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HR Service Yields Industrial Strength

Gary E. Gardner, vice president of HR and public affairs at Valspar, shares his insights about the company's HR team and the development of its workforce.

March 1, 1999
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Below, Gary E. Gardner, vice president of HR and public affairs at Valspar, shares his insights about the company’s HR team and the development of its workforce.

What motivated you to enter the HR field?
I joined HR as a temp writing job descriptions. I didn’t perceive it as a career at that time. However, I quickly learned that HR can add real value to the organization, and can develop and implement programs that are critical to the long-term success of the business as well as individuals. It has been a very enjoyable and rewarding career choice.

What do you like about Valspar’s corporate culture?
We’re action-oriented, aggressive, customer-focused, driven to succeed (we’ve had 24 successive years of record performance), we provide people with the freedom to do their jobs and we don’t bog them down with unnecessary rules and policies.

When you think about internal partnerships, how do you think HR can become a more strategic consultant?
First, you need to understand the business and the demands it has on the organization and on each individual. You need to understand where the business is going in the future. Is it growing, shrinking, globalizing—and what competitive influences come into play? You then need to work cooperatively with the business leaders to help them anticipate the impact these changes will have on their business and the employees and proactively address them.

How should HR ensure workers’ competency?
The way we’ve approached this is to give the employees and their managers the tools they need to do their jobs better. By developing selection, performance management and development programs, we’ve clearly defined what good performance looks like. We’ve provided tools to help managers and employees diagnose the root cause of performance problems and the development guides provide practical solutions to correct the performance problem.

How has the program changed your view about employee training and development?
For employees to improve, they must perceive training as addressing current skill deficiencies or helping them develop skills they’ll need in the future. The more you can make your training program specific to the development needs of each individual employee, the more impact it will have.

How did HR grow as a result of developing your program and tools?
Historically, our department has been more reactive than proactive. Focusing on employee development is changing the role of the HR managers in the company. They’re working closely with [other] managers to ensure that development plans are in place for all employees.

Workforce, March 1999, Vol. 78, No. 3, p. 74.

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