Nestlé has handled the pandemic well, with organic sales growth of 7.7% in the first quarter of 2021. The huge food manufacturing company has also kept up its diversification efforts, especially in the vitamin business.
However, the firm's personnel has seen some of the largest shifts. This historically "in-office" corporation has been compelled by the pandemic to adopt new working practices and reconsider the organization of its staff.
According to Paul Steadman, head of human resources for Nestlé's UK business divisions, this has forced the firm to change the capabilities it expects from its leaders and the way it approaches hiring the best candidates.
Disruption is a topic that is frequently discussed, claims Paul Steadman. However, disrupted settings can be rather frightening to us.
"We want individuals to be able to prosper in uncertain times. In order to create in this environment, we must be prepared to question presumptions and status quos, even if they are recent inventions. These skills are likely to be more indicative of a candidate's potential for success than any specific skill set they may bring with them when we're hiring."
Paul summarized his company's hiring strategy, and in particular its approach to recruiting leaders, in this brief of summaries.
The major switch
Nestlé was founded in 1860 and now operates over 350 plants throughout the globe. Like many industrial businesses, it has historically operated as a "in-person" organization. For instance, in the UK, activity has historically been centered on two major hubs, one close to Gatwick Airport and the other in York. The epidemic has, however, compelled a significant reassessment.
Prior to Covid-19, many employees benefited from some type of flexible working, but the pandemic has intensified this (in fact, the number of desks at certain important locations is decreasing by almost 50%). The remaining third of the workforce has accepted some type of remote working, while two-thirds of the workforce have remained to work in factories and distribution centers out of need.
Instead of attempting to stop these inescapable changes, Paul and his coworkers have seized the chance to develop a more progressive method of working. The length of time that coworkers will spend in the workplace is not subject to established contracts. Theoretically, employees are allowed to work from anywhere in the UK as long as they are effective and connected all the time.
In addition, the traditional notion of the workplace as a setting marked by hierarchy and confinement is no longer valid. According to Paul, it is now a focal point for interaction and education; team members will go out of motivation rather than need.
Technology underpins this new method of working. The introduction of hot-desking, made possible by an app, allows coworkers to reserve a desk before they even arrive at the office. Coworkers can order meals using a different app in a secure and socially segregated manner.
This shift toward technologically empowered independence will continue throughout time. According to Paul, "We will continuously use app-based technologies to enable users to decide where they will be most productive in real-time." "That's undoubtedly the best course of action."
However, the concept is based on fundamental human qualities such as cooperation, communication, and trust.
Consensus is the key to everything; for instance, teams are now urged to decide when they will be in the office together so they can interact and communicate. Soft skills that are focused on empathy rather than command are more crucial than ever.
More commitment to one another must be made explicitly, according to Paul, as flexibility increases. The pandemic has shown the value of having strong emotional intelligence, high levels of empathy, and the capacity for two-way discussions.
A fresh perspective on leadership
This new way of working has changed the demands on leaders. It is no longer appropriate to operate in the old, didactic manner that relied on education and enforcement. Like many other businesses, Nestlé expects its executives to possess new, soft skills.
Paul refers to the modified strategy as "inclusive leadership." "You may have a diverse staff, but you'll lose individuals if you're not inclusive, if they don't feel like they can be themselves at work.
We have given psychological safety a lot of attention. We want people to be free to voice their opinions, learn from their errors, and be themselves without worrying about repercussions. Everyone wants to complete the task correctly, but you won't always accomplish that.
"You need to feel comfortable sharing your ideas, even if they aren't the ones that are implemented. And it's the opportunity to challenge... to confront executives, those with greater seniority or experience, or just individuals who are viewed as having greater influence inside the company. They could be your classmates and not necessarily more senior, but they might also be seen as having more influence.”
"The key to this is the leader. We require leaders that speak less, listen more, are sensitive to the needs of others, and maintain a laser-like concentration on attaining objectives. Knowing your blind spots can help you improve them and make room for them in dealings with other people.”
Recruitment for change
Paul and his team have developed a new, remote-friendly interview framework using Microsoft Teams to realize this vision of leadership, which is founded on empathy and the capacity to have an open, honest discourse with colleagues.
Each recruiting effort typically entails two to three interviews, while the exact number varies depending on the situation. However, the fundamental format of the interviews itself never alters.
At this time, the leadership team for human resources has opted against using psychometric exams, which determine a candidate's appropriateness based on aptitude. Paul claims that they assess candidates' eligibility by concentrating on how they have displayed the required leadership traits while asking specific questions about their prior experiences.
"For instance, I would inquire about the last time the person arranged for some insightful feedback on their leadership effect from their teams, and I might ask them to be fairly specific about the insights they got.”
"Based on that input, I want to learn not only how competent they are at a certain task but also what areas they need to improve. In addition, I'd like to know how they've modified their leadership style to fit the needs and conditions of the teams they're in charge of.
The questions are challenging to respond to on the spot, therefore the replies reveal a lot. You can't just think up strong responses in the heat of the moment. The question must have been given prior deliberation. As a result, we can measure degrees of understanding and effect quite honestly.
