Chief Human Resource Officer Janet Hogan Talks About Flexibility, Agility, and Stretching Oneself in the Professional World
By Fred Jerant
Flexibility. Agility. The courage to stretch when others might hesitate. Experience has taught Janet Hogan, Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO), that these are the traits required for success as an HR professional. And they’ve paid off well.
During her 20-year tenure at Monsanto, rising to Vice President (VP) of HR, Hogan helped create several programs that offered employees opportunities to broaden their knowledge and views. For example, newly hired MBAs first rotated through Monsanto’s marketing, sales and other commercial functions, to gain a broader understanding of their operations and the synergy among the different groups.
The Emerging Leaders in Science program took a similar approach. “We wanted the smartest people in our R&D [Research and Development] Department,” Hogan said, “but we wanted them to have leadership skills as well.”
In the program’s first year, Monsanto received hundreds of applications. A rigorous screening/interviewing process narrowed the field to 20. Then a day-long grouped exercise, designed to reveal natural leadership skills, resulted in the hiring of just five.
Those leaders who made the cut soon found themselves working far outside their professional comfort zones. A microbiologist might spend six months in the biotechnology group, then move into plant breeding, chemistry and other function before returning to their own fields.
Other scientists took a self-discovery seminar, led by current leaders who are scientists themselves. “It helped focus their career paths,” Hogan said. “Some found they were best suited to managing projects, others to developing deep expertise in their fields.”
Hogan’s path at Monsanto diverged in 1995 with a two-year tenure as HR Manager at Metal Container Corp., which was merged into the Anheuser-Busch (A-B) Packaging Group. The move was a huge step up for Hogan, especially considering the company was consolidating several subsidiaries to form the Packaging Group. One of the development programs targeted unionized and other hourly workers. If these employees passed skill-building courses and regularly used those skills on the job, they could get a pay increase.
In 1998, Hogan was invited to head all of A-B’s compensation programs—a tempting offer, but one that she ultimately declined. With two young children and a working husband who was also enrolled in law school, she chose to put family first and rejoined Monsanto as a Benefits Advocate.
In 2011, after 20 years at Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters, Hogan was exploring other potential challenges. Her next opportunity came not from another Midwestern metropolis, but from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Harsco Corp., a diversified worldwide company serving the steel, railroad and global energy industries, was looking for a VP and CHRO. Convincing her family to pull up its deep roots in St. Louis was tough, but it was a chance, she said, to help evolve and have a significant impact on a global business. It was too good to pass up.
Almost as soon as Hogan arrived at Harsco, she discovered an opportunity to build a world-class HR organization from the ground up. One of the first things Hogan did was create and implement an organizational leadership review program in order to determine the talent needed to attain long-range objectives and to prepare existing talent to meet those goals.
During her time at Harsco, Hogan also formed an HR Council comprising HR business partners from across the organization along with her own direct team. The Council met regularly to discuss the latest HR initiatives and to provide a general forum for feedback and idea generation within the HR function. The team’s format helped ensure that new projects and programs were evaluated appropriately and reflective of the multinational footprint of Harsco’s employees and business operations.
Hogan’s latest venture began in mid-May, when she took over the HR function at Oshkosh Corp., which designs and builds the world’s toughest specialty trucks, truck bodies and access equipment by working shoulder-to-shoulder with the people who use them.
“It’s a terrific opportunity for me,” she said. “The company is hungry for leadership development, and I’m sure I can help them continue to grow and develop the talent. People are Oshkosh’s competitive advantage.”
Flexibility is Key
Throughout her career, Hogan has stressed to her colleagues the important role flexibility plays in propelling one’s professional development.
“People want to be successful,” Hogan said. “And sometimes a change in behavior can help them achieve even greater success. Although everyone has strengths, we all have areas where we can improve. Personally, I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t been coached along the way.”
“And although some questions are binary—the answer is either yes or no—we must often work in the gray area, weighing the company’s needs against those of the employees,” she said. “Sometimes those factors work against each other. It’s not always a 50-50 split. We need to look for ways to make as many winners as possible.”
Fred Jerant is a freelance writer based in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Janet's Key Partners:TRC Global Solutions (Corporate Relocation) | Pearl Meyer & Partners (Executive Compensation Consultant)
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