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Want to hire and keep top talent?

Want to hire and keep top talent?
Employee development is the key
By Joe Galvin,
Vistage Chief Research Officer

The competition for talent is intensifying as the economy rapidly expands and revenue projections of small and midsize businesses increase. A recent Vistage CEO Confidence Index revealed that 66% of CEOs plan to increase their head count in the year ahead to be prepared to scale.

Unfortunately, traditional hiring strategies are no longer effective as the sole means to source qualified applicants. To get high-quality talent, employers need both a competitive recruitment strategy and a comprehensive retention strategy.

Having a strong employee development program is key. In today’s workplace, employees are looking for more than just a job; they want to improve their job performance, focus on personal wellness, expand their professional skills and support a purpose. Consequently, they will gravitate toward — and stick with — companies that actively invest in their people.

Here are two Vistage members that have taken employee development to heart and made it a competitive advantage for recruiting and retaining their employees.

I call this the next evolution in HR.
Joe Kenner
Joe Kenner, photos courtesy of Greyston
Baking raw talent into seasoned employees
Case Study: Joe Kenner
President and CEO of Greyston, Yonkers, New York

Forget resumes, interviews or job applications. To get a job at Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, you just need to put your name on a list. When a position opens, you’re hired — no questions asked.

Greyston’s approach might feel new, but it’s not. For more than 40 years, the bakery has used open hiring to build its workforce of approximately 100 people, many of whom come from difficult circumstances or have struggled to find employment. Profitable since 2009, Greyston supplies millions of pounds of brownies each year to corporate clients across the United States. Ben & Jerry’s packs them into pints of ice cream, Whole Foods sells them in its stores and corporations ship them off as client gifts. In 2020, bakery sales reached record heights.

“This is good business,” says Joe Kenner, president and CEO of Greyston. “There’s a financial argument, an ethical argument, a diversity-inclusion argument and an economic development argument. It’s just a strong talent management strategy and a great business model.”

Key to this model is Greyston’s rigorous apprenticeship program, which helps new hires develop technical skills and soft skills over 6-9 months. Rotating between the bakery floor, mixing rooms and packing areas, apprentices learn everything from safety protocols to conflict resolution to the history of the company. They also meet with the directors overseeing production, supply chain and manufacturing — all while earning wages as an hourly employee.

A Greyston bakery floor worker holds packs of the company's brownies.

Upon completion of the program, apprentices “graduate” and become line workers. Over time, they can progress to more advanced positions in the bakery’s mixing rooms or even gain training for leadership roles.

Greyston’s training model is complemented by its Employment PathMaker program. Led by an on-site social worker, the program helps employees work through personal challenges that might impede their professional success, such as housing, childcare or addiction issues. Since implementing the program, turnover at Greyston has dropped from 60% to 23%.

“I call this the next evolution in HR,” says Kenner. “People say, ‘I want to be successful. But I also have some challenges. If you can help me sort through those, I will give you my time and skills.’ And then they stick with us.”

ASCI team members participate in a crane cage training exercise. Photos courtesy of ASCI.
Turning high potentials into high performers
Case Study: Christine Hopkins
President and CEO, Associated Service Companies
International, Anchorage, Alaska (

In the crowded space of supply chain management, it’s hard for any business to stand out. But Associated Service Companies International (ASCI) does — namely because of its people.

Serving customers in industries including oil and gas, fisheries, mining, manufacturing, education, utilities, and health care, ASCI holds on to employees for eight years on average. “That’s almost unheard of in companies that manage warehouses and laydown yards,” says President and CEO Christine Hopkins. “Despite the fact that we have employees in such high-risk jobs, we have worked 640,000 hours without a recordable incident and more than 2.2 million hours without a time-loss incident.”

Hopkins attributes much of this success to the company’s robust leadership development program, which she designed and implemented in 2015. Before joining the company, Hopkins worked for more than 12 years in human resources.

The program begins with two courses — “Developing and Implementing an Outward Mindset” and “Outward Leadership” — that are taught by Hopkins, who is certified in these programs offered by The Arbinger Institute. During the training, Hopkins identifies high potentials — those who understand how their work impacts others and can make adjustments — and moves them to the next phase of training.

ASCI President and CEO Christine Hopkins with team members from her leadership development program.

In this six-month phase, employees complete a series of e-learning programs that explore topics such as effective communication and conflict resolution. They also complete a DISC Profile, meet with every leader at ASCI and participate in a 360-degree assessment, which identifies goals to work toward in leadership, productivity, management and more. Those goals are achieved with help from Hopkins, who personally coaches each employee for the next six months. From start to finish, each training cycle takes 18 months.

Hopkins knows this represents a major investment for ASCI — not to mention her own time. But it gets back to why the company exists.

“If you look at our purpose statement, it is to inspire and cultivate people and businesses to thrive,” she says. “For our employees, that means giving them the flexibility to be good at what they’re good at, and the accountability that comes with that.”

Employee development programs don’t just unlock the potential of employees; they unlock a growth opportunity for companies. And as the competition for talent increases, development programs provide a solution to bolster performance and provide employee satisfaction as well.

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