The sweetest job of all
Frieder Rummel, senior director of human resources at The Hershey Company – Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa – explains how the company continuously strives to maintain its unique employer brand as it expands into new and fast-growing markets.
You’ve been with The Hershey Company (Hershey’s) for two years now. How has your experience been so far?
We are a company that has been putting a lot of focus in expanding into Asia, and so we are investing and we are continuously growing. In my experience, the company has a very positive environment and just like chocolate, it is a very “sweet” industry to be in.
How did your experience working at Procter & Gamble help in adjusting at Hershey’s?
The parallels are, of course, that both are very professionally run fast-food and consumer goods companies based in America and with a global reach. Both companies are also focused on understanding the consumers, and winning them, and are dedicated towards building very strong brands.
Hershey’s is a little more family sized. We have approximately 14,000 employees. This size helps in creating an environment which allows you to get familiar with almost everybody, especially here in Asia, and in the global leadership team.
What does your current job role entail?
My focus is on supporting an acquisition which we are running in China. I was in Shanghai for six months before this, just closing this project. My main responsibilities focus on ensuring the company has the people and the talent it needs for its ambitious plans. We are growing, very much to our delight.
China will be our biggest international market very soon. This is very exciting and we are very much looking forward to it. Our recruitment strategy has a couple of focus areas. For example, we are recruiting 400 people in Malaysia for a new factory. It is our first factory in Asia. The other big focus area is in China, where we typically hire more than 300 people in a year.
What makes Hershey’s a great place to work?
People are happy if they can associate themselves with strong international companies and with strong brands, like Hershey’s. The company also has a long and unique tradition in doing good. That is really very important as it has a big impact on our culture.
The founder of our company, a gentleman named Milton Hershey, donated his entire fortune to a good cause before he passed away. What’s remarkable was that he never spoke about it – it was only discovered accidentally five or six years ago. The cause was to help children in need. From that purpose, a trust was created which is currently still in control of the company.
Hershey’s also runs a school of about 2,000 children who come from very different backgrounds. They live in bungalows with six to eight kids, along with their foster parents who take care of them. Every two weeks, the parents have a weekend off and then come a substitute group of parents. Everything is provided for the kids – books, uniforms, etc. Once they pass their high school exam, they can also get sponsorships for their university studies.
This is also something our people are very proud of because people like to work in companies which make them feel good and are also socially responsible.
It sounds as though this culture of care and trust is quite authentic. How does this translate on a day-to-day basis?
On a day-to-day basis, all my colleagues put the success of the team above their own, we aim towards winning together. I find our culture is authentic, ethical, trusting, friendly and driven.
Another thing which makes it a great place to work is the diversity present in our teams. When I joined the company, there were no two people of the same nationality in the leadership team, which was quite remarkable. In fact, I experience our diversity every day. At a typical lunch table we always have about four to five different nationalities and four or five different functions represented. That diversity helps us, as a regional headquarters for a big region, to serve our internal business units in many countries well.
Our colleagues from Singapore, of course, are a majority in our office here, so that gives us a very good basis to understand different cultures of the different partners who we support. We cannot be in a regional office and work to support our organisation in China without knowing anything about China.
Create something that builds your brand. You can’t create a strong employer brand by talking, but you can create one by doing, and by being really credible.
Any other factors which help to maintain Hershey’s employer brand?
Our focus on talent development and our growth is also impressive. When you come here and you start your job, the job becomes much bigger in two years because your business has grown, your organisation has grown, and you are playing in a different league. So you grow even without being assigned to a new responsibility or without undergoing any job rotation.
Of course we also look at internal talent development. In the last 12 months we have appointed eight to nine senior leaders in our region or to our region, and all but one were internal appointments. In these assignments, we have moved leaders from Asia to America and vice versa. These kind of career opportunities are, of course, very exciting for our employees.
Are these opportunities supported by a leadership programme?
