New Year’s reSOLUTIONS: Changing the Landscape

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 An inspiring staff encounter set this HR leader up for a workplace revamp resolution, with eyes toward a learning culture resolution


By Mike Williams

Taking on a new role always presents excitement and anticipation. In late 2012, I had the chance to take on a critical human resources (HR) leadership role in a diversified, complex, profitable organization facing talent opportunities. The company was experiencing unprecedented growth and needed improved processes, ways to source and retain talent, and programs to ensure a sustainable talent management focus was in place.

The current HR support function contained talented people, but it was in need of direction and leadership. Processes were stale, employees were not empowered to take action, instead of teamwork people functioned in silos, and HR was not perceived as a service provider or a business partner. In short, I needed to show the team what was possible and provide them with the tools needed to be successful.

mwphoto14I immediately began to supplement the current HR talent in critical leadership roles. The focus was on centralizing the talent acquisition process while improving talent screening processes and providing a professional recruiting approach for all divisions within the organization. At the beginning of the year, it was critical to immediately improve the internal communications among the divisions and corporate HR leaders. This was done with monthly “all-HR” conference calls involving all HR employees across the enterprise, a biweekly team meeting of corporate and division HR leadership, and the use of quarterly offsite HR team meetings to work on team building and strategy for all divisions across the enterprise.

We recognized that communications and collaboration were the most important areas to focus on in order to accomplish our business objectives. We had to be perceived as and operate as a team in order to gain credibility.

Other areas in need of improvement included providing market-competitive job structure and compensation scales and benchmarking, conducting an in-depth review of health plan design and vendor renegotiations, and improving pre-employment screening, including the addition of a behavioral assessment process for key hourly roles within the company.

Lastly, a companywide training program was initiated, providing behavioral-based awareness training to improve day-to-day treatment of employees, with emphasis on showing respect for differences. Preparing the existing workplace to accept differences set the stage for the creation of a learning culture, placing the employee in charge of his or her own career.

Workplace Revamp Resolution

During the year, we discovered two new talent pipelines that will help us to distinguish ourselves from the competition even further: the female welder and the returning veteran. Both groups of candidates have been underutilized by American industry. Both groups possess key skills and attributes that fit well within the company culture. Both groups will be able to excel within our enterprise.

These pipelines were discovered, literally, by an accident from a routine plant tour after I had first joined the organization. I literally stumbled across a young female while on my tour. Upon stopping to ask about what she does and why she was at this (male welder-domianated) plant, I learned a great deal about an untapped resource. Her name was Emily and her story was not that unusual in today’s society, but it definitely had an impact on me. She let me know that she got pregnant in high school, and is now a single parent with two young children. She had to live at home with her parents and was carrying two jobs to support her family.

She responded to an ad in a local newspaper that our company would employ and train applicants to be welders. She felt she could do this, so she attended two weeks of weld school at our facility and learned the trade. More importantly, she makes a competitive wage, has solid benefits, is home at nights and on weekends with her family, and has since found a place of her own. Emily figured it out. That is why she had joined us. She is now the best welder on her shift.


I later learned that we had other Emily’s across the enterprise—but no real strategy or direction behind the story, nor effort to find additional such team members. We now have taken that story and built a new talent pipeline, incorporated social media efforts and video interviewed women at work for their personal testimonials, taking this footage on the road to high schools and vo-tech schools, for example. We also have partnered with several women’s groups, including Women Welders at Work, to further socialize the story and open the door for today’s Rosie the Riveter, so to speak.

What makes the story even more spectacular is that we now have a competitive niche in the battle for talent, and a campaign that is applicable to any type of applicant, whether a female single parent or otherwise. We offer the ability to learn a trade, earn good wages and benefits, and, as importantly, to be home nights. In the world of welding, a great deal of the available talent follows the energy sector to work on drilling rigs and platforms in far-reaching places, where spending time at home with a family is simply not an option. While we cannot compete with the wages paid to that talent sector, we can offer something perhaps even more valuable: a work-life balance in the tough environment of being a welder, with a solid job and pay.

These strategies came from a most impromptu meeting with a young woman named Emily, who offered me a chance to learn something about an untapped resource of talent. All I had to do was listen. We can now build on that and attract and retain a workforce of better talent than we have ever experienced, positioning ourselves to continue to meet the growth demand of a great business.We have transformed that talent sourcing strategy to also include a veterans program for returning servicemen and servicewomen. Those who have served their country oversees and are now returning home also will have a place where they can employ a trade skill or be taught—a place where they can choose the benefit of a good position and being at home with their families.

We also learned from implementing improved selection processes (i.e., behavior assessment screening, improved interview selection) that we can improve the natural fit for an entry-level employee within our culture, enabling him or her to experience a better work life, thus ensuring hiring retention. As mentioned above, we provide entry-level welder training, which has been leveraged as a unique employment offering distinguishing us as a desired employment option for these new pipelines. Furthermore, the applicant assessment screen we have deployed for all applicants will provide a better success rate for new hires, as it will match attributes for a successful profile to a candidate.

Learning Culture Resolution

2013 was clearly a busy year, and a great deal was accomplished. We will continue to build a solid foundation as the result of many initiatives begun in 2013, and ensure they are completely implemented across all business units within the enterprise.

The story, however, has only just begun. While HR needed leadership in providing a more relevant footprint across the 14 business units and the 18,000 headcount across North America, it also needed to change its perception as one of only providing tactical support. By functioning strategically, we will be able to anticipate issues and implement prevention measures rather than operate reactively. The goal is to be looked upon with expertise in process improvement and sustainable solutions.
The new year will begin the journey toward building that perception by embarking on creating a “learning culture,” as mentioned earlier. We want to be seen as the change agent for this effort—the expertise, the business solution leader—toward creating a culture that provides career opportunity for employees from the factory floor to the C-Suite. Talent retention where employees can be proud of a long-term relationship with others, and the opportunity to be a part of a company that builds infrastructure across the continent.
This will start with the creation of line-level supervisory training and the completion of a general manager development program, both of which will inspire improvement of bench strength in our most critical environment—the manufacturing plants across the enterprise. Additionally, we will add an executive development process that incorporates curriculum and job skill training that maps to the key competences for success at our company. This will include a Plant Manager and executive-level assessment process to be used to evaluate talent and talent gaps. Professional workforce planning, combined with succession planning, will ensure the company has the talent needed for future growth and self-renewal.


2014 will be the year in which we change the landscape at the company. We will move from a reactive presence to one where we will provide opportunities for career growth at all levels. We will have an overall development strategy that will enable us to create a true succession plan throughout, with much needed bench strength. We will continue to grow by acquisition. Our bench strength will optimize these additions by have leadership ready and able to assume proper roles in new facilities and product lines.


Further, the above programs will be implemented with measures designed to ensure sustainable learning as well as adaptable features allowing adjustments in curriculum and design. In essence, the goal line will be to change the culture with a focus on continued learning and improvement, increased opportunities for self and professional development for all, and a workforce that continues to prosper.
The goal for HR in 2014 will be to function as a team across the enterprise, whether a corporate support role or a division HR business partner. HR will be looked upon as a strategic partner for the businesses, advising and consulting on solutions, advocating for the employee and the improvement of the work-life cycle, and regarded as a change leader driving the organization toward a learning culture, ensuring that our talent is developed, engaged and empowered.



headshot1Mike Williams is VP of HR for a multibillion-dollar industrial manufacturer.

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