Employee Engagement Dialogue with Jennifer Schulte from Mars, Inc.

Jennifer Schulte offers her wisdom and experience surrounding employee engagement in large organizations. This a a must watch recording if you are directly involved in a large organization’s employee engagement efforts.

Part of the dialogue: And then we came to a point where there was a call to action, you’re not doing your job as a business partner in HR if you’re not making sure engagement is on the agenda for your clients, and your managers, and the folks in your group, so we very much kind of had to make that point, and since that time it’s amazing to me what some of our HR folks have done just in terms of day-to-day coaching, more formal training, just making sure that there’s an actual metric on people’s objectives, and key metrics, and agendas, it’s out there. So, I think HR can very much be  the nudge to the business about how important this is and just we can’t let our foot off the gas.

Jennifer Schulte Dialogue on Engagement from David Zinger on Vimeo.

David Zinger: Hi, my name is David Zinger and I want to welcome you to an employee engagement dialogue. It’s my privilege to have Jen Schulte from Mars with us today, and obviously if you look at the first slide, we’re not talking about the Mars rover or whatever; we’re talking about the fabulous, I love M&M’s, the fabulous company that makes so many treats that I just love and adore. Welcome to the dialogue, Jan. [0:28]

Jennifer Schulte: All right, thank you very much. I always introduce myself and I say I’m from Mars and not the planet, so I appreciate the distinction; you’re absolutely right. [0:36]

David Zinger: Well, on the next slide not only do we have a little bit of your background, but we have some of the brands too, and it makes my mouth water just to look at those brands. You in your background were working with Mars as kind of the global engagement director and you’ve changed, and you have a background in finance, but perhaps you could tell us just a little bit about your background? [0:58]

Jennifer Schulte: Sure, sure, and it has changed over time. It’s a bit of a zigzag career path but it’s been really exciting for me. So, I joined Mars about… It was the fourth company that I worked for in my career; prior to that I had worked for an insurance company, a bank, an actual banking firm, and a telecom. So, I joined Mars CPG experience in the finance department and what excited me right away was just the opportunity to work in teams with great people. So, Mars was very much a team environment, it’s very collaborative; we actually have physically an open office environment, so it literally means there are no offices, no doors. We have a few conference rooms for confidential discussions that need to take place and meetings, but otherwise everyone up through to our CEO just has a desk out in the open. So, I found that very environment very exciting and so that led me to looking into HR as a potential career path. I went into HR in a sort of training and development environment; I started to train on line manager skills since I had managed teams of people and that’s something I was familiar with, and then that kind of just over time ended up leading me to engagement, so we started working with the Gallup organization in 2003-2004 at Mars, so it was really exciting for me to be able to have a role in that process and that’s been the longest tenure in Mars is the job that I had on engagement which was really exciting, and then that led me into more traditional kind of HR leadership roles, so really exciting career path that I’ve had, very probably unconventional. I really have, you know, I’m not an HR person by trade, but I’m a businessperson with, you know, a love for people, and engagement, and good leadership, so I think that serves me well in my current job. [2:49]

David Zinger: What a fantastic blend, because it really… I mean sometimes people mistake engagement as either a flavor of the month and you’ve been at it obviously for 10 years at Mars, and sometimes people see it as that little extra, like a barbeque or a treat that we give employees, but you have the sense of finance, you’re working around operations and HR, so it gives you a fairly unique perspective on engagement. [3:15]

Jennifer Schulte: It definitely does, I mean I think… You know, so I’m actually talking to you, I’m sitting at one of our factories inGeorgia where they make the delicious and wonderful Combos, and Kudos, andMarathon brands you see on the slide. You know, for me it’s, you know, really walking around, talking to folks, seeing what they’re doing, and just seeing the passion, and the energy, and the commitment they have about their job, about our brand, about the team they work in, about the manager they work for; I mean for me that’s where it all comes together. So, I love the experience of engagement and it is very much something at Mars that is here to stay as a culture element for us and something we measure and take very seriously. [3:55]