We also have first-class leader development programmes in Asia for our more junior leadership levels and globally for our senior leaders. We do this because ultimately we know that employees want to be in places where they can learn and grow. We know they want to be in companies who are interested not in things that they (the employees) did yesterday, but in things which they can do tomorrow.
We also subscribe to the 70:20:10 concept of development. I was recently on such an assignment for six months in Shanghai, working to prepare the acquisition of the local company. That was a wonderful experience for me, and now I can relate to the expectations my colleagues have from such assignments. I have seen how exciting it is to work on such projects which lead you sometimes to outside your comfort zone, to new dimensions of learning, of business, and of cultures. I know if we continue to provide such development opportunities, we will raise our chances of becoming successful as a business. We will be more successful in attracting talent and retaining them.
How do you measure the effectiveness of your employer branding strategies?
Looking at retention rates is a good measure, and your ability to attract talent is another one. Ultimately, it is, of course, also the business results. The environment is pretty competitive, and you can only achieve success and growth with a very engaged workforce. But more systematic than that are employee engagement surveys, which are a good starting point to measure employer branding effectiveness. Additionally, your ability to internally staff your key positions is a good measure, including how much you depend on having to go outside and recruit external people, and how well your succession pipeline is filled.
How does the company leverage social media to effectively communicate its employer brand message?
Our colleagues in the United States are leading the way on this, for example, via Facebook, with our internal social media tool and with the development of innovative technologies in recruiting. Hershey’s has also won the Candidate Experience Award (CandE Award)in 2013 and 2014, an annual competition in North America designed to identify companies who provide a superior end-to-end hiring experience for candidates. An example for innovative approaches in Asia is our Micro-Site for Malaysia, which supports our hiring for more than 400 positions until the end of 2015.
In your experience, what do candidates look out for when joining a company?
Typically, they look at personal growth opportunities, and how much they can be stretched. They also want assignments which are demanding, and where they can bring in their strengths and experiences. They also want opportunities to develop in business situations, to grow and to be considered for future business opportunities. Many of our talent are interested in international exposure and in international project teams. Having a home company in the United States gives us various opportunities for this.
So, excitement, stretch, development, personal growth and also fun is important for candidates when they are choosing a firm to join.
What skills do bosses at Hershey’s look out for when hiring candidates?
We want people who have the ability to solve problems which will arise tomorrow, but which we don’t know today. It is important that as we innovate and grow, we must have people who are able to drive this. If you look at the company’s processes a decade ago, you will realise we weren’t doing half of the things we are doing now.
It is important to look at the potential and the learning ability of the people you hire, and then what they bring in. Their current knowledge is important, but what is more important is their ability to develop new solutions in the future, address new problems, or solve old problems in a new way. What we really want is to build a talent base that will enable us to achieve this growth in the future.
Do such factors hold significance across all generations and regions?
Let’s talk about Singapore. Singapore will be 50 years old soon. Forty years ago, the country was fighting to prove it was able to exist on its own, and people were extremely keen on making money to finance studies of brothers and sisters, or helping their parents in their old age. Now, as Singapore has become a very successful and wealthy country, people are also after things such as work-life balance. So the younger generation is very much aware that life is about things other than just work. That is something which we’re responding to.
Does Hershey’s have any flexible working strategies in place?
The Hershey’s regional headquarters here in Singapore is special because it doesn’t have many customers here. We spend a lot of time on travel or on evening phone calls. We have a very flexible system where people are responsible for their performance. There are days where people don’t step into the office at all. Since we have a culture which focuses on the results, time spent in the office doesn’t really matter.
If you look into our office on a typical day, you will only see one third of the population. A third would be travelling, while a third would be working from home. But we also know if people spend a lot of time travelling, and on evening calls, their required compensation also needs to be put into place. We don’t want our employees to work for two to three years and then leave us. We want our future leaders to come from our own talent base, and that requires adapting to their needs.
We have a very flexible system. There are days where people don’t step into the office at all. Since we have a culture which focuses on the results, time spent in the office doesn’t really matter.
