by Douglas R. Conant in Harvard Business Review
Have you ever worked with someone who made your own job difficult? Someone who forced you to pick up the slack, or who had “personality issues”? Such people make you feel like you’re working two jobs — theirs and yours.
Such an experience makes you appreciate their rarer opposites — those who do their jobs really well. When you work with competent, caring people, you become more positive. The workplace isn’t a grind. It positively hums.
Getting the right people on the bus, to use Jim Collins’ phrase, is the single most important thing a manager can do. If you work for a large multinational organization, chances are that some of the right people are already on the bus. But how do you go about finding them? And once you do, how do you keep them?
I learned about the importance of talent-mining once again when I became CEO of Campbell Soup Company a decade ago. To help turn the company around, we needed exceptional leaders dedicated to delivering high performance and building a culture that could support the internal talent development. Over the first three years, we had to replace 300 of the top 350 leaders in the company. 150 were promoted from within, but we also needed to reach outside to find another 150 leaders capable of leading the change process. It was clear that we could not continue to attract so much talent from outside for long.
Attracting, developing and retaining talent is a multi-faceted, complex process. Here are a few things we’ve done to lift our own game.
Declare Yourself. Relatively early on, we very publicly made a commitment to each employee with our Campbell employee value proposition. This kind of declaration demonstrates a real commitment to talent development.
Organize to Execute. It’s critical to clearly signal your commitment to a quality talent-mining process. At Campbell, we have a very robust organization resource planning process that ensures our commitment to the development of each employee.
Clearly Define Expectations. Every leader needs to know what their own, and the company’s, “true north” is. Our six-point Campbell Leadership Model explicitly defines our leaders. This model is part of our performance evaluation process; our training and development programs strengthen skills in all six areas.
Break Bread. To make sure I’m touching all of the nooks and crannies of our talent base, I invite a mixture of people from administrative assistants to vice presidents to private CEO “Lunch and Discuss” sessions every six weeks or so. We meet under the Las Vegas Rule — what is said in the room, stays in the room. The discussions ultimately become quite candid. Over the years, I’ve met with hundreds of associates this way and it has enabled me to get further insights into how we can manage our talent more effectively.
Build Skills. To develop talent, you have to walk the talk. For example, I started an internal program called “The CEO Institute” that takes the next-generation leaders at Campbell through a two-year training course. With good support, I teach the course myself to 20 leaders per session. It’s demanding. I require reading, homework, 360° feedback and one-on-ones as well as attendance to five intense group off-sites. The program helps managers develop a leadership philosophy that is well-aligned with their personal objectives.
Wander Around. I take half an hour a day to literally wander around our offices and see our operation in action. If you do the same, you will eventually develop a “feeling” for your talent base that simply cannot be developed in your office. I also encourage leaders to “virtually” wander around their global operations via internal websites to get a better sense of the strong performers in other locations.
Douglas R. Conant is President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company headquartered in Camden, New Jersey. He is the co-author, with Mette Norgaard, of Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments (Jossey-Bass, May 2011).