David Zinger: You know one of the things that struck me in reading some background about you, and I mean Gallup obviously has been a client of yours, but you have also been interviewed by them and they talked about the process you went through with managers around engagement, and it sounded to me like at the start perhaps there was a look at how do we get this going and then really kind of turning it around and looking at what the good managers were doing and what they could teach the other managers; it sounds like it really fits with the Mars culture. [4:25]

Jennifer Schulte: Oh, it does. So, when I first got into the role in engagement my focus was very much about training, and so at the time we had done the Gallup survey a couple of years, you know, we were kind of getting into the routine of it, and what we did every year, and we survey every single associate at every level, you know, across our business, so everyone’s included, and what we were doing every year was we were doing something that was like a, you know, a mandatory training, every manager had to go, it was a half a day sort of program, and it was, you know, teaching them about how to interpret the survey, how to sit down and prepare for a session with your team, how do you create an action plan; it was very tactical stuff. When I came into the role what I found was, first I started looking at the data and really looking for where do we have pockets of high engagement, you know, what’s going on, is it site-wide, is it country, you know, is it function, you know, kind of where are the seams, and what I actually found was it was very manager-specific. So, I started, you know, actually interviewing and talking to some of the managers that had high engagement where it could be at a site where the actual site was very low and other managers at the site also had very low scores, one manager would be really high.

So, the interesting thing when I started surveying and talking to those folks and interviewing them was they didn’t really recognize what they were doing. So, you know they weren’t naturally teaching their peers, because they didn’t realize what they were doing had a special impact really. So, you know one of the things early on was bringing to light it was the way they were approaching, the way they communicate, the way they would even include and empower their team in making decisions that was causing the engagement to be high, and you know, picking up on those things and then using that as a platform to help teach, but also recognizing that everybody didn’t need to be taught the same thing, so starting to focus on, you know, who are the audiences, who are the managers who are new to managing people who do need that more tactical understanding, who are the managers who have been here a long time and they probably need something different? So, starting to really customize, consider the audience, and then also things, you know, from one manager where it’s working really well to a manager somewhere else with a similar situation and need that can really learn and benefit from that, so that was the approach that we took. [6:44]

David Zinger: So, really in the vernacular of today like almost a positive deviancy study of those people who are doing well, but with some customization not saying that gee, we need to replicate that everywhere; there’s some individual differences, and company differences, and people differences, so it sounds it was in my terms more invitational than imposition; it wasn’t that you’re going to have to do these 10 things, it’s let’s talk to some people who are doing things and let’s see what fits and makes sense for you? [7:15]

Jennifer Schulte: That’s exactly right. Yeah, you’re right, the positive deviance was the approach, and yeah just thinking about, you know, who’s on the receiving end of this stuff and what do they really need, is it all the same? I mean obviously the conclusion that I had was that it wasn’t all the same and then making sure that we were meeting the need they had versus, you know, kind of pushing one thing at them that was a different agenda. [7:35]

David Zinger: And so you’ve been… You’ve been on this path for a while and, you know, almost 10 years with Mars has been on the path and you’ve been very directly involved on the path for quite a few years and then look at it more operationally. Many people are just kind of catching on to engagement, many are still just looking at is there a business case, and obviously the evidence suggests there’s a strong, strong business case. Any kind of just general suggestions for people who are in maybe HR that are just being tasked with looking after engagement for their organization? I know there was a couple already in what you said, but I’m wondering about additionally. [8:14]

