How to Develop Your Workforce

Seven ways Lucie Martin drives professional progress at Kruger Products

Lucie Martin began her career at Kruger Products LP, the leading Canadian manufacturer and distributor of tissue and paper towel products, 33 years ago. Today she’s corporate director of talent management, a role that makes her responsible for employee recruitment, retention, and training. Thanks in part to her efforts, the company has been ranked among the top 100 employers in the Greater Toronto Area for three consecutive years. (Photo by Chris Owen Halper.)

1. Identify the challenge

As a premier manufacturer and distributor of tissue and paper towel products, Kruger Products LP hasn’t seen a tremendous amount of turnover among its 2,500 employees, 2,000 of whom work on shop floors; but Lucie Martin, the company’s corporate director of talent management, grew concerned that the company would end up in that situation due to changing demographics. “The younger people who are coming in have been told they’ll likely change careers and companies multiple times throughout their lives,” she explains. To avoid that, Martin has made it her mission to ensure the company offers employees an environment strewn with opportunities and challenges that will entice them to make Kruger their long-term career choice.

2. Establish a wide reach

Martin’s focus is on corporate strategy, as it relates to recruitment, retention, and training. At the company’s corporate office in Mississauga, Ontario, she seeks to ensure that as the workforce ages, the company has a succession plan and the ability to attract, retain, and develop the leaders of tomorrow. Meanwhile, other sites each have their own HR teams, where the primary development focus is on job training. Martin lends her support in addition to her corporate role.

3. Listen to employees

In 2013, Martin started looking at employee demographics and theorized that the younger, newer generation—which at that time only represented 12 percent of the workforce—was looking for more feedback and guidance. An engagement survey conducted every few years supported her suspicions, as did a 40-person internal training summit. “All 40 participants came to the conclusion that a mentoring program would be a tremendous benefit,” Martin says. “I’m not sure all 40 had the same thing in mind when they said ‘mentoring,’ but the idea was born.”

4. Mentor

Kruger divides training into three categories: on-the-job experience (70 percent), coaching (20 percent), and formal instruction (10 percent). Based on the feedback she received, Martin decided to beef up the coaching segment by focusing a major initiative on mentoring. She assembled a committee, which worked with an external consultant to develop a 12-month pilot, implemented in 2013. Results from the six- and nine-month surveys indicate the program has been extremely successful. “One of the things we measure is intent to stay, and that has increased among the people who have participated in program,” says Martin, who’s now working on developing a second phase of the mentoring program, which will take place across the entire organization, not just in the corporate office.

5. Manage performance

Martin says Kruger has an excellent performance-management program in place, but she would really like for it to be more than an event. “Although we have a program that ensures people have performance discussion at least twice a year, we want to encourage something that is continuous, so people talking about their careers is continuous,” she says. Managers at Kruger, in turn, have an open-door policy that supports this plan.

6. Open the lines of communication

Kruger Products’ employees who are seeking development opportunities have direct route to do so. They can go into an HR system, select the job they want, and indicate when they believe they will be ready for the role, or they can identify specific challenges they’d like to undertake. Those communications go straight to Martin. “They might think those requests go into the great unknown, but I personally write every single person back,” she says, “because how hard is it to send an e-mail?” An e-mail usually turns into a phone conversation, which turns into a discussion between the employee and his or her manager. “It started as a little idea, but it’s really helped people have better discussions because they aren’t afraid to talk about it,” Martin explains. “If you want to retain people, honestly, just listen to them. When people leave Kruger, they don’t leave because we weren’t listening or investing in their development; it’s because we’re a small organization and the opportunity wasn’t there when they needed it.”

7. Encourage community involvement

Kruger Products has been ranked among the top 100 employers in the Greater Toronto Area for three consecutive years. It’s an accomplishment Martin says has as much to do with employees as it does the company. “We’re good at training and development and communication, but employees have driven community involvement, which not only keeps employees engaged, but is a big part of the ranking,” she says. “It’s employees, not management, who are organizing most of the internal and external events for charity.”