How to Enhance Employee Development

The seven steps Jayleen Groff uses to get the best results at grain and oilseeds company Viterra

Jayleen Groff has had a lengthy career in human resources. After managing pension plans as part of HR for 15 years, she decided she wanted to do something new. Today, as vice president of human resources for grain and oilseeds marketer and distributor Viterra, she’s leading the development of a 1,600-person workforce.

1. Understand the business’s goals

“Viterra is always looking for opportunities for expansion, but we also place great emphasis on operational improvement on existing assets,” says Jayleen Groff, vice president of human resources for Viterra, a grain and oilseeds handler, marketer, and distributor based in Regina, Saskatchewan. “To do that, we have to provide a certain level of service to growers, helping them reach potential with their crops and get their product from the farms to the destination customer. We have to ensure our destination customers get what they need as well. And you need the best employees to do that.”

2. Identify the company’s unique challenges

As is the case with many organizations, one of Viterra’s key challenges is competition for talent—a challenge that’s magnified by the company’s decentralized structure. With 7 port terminals, 65 grain elevators, 9 special crops facilities, and a processing facility in Western Canada, recruitment becomes a challenge. Not only is the company trying to recruit in small, rural areas with tight labour markets, but it’s also competing with the prevailing industries in those markets—oil in Alberta and manufacturing in Montréal. Finally, communication is tough for the organization. “One cookie-cutter program doesn’t work, and it’s not feasible to have HR people throughout our entire asset network, so we need a model that can support that significant decentralization,” Groff says.

3. Take on the leader’s role

“If you’d asked me when I first came out of university if I wanted to go into human resources, I would have said no,” Groff says. “But now I love it. It involves people, and that means there are always new issues.” Additionally, Groff has learned that traditional HR programs may not work for every company. “You have to ensure that your strategies are relevant for the business so that they become useful and you’re seen as a partner instead of that HR department in the background.”

4. Build an internal talent pipeline

The company has numerous employees who have been with it since high school and are now contemplating retirement. With recruiting externally a challenge, Groff and her team have turned their focus toward in-house resources. “We’re building programs related to succession planning, training staff internally to prepare them for the next opportunity in their careers,” she says.

5. Attract the best talent

Some employees will have to come from outside the company, and to that end, Groff and her team have had to ask themselves how to best attract them. “How do we get them in? How do we train them? How do we retain them?” she asks. One answer: a scholarship program targeting youth in agriculture. Another: tie employee performance and objectives to incentive programs, creating a strong performance-based culture.

6. Bring in new technology

In 2015, Viterra is introducing a new HR management system to replace one that has been in place for 17 years. “Our current system is based on modules, and there is a lot of manual processing involved,” Groff says. “The new system is much more integrated. From first contact with an applicant through the employee life cycle, from performance reviews to promotions—everything should flow together. And we are hoping that it will be much more user friendly.” Key to the success in implementing a new system is ensuring employees and managers know that while the look has changed, the programs and key processes have not. “Anytime you bring in a new system, a lot of process and communication work is involved getting everyone up to speed,” Groff says.

7. Encourage people to learn

“I’m a big believer in continual learning,” says Groff, who encourages the same in her staff in an effort to help them grow. “I’d prefer to lead by guiding—asking people what they think, and what their solutions are—than telling them what to do,” she says. “People’s willingness to take on new challenges and move out of their comfort zone really defines their success. Ask questions, explore some new things. Even if you make a mistake or decide, longer term, something’s not for you, learning something new isn’t a waste of time.”