A CHRO View on Building Great Teams, From Inside and Out

Building top management teams is one of the great challenges for human capital leaders today. But identifying the right players is where the rubber meets the pavement. This is done nowhere better than at Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) under the direction of CHRO Michael D’Ambrose. In this far ranging interview, Mr. D’Ambrose talks strategy, building bench strength and reveals how he identifies best-in-class people and team leaders.

March 30, 2017 – Managing a large workforce at any company is no easy task. But when that workforce is 32,000 strong, it requires the steady hand of a top human resource leader who will keep everyone motivated, engaged, intact and forward thinking. And that’s across 160 countries encompassing every cultural nuance imaginable. This is the domain of Michael D’Ambrose, chief human resources officer (CHRO) for Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM), the $67 billion agricultural processing giant based in Chicago.

Hunt Scanlon Media editors sat down with Mr. D’Ambrose recently to discuss how ADM builds and shapes its bench strength through a range of range of tools – from skills training and mentoring to coaching and professional development. Promoting from within has big advantages at ADM. Mr. D’Amrose walks us through it, revealing how failure – what he refers to as “misses and mistakes” – can act as its own teaching vehicle in a collaborative, people-focused culture. Internal recruiting is a critical component of ADM’s insatiable drive to find talent and we find out why each employee at ADM is viewed as a recruiter.

Turning to the role executive search firms play within ADM’s talent planning strategies, Mr. D’Ambrose underscores the importance of recruiters who can add value beyond their core service by leveraging the many tools now at their disposal. Like a growing chorus of other senior level HR leaders, Mr. D’Ambrose favors boutiques. In an unusual twist, ADM is working with some of its smaller, more specialized search providers to advance their businesses in order to create stronger, deeper and more long-lasting partnerships with them.

Prior to joining ADM slightly more than a decade ago, Mr. D’Ambrose served as executive vice president human resources for First Data Corporation. Earlier in his career he held senior human resources roles at Citibank, Citigroup, Toys ’R‘ Us and Travelers Mortgage Services as well as serving in key positions at Ingersoll-Rand Corporation.

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Mike, CHROs and HR leaders often talk about improving bench strength. What strategies do you use at ADM to build it and foster great teams?

Our focus at ADM is on building great teams that can help us set the competitive standard for all companies. We do this in two ways. To prepare our existing colleagues to take on bigger and broader roles in the company, we invest in skills training, continuing education, mentoring & coaching, and other professional development programs. At the same time, because we’re a growing organization, we recruit talented professionals from outside to round out our teams, boost our bench strength, and help us advance our culture of performance excellence. In addition, we are always looking for extraordinarily talented and qualified people and have often brought them onto our team to prepare for growth and enhance our teams’ capabilities.

Talk about how you approach internal benchmarking, and how, when and why you decide to turn outward for talent.

We often promote from within, because obviously we know our own people’s capabilities and strengths. We’ve already made a significant investment in their training and knowledge base, and we want to offer them great development opportunities. Importantly, these are people who have already demonstrated that they can work successfully within the ADM culture. We have an extraordinary number of employees who have been with ADM for 20, 30 and even 40 years, and that’s a tribute to the fact that our culture encourages people to stay, learn and grow with us. This collaborative, people-focused culture is also why we receive awards recognizing ADM as a great place to work in different countries around the globe. Our variable pay programs are mostly predicated on company performance, which helps create this kind of collaborative culture. Our culture also emphasizes continuous learning, where experience and even misses and mistakes are viewed as great teachers. Internal learnings are often as much about the ‘how’ as the ‘what.’ It’s not just about coming up with innovative ideas; it’s about execution. We work to keep our people ‘state of the art’ through continuous learning, and this is one of the reasons why ADM is admired for our expertise in execution. When we’re looking outside the organization for talent, cultural fit plays a big role. We go to great lengths to ensure that the people we bring in from outside will be able to work effectively within our culture. It’s not that we’re looking for individuals who fit a certain mold; in fact, we want a diverse workforce where different perspectives, ideas and experiences are valued and leveraged to help us succeed. But it’s critical that new hires be comfortable navigating our highly complex global company, and that they build internal relationships that help them succeed. Culture matters.

Mike, you’ve read the Hunt Scanlon white paper on in-house recruiting. Give us an update on your in-house recruiting initiatives.

Internal recruiters are indispensable to our hiring efforts. Around the world, we have internal experts whose responsibilities range from college and entry-level hiring, to professional and hourly recruitment, to executive level hiring. Our recruiters are assigned to specific businesses and corporate functions, and they support hiring managers throughout the process of assessing, interviewing and selecting candidates. And ADM is fortunate that—besides the team we have dedicated to talent acquisition—all 32,000 of our current employees effectively act as our internal recruiters. One of the factors that distinguishes us from many other companies our size is the enthusiasm and excitement our colleagues have about the role they play in feeding the world through their work. They feel a deep personal connection to our mission and purpose, and this passion and commitment make them great ambassadors for ADM in their communities. They also know we are committed to developing them, and to helping them build great, meaningful and rewarding careers. Our people want their friends and family to work for ADM, and their word-of-mouth gives us a significant advantage in the marketplace for great talent. When it comes to sourcing outside talent, one thing we’ve learned through the years is that some of the best people outside our organization aren’t necessarily the ones looking for jobs, so when it comes to looking outside our organization to fill key roles, we leverage social media, person-to-person networking and non-traditional recruitment techniques in addition to more standard approaches.

When we’re looking outside the organization for talent, cultural fit plays a big role. We go to great lengths to ensure that the people we bring in from outside will be able to work effectively within our culture. It’s not that we’re looking for individuals who fit a certain mold; in fact, we want a diverse workforce where different perspectives, ideas and experiences are valued and leveraged to help us succeed. But it’s critical that new hires be comfortable navigating our highly complex global company, and that they build internal relationships that help them succeed. Culture matters.”

There’s been a sea change in the executive search field as you well know. So, what’s your preference, large generalist or specialist boutique?

We’re focused on building great teams, not just on filling individual jobs. So as many of the larger recruiting firms continue expanding into other HR consulting services, I think they have an opportunity to figure out how to leverage the full range of those offerings to help companies in their team-building efforts. Their No. 1 job is to help drive success by helping companies assemble successful teams, so the ‘off limits’ restrictions you mention may be a sign that they should foster deeper relationships with fewer clients, rather than casting a wider net and risking conflicts of interest. We often work with boutique firms that take the time to get to know our needs and partner with us. In certain cases, we’ll even help these smaller shops grow their businesses so they can enter new markets and expand with us. For smaller start-up or boutique firms, cash flow can be a real challenge. So in some instances, we’ve structured our fee arrangements to provide our partner firms with a steady flow of cash that helps them focus more on the assignments they receive from us and less on their own finances.

Developing deeper search firm partnerships, then, is where we’re all heading.

Again, I do think that the search firms’ ultimate priority should be leveraging their suite of services to help companies like ADM build great, diverse teams. That’s their experience and their expertise, and it’s a service that’s becoming more and more critical for companies like ours. In an increasingly competitive marketplace for great talent, companies like ours benefit from strong relationships with outstanding executive recruiting firms. The ones that serve as genuine partners, rather than vendors, are the most valuable.

Contributed by Christopher W. Hunt, Publisher and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief — Hunt Scanlon Media

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