December 1, 2004
Vice President and Chief Learning Officer
When the opportunity came in 2001 for General Mills to acquire long-time rival Pillsbury, Vice President and Chief Learning Officer Kevin Wilde stepped into a sizeable breach. To retain the talent base at both companies and integrate different values, strategy, vision and organizational structure, General Mills would have to make a significant investment in learning.
In order to forge a new path for learning and development at General Mills, Wilde drew on more than 15 years of experience in human resource management and global leadership development. On a short timetable, Wilde effectively meshed two organizations’ learning cultures, eased the strain of the merger process and created a new standard for learning at General Mills.
For Wilde, the Pillsbury merger offered a unique chance to take all of the tools of learning and development and actively apply them. “We doubled in size, actually acquired more employees and more managers than we had,” Wilde said. “We used our whole market capitalization to pay for the merger, so it was really a very, very big bet. Being able to step in and use a variety of organizational development tools at that time was a great opportunity.”
Wilde described being recognized for excellence among his peers in the learning community as energizing and fun. Despite the scope and depth of this particular project, it’s not a surprising reaction for an executive who often takes his company’s products home to test them on his family.
“There’s a lot of things that you need to do when you do a big merger,” Wilde said. “We knew we couldn’t do all of them at once; we’d be confusing folks. Instead we figured out what was most important to do first, do it well and then continue on with something else. It has been two years of continual development that has helped the company come together.”
Those two years of continual development began with performance management. “We knew we had to get that right, so we rolled out a new system with a lot of good training behind it,” Wilde said. “We followed with very intensive individual development and career planning for all employees in the new organization, and then followed with our first one-year employee opinion survey. We really had a chance to put a metric in place and judge progress on, ‘Did we accomplish performance management? Did we accomplish this objective?’ Having very high scores in those areas told us that we did a good job and to continue to build on that.”
The post-merger learning initiatives Wilde put in place at General Mills were successful and provided solid learning support for the company’s integration efforts. Not one to pat himself on the back for a job well done, when colleagues warned Wilde that his progress was only the beginning, he listened.
“My manager, the senior VP of HR, said, ‘That’s great, that’s one year in a row.’ The challenge in year two of the merger is how do you deepen, institutionalize all of these initiatives so that it becomes part of the DNA of the company as opposed to a one-time merger effort,” Wilde said. “We continue to build in more tools and put training initiatives in place, another climate survey a year later. Year two, (we’re) seeing the scores as strong, in fact, getting a little stronger. I’m currently looking at the year three scores on things around development, performance management and leadership, which is an area we’ve done some work on recently and we’re very encouraged. We think that matters on the inside, and that’s going to translate to winning performance on the outside.”