Hershey’s has done a great job building its employer brand. What advice would you give to other HR leaders who are trying to do the same?
Create something that builds your brand. You can’t create a strong employer brand by talking, but you can create one by doing and by being really credible. That’s why I mentioned we build our employer brand by things such as business growth, diversity, internal talent development – all these are things which I can actively do and prove.
If I talk to somebody who comes in for an interview, I will give them real and authentic examples, factual information and gain their trust. We know they would want to be treated this way, instead of being told generic, polished answers which do not really help them much in understanding the company. This is how any company’s employer branding strategy should be viewed too.
What are the challenges of maintaining this strong brand?
We have to make sure the process doesn’t get automatic. We have to review our employer brand strategy every year, if not every six months. We must be aware that time does not stand still, and we need to progressively work towards becoming a more attractive place to work.
Should HR divisions solely be in charge of building this employer brand strategy, or should they work in tandem with other functions?
This is something which various functions can collaborate together in. For example, the communications function can be very important in transferring and sending out important messages to the corporate world. The HR function has a very good understanding of what we can actually deliver, while the marketing people and those working in consumer insights can also help us to identify what is really needed, and what is most wanted and what is helpful. Professionals in sales are also important, as they sell the product and the good story that we have.
We expect our function representatives and leaders to be all actively involved in troubleshooting. We need a concerted, credible effort. You really can’t create a brand only by talking.
Increasingly, there has been a lot of reliance on technology to facilitate discussions like this, and to enhance HR processes. Do you see any red flags in HR’s approach to technology?
There is a skills gap, where some companies don’t even have the systems in place to use technologies optimally. Over the last year, we have invested heavily in our ability to get data, and then analyse this data in the same way people in consumer insights, or marketing, for example, use data in order to make good business decisions.
It is understood that HR needs to do much more when it comes to data and analytics, and currently the function still has a long way to go to get educated and to get ready in this domain. This is also important because nowadays HR really wants to get a more strategic seat at the business table.
We can’t just assume those leaders who were efficient 10 years ago are still efficient today.
And are HR professionals willing to learn how to use and analyse data more effectively?
In general, yes, but we do need to focus more on enhancing our qualitative and quantitative skills and encourage them to be ready to change processes.
What are some of the greatest strengths of the HR function at Hershey’s?
We have a very strong global co-ordination, so we develop everything only once. For example, we have a new performance management tool which we developed for the world, and then each region is represented within it so it fits with any market. Doing this allows us to save time on walking through all the steps required in making the tool, such as choice of software, funding, etc. Instead, we can focus on making it successful.
What challenges do you think Hershey’s HR may face in the near future?
Those challenges are pretty similar to what any organisation will face. We have an ongoing talent shortage, especially based on the demographics here in Asia. The leadership challenge is also prevalent. There is a strong need to build an environment where people are willing to go the extra mile and engage themselves.
That is a challenge for every leader because young people today are very demanding, are very selective, and have many choices. If you want people to come to you and join you and stay with you, then you have to be a very good leader. At the same time, most leaders in Asia are still young and relatively inexperienced. So that requires strong investments into leadership development for the junior leadership generation.
For the senior leadership generation, it is really about bringing them up to speed, getting them to understand new concepts. We can’t just assume those leaders who were efficient 10 years ago are still efficient today. Such leadership development, both junior and senior, will be very important. Your chosen approach to leadership development will also ultimately affect your employee engagement and retention levels, so the right approach needs to be taken if you wish to develop your leaders and maintain company performance and results.
Having good diversity and inclusion numbers is also important, and I would also not underestimate the fun element.
What do you mean by the “fun element”?
For instance, when I go on an international meeting or an outdoor event with my diverse group of colleagues in Hershey’s, then I feel the same kind of enthusiasm and team spirit as I would have when I was with my school class at the age of 18. So maintaining this level of fun is important as we go into the future, no matter what our age.