Jennifer Schulte: Oh sure, definitely. I mean I would actually get asked that question a lot when I was in that role. It was unusual for an organization to even have somebody, you know, in their title looking after engagement; usually it’s a part of somebody’s job and they’ve got a very big job in addition to it. I think, you know, one of the things that I had on my side was real beliefs that this is important from the top of our organization, so our CEO himself when he kind of came into that role it was right around 2005-2006. He took this very seriously within his own team, his team still does; I mean they talk about engagement every time they meet, they have pretty in-depth conversations about actions that they need to take, he follows up with everybody one-on-one as well, you know, he lives and breathes and believes that this is important and that this is one of the drivers of business results for him, so that I think made my job a little bit easier than some of the HR folks that are having to convince senior leaders that this is important. So, you know I have a bit of a different take, but my advice is always, you know, find that person; there’s somebody in your, you know, whether it’s the C Suite or, you know, kind of the next level down, your executive vice president group, somebody believes this is important and they’re a natural believer of it, you know, grab them and get them to help cheerlead the effort and talk about how important it is and why it’s important to them, the results that they’ve seen it provide. I mean I think when it comes from outside of HR it’s even more powerful, so kind of being behind somebody who can be the voice of it in the organization is really important. [9:58]

David Zinger: So the people understand that there’s a finance element to this, there’s a productivity element to it, and that it’s not just another HR initiative that doesn’t seem to tie in to what the business goals are? [10:11]

Jennifer Schulte: Exactly. I mean I think actually starting from the business goals and then saying this is how engagement will help us is an even better positioning, and it’s something that we had to learn. So, to be honest, in the early days, you know we started to measure engagement and then it became about, you know, getting a higher engagement score so we have higher engagement; it was kind of a mean to its own end. So, one of the things that I did work on was looking at if we’re doing our business processes in the right way we should get engagement as an outcome; we shouldn’t have to just drive for engagement for the sake of engagement, so that’s something that we did over time as well and I still feel like I work on that a little bit all the time. [10:53]

David Zinger: So, it’s a bit of almost two measures is you want to see the productivity or profitability of a plant, but you can also measure the engagement, and the two would frequently go together, but you also don’t want just engagement score for the engagement score. [11:13]

Jennifer Schulte: Exactly. So, if I think about, I mean something, you know, as recently as this week that I’ve been talking with folks about here in the business and we’ve got a couple of goals around safety, productivity, and waste, and reducing waste at the site, and you know so I was saying how are you engaging your associates in that waste reduction, you know, are we challenging people, are we asking them for ideas, is there a reward mechanism we can use when somebody has an idea we put in place? I mean it sounds so simple, but you know instead of telling everybody we need to reduce waste, it’s an invitation; like you said, it’s how you approach it that gives you engagement as well as the result that you’re looking for. [11:49]

David Zinger: And it’s a little richer then too, Jen, isn’t it, because it’s not so much… I think sometimes we run into trouble attaching the word engagement to employee, because it just seems to be the role, but in that context you’re attaching engagement to reduction of waste, or safety, or something else and it becomes more specific and maybe even a little bit easier to manage as a manager. [12:11]

Jennifer Schulte: Exactly, exactly, yeah, because I mean we’re always talking with our associates about, you know, the goals, and the metrics, and the things we need to achieve, and we’re driving really hard, and you know why not use that as… Again, you know it’s almost like a language thing; if you can invite people in it, it becomes an engagement thing, rather than doing all of that and then oh by the way, we have to do engagement too. I mean for me that just doesn’t work as well. [12:38]

David Zinger: Yeah, people’s plates are so full of engagement it feels like it’s being heaped upon them and it’s quite disengaging almost isn’t it? [12:47]

Jennifer Schulte: Exactly. So, I also have a really… Well, it wasn’t funny in the moment; it actually made me kind of sad, but I had somebody stop me a few weeks ago at one of our sites and they were talking about the engagement survey. It just happens that right now our survey is out, and it’s in the field, and people are taking it, and somebody kind of jokingly said well, you know I took my survey and I just put all high marks, I gave it all five’s, because then I don’t have to go to the meeting and bother with the action plan and all this stuff, and I said well, that’s an interesting approach, but you know, I’m like so you don’t get anything out of, you know, when you come together as a team and you talk about the things you actually really need to work on? I mean, you know, wouldn’t you miss something if you didn’t have that at all? And of course it was, you know, yes we actually have come a long way and we’ve been working on some meaningful things, and so I’m like be careful, be careful you’re not, you know, kind of winking at the survey if it really does provide a value that you’re taking it seriously and you’re being honest. So, but it can very quickly go the other direction, you’re right. [13:51]

