The World of Consumer Goods and It’s Challenges

The World of Consumer Goods and It’s Challenges featured image

As the world economy continues to rapidly evolve, Human Resource specialists are constantly faced with workforce challenges. This is particularly pertinent for the fast pace world of consumer goods.

The week of September 24, /N SPRO attended the People in Consumer Goods and Services Summit in Chicago which is an HR-specific conference that caters specifically to companies in the retail space.  The summit lasted 2 days and there were over a dozen presentations from well-known retailers.  I was looking forward to hearing directly from HR users the kinds of issues that keep them awake at night. What challenges are consumer goods organizations faced with? What solutions are available to HR specialists to help them with their challenges?

During our recent visit to the People in Consumer Goods and Services Summit in Chicago, it became evident very early on that two topics would dominate the summit: high potential employees as well as career planning.  As the event went on, the two topics proved to be completely intertwined since first, companies focused on identifying High Potential employees and then second, created Career Plans in order to retain these individuals.  Retail companies grapple with high employee turnover due to the fact that entry-level positions are not very appealing and the employee compensation is not particularly high.  This makes it hard for them to attract very talented individuals.  Therefore, they are making an effort to retain the high talent that does come in through the door.  Most companies enroll their employees in Career Planning as soon as an employee is promoted to their first management position.

During the event, it was interesting to see how multiple retailers spoke about the importance of breaking down High Performers between High Potentials and High Professionals. High Potential employees (Hi-Pos) are those individuals that have the ability to perform well in their jobs as well as “Stretch Assignments,” which are the jobs that challenge an employee to step out of his/her comfort zone and learn new skills.  Human resource departments identify High Performers by looking at the following three criteria: (1) degree of confidence/leadership, (2) learning ability and (3) ability to navigate the organization and see the future.

High Potential employees are usually High Performers but not all High Performers are High Potential (General Mills).  That’s right, some employees perform very well at their current job (and are hence identified as High Performers) but do not have the ability or desire to transition to the next assignment.  These individuals are known as High Professionals and many companies fail to identify this type of employee due to the belief that because they are performing well at their current job they are good candidates to be moved to the next Stretch Assignment.  Consequently, companies lose a lot of High Professionals when these individuals fail to perform at the next level.  The correct strategy is to recognize the maximum level of performance for these individuals and not to place them in a new assignment where they are likely to fail.  Nevertheless, it is important for companies to recognize the importance having both High Professionals and High Potentials since High Professionals are the ones that keep the company profitable during good and bad times (The Home Depot).

The ability to learn was the most consistent trait found in High Potential employees.  And on the topic of education, Adan Corral, Vice Chair – Workforce at Wal-Mart explained that the international retailer insures their employees are exposed to the following three “E”s to insure proper learning: Education, Exposure and Experience.

Finally, one of the speakers remarked on how Careers in the 21st Century have changed from being a “Ladder” to being more of a “Climbing Wall”.  This means that some times employees receive multiple lateral job transfers in order to accumulate the skills that will prepare them for a promotion.

As the event ended, it was refreshing to step away from the technical way of looking at HR issues and receive a purely functional insight on the matters that Human Resources professionals grapple with on a daily basis within the consumer goods industry. It was inspiring to leave an event with more answers and hope knowing that the future of HR is well taken care of by plenty of innovative solutions and tools.

By Manuel Gallardo