The recipe for learning at Just Born contains equal parts of executive commitment and reinforcement of a unique company culture. With 525 associates in Bethlehem and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Just Born markets candy in more than 45 countries. The Just Born line of candies includes the irresistible PEEPS, a marshmallow treat that has become an American icon. Meloney Sallie- Dosunmu, Just Born's senior manager of organizational effectiveness and talent management, spoke with Learning Executives Briefing about the challenges of maintaining the unique company culture, while helping the company and its associates to grow and achieve success.
Learning Executives Briefing: How long have you been in your current role and what is your title?
Meloney Sallie-Dosunmu: I am the senior manager of organizational effectiveness and talent, and I have been with Just Born for 10 years. I started as employee relations and development manager and was responsible for training and employee relations. After a couple of years, HR business partner was added to my role, but it didn't change my title. Two years ago I was promoted to be responsible for the entire talent management process, which includes the entire associate life cycle from pre-hire to retirement. I proposed the structure of the organization of our talent management and associate engagement.
LXB: How does Just Born define talent management?
Sallie-Dosunmu: It is responsible for the associate relationship and for understanding what differentiates us from other companies, or our value proposition as it relates to our associates. We publicize that throughout the industry. It involves attracting, recruiting, compensating, rewarding, recognizing, developing, and growing associates to make sure we have the right person on the team and the right person in the right seat with the right skills for today, and also for the future. It involves succession planning and career development planning, and occasionally, exiting when necessary.
LXB: What is on the horizon in the next 12 months?
Sallie-Dosunmu: We will be focusing on improving associate development as a strategic initiative for the business. It is very exciting. Our executive vice president, Mark McLaughlin, has convinced the leadership of the company that it is imperative to include learning as a strategic initiative.
LXB: How will you measure the success of these initiatives?
Sallie-Dosunmu: We have several measures. We conduct a talent review every year where we determine the contribution of individual associates. This is where we determine who are the high performers and high potentials. We also have a high performance leadership development program. Each person who participates in that program is required to complete an action learning project where he employs the skills he is learning in the program to deliver business results. That gives us a metric on how much that person and each group has affected the business. This year we are also measuring sales dollars per person. We also track some traditional HR numbers, such as the hiring costs per year.
Each manager in the HR department is responsible for an area where she serves as a business partner. She is responsible for ensuring that the people in the department she is assigned to are functioning to the best of their ability. We also have a functional expertise focus that some organizations would call a center of excellence. So, each of those people is responsible for her own center of excellence.
LXB: How do you identify your high potentials?
Sallie-Dosunmu: The human resources partner works with the vice president in each functional area. We meet with the line leadership and guide a meeting where we think through the individual's contribution that year, and if he is delivering or exceeding his targets. Once a year we conduct a talent review to determine where he will be categorized for that year.
Part of what makes Just Born special is our culture. The "what" people do is important but so is the "how." We have a tool that measures the "how." Three people will assess each associate. Part of that assessment looks at how well that person completes her goals and objectives. But part of it is also how that person operates inside the culture of the organization. How does she communicate? How does she work with her team? And how well does she serve internal customers? We also look at how those people are perceived within the organization.
LXB: How else does the company culture affect learning and development?
Sallie-Dosunmu: Learning and development is key to driving the culture. It drives some of the learning we deliver, such as onboarding. A new employee spends time with every member of the executive team of the company. They really get to know the new employees. It's part of helping people understand what makes us different, as well as what the expectations are for leaders in the organization. It also affects how we conduct learning and development.
We have leaders as teachers. For example, the COO, the executive Vice President of HR and the supply chain, and the Vice President of brand development teach in our leadership development program. Each group that is a part of our leadership development program gets an executive mentor for their project, so they have executive team involvement. The executives help assure that the participants don't run into boundaries. They help them apply the tools they are learning. They demonstrate to the participants the leadership they are learning in the program.
LXB: How is the learning agenda set?
Sallie-Dosunmu: It flows from all directions. Our performance management and career development processes both serve as a yearly needs assessment. Part of the performance management process is to identify what competencies you need to deliver the results this year. You also identify two competencies you need to gain to position yourself for your next job at Just Born. Those filter into human resources, and we use that information to conduct a company-wide analysis. That's what drives what learning will happen this year. It also serves as a multilevel needs assessment that is driven from the bottom and the sides. While at the same time, we work closely with the COO and the vice presidents to identify other learning that needs to happen in order to deliver our strategic initiatives and respond to what is going on in the industry.
One example was a need last year to help employees deal with the media. As we are growing, we are getting more media exposure. We needed to define who were going to be the company spokespeople. We needed to help them know what to say and how to say it, regardless of the situation. That was driven by an industry need. There is such a big focus on companies involved in food manufacturing. Anything can turn into a crisis. You want to understand not only how do you manage it operationally, but also how do you handle the media. That learning need was driven from the top.
LXB: It sounds like learning is a continuous process.
Sallie-Dosunmu: Exactly. Part of an employee's merit pay and bonus is dependent on completing the learning he agreed to at the beginning of the year. If an associate says he needed to learn these two things, at the end of the year he is measured on how well he completed that learning. It is also a measure of how well an employee achieves his goals and objectives.
LXB: Do you have issues with multiple generations in your workforce?
Sallie-Dosunmu: We have multiple generations in our workforce. A lot of companies are seeing that the tenure of employees is shorter than it has been in the past, but we have not experienced that. It is not unusual for us to have a retirement of a person with 50 years of service. We also have a lot of longterm associates. At the same time, we have every age group in our workforce. But we have had no real issues as a result of those age differences. We have a train thetrainer program on the shop floor where more seasoned associates are certified as trainers. That helps us keep the more senior associates engaged on a higher level. They learn about adult learning and how to assess skill. They learn all of those competencies in the train the trainer program. Because they understand learning styles, they are able to adapt their teaching strategies to meet the needs of the learner. I think that alleviates a lot of the generational issues.
But I can't think of a single issue we have had as a result of generational differences. I know that younger employees often look for a lot of flexibility in their jobs, but we already have that. We offer flex time and in the summer we offer every other Friday off. We have a culture that is conducive to all generations.
LXB: Do you think it is more fun to learn at a candy company?
Sallie-Dosunmu: Well I do! What could be better than to be surrounded by sweets? Our company attracts a certain kind of person who likes to have fun. It's fast-paced, but we have a unique kind of workforce. A lot of that has to do with the owners of the company, too. They show a high level of caring about their employees, and learning is well supported. I have been able to accomplish a lot at Just Born, and I know the reason is because the executives and the owners are behind it. They get on board and support everything we do. That makes a huge difference and has enabled us to deliver great results. This is an exciting place to be for a learning leader.