UPFRONT Milking the talent market

“You’ve got job, haven’t you?” That was the sad and telling response once given to an employee at an Australian company who, after three years with the organisation, dared to ask for some feedback on their performance.
This was one of number of anecdotes that Fonterra’s group director human resources Jerry Saville used to illustrate his thinking at recent breakfast in Auckland to celebrate the NZIM Northern Region Young Executive of the Year Awards.
Talking about Fonterra’s own staff recruitment and retention policies – which are in sharp contrast to the earlier example – Saville said the company looks for four attributes. The first is transformational leadership. “We have to have people who set big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs) and make difference,” said Saville. “This marks out people. We want people who can manage growth and organisational effectiveness and drive the development of the organisation.”
Alongside this comes functional excellence. “While people have to understand the business in general sense, they also have to understand their own area of expertise extremely well, be it marketing, operations or whatever,” he notes. “It’s often said that people at Fonterra have milk in their veins but we need to counterbalance that with people from other backgrounds.”
Teamwork, the third of Saville’s choices, is key area “and one at which CEO Andrew Ferrier excels. He is especially good at getting this to happen at the top of the organisation.”
Finally, Fonterra sees “unquestioning integrity”, at management level in particular, as vital attribute. “We’re very quizzical about this and will probe if we have any doubts about people.”
Talking about performance management, Saville said that people have to earn the right to be developed. “So we need to be able to evaluate people. We use the three Cs: clarity and communication about what people need to do; and coaching for enhanced performance.”
But he also warned of the danger of selecting the wrong tools for talent screening. “Psychometric tools for testing candidates before they join an organisation can be very valuable but choose carefully.” Saville says that when working in the United Kingdom many years ago he ran himself through the test his company usually used to evaluate students. The results came back “on no account recruit this person”. And he’d been working for that particular company for the past 15 years.
Not that Saville is afraid to face few home truths now and again and learn from them. “I call this story, ‘the good, the bad and the surprising’,” he says. “About six months ago we asked focus group of new recruits to the company what they thought of the Fonterra recruitment process. It was good, most said. So what, then, did they think once they started work at the company? It was bad, came back the reply. The realities didn’t match up to the expectations. Third question: six months on, if you were in bar chatting to your mates would you recommend working at Fonterra? Yes, was the reply. It had all worked out. What’s the learning from this? We need to keep improving.”

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