HR Storytellers

Adrienne Salvaggio: Learning to Train and Training to Learn

Episode Summary

Adrienne Salvaggio, SHRM-SCP, reflects on how her experience as a middle school science teacher and passion for training paved the way for her career as HR director at beverage startup Big Easy Blends in New Orleans, La. In this episode of HR Storytellers, she joins host Tony Lee to share her HR story.

Episode Notes

Adrienne Salvaggio, SHRM-SCP, reflects on how her experience as a middle school science teacher and passion for training paved the way for her career as HR director at beverage startup Big Easy Blends in New Orleans, La. In this episode of HR Storytellers, she joins host Tony Lee to share her HR story.

HR Storytellers is sponsored by BambooHR.

Episode transcript

Episode Transcription

Adrienne:

So I got into HR from an indirect path as it were, retail jewelry, teaching science to middle school kids. And then that turned into an opportunity for me to go into a training director role.

Tony:

So middle school teacher, did that prepare you for this?

Adrienne:

Some days I'd rather have the kids, some days I'd rather have the adults. Just kind of depends.

Speaker 1: 

HR Storytellers is sponsored by BambooHR. BambooHR is easy-to-use HR software that helps your employees know they can count on you, whether it’s through on-time-every-time payroll or asking for unflinchingly authentic feedback.

Tony:

Welcome to the HR Storyteller podcast series from the Society for Human Resource Management. I'm your host, Tony Lee head of content here at SHRM. Thank you for joining us. Our HR Storyteller podcast, feature practitioners and thought leaders and human resources, sharing stories about why they love HR, what motivates them, and what's moved them in their careers. Today we're joined by Adrienne Salvaggio she's HR director of Big Easy Blends in Metairie, Louisiana. Adrienne, welcome.

Adrienne:

Thank you. Happy to be here.

Tony:

Well, I'm thrilled to have you, so tell us the story about you and HR.

Adrienne:

Sure. So I got into HR from an indirect path as it were. Retail jewelry, teaching science to middle school kids. And then that turned into an opportunity for me to go into a training director role with a industrial service company here in town. And I wanted to really see how I could improve what they were doing. They had a good training program existing already, but they needed to really bulk it up. And they were only training about 10 people per year. So training's been a big passion of mine all the way from when I was little. So I really dug in and looked at how we could improve the process with their technical training for their technicians. And it took me about two years to really find the path there, but we went and I actually took the class. It was a year long class with the technicians.

Adrienne:

And at the end of that class, I noticed that there were some very big gaps where you had introductory level technicians that were participating in the same classes along with higher level technicians. So it was over the heads of those that hadn't gotten the foundation yet. And then the [inaudible 00:02:12] I already did this. So it was a waste of time and resources. So I was able to build that case that we needed to offer instead of one class per year we needed to offer two and split that. And so we created a foundational level for those technicians that were early in their career, kind of green, and really be able to develop a strong foundation in them and then have those higher level courses for our higher level technicians who'd been around the block, who'd seen a few things, who knew what to do.

Adrienne:

And as part of that process, we also created a mentorship program so that those more experienced techs repairing with the technicians at the lower level. And so not only did you get this classroom training, but you were also getting that on the job, hands on mentorship and training. And so through that, the first year we doubled the number of technicians that we were able to get trained. So from 10 to 20, this is an intensive every two weeks training program. And then the second and third years we I think tripled. So we were getting several people through. We were offering two foundational courses a year at minimum, and then at least one higher level. And so the impact there was, we were starting to see by the end of year three, we were starting to see those foundational people that had done it in year one were now part of the year three higher level courses.

Adrienne:

And so it was watching their careers grow, watching their development. Obviously, of course, from an HR perspective, we wanted to make sure that retention was an important factor. And we were really focusing on who was ready for that development and how can we get their career pathing, and how can we make that all grow? And so while not the traditional HR department, as a member of the training, that's such a key component in talent development and growth and retention and all of that. So it was really nice to be a sideline partner with the HR department as we built that program out and to see the impact that it had on these guys' careers. It was really cool.

Tony:

That is wonderful. What a great story. So middle school teacher. Did that prepare you for this?

Adrienne:

Some days I'd rather have the kids, some days I'd rather have the adults just kind of depends.

