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Newell Rubbermaid\'s Brian Hults is navigating major organizational change in a way that ensures employees\' skills stay fresh.

December 12, 2010
Related Topics: Technology, Performance Management
When Mark Ketchum became president and CEO of Newell Rubbermaid five years ago, he made some substantial changes to the consumer and commercial products company.

“Mark substantially changed the way we go to market, the way we sell our products and our entire business strategy, and as a result of that, we’ve had to make an awful lot of changes in the organization,” said Brian Hults, vice president of global organization and people development at Newell Rubbermaid. “This has required us to substantially change our training and our development strategy because there’s so much we have to learn.”

As a result, Hults, who oversees the talent management needs of 21,000 employees within Newell Rubbermaid, sees it as “a pretty young company” despite it being 108 years old.

TM: How have the changes Newell Rubbermaid has undergone in the past five years affected its approach to talent?

Hults: When you think about moving from a sales- [and] promotion-driven organization to being a consumer marketing organization, going from essentially a conglomerate or a holding company to more of a fully integrated operating company that operates as one Newell Rubbermaid, it requires a substantial amount of change. We’ve really had to be careful about the pacing of the training programs that we’re doing, as well as the sequencing of them. We’ve had to take what I like to think of as a differential investment approach. Just as you invest differentially in your brands — you always put more money behind the brands that grow, and you milk your brands that aren’t growing so fast — we’ve had to differentially invest in the development of our people.

TM: How is your performance management process defined?

Hults: We have a strategic planning process, which leads to an annual operating process. Out of the annual operating process, where we determine our business plan for each succeeding year, that’s where goal-setting our performance management program stems from. What a lot of people forget about performance management is it is a tool for managing individual performance, but, more importantly, it’s an organizational development tool to ensure alignment of priorities and the allocation of people and resources against key strategic initiatives. So we take that annual operating process, put that into our goals and then cascade those goals throughout our organization. We have found that to be very helpful in terms of raising the bar of organizational performance to ensure that basically everybody’s working on the right thing. And we actually do training on that. We do refresher training and new employee training on an annual basis. [Additionally,] every year we have an organization review process, where we review all of our leaders in the company, assess their competencies, talk about their strengths and their development needs, and then we translate that into their development plan. This is also the process we use to place people into key roles in the organization.

TM: What challenges impact talent management at Newell Rubbermaid?

Hults: Our biggest challenge is change and how much we have to learn today. For example, when you look at major organization initiatives, we have a sales and operations planning process that we just put in, and we’ve built 13 training programs behind that. We’re delivering a marketing upgrade and transforming as we raise the capabilities of our marketing organization. We’re doing the same thing on the sales side, with our go-to-market and channel organizations, and we’re implementing SAP today. A lot of organizations would only do those one at a time — those would be enough change for any given year. We’re running all four of those programs simultaneously in addition to trying to manage our annual operating results. So really it’s about sequencing, prioritization and ensuring that calendars are reasonably synchronized so you’re not overwhelming any given function or business unit at any given particular time to ensure that they can actually execute these initiatives effectively and receive the training they need regularly.

TM: How does Newell Rubbermaid work to create leadership and management behaviors that lead to optimal workforce performance?

Hults: Our values are our people; our brand; how we work together — basically establishing a standard of collaboration and integrity in everything we do. From those values, we develop competencies. Also, 50 percent of a person’s performance review is based on their leadership capabilities. So we basically have two processes leading back to our basic values as an organization — both in terms of succession planning and performance management — where we’re consistently evaluating people against what we’ve defined as the key leadership competencies and capabilities of the company; providing people development on those plans; then ensuring that those plans are executed and that we raise the bar on those on an annual basis.

TM: How does Newell Rubbermaid develop organizational culture and employee attitudes to optimize workforce performance?

Hults: Based on our values and our strategy as an organization, we’ve developed a survey we do about every 18 months. It’s a very standard process. We administer the survey, we provide the summary of the results and all of the comments to each of our operating units in each of our global corporate functions, and then the HR community — in partnership with my department — leads and facilitates a series of focus groups to flesh out what those responses mean. They may say, “We need more communication” or “We need more training.” Well, what does that really mean? [We] provide some real meat and context behind that; then every business unit develops their own action plan; and those action plans are presented and reviewed quarterly through our quarterly business review process. We feel very good that we’ve institutionalized the progression of our culture in the organization.

TM: How does Newell Rubbermaid use learning and development to manage talent?

Hults: The major process we use here is our organizational review process. So, on an annual basis, we basically look at all of our leaders and do an assessment of their capabilities as leaders and also some of their functional capabilities: Do they have experience in sales? Do they have experience in manufacturing and supply chain procurement? Do they have experience in marketing? [From this, we] determine their readiness for roles of increased responsibility and leadership. And based on that assessment, each one of those people will have a development plan. Now, based on that development plan and their potential, we’ll either target them for one of our senior leadership development programs or some of our other courses where we may feel that they need learning.

TM: What processes or programs have you established to attract, recruit and retain top talent?

Hults: [We] brought our recruiting and staffing organization internally. And we’ve currently filled 99 percent of our jobs with that internal organization. Now, the way we ensure that we get the best talent is first [that] where you find the best talent changes every day. With social media, it continues to move around quite a bit, and [our recruiting and staffing organization] actively probes that media every day to find where the best talent is communicated regularly. Second, we use the leadership competencies we’ve developed to select people. And then, in the functions where we’ve developed them, like marketing and sales, we actually have technical competency models as well that we use. So, as we screen people for particular jobs, we have well-defined job descriptions and competency models for those roles. We can check their leadership competencies to ensure that their style — the way they lead and manage people — is consistent with our values and who we are and also that they have the technical skills to [perform] the role.

TM: What compensation and incentive practices do you employ to help manage talent?

Hults: On the attraction side, we are a very market-aggressive organization. We have a very nice suite of compensation and benefits where your base pay is typically right around market, but there’s significant upside on the bonus and, for a certain level of roles, equity side. So, as people come in and they and their businesses produce great results, they receive commensurate rewards for that.

TM: What’s next for your organization in terms of talent management and workforce performance development?

Hults: Really, the next generation or the next step for us is ensuring that our organization’s succession planning process meets the needs of the organization and the multigenerational workforce. [We want to] continue to flesh out the training programs we have for the vast majority of our associates to ensure we’re delivering high-quality programs at a low cost and build on the work that we’ve established to date there. And then [we want to] ensure that we have the capability as an organization to do organizational capability planning in support of the execution of our strategic business plans on an annual basis.

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