CHRO Kevin Alan Henry activates excellence at Snyder’s-Lance with “the three As”: able, accessible, accountable.
By Fred Jerant
Many successful executives define their success in terms of more prestigious positions, bigger companies and lavish compensation packages. Not Kevin Alan Henry, Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at Snyder’s-Lance Inc. He uses a different lens: his religious faith.
Henry cites Matthew 25, the biblical “Parable of the Talents,” as a strong part of his personal and professional philosophy.
“I’ve had a fulfilling career,” he said, “and I devoutly believe that things have been afforded to me because I’ve been a good steward of what’s been entrusted to me. And I’ve been entrusted with the opportunity to impact and influence the lives of many people, whether through policies, benefits design, recruiting or helping someone develop a career path.”
Henry sees the HR function as an excellent platform for developing win-win situations.
“If we invest wisely in creating meaningful and impactful experiences for our associates—situations where they can strengthen their character and their competencies, and have fun while they’re delivering results—we’ll be able to tap into their discretionary effort,” he said. “That’s when you see significant improvements in productivity, creativity and innovation. We win, and win big because we’re inspired to win.”
Henry has found, too, that people can blossom when they are moved from their usual environments.
“We’ll import people from line functions into HR,” he noted, “and we’ll export HR staff into line functions. I’m a big believer in that approach, because those opportunities create exposure, awareness and knowledge.”
Illustrating his points, Henry cites a high-potential Plant Manager whose career path focused on the supply chain. He was moved into HR and assigned to develop products, systems and services to support the company’s logistics, manufacturing, procurement and distribution business partners.
“He was in a unique position,” Henry said, “because he understood firsthand exactly how the system works and how HR could benefit it.” That employee later returned to line operations, moving into a more senior role.
Conversely, leaving HR also can tap one’s previously hidden potential. One of Henry’s staffers was transferred to the company’s Sales Department. “He had such an aptitude for sales that he recently received his second promotion, and now is in charge of sales and customer management for a large geographic region,” Henry said.
Situations like these can be a positive learning experience for the company as well. “Other people will see that the HR staff shouldn’t be pigeonholed into just a support role,” Henry said. “They’ll realize that we have solid business acumen, intellectual curiosity and the ability to manage P&L [profit and loss] and customers. It enhances their perception of our value to the company.”
The Three A’s
Henry bases his group’s effectiveness on a group of factors he has dubbed the three A’s: able, accessible and accountable.
“There was a lot of intentionality in the choice of those words,” Henry said. “They don’t need a lot of definition. And they help to set expectations among ourselves and our customers.”
And these terms go beyond buzzwords. Henry expects everyone, himself included, to display all three standards at all times.
In fact, Henry’s three A’s are well-known throughout Snyder’s-Lance, and that is how he likes it.
“When you encounter uniformed soldiers, you immediately have a sense of what they stand for: valor, integrity, selflessness. And that’s what we want to accomplish with the three A’s,” he said. “People throughout the company know our standards and know what to expect from every team member they encounter.”
So, just what do able, accessible and accountable mean at Snyder’s-Lance? Henry elaborated:
- Able: “Of course, that speaks to competency. But it also means we’ll deliver products, systems and services that support the business. That could be a compensation or incentive program; health and wellness efforts to improve the overall health of our workforce and reduce medical costs; or a training program for an individual, a team or a whole function. It acknowledges that we have the functional and technical expertise, individually and collectively, to do that very ably.”
- Accessible: “It may seem obvious, but it ranges from answering phone calls and returning emails, to being available whenever and wherever the business needs us—even during third shift at a remote location if that’s what’s necessary. We have a bias toward customer service, whether it’s for our associates or our business partners.”
- Accountable: “We’ve developed metrics to measure our progress and results against agreed-upon thresholds. In other words, we keep our performance promises. That translates to integrity and credibility. Over an extended period of time, you build equity within the organization, and that gives you better leverage of human capital in pursuit of business results.”
Two More A’s: Avoiding Ambiguity
Accountability, in particular, can be tricky. As the old saying goes, “Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.” But at Snyder’s-Lance, there is no ambiguity. Before a project starts, an individual or group will assume accountability and hold it from start to finish. After the time frame and mileposts are established, other participants are assigned to the tasks.
“For example, we might be developing a career path project,” Henry said. “Our Organizational Development (OD) team could take accountability [the ‘A’]. The OD team then determines what other groups should participate in developing and attaining the goals—Compensation, Communications, maybe even Systems Development. It promotes cross-functional collaboration, and that helps deliver better results, more in line with expectations.”
In these collaborations, Henry sometimes can make the final decision and at other times he simply offers his opinion or assistance. It depends on who is accountable. “Typically, the ‘A’ is the subject matter expert,” he explained, noting that this individual has decision rights. “And those decisions sometimes trump my own choices. In other cases, I will keep decision rights. It’s decided on a case-by-case basis.”
Drawing on his own experience as an effective leader, Henry suggests that aspiring HR executives concentrate on developing their communications and interpersonal skills. “Being a leader is not always about demonstrating that you are in charge,” he conveyed. “It’s about getting people to go along with you.”
A sense of humility is another asset Henry advocates for developing. “I have enough confidence in myself to have a relatively low ego,” he said. “That sounds contradictory, but it’s actually wisdom. When I was younger, I had to be right more often than I do now. I got comfortable enough with myself to realize that I don’t have all the answers. You need humility to really connect with other people, to draw out their thoughts.”
Fred Jerant is a freelance writer based in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
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