Sweet Dreams: Investing in Your Associates at a Personal Level

Tamer Abouras Executive Features, Human Resources Leave a Comment

Mars Food North America’s Vice President of People and Organization, Maria Lane, discusses the company’s family-oriented atmosphere and how she’s always encouraging associates to dream big

Maria Mars FoodRegardless of how much the field has changed or will continue to evolve, HR has always fundamentally been about people. From selecting the best candidates for interviews out of a group of applicants, to choosing someone for a job, and then growing that employee, it’s a function that operates to not only select talented individuals but also to sharpen their skills.

While it may not always be the case that an HR department excels in this kind of holistic approach, those that do are seen as better strategic partners for their businesses.

Through a career in the field that has spanned over 20 years and included a more than decade long executive stint at KFC, Yum! Brands, Maria Lane has consistently put the people on her respective teams first and has seen her companies, most recently Mars Food North America, taste great success as a result.

An Alignment of Personal Values

Reflecting on the time she came on board at Mars, in June of 2011, Lane expressed how she felt that the company’s values, particularly their Five Principles, were closely aligned with her own and how important she felt it was to find that synchronicity.

“In a little over 20 years in HR, there are some things which haven’t changed; namely, the importance of associate advocacy in any department. When I came to Mars, which is still a family-owned company, I was struck by how connected everyone was and how there was an executive-level effort to develop and empower each associate. Mars’ Five Principles, of quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency, and freedom were something I agreed with so strongly and I truly believe that a strong cultural fit is crucial to succeeding wherever you happen to be working.”

Lane said that even as she’s witnessed analytics and metrics emerge as a way to more accurately select the best fits from a group of job seekers, hire the right people, and then use their talents in the most effective way for the business, supplementing those associates with training and development is critical to benefit the organization while also helping them to progress, professionally and personally.

Dream Board

Managing Your Dreams and Becoming the Best Version of Yourself

One of the ways that Lane has been working to enrich her associates at Mars has been through a program called “The Dream Manager Program,” which was inspired by Matthew Kelly’s book “The Dream Manager.” She shared details about the seminar she created based upon the book and also, how it’s had such positive results for the business.


“One of Maria’s goals is to make a real difference in the lives of the Associates. She has accomplished this in an extraordinary way through her unique implementation of the Dream Manager program. Over the past four years I’ve been privileged to hear the stories and see evidence of Associates dreams be envisioned and realized in a way that is inspiring, humbling and very generative. Maria is the personification of a “quietly, powerful” leader.”
– Denise Kirwan, TracksGlobal Business Consulting and Executive Coaching

“When I came on board at Mars, there was actually a discussion about ideas we had for strengthening our associates and to connect what they do every day to their dreams. I had Matthew Kelly’s book with me at the time and had developed a program based upon it, so I spoke up and said ‘I have something.’ The program is all about helping you to become the best version of yourself. So at the associate level, what I tried to do was take those concepts and put them into a workshop that was intended to help them articulate their dreams and come up with a plan of action to best pursue each one. It begins with asking associates to allow themselves to dream without limits, to focus on how they can achieve their dreams versus focusing on the barriers. Associates then assess their satisfaction with the twelve different areas of their life, and we start by having associates write ten dreams they want to achieve and the time-frame in which they want to achieve them.  We also create a community of support for their dreams where they pair up with a Dream Buddy to share their dreams, get ideas and get support for achieving their dream.  Lastly, the associate puts together an action plan to pursue both their long- and short-term dreams.”

“This allows them not only to share their dreams with a group, but also to have a support system and a plan and the most interesting thing is how they’ll talk about something like wanting to become a runner, and their Dream Buddy, or even someone else, will speak up because that’s something they’re very good at. What it illustrates is how much more successful everyone can be when we understand one another’s dreams and how we can help them achieve them.”

Lane shared the testimonial of an associate, Kimberly McKinley from Greenville, Mississippi, who recounted how the Dream Manager has helped her. “I want to encourage all associates that have not been to the training to go. For me personally it helped me to do a self examination of where I’ve been, where I’m at now, and where I might want to be in the next week, month, year, or decade. This training really opened my eyes up to the me in me. So, I want to just say try it, it really makes a difference in your thinking, I promise. Even though I look the same, on the inside I’m transforming into something better. We all know change has to take place in the mind first. This training helps with that change that we all long for, but don’t know exactly where to start.

There are many success stories of the Dream Manager and they are as varied as the individuals.  Ranging from buying their first home, being the first to attend college, becoming debt free, becoming healthier, pursuing their professional development, running their first marathon, and extending to their families as well.  The Dream Manager has not only touched the lives of associates, but associates have shared it with their families so that they can help their families achieve their dreams as well.

Oasis Blue

“Better Food Today, a Better World Tomorrow”

Maria Lane’s approach is nothing if not personal and passionate. Her main piece of advice for young professionals – is  discovering one’s passion. “For me, I think I knew early on that I had a passion for people and HR It’s important to never lose sight of what your organization does or what it produces. At Mars, our global Food Purpose is ‘Better Food Today. A Better World Tomorrow.’  The Dream Manager is a living example of our Principles in Action by giving associates the Freedom to shape their future by creating the space and support needed to understand their aspirations and help them achieve their dreams, and help associates have a better Quality of life, and it demonstrates our Mutuality principle by helping associates become better versions of themselves to help them be the best at what they do. ♦

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The 5 Principles of Mars

Lane elaborated on the Five Principles of Mars and how they permeate every aspect of the company.

“At Mars, we have our Five Principles which really spell out what our values are as an organization. In order, they are:

1: Quality –The consumer is our boss, quality is our work, and value for money is our goal.

 Anyone can question the quality of any order, so at Mars we try to put ourselves in the consumer’s shoes. If we’re not happy with the product that we would be giving to them, we don’t give it to them. That’s our standard.

2: Responsibility – As individuals, we demand total responsibility from ourselves; as associates, we support the responsibilities of others.

There’s no reduction or increase in personal responsibility based upon a person’s title and we as a company always seek to recruit high character people who can be accountable.

3: Mutuality – A mutual benefit is a shared benefit; a shared benefit will endure.

Although this is a business, not all benefits need to be financial and strictly about profits. Our actions as a company should never come at the expense of anyone in our organization.

4: Efficiency – We use resources to the full, waste nothing and do only what we can do best.

 We only do what we can do best. We want to organize all of our assets, whether they are physical, financial, or in human capital, and allocate them in a way that is conducive to maximum productivity.

5: Freedom – We need freedom to shape our future; we need profit to remain free.

We have deliberately remained a family-owned corporation.  We believe that when companies grow larger and begin selling off their ownership, they are exchanging a portion of their freedom. At Mars, we feel prosperity can be achieved another way.

Maria's Key Partners:
Tracks Global Business Consulting (Executive Consultation) | Lighthouse NINE Group (HR consulting) 

Tamer Abouras

Contributing Writer at Forefront Magazine
Tamer Abouras is a freelance writer based in Williamstown, New Jersey.

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