Hormel Foods Corp.’s executives took a hard look at its sales division’s bench in 2007 and realized that a huge chunk of baby boomer managers were about to retire.
To ensure enough managers were ready to step into more senior leadership roles, Hormel’s institutional and retail sales divisions collaborated with Harvard Business Publishing to develop a leadership and management program for its veteran sales managers.
“In our division, we recognized that over the next five to eight years, we’re going to have quite a few retirements,” said Mark Ourada, vice president of food service sales, the institutional sales arm of the Austin, Minnesota, company.
Hormel is not alone. Companies across all industries, as well as nonprofits and governmental agencies are facing a leadership shortage, as members of the largest generation in U.S. history retire in droves, with fewer people available in subsequent generations to replace them.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 80 million Americans were born between 1946 and 1964, and the first of the baby boomers turned 65 in 2011, with the last to reach retirement age in 2029. In contrast, Gen X, or the “Baby Bust” generation born between 1965 and 1981, has roughly 49 million people, and employers are scrambling to make up the difference.
As such, more organizations are now incorporating leadership development programs into their succession plans.Some are also augmenting those with accelerated development programs for early-career, high-potential employees to better compete for talent to come in the younger generations — including Gen Z, or post-millennials, born after 2001. Employers are competing for the best among them with emerging leader programs.
In 2007, Hormel’s food service sales division launched an ongoing Management and Leadership Development Program for its veteran sales and marketing managers, and in 2013, launched a pilot Emerging Leader Program for early career high potentials, in conjunction with Harvard Business Publishing.
The Management and Leadership Development Program filled a development gap within the division, as existing training focused mainly on the first five years, even though the average tenure in sales positions is 10 years, said Michelle Humes, Harvard’s senior learning solutions manager.
The food service division markets and sells food and meat products to restaurants, hotels and other food-service operations, including hospitals and school cafeterias. The division is composed of a direct sales force and a limited broker network, with food-service distributors such as Sysco Corp. and US Foods as the primary customers, according to Hormel’s LinkedIn recruiting page.
Hormel sales representatives not only encourage distributors to sell the company’s products, they also spend time educating end users in food-service operations about new products, usage ideas and merchandising ideas. In some cases, reps sell products directly to food-service operators.
Sales reps typically spend 12 to 18 months training on average, with a blended strategy of online, on-the-job and visits to headquarters for instructor-led training. A typical career will involve two to three promotions within the first five years.
The new Management and Leadership Development Program was customized to meet the sales objectives and challenges of Hormel’s food-service sales division, with a specific goal to improve managerial effectiveness and develop the leadership pipeline. The customized content worked off the principles taught in Harvard Business School, with an emphasis on teachings from the book, “Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader,” by Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, a former business manager and now executive coach and writer.
For the ongoing program, all 50 of Hormel’s food-service sales and marketing managers have been attending sessions that are held four times a year. Before each session, managers complete self-paced individual work, case study preparation in their study groups, as well as post-work after the session.
Harvard facilitators work with Hormel’s managers to tie the case studies to everyday realities within Hormel’s business, a feature that has been particularly beneficial in improving manager performance, which is tracked though feedback and employee engagement surveys, said Steven Rothenberg, Hormel’s food service sales training manager.
The program also helps managers who have been on the job for years to see their responsibilities with a fresh lens, said Deanna Brady, group vice president of food service. “It’s been important to challenge our team to continue learning.”
The Management and Leadership Development Program also has brought greater awareness of the importance of networking to foster deeper relationships not only with the people directly responsible for purchasing Hormel products, but also with additional leaders within their organizations, such as those in charge of developing menus, Rothenberg said. For instance, best practices discussed within the sessions include joining local chef associations to get better acquainted with restaurants’ culinary staff.
The program was initially online learning only, but it has evolved to include on-the-job activities. The face-to-face sessions with Harvard facilitators coincide with national sales gatherings.
“Building relationships in a warm, friendly environment shows clients that we’re not just typical sales people, but we’re looking to be vested in their interests and understand their business needs,” he said.
In 2013 feedback surveys, three-quarters of Management and Leadership Development Program participants said the program offers “all the tools they need for effective sales leadership.” Further, Hormel has been designated as one of Selling Powermagazine’s “Best Companies to Sell For Now” for five consecutive years.
For Emerging Leaders
Also in 2013, Hormel’s food-service sales division implemented a pilot program for emerging leaders, with an initial group of six members.
The 18-month program has five modules: emotional intelligence; marketing; coaching and communication; team leadership; and negotiation skills and strategy. Learning is self-paced, and Harvard provides simulations for more active learning.
For example, Hume said for emotional intelligence, Hormel uses simulations that help managers to become more self-aware and self-regulated. “As a manager, you have to first understand yourself and how others perceive you, and you really have to have the ability to self-regulate. Managers can make better decisions based on their knowledge of themselves and how others see them, and it’s such a core element to truly making the transition from individual contributor to leader.”
Brady and other Hormel food-service sales executives sit in on participants’ project presentations, and spend time alone coaching participants to further develop their skill sets. This also helps executives better place high potentials in appropriate management roles, rather than relying solely on field feedback, Brady said.
Since the Emerging Leader Program started, two participants have been promoted to manager, and all continue to be mentored to further develop their leadership skills.
For Consumer Product Sales
Buoyed by the success of the food-service sales division’s Management and Leadership Program, Hormel’s consumer products sales division developed its own leadership program.
While many of its components are similar, the consumer product sales leadership program was tailored to meet the division’s sales structure and strategy.
The division sells Hormel products to retailers such as Costco Wholesale Corp., CVS Caremark Corp., The Kroger Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. across the country, and sales reps typically work with one or two customers for whom they are responsible for product distribution, shelving and merchandising. Sales reps are also able to work with Hormel’s marketing department at headquarters to develop promotional marketing strategies to attract new customers and increase sales among existing customers.
Similar to the food-service sales division, the consumer product sales group typically trains its incoming sales reps for 12 to 18 months, but part of that includes analytics training to help them better understand Hormel’s products and marketing strategies in relation to its competitors as well as industry dynamics in general. A typical career in consumer products sales also will involve two to three promotions within the first five years.
The division’s leadership program also had five modules that included the principles outlined in the book “What to Ask the Person in the Mirror” by Harvard Business
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