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Under the Microscope: One Page Talent Management at Avon Products

Marc Effron
Contributor: Marc Effron
Posted: 06/10/2008
Marc Effron is renowned for the innovation and successful talent management he has built at Avon. A former consultant at Hewitt Associates, Effron approaches work with the belief that talent programs are most successful if strategic, fact-based and practical on a "one page" talent management process. Effron is the founder of the New Talent Management Network, a group devoted to improving talent management (TM) effectiveness by conducting original research that benefits the TM community; coordinating opportunities for local, free networking among TM professionals; increasing the capabilities of TM professionals and raising the bar for the profession.

Effron sat down with Human Resources IQ to discuss his thoughts on leadership development, managing millennials, onboarding and landing a permanent seat at the table.

How does Avon communicate its culture to 40,000 global employees?

Avon started 121 years ago and the values remain consistent today. David McConnell set guidelines for how a business should be run. They include: trust, humility, respect and integrity. The culture sustains itself very well. We are more blunt or honest—we have redefined the culture and made it very direct. Humility is a big value piece of that. The actions of senior leaders keep that flywheel spinning. Andrea Jung, our CEO, reinforces this and gives all of our regions something to model.

There is a lot of nervousness around engaging millennials. Do you think the generational piece is valid or are gen y’ers just like the baby boomers were when they were young?

I would say that it’s 80/20, meaning that for the most part millennials are just like everybody else. They want challenging career opportunities and they want to be paid fairly and be inspired by the work they do. The question we have to ask ourselves is how do we need to change the fringes of that environment? Millennials prefer a different working environment. They might not need to come to the office every day, and the organization needs to get comfortable with that. We have shorter career time frames now. Millennials see a career as a series of projects. We need to organize the workplace so it resembles a series of projects. Millennials are not a completely different group of people. Their values may have shifted a little to the left or right, but for the most part people are people.

There is a lot of talk about what millennials are looking for in an employer brand. Talent managers are now more interested in an overall branding strategy, and in regards to targeting millennials this includes social responsibility, environmental sustainability, cultural awareness, etc. Is this a trend you are seeing, and if so, what are the implications for employers?

The question is can you create a brand that is separate from what your firm actually does? Can I pretend that Avon is the place for 20 year olds to come because it is a wonderful, flexible brand? Avon is the summation of everything that people know about it. An important question is, are brands created by action, or do brands cause companies to act? My guess is that people see brands as if they are a reflection of what people are actually doing. Is this type of branding a part of your brand, or who you are and what you do? Brands need to clearly represent who you are. As a company you need to change that first before you change the brand.

How important is the onboarding process in talent management? What do you do at Avon to bring employees into your culture and get them the right mix of information and experience?

Onboarding is super important for a couple of different reasons, one being the sooner the talent knows about company the faster they can get up and running. A company with a strong culture has a great onboarding process.

We reject foreign antibodies that come in—onboarding can help integrate people into the fabric of the company and help them understand the unwritten rules of the road.

Common mistakes new employees make include leading with your resume. They walk in and want to immediately get to work. At Avon people want to know you—who you are—and help you understand the organization’s history and values. It’s not how you naturally expect the workplace to be. You spend your first couple of months just getting to know people. You have to build formal processes and strong relationships.

Three fourths of our business is outside the United States. We make 2 billion inside the United States and eight billion outside. The culture in Latin America or Russia or the U.K. is very different than the U.S. A lot of it is very experiential. Our regions are trying to put together a more formal process with a clear onboarding plan for EVPs in talent management.

You have said, "companies in developing countries are much more serious about building great leaders" than the United States. Why are Eastern companies spending more time on this, and what are some examples of what they are doing?

I see India and China as trying a lot harder, and I can’t say why, but they see great leadership as key to business success. A lot of these concepts are fresh. They haven’t read all the leadership books and aren’t jaded. In the United States or Western Europe, we can quote From Good to Great. We know a lot but don’t implement. We know we will succeed if we have great leaders.

In your opinion, what makes a great leader?

The key to leadership is self awareness. Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses before anything else can happen for you as a leader—if you are willing to change. Most things fall into place.

Building great teams and delivering performance goals are basic things that you can do to improve your talent management strategy. You have to identify and build good talent and strong relationships.

Employers struggle with candidates who accept a position but then take another offer. How can recruiters prevent this from happening?

A lot of this is to make sure that you have seen the candidates enough and they have seen you enough. Have they seen 10 people at the organization in screening process? If they took another offer, you probably missed something in the interview process. Perhaps it was short or they put the balance or responsibility on the employer. It’s because you haven’t sold your company’s case well enough or there is something lacking in the talent brand. Also, maybe you are just paying too little.

You have mentioned that business literacy is important for human resourcesprofessionals. Why is this the case?

Human resources will never be respected until the business can see them as business people. We need to be able to talk about the business with the CFO. We need to sit down with the line managers.

If I say "I have a cool new idea for a leadership class," we need to link what we are doing to real business outcomes in the language of the business.

It’s one thing to know the business production process. Human resources people need to love the business. We need to be in love with capitalism. In the talent space you almost feel that the corporation is the necessary evil.

The more we have business literacy the more the business will respect us—we will gain the influence we always wanted.

How can human resourcesfolks educate themselves if they don’t have their MBAs or a background in business?

Human resources professionals need to know every aspect of the business. They need to visit factories and talk to people in different functions. They need to take the local marketer out to lunch and ask people to talk about themselves. Over the course of two years you should have had a lunch or meeting with every single person in the company.

Make sure you are current on business challenges. Read Fortune magazine and the Wall Street Journal. Pay attention to what organizations are struggling with. Pick up books on management and leadership every three months and stay current with new frameworks and ideas.

You are a fan of fact-based and practical approaches to talent management. Why do you focus on simplicity, and how has this helped Avon become successful?

TM practices work if they are implemented. It’s basic behavioral science—if we give feedback, people improve. You need to set clear goals for people. Human resources has complicated simple concepts.

If we make something simple, easy and understandable to every average manager—including setting performance goals—it’s more likely the manager will do it. On one piece of paper include the goals and metrics. It’s a pain, but it works.

There is the theoretically correct way of doing things and the way that really works. We need to get to the business outcome as easily as possible. This includes goal setting—the easiest possible way to make sure they have goals. Don’t design things to impress human resources but make sure line managers have useful tools.

What companies do you think are doing innovative work in TM that we might not have read or heard about?

A lot of big companies are doing things fine. Innovation is also definitely happening in mid-size or smaller firms. The question is, do we even need innovation in TM?

We need to flawlessly execute on what we already know. We need to know what’s new in talent management. We need to do what we already know and do it effectively. This could include a new assessment on a new tech application.

What is your recipe for success with people?

First of all, pick people who are excited about TM. We need to communicate well, give feedback and remain open. We need people who are receptive. This includes staff and line managers. Hire line managers who get that investing in people is important. Hire the right people and convey personal enthusiasm about this topic. It’s a cool topic, and it’s fun work! I feel like there are a lot of less fun jobs—we get to build leaders!

Interview by Blake Landau
Marc Effron
Contributor: Marc Effron
Posted: 06/10/2008