Executive Insight: Q&A with Ed Flowers, Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer for World Kitchen

Gerald Mathews Executive Features, Human Resources Leave a Comment

Ed discusses his valuable experience at Monsanto and how he is building and measuring the impact of the HR team at World Kitchen

IMG_31301 - LRForefront Magazine: During your time at Monsanto you were able to get international experience as well as getting experience doing acquisition and integration work. How did that experience at Monsanto help you as a global HR leader?

Ed Flowers: Yes, at Monsanto my first opportunity I was responsible for Asia, Europe and LATAM. And later on, got significant experience integrating several companies into Monsanto. It was the most critical experience at that point in my career because learning the global landscape in terms of how local countries operate differently and think differently is important to how you think about people and culture of an organization. The acquisition and integration experience was also critical in learning how to immediately help the organization create value in those assets very quickly. Companies spend millions and billions of dollars acquiring companies without the real pre- and post-planning that it takes to get the companies to work well from day one.

Forefront Magazine: You had previously worked with the CEO at World Kitchen, Carl Warschausky, at Monsanto which means you knew his style. How did this connectivity help in establishing a people strategy for the organization?

Ed Flowers: Let me say first an important success factor in any Chief HR officer’s objectives is to have a seamless relationship with any CEO. I have a success model that explains how working with the CEO has to be a strong connectivity and frequent communication loop. For Carl W and I having had the experience of working together at a successful company with a successful culture we were able to establish people strategies that we both knew could be successful for World Kitchen. Since we had experienced this success previously together at Monsanto, we knew, while not the same business or people dynamics as Monsanto, that driving people strategies and culture would be a key to success and achieving business results. The most important thing about my familiarity with Carl is I didn’t have to spend my time selling a people strategy and culture concept to the CEO, he already understood it. So immediately we were inseparable business partners in this effort as well as the executive team.

leaderstagesForefront Magazine: How have you been able to challenge the CEO as well as other leaders to take things to a different level while taking into consideration the legacy that the organization will be leaving behind?

Ed Flowers: Part of the rationale on driving a high performance culture is to demonstrate in the organization success stories around improved teaming, communication and collaboration. Once they see the success happening, they get on board very quickly. Just talking about it will not convince all leadership of the benefits of driving culture change. Additionally, benchmarking successful companies and successful CEOs and their leadership proves that other companies have used the same formula for success.

Forefront Magazine: The HR organization has evolved to better support the business by becoming more proactive and strategic. How have you done this by creating COEs (Centers of Excellence) that specialize in certain areas?

Ed Flowers: Yes, Creating COEs has allowed the HR business partners and the business units to focus on value added people strategies and the COEs worked very connected with the HR business partners to execute services that are critical for the business i.e., talent acquisition needs to be done at a level of excellence to make sure we are building strong organizational capabilities.

Forefront Magazine: In establishing a business partner relationship across the organization, can you discuss the importance of engaging with the organization and having measurable success that impacts the business? How does this start to change the culture and create better alignment?

Ed Flowers: It’s very important that the business units understand the value of an HR business partner. It’s not about them executing day to day HR responsibilities (by the way, those things have to be done at an excellent level for sure). It’s about being able to understand business needs and supply strategic HR solutions and interventions to create a greater vision for what an organization can be and solving complex issues that involve people and how they would impact the business. It changes the culture because it raises the bar on expectations of the Human Resources function and the HR business partners become integral to the success of the business.

Forefront Magazine: How do you measure the impact that is being made on the business?

Ed Flowers: My number one measure of success is the business success; we cannot measure ourselves in a siloed manner. If a company is not achieving business success, then we are in line with the business and not doing all the things we need to do to assure business success. It is not the only measure, but it counts the most. Of course, we use engagement surveys. We measure the success of our current talent and new talent that we bring into the organization so while those are important measures, ultimately our impact is tied to the business.

Forefront Magazine: Elevating the talent has also been key from a strategic standpoint. Can you talk about the importance of bringing in a higher level of talent and how you work with search firms to better evaluate candidates?

Ed Flowers: Talent is key, bringing in the best talent is extremely important. As I tell my team, talent acquisition is the secret sauce. I would also say talent development as well. Working with search firms who do a thorough job of looking at the market and evaluating talent is tricky. I typically work with people and not firms, so something that I evaluate is the expertise of an individual doing the search and the infrastructure of how they do a search.

Forefront Magazine: As a leader you said that you aim to create a coaching and feedback rich environment and you also said that feedback is a gift. Can you talk about the importance of not only giving direct feedback but being able to accept feedback?

Ed Flowers: Well, that is another mantra that I have said frequently and many WK employees know.  One of the values that we have enhanced when I came to World Kitchen was humility. The ability to accept feedback is directly connected to that value. When people give you feedback, you have to take your ego away and be humble to hearing something that you may or may not agree with. The ability to have awareness around feedback given to you is also something that effective leadership at all levels should have. If you do not have awareness of potential areas for development that you have received feedback on, you will never change and therefore, never get better.

Forefront Magazine: You also said that as a leader you have a strong bias to action. Can you talk about this approach and how it usually serves you well but can also lead to trouble?

Ed Flowers: I believe everyone should have a strong bias to action. When you see problems or opportunities seize upon them, don’t wait. I have at times however, moved too quickly and made mistakes. That’s the downside to having a strong bias to action. But I would say that mostly it has served me well.

Forefront Magazine: You have worked with coaches throughout your career. How has working with coaches helped you to build your courage in working with senior leaders?

Ed Flowers: Yes, I’ve worked with coaches all of my career. The primary myth about coaches is that you’re trying to fix something that is wrong with you, when in fact it served me the opposite. It allowed me to see things and challenge things that I would not have done on my own. So coaches should be used to develop and engage you and enhance you, versus “fixing” something.

Forefront Magazine: At World Kitchen you have established an Employee Advisory Committee for people at all levels of the organization. Can you talk about the role that this committee plays and how it helps young people develop as leaders within the organization?

Ed Flowers: Certainly I believe that getting the voice of people at all levels in the company serves to keep your perspective proper. This committee has allowed me to get that perspective. It also helps some of our developmental future leaders interact with myself and others to understand how things get done and how things move forward. This committee was instrumental in helping to move forward the high performance culture initiatives that we have executed over the last three years. ♦

Ed's Key Partners:
LeaderStages (Executive Coaching & HR Strategy) | The Ken Blanchard Companies (Leadership Development Firm)

Comments, thoughts, feedback?