that represent management and employees in such areas as talent management, diversity and inclusion, and specific jobs (like drivers and technicians).

Ultimately, says Fortna's Harris, success depends on making a genuine commitment to employees a part of your company's culture. "You can have programs that look great on paper, but if they're not based on a set of principles that people truly believe in, it's like putting bells and whistles on a car with no engine," she says. "Leaders have to 'walk the walk' when it comes to caring about people and supporting them."

Editor's note: Want to learn more about current human resources concerns in logistics and supply chain management, and what strategies are proving successful at leading companies? The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) has published a three-part series on HR topics. SCM Talent Development: The Acquire Process, The Develop Process, and The Advance Process are available for purchase from CSCMP.

About the Author

Toby Gooley
Contributing Editor
Contributing Editor Toby Gooley is a freelance writer and editor specializing in supply chain, logistics, material handling, and international trade. She previously was Senior Editor at DC VELOCITY and Editor of DCV's sister publication, CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. Prior to joining AGiLE Business Media in 2007, she spent 20 years at Logistics Management magazine as Managing Editor and Senior Editor covering international trade and transportation. Prior to that she was an export traffic manager for 10 years. She holds a B.A. in Asian Studies from Cornell University.

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