Developing Your Talent Through Robust Training & Learning Initiatives

We believe that great brands make a difference and great people behind those brands are what matters.” 

Enjoy the Post, John.

Ranked #1 for Chief Learning Officer Magazine’s 2012 LearningElite Award, General Mills has grown their internal learning initiatives substantially and the results are linked right back to people development.

Kevin Wilde, Chief Learning Officer for General Mills speaks with Human Resources IQ (HRIQ) on the learning mission, training retention and engagement and the challenges they have faced along their journey.

HRIQ: What has General Mills accomplished in their learning arena that has brought the organization to win the #1 LearningElite award? What is the mission statement that the organization works toward in order to grow talent and the organization?

KW: As we look at what we have accomplished over the years, there has been a heartfelt commitment on the part of management that talent and talent development is critical for the business to win. We believe that great brands make a difference and great people behind those brands are what matters.

So we take an extra effort to recruit the best, retain them.  We find that great talent that wants to grow. So the whole learning process is built on management’s strategic view of learning and development and the internal demand. People just want it and we work hard to bring that to life.  At the end of the day there’s proof that we have leaders that get it. Within our learning development community, our corporate mission of nourishing lives translates to our mission about nourishing talent we have in the company by engaging them developing them and helping them win with customers.

HRIQ: How are you training your talent to personally grow while growing with the business?

KW: So the whole notion of helping to grow people, it starts by bringing people in that want to grow. And see it as important. We have a practice here of separating the appraisal from the development discussion. So everyone here at General Mills has an annual development discussion and development plan that comes from a manager encounter. We train managers to have great discussions; we train employees to get ready for them. The discussions build on their career aspirations, their current job interest, their strengths, developmental gaps that we need to address, and the necessary resources to help those individuals grow. It happens on all levels. We measure it. We measure its effectiveness. We keep improving it over the years. And I’m happy to say that we have well over 85% of our employees that self-report that they are having very useful development discussions with their managers.

HRIQ: How are you keeping your employees up to speed and up to date in the areas that they need to in order to succeed?

KW: I think we do a number of things here. Clearly General Mills is very active in our industry, with our consumers and out there in the marketplace. So the more that we have people out there in the reality of the market and consumer needs and industry practices and great ideas..that feeds on itself. And in terms of people learning new ways of doing things, for example, [we have] our whole digital connection that we have with our consumers in the marketplace. It’s really a recent development and a lot of it stems from the work we have done involving our talent with other great companies that are in the digital space. Keeping up on trends and keeping up on what’s important for our consumers happens through that external engagement. I’d also say that in a company of any size, it’s not just what you know out the outside but what you know also on the inside. We have been very active at connecting all parts of General Mills together so that divisions learn best practices from one another. One thing we have been doing from a learning community is we have been sponsoring with our IT departments an internal social media site, collaboration site, called Connect. We have over 600 internal communities. All built on sharing best practices, looking for the latest information. That helps us keep up as well.

HRIQ: What type of learning do you implement that is going to give that engagement level so that your employees are retaining the information they are learning and executing on it?

KW: Engagement is a matter of connection to the job, the company and the mission, but also the immediate manager. And we have had an initiative here for a number of years now from going from a company with good managers to great. And we have done some internal studies that show the difference between good and great and show the enormous high levels of engagement. So we have been spreading the news, and doing training and encouraging managers to take their good skills about being a good boss and being great. We have seen traction on that. We have seen employees reporting higher levels of having a great manager experience. And all that translates to engagement, innovation, and extra motivation.

HRIQ: Let’s discuss the steps you have taken in order to accomplish your goals, some of the challenges you have encountered that has thrown a wrench your way and how to overcome it.

KW: So in terms of accomplishing the goals, it starts with alignment with the business and being close enough to the senior leaders and the different functional/divisional leaders to know what’s important to the business strategy. We have a very good connection process of sitting down with the managers and figuring out where they are headed and where learning and development can make a difference and contribute to that. In general, that process works very well on the corporate level and within also the marketing community, engineering community, sales, etc., –that alignment process is important.

In terms of challenges, General Mills is very excited about growing internationally. And one of the challenges is how do you bring the best managerial skills, how do you bring the best thinking from one part of the world to another.  And one thing we have been doing on that lately is taking that great manager message and what we call “Build a great leader platform” for all our officers and all our directors and moving that training all across the world and sharing best practices from that. I’m pleased to report that we had in the last two years hosted that program in all of our major markets and we used leaders from all parts of the world as teachers. Growth presents challenges. Building on what we know in one part of the world and moving it to another helps and I think ultimately, having our senior leaders engaged and actually be co-teachers, makes a big difference.

HRIQ: What kind of advice you would offer other learning professionals based on your experience and what you have learned?

KW: It starts with the business. And I find that the best learning people out there are the people that are engaged and excited about the business they are in, then they bring their learning professional toolkit to that business. So rather than spending all your time on the things of learning, like podcasts, and [while] it’s great to share information, [you need to] spend equally as much time on learning the business, building relationships with direct line clients and figuring out what are the best things you can bring into the organization to make a difference.

Interview conducted by Katherine Mehr, Human Resources IQ.

Read more at Developing Your Talent Through Robust Training & Learning Initiatives by From the HRIQ Editorial Desk.


About Kelly Business Advisors, LLC

Early in his career John started-up and sold 7 years later a Moving and Storage Company in Milwaukee. He acquired and was President of Kelly Pickle Company f/k/a Bond Pickle Company, in Oconto, WI for 12 years. Built a monthly round-table networking group of manufactures in Oconto. Developed marketing plans, sales plans, products and implemented lean manufacturing practices with many North American companies. Worked with non-profits as both a front line leader and behind the scenes. He is active in his church, a member of the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce,Business Networkers International (BNI) and now is joining the Green Bay Downtown Rotary.

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