David Zinger: And it’s such a dynamic process; it’s not like you finally you do a few things and you’ve got engagement, I mean it’s a dynamic process that’s changing constantly for individuals, individual plants and people within it. [14:04]

Jennifer Schulte: Oh, very much so, and you know one person in a team changes the dynamic of the team. So, just thinking about, you know, the things we were working on in our engagement plan as a team, and then three people have moved onto other roles and we’ve got three new people in, it’s a whole different, you know, the action plan is probably very different, and if you don’t stop to check and tune in, then you’ve missed an opportunity, so… [14:28]

David Zinger: I was a little reticent; I said I’d ask you the question and I got so interested in your experiences and what you had to offer I didn’t ask you directly. What is engaging you the most in your work right now? [14:42]

Jennifer Schulte: For me it’s definitely being involved in our business day-to-day and just, you know, like I’ve been describing a couple quick conversations that I’ve had in passing, but you know when I get to ask people about their role and, you know, what’s meaningful to them and just hearing the passion in their voices even when they’re mad about something, you know, they’re really passionately mad about it, and they are so committed to, you know, trying to do the best job, everybody’s really passionate about our brands at Mars, that’s a big thing, you know, we make Snicker’s bars, so we feel like we’re giving the world something that makes everybody smile and feel good. So, just, you know, feeling that passion from the people that I work with and seeing it from, you know, like our factory floor to our finance team to the sales guys out in the field talking to customers; I mean there’s just such an energy that for me to be involved in that it’s extremely engaging personally. [15:40]

David Zinger: All right. You make wonderful products at Mars. We’re driving across the Canadian Prairies about 1,400 miles starting tonight to go to Anisa’s wedding, and one of the bags that I have is a huge bag of M&M’s, and… [15:56]

Jennifer Schulte: Oh, glad to hear that. [15:57]

David Zinger: It’s just a nice little treat and oh, they’re just small, but it’s amazing how that bag seems to be gone by the time we get back. [16:04]

Jennifer Schulte: I know, that’s the trick of it, but yeah… Well, we certainly eat lots of it in the business as well; it’s yummy, we love it too. [16:12]

David Zinger: You’ve been involved with the Employee Engagement Network; you go back quite a long time and you were one of the major contributors to our Top 10’s of Employee Engagement. The list I have on the next slide is just five of your items and then five more. I don’t think we need to go through them all, Jen, because after this I can tell people where to get that and they can just download it; it’s just a PDF and it opens right away. I’m wondering on that first five is there one that stands out for you that you’d like to just elaborate a little on? [16:44]

Jennifer Schulte: Sure. I mean actually there are two that for me go together. So, I’ve kind of alluded to a couple of them already, but the two that jump out from the page for me are energizing HR and holding managers accountable. So, you know I think if I look back on things that I would do differently from when Mars started in this process, one of the things we did early on was we made it very much about, you know, the manager and the team and HR really stayed out of it, you know, we tried so hard not to make this HR pushing something at everybody that we removed ourselves too much. [17:19]

David Zinger: OK. [17:19]

Jennifer Schulte: And then we came to a point where there was a call to action, you know, you’re not doing your job as a business partner in HR if you’re not making sure engagement is on the agenda for your clients, and your managers, and the folks in your group, so we very much kind of had to make that point, and since that time it’s amazing to me what some of our HR folks have done just in terms of, you know, day-to-day coaching, more formal training, just making sure that there’s an actual metric on people’s objectives, and you know, key metrics, and agendas, it’s out there. So, I think HR can very much be the, you know, it’s almost kind of like the nudge to the business about how important this is and just we can’t let our foot off the gas, so that’s one. And the other one on manager accountability is interesting. So, again it was kind of, you know, we trained the managers, they would go into the rooms, talk to their teams, the action plan was formed, and then it was kind of everybody else’s job to do all the stuff, and the manager felt like there, I’ve done my engagement job, and what we learned over time was, you know, hey, engagement actually happens every moment every day, so if you run into somebody and in 30 seconds you can impact their engagement for that day either positively or negatively. So, just, you know, really turning it on its ear that it’s every manager interaction and, you know, like I was talking a moment ago, it’s, you know, engagement being the enabler to the things you’re trying to deliver. So, if a manager delivers all their functional and technical things, but their engagement is really, really bad and they’ve left, you know, kind of dead bodies everywhere, I mean to us that just is not acceptable; it’s part of your performance, it’s something that you’re expected to do. So, just, you know, kind of changing that frame around what we meant by accountability. It’s not accountable for the survey and the data; it’s accountable for the behavior and the ongoing work. [19:13]

