Taking the wheel

Car manufacturer Nissan was surprised when it found its people felt like they were going nowhere.
So the HR team began empowering staff to take control of their own careers.

It’s always disappointing to see employees leave your organisation. But it’s especially disheartening when those employees have a lot of potential. In 2018, senior HR business manager Sally Groeneveld CPHR noticed this very problem at Nissan Motor Co. and decided to do something about it.

An engagement survey had shown a gap between what employees understood about their career development and what was on offer. Despite a focus on internal hiring, Nissan was still losing staff with developed career plans. “The business opportunity was to develop the careers pathway framework, enabling people to power their own futures. And at the same time enable Nissan to get its people ready to take on new roles and tackle the challenges of the future,” says Groeneveld.

She made developing the career pathways framework her capstone project for the AHRI Practising Certification (APC) program.

A project that impacts the futures of employees is a big undertaking, so Groeneveld wanted to be as transparent as possible and work with the right people to get the job done. “As project lead, I partnered with all levels from the organisation and really did my research to gain insight. I led a very small specialist group, we took the initiative and said, ‘Okay, what does this look like? How can we make this happen? And now let’s work together as a project team to bring this to life.’”

Groeneveld’s ultimate goal was to redesign the career pathways framework for all of Nissan Australia’s employees. However, understanding the enormity of that project, she started with a pilot program which focused on the income generators of the company: the sales team. “Focusing on one [group] provided the proof of concept to develop the larger framework,” she says. “This involved reviewing our structure, position descriptions, hiring criteria, cognitive assessments, field development training and the surveying of staff.”

Early on, she identified that, for some employees, growth doesn’t always mean going up the seniority ladder. “Nissan always looks internally first when we hire. We look at the capability that we have in our business and we look for opportunities to grow and shape staff to be our future leaders.

“Growth doesn’t always need to happen upwards. So for an individual, it’s not always about aspiring to be the next level. Growth can also come from individuals wanting to become experts in what they do. “So we’ve built a framework that allows someone to be able to finesse their expertise sideways, but then also have the ability to grow their careers upwards if they want that. And that’s either locally within Australia or abroad with Nissan.”


Finding an anchor

As the project grew, Groeneveld noticed herself and the team wanting to take on bigger issues that weren’t always advancing their task. So she identified what she calls the “anchor” of the project; something that would be the ballast for future decisions. “There were so many times as a project team that we were discussing things and we were throwing ideas up, but we always had to go back to our core anchor. And that was: what are we trying to achieve, and what value are we trying to add?

“There’s never a project that goes smoothly. But when you hit a roadblock, take a step back and ask, ‘Okay, what are my anchors? What am I trying to achieve? Okay, I’ve got budget constraints. We absolutely need to deliver this. But how can we do it?’” It was during such a reassessment, as she was surveying the tools she already had at her disposal, that Groeneveld had her eureka moment. To get employees to take responsibility for their career path, they needed to be able to see exactly where that path could take them and how to get there.

Managers also needed a way to track employee progression if they were ever going to help them succeed. So while their current talent management system was geared towards recruitment management, Groeneveld saw the potential for it to be something more. “I was very passionate about bringing this project to life. And I didn’t want budget constraints to limit us from delivering something for our people. Looking closely at the talent management system, I saw the opportunity to branch out to our partners – Korn Ferry and LiveHire, who were absolutely essential to this whole process – and see if we could reshape our existing system and take it to a whole new level.”

The project came to life. Through the online system, staff will be able to find  everything they need to progress in their careers. The system will show staff what training or certifications they require and who could mentor them to help them achieve their goals.

Though her online vision hasn’t been realised just yet, it is being built on Groeneveld’s framework. She and her team have linked the framework with Nissan’s global learning management system and the leadership courses run within the company. Beyond that, the career pathways framework will also show employees current openings so they can make progression a reality.

“If you just identify gaps and don’t give the individual the tools and resources they actually need to be able to acquire that knowledge and apply that practice, then it defeats the purpose.

“We want people to aspire to stay with Nissan because we believe in them and they believe in us. It’s a partnership. And that’s our contract of success.” Groeneveld is a believer in driving your own success, and she hopes the career framework will empower Nissan staff to do just that. “It’s not about you sitting back and waiting for Nissan. Nissan will give you the tools and resources, and we’ll give you the environment and we’ll set you up for success. But it’s up to you as an individual to have the aspiration, the drive, the motivation and the passion to create your own future.”

Groeneveld says it was the APC program that helped her understand her potential, and it’s a great way for HR practitioners to get ahead. “The course has given me the credibility to be recognised for my capability as a senior HR practitioner. But it has also provided me with the opportunity to further develop and challenge myself by earning credits to undertake an MBA. And I am really excited about setting myself that goal.”

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This article was originally published in HRM Magazine June 2020 Edition, written by Edie-Louise Diemar.

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