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Butterball: No Chicken When It Comes to Talent Management

If you like poultry, chances are you like or have at least tasted one of Butterball’s products.

March 5, 2008
Related Topics: Strategy and Management
If you like poultry, chances are you like or have at least tasted one of Butterball’s products. The growing national organization has decided its talent management strategies should be as varied and deliverable as its consumer product offerings.

Targeted programs for different employee populations and outdated systems bear reconsideration as the company focuses on the importance of enterprise-wide process consistency, new technology implementation and building a culture of employee development. Beverly Hinson, director of organizational development and training, with responsibility for the company’s talent management process, offers more insight into the company’s forward-thinking strategy to ensure a continuous pipeline of talent.

TM: Describe Butterball’s approach to talent management.

Hinson: We are using an integrated approach with an emphasis on people development. We link our performance processes to both learning management and our succession planning process. Our senior management and ownership group decided they were interested in doing succession planning this year, and we began to look for a talent management system to help aid us in managing the process. In 2006, our ownership purchased Butterball brand and acquired five additional processing facilities. Overnight we went from 2,600 employees to a little over 5,000. With the organization growing at that rate, it’s very important for us to maintain the continuity of our leadership and have successors to fill key positions as they become vacated.

TM: What processes or programs has Butterball established to improve workforce performance?

Hinson: We use an annual review process in addition to the programs we have established. We currently have a team leader development program, a supervisor apprentice program, and we perform required annual training with over 100 hours of leadership training which is developed internally. And we have access to thousands of off-the-shelf programs ready to be delivered according to our business needs. The training we design or have selected is used to support the development of the core leadership and management competencies that we use in both our hiring and performance management processes. Our immediate implementation plans include establishing a mid-manager development program, a senior manager development program, and we’re implementing talent management software which includes performance management, learning management and succession management. We’re also looking at implementing individual assessments, including multi-rater review of talent and potential and individual assessments on the job-specific competencies. By the year-end, we expect to have our senior leadership team conducting talent discussions with employees to review their career goals and to discuss their development needs and opportunities. Our longer range plans include implementation of mentoring programs and online knowledge banks. Our intention is to have professionals document their processes and capture any information pertinent to people who will come in and fill these positions later.

How is performance management linked to Butterball’s strategic objectives?

Hinson: Our goals are established based on annual key leadership objectives for the organization and for individual business units, and the goals are tied to incentives as well as built into our annual performance review process.

TM: What type of challenges impact talent management at Butterball?

Hinson: Well, as I mentioned, in 2006 our organization grew significantly when we acquired the Butterball brand and additional facilities, and since that time we’ve been working to establish standard systems and processes across all the facilities. Now we’re in the process of implementing the succession management component as well as including some of the existing processes into the software we purchased from Cornerstone to manage our talent.

TM: How does Butterball work to change or create leadership or management behaviors that lead to optimal workforce performance?

Hinson: Primarily through our annual training and development initiatives and through the performance management process. Our performance management process includes top grading, annual performance reviews, merit increases that are tied to overall performance, performance improvement plans and also employee development plans.

TM: How does your company develop culture and employee attitudes to help optimize workforce performance? I would imagine, since you’re growing so quickly, that is a concern.

Hinson: Yes, absolutely. We have built a system of accountability that fosters the expected culture and performance. We drive expectations through the performance management process, employee training and development initiatives, and we ensure our leaders know what is important to the organization through our annual review process. Our leaders are measured on what they achieve and how they achieve it. At the same time, our leadership programs are also built around the culture and performance expectations.

TM: What processes and programs does Butterball use to attract, recruit and retain top talent?

Hinson: We post all of our jobs internally, online and through our local employment security commission. We also make regular site visits to the Employment Security Commission to take applications and conduct interviews. We have a competitive compensation and benefits package, a college recruiting program, behavioral-based interviews, an orientation and training process, employee development programs and incentive programs.

TM: How does Butterball measure workforce performance?

Hinson: We measure workforce performance against key results, expectations and core competency expectations. Each metric is evaluated on a scale ranging from “does not meet expectations” up through the top-ranked rating on that same scale. That’s all of the exempt and nonexempt. It would not include our frontline, hourly production workers. The managers are kind of daily monitoring and having daily conversations with them. They don’t have a formal review process for the hourly production workers. We do have OTJ [on-the-job] training in some of our facilities for the production workers, but it’s more daily management as issues occur or performance corrections are needed. It’s on-the-spot type measurement.

TM: Do you use assessments to manage Butterball’s talent? You mentioned behavioral interviewing.

Hinson: We do have behavioral interviewing, but at this point we have not implemented any individual assessments. We have to identify the competencies first, and that’s part of our implementation plan for the whole talent management process. We just have the core leadership competencies defined at this point.

TM: You’re working on an enterprise-wide talent management implementation plan?

Hinson: Yes, we’re actually doing it in stages. We’re going to start the bulk of it with our senior leaders, and then roll it out through the rest of the key leadership positions and professional and technical positions, and right now we have a lot of pieces around performance management that we’re currently converting and loading into the Cornerstone software. We’re going to roll out some of the succession planning pieces this year. We’ll do career profiles with all of our exempt and nonexempt employees and performance appraisals through our new system with all employees on the merit-based pay system. Then the senior leaders will do a talent assessment of their employees in the second half of the year and identify successors for their positions. After we do the talent assessments, we’ll hold talent review meetings with senior leaders and really discuss and finalize the succession plans, and then we’ll begin rolling the process out through the rest of the organization at the same time we’re working on employee development plans for those identified successors.

TM: What compensation and incentive practices does Butterball employ to help manage talent?

Hinson: We try to remain competitive in both our compensation and incentive packages. We have annual bonus programs, and we do an annual review of what we’re offering to make sure we’re staying competitive with the market. We have been pretty successful in attracting talent to our organization, and I believe that is part of our compensation and incentive packages.

TM: Tell us about succession planning at Butterball and what challenges you’ve had.

Hinson: Succession planning is currently in our implementation phase, so the challenges are getting the programs and processes in place, educating everyone on what those programs and processes are and then, in the second half of the year, to initiate those talent assessment processes for the senior-level positions, hold those first talent review meetings and continue to deploy the process through the rest of the organization.

TM: Do people understand why Butterball is undertaking these large-scale changes?

Hinson: Everyone is on board. In fact, I had a meeting recently with some senior leaders in our operations team, and all of our leadership seems very excited about it and realizes the necessity of that in today’s business world.

TM: Have your workforce performance management activities contributed to Butterball’s bottom line?

Hinson: I don’t have any hard data to provide for you, but through our supervisor development program, we have seen a decrease in the number of supervisors that we’ve had to hire externally. This certainly has an impact on our recruiting and relocation costs. Also, through our top grading, performance reviews and performance improvement plan process, we’ve seen a positive shift in our overall performance and productivity within our organization and within the specific business units.

TM: What’s next for Butterball talent management and workforce performance development?

Hinson: Our main objective is to get the talent management software implemented and roll out the succession planning processes to the entire organization. It’s not going to be an overnight process. It involves a change in the way we look at hiring, promotion, performance and development activities. We’re also going to place much more emphasis on building a culture of employee development, and we’ll implement the development initiatives to support that culture. That’s been in the process for the last few years, but we’re really trying to drive into the organization the culture of employee development and developing talent from within so that we can see a turnaround in the number of people we have to hire externally, especially for senior-level positions.

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