David Zinger: And that makes work at Mars sustainable, because without that engagement you could get results for a quarter or something, but it’s not sustainable. [19:22]

Jennifer Schulte: Exactly, yeah, or like you’ve checked the box and you’ve done it, but then what if somebody has an issue or a question and it’s not survey time? You know, you can’t just it’s like oh wait for the survey and tell me then, you know, it has to be something that’s ongoing. [19:35]

David Zinger: So, from your own perspective, and I’ve got the other five points and people can read the document, but from your own perspective, what do you celebrate the most about what you’ve been able to accomplish around engagement at Mars? [19:47]

Jennifer Schulte: Oh, I see so much celebration go on around individual managers and teams, and so one of the interesting things is usually when we celebrate a manager who has a great engagement result, the first thing they do is say it’s not me it’s the team, so you know like our best managers are that kind of servant leader where they attribute their success to the team that works for them and with them, so I always find that amazing and inspiring, you know, anytime we have a manager who’s done something really incredible; the way they have communicated with their team, the way they have empowered their team, you know, the manager always kind of throws the recognition back to the team and everybody gets to own it together. The other thing I’ve seen us do as well is really call out when it is across a site, so you know our sites can be anywhere from, say 150 or so people to, you know, 1,000 people and bigger. So, every once in a while you get something that is a bit viral and all the managers catch onto something, they all implement and do it the same, and it becomes the way of being for the whole site, and that’s where we’ve done some really specific recognition as well. You know if you can get something to go across the functions and all the groups within, you know, a certain area, that’s an even bigger deal than if it is one team kind of within, you know, a group of teams that may not be as engaged. So, I think, you know, we focused on both; it’s like make it small and meaningful and make it big and meaningful and just thanked and appreciated people for having done some of those things. [21:20]

David Zinger: Yeah, I often think with capacity that small is the new significant, but we’ve got to ensure that that small is attached to the significant or the big goal. [21:29]

Jennifer Schulte: Exactly. [21:31]

David Zinger: Thank you so much for taking your time; I know you’re very busy and you’re at another plant site and doing all kinds of work there, but what you demonstrated with me even in the 20 minutes that we had together was a real sense of engagement in this conversation and how much passion and how much you care about engagement with that, so thank you very much for that and spending time with us. [21:54]

Jennifer Schulte: Oh, thank you. Thank you for the invitation. Like I said, I’m always happy to… This is one of my areas of passion, I love to talk about it, and if I could help somebody else either learn or get through, you know, a hurdle that they’re dealing with I’m happy to do it. [22:07]

David Zinger: Yeah, and you’re on the network, so if someone wants to contact you further, maybe has a question or two they could contact you through that, although I don’t want to load you down with a bunch of questions. I would recommend if someone wants to have a better sense of what Jen was just talking about, a little more detail, the Employee Engagement Network Top 10’s, it’s on the cover of the network or on the homepage, so you don’t have to be a member even to just click on there and download it. So, thanks again for taking the time and being with us today. [22:37]

Jennifer Schulte: Thank you. [22:38]

David Zinger is a global employee engagement expert and founder of the 5400 member Employee Engagement Network. He applies to 10 block pyramid of employee engagement to help organizations and managers increase and improve employee engagement.


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