"Since none of us are flawless, we don't seek for people to be. We're trying to locate a mindset. What degree of self-awareness do they possess? Do they recognize the effect they have on their teammates and peers? Do they recognize their areas for improvement and what are they doing to address them? And what do they do to foster a culture where individuals may speak freely, prosper, and where difference is celebrated rather than viewed as a flaw or threat?
The interviewers focus particularly on the applicant's desire to assess their own success and the influence they have on their workforce.
"We want to know how they monitor and track their leadership. We are constantly interested in how leaders measure and monitor both their own influence as leaders and their own impact on the bottom line. We want to know if leaders are motivated to assess their effectiveness as a leader.”
Attitude equals ability
Paul wants to assess the motivations of his candidates through these probing questions rather than their aptitude. The people executives at Nestlé strongly believe in strength-based evaluations for their young academy applicants, a strategy that employs a number of factors to determine a candidate's drive for success.
At least 30–40% of blue-chip corporations employ it, according to Paul. "Traditionally, hiring has been done primarily on abilities, but strength-based evaluation looks at what motivates individuals since that's usually what they do best. With the applicants to our academy, we take this tack. Instead of focusing on what individuals just accept, it focuses on where they get their positive energy and motivation from across a wide range of issues and topics.
The interviewers focus particularly on the applicant's desire to assess their own success and the influence they have on their workforce.
"We want to know how they monitor and track their leadership. We are constantly interested in how leaders measure and monitor both their own influence as leaders and their own impact on the bottom line. We want to know if leaders are motivated to assess their efficiency as a leader.
Getting ready for change
Paul and his team have spent a lot of time training current leaders—those who have been with the company for at least nine months and have had a chance to make an impression on their teams—in addition to changing the way they conduct interviews. The training is based on feedback surveys conducted with specific team members and is intended to ensure that each leader is aware of the requirements of inclusive, empathic leadership.
Paul and his team want to know if each employee can express their opinions without fear of retaliation, if they have their own personal development plans, if they feel their skills are being used to their full potential, and if they have a clear understanding of the organization's goals and their place within them. This input is then directed into tailored strategies for each leader, presented through a number of media.
“The leaders are guided through the analytics, but there are also webinars”, according to Paul. “They use a variety of analytical methods to gather input from their staff while they direct the process themselves. We also provide coaches from inside the industry to aid in the analysis and interpretation of the data.”
"We want them to come up with extremely straightforward yet very effective action plans for what they want to alter or better. In general, I believe that if you ask someone to perform more than two or three tasks, you are asking too much."
"It is important to determine the factors that will have the most influence on a leader's success."
A brand-new, more varied workforce
The pandemic has been going on for quite a while, and Nestlé's top statistics are outstanding. Since the lockdown began, 1130 individuals have been hired, with more than 500 of them joining the organization remotely. The rate of hiring has now returned to what it was before to Covid.
Statistics on diversity are also positive; for instance, in the UK and Ireland, 45% of Nestlé line managers are now female. Nestlé has long been in the lead in this area; in fact, Paul and his team in the UK and Ireland are building on this advancement. In 2016, Nestlé was recognized as the most diverse food business in the world.
Paul explains, "We're trying to speed up the recruiting of persons from under-represented groups through virtual relationships. "We have forged connections with outside partners to learn the best entry points and distribution channels for reaching out to underrepresented populations. Mentoring is becoming more of a priority for senior management. We also collaborate with schools.”
"Wildhearts, a social entrepreneurial program with connections to around 40,000 students, is one example. They are collaborating with them both physically and virtually, and this year, we have successfully touched slightly over 7,000 students. We don't simply want to inform them about Nestlé; we also want to aid them with sustainability education and job readiness.”
Nestlé's people executives think that the diversity agenda is driven by both the human imperative and business logic. They have a better chance of finding the leaders they need if the talent pool is larger. A diversified staff, in Paul's words, "gives us our best chance of success."
Despite all the advancements, Paul claims he and his team are still in a "test-and-learn" period. They are experimenting with different strategies to optimize their hiring process, some of which will be phased out.
Paul, however, is thrilled with the advancements made since the beginning of Covid-19 and thinks they will have a long-term effect on Nestlé's leading reputation.
"We had to completely transition to digital, which was a significant turn. However, we've had success doing it. There have been some benefits, such as our ability to show prospects of our flexibility by accommodating both our own and their schedules. And we believe that initiatives like doing right-to-work checks online have significantly sped up the hiring process. We are requesting the government to do that because we would like it to continue.”
"We've also implemented some pretty progressive measures. For instance, we are able to schedule interviews outside of regular business hours, and we are aware that not everyone has the same access to digital platforms. Therefore, we've trained managers to be access-conscious. It may be about settings, it might be about interruptions, it might be about something as simple as the quality of their bandwidth. It's important to reassure them that we can and will find solutions to their problems if they arise.”
"In the end, we want to offer a superb applicant experience. Both us and the candidate are looking for one another. We aim to strike a balance between speed and decision-making so that people see progress and complete transparency.”
"We believe we are gaining success in that. And we are certain that it will result in the inclusive, diversified leadership that we desire.”