Car manufacture 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. It’s especially disappointing when those employees have a lot of potential. In 2018, senior HR business manager Sally Little CPHR noticed this very problem at Nissan Motor Co. and decided to do something about it.
An engagement survey had just shown a gap between what employees understood about their career development and what was actually available. Despite a focus on internal hiring, Nissan was still losing employees 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 have people ready to take up ever-changing and challenging roles for the future,” says Little.
Little made developing the career pathways framework her capstone project for the AHRI Practising Certification (APC) program.
Certified HR practitioners approach situations differently, like Sally Little. Discover your new approach through the APC Program.
A project that impacts employees’ futures is a big undertaking, and Little 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.’
“It’s really critical that you have the right stakeholders who are part of your project that are there to add value and support you.”
Little’s ultimate goal was to redesign the career pathways framework for all of Nissan Australia but understanding the enormity of that project she decided to start with the income generators of the company, the sales team.
“Focusing on one part of the company provided the visual that we needed and the proof of concept to develop this careers pathway framework. This involved us reviewing our structure, position descriptions, hiring criteria, cognitive assessments, field development training and the surveying of staff.
“It’s one thing to create a tool, but it’s another thing for it actually to work. You want it to be simple and easy to use as well.”
Nissan already had guidelines around talent acquisition and career progression that Little wanted to make more transparent. 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 within our core talent pool and we look at the capability that we have in our business and we look for the opportunities to grow and shape individuals 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. Because growth can also come from individuals wanting to become experts in what they do.
“So we’ve built the framework that allows someone to be able to finesse their expertise sideways. But then also have the ability to grow their careers upwards. And that’s either locally within Australia or abroad with Nissan.”
Finding an anchor
As the project grew Little noticed herself and the team wanting to take on bigger and bigger issues that weren’t necessarily advancing their task. So she identified what she calls the “anchor” of the project 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 whiteboarding everything and 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?
“You need to be grounded back to your anchor, as that will allow you to have a clear vision for your success. It’s about knowing your business and understanding exactly what is the heartbeat and what are the core deliverables.
“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 what tools she already had at her disposal, that Little had her eureka moment.
Little realised 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 employees progression if they were ever going to help them succeed. So while their current talent management system was geared towards candidate management, Little saw the potential for it to become something else.
“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 were able to what they needed to do to progress in their careers. The system would show staff what training or certifications they needed and who could mentor them to help them achieve their goals.
Create your own fate
Though her online vision hasn’t been realised just yet, it is Little’s framework that it’s being built on. Little and her team have linked the framework with Nissan’s global learning management system and the leadership courses run within the company. This allows staff to see where the gaps in their learning are but also gives them a direct solution for filling those gaps.
Beyond that, the career pathways framework will show employees current availabilities so staff can make progression a reality.
“If you just identify gaps to individuals and you don’t actually give the individual the tools and the 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. And it’s a partnership. And that’s our contract of success.”
Despite managing to complete this project in just over twelve months, Little says the biggest lesson she’s learnt is patience, because the results are worth the struggle.
A woman of determination, this project has actually inspired Little to continue learning. When she finalised her submission to AHRI she wrote the following in her learning journal:
“This program has provided me with the aspiration and confidence to continue to learn and develop. As part of my ongoing development, and to be the best advocate leader of the HR discipline I can, I will be exploring the MBA program.”
Little is a big believer in driving your own success and she hopes the career framework will empower Nissan staff to do just that.
“At the end of the day, we needed to change that mindset and go, it’s not about you sitting back and waiting for Nissan. Nissan will give you the tools and the 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 want to have the aspiration, the drive, the motivation and the passion to drive your own future.
“The best advice I was given was to always have the confidence to back yourself. If you have the passion and willing to work hard to reach your full potential in all aspects of your life, then anything is possible.”
Little says it was the APC program that helped her understand her own potential and says it’s a great way to 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’s also provided me with the opportunity to further develop and challenge myself by earning credits to undertake the MBA. And I am really excited about setting myself that goal.”
A version of this article first appeared in the June 2020 edition of HRM magazine.