Tony:

But obviously teaching is in your blood.

Adrienne:

Yes. Absolutely.

Tony:

Do you find enough opportunities in HR professional to do that?

Adrienne:

Where I am currently, not as much as I'd like where it's a production facility, manufacturing. So in order for me to do the training, I got to shut down production sometimes. So that's a bit more of a challenge to find those opportunities and to find those ways to get that training done. So I actually, I volunteer my time with Boy Scouts of America and I'm part of their training team. So I actually get my creative outlet there and it's been fun because I've brought some of the things from the Boy Scout trainings into my career and into my HR profession and the trainings that we do at work and things like that. So it's been great. Communication, a lot on communication. With the Boy Scouts, they have a program called Wood Badge that I'm on the training committee for, and they do things with managing difficult conversations. They talk about leadership styles. They talk about communicating effectively. And just because you say it one way does not mean that's how they receive it. So we bring a lot of that. It's universal.

Tony:

Yeah. I can't imagine what a difficult conversation for a boy scout is. My axe isn't sharp enough. I mean, what's the conversation?

Adrienne:

With the youth today, you have some unique challenges with social media and bullying and things like that. And just making sure that sometimes the kids don't really want to do things. So you have to make sure that you're giving them the little nudge that they need and they're struggling with themselves. They have their own personal issues and challenges. And sometimes as we know in HR, even though they're volunteers, sometimes you need to have conversations with volunteers.

Tony:

Yeah, no, that's true. So it's interesting as an HR director, you need to be skilled in all aspects of HR, obviously in affinity for training, how do you get up to speed on all the rest?

Adrienne:

That's a great question because I did not come from the traditional HR background. I do have my MBA, so I got a little bit from school, but a lot of it's through networking and really coming to SHRM for sure. Having the pleasure to meet amazing HR professionals like Steve Brown and his network. Working with other speakers and being involved in my local SHRM chapter has absolutely helped me. If I have a question specifically policy and benefits and compliance are not my strong suits. I've definitely leaned on the SHRM resources there a lot. But having that network of HR professionals that you can lean on has been tremendous.

Tony:

So talk a little bit about Big Easy Blends. What is it? What do you do?

Adrienne:

So you probably haven't heard of us and that's okay. We are a pouch beverage manufacturing company. So we are going to make things that go into single serve, flexible packaging. We license brands with Icy, Slush Puppie. We do a protein smoothie for Welch's that's out in the supermarkets. And then we do some co-packing. So actually we do it from raw ingredient through finished product for some pretty big brands, Gallo, Bacardi. And then we're doing a really fun project with big machine distillers out of national. And we did the Kirkland's brand vodka pops that were out for the past couple summers. There some fun product in there.

Tony:

Yeah, no question. So last two, three years been pretty crazy. What impact have you guys felt?

Adrienne:

So from a manufacturing side, we got busy. We got really, really busy, which was great. Obviously labor market challenges have been the most significant things that we've felt. We've had the issues where we have more sales than we have the ability to produce for the demand, which is a good problem to have, but when it's production and a lot of our facilities are not a lot of automation at the moment, but it's a lot of hand packing. So hand packing means a lot of people. And having to utilize multiple temporary agencies to bring in that additional staffing that we've needed has definitely been a challenge.

Tony:

Inflation. What kind of impact and you're into compensation planning now, whether you want to be or not, right?

Adrienne:

Gosh. Yeah, absolutely. And that definitely is part of the challenge. It is an employee's market. So we've had to re-look at our compensation plans. We've had to look at where our people are. We've had to look at what their growth is. And we actually, I guess it was towards the end of 2020, we looked at each position and we created levels and we defined each level. What does a level one operator look like? What does a level one maintenance tech look like? What does a level one blender look like? And we really had to mirror the skills that they were using. And then what additional skills would they be learning on the job? What can we do through training? And then as they gained those skills, how could the compensation rise? So now we're not only giving them a path to, I want to make more money. Well, here's how you can do it.

Adrienne:

And we really laid it out very clearly so that they could take the information or have that conversation with HR and their managers to say, here's the growth plan. If you want to make $2 more an hour, here's how we get there. So it helped them to understand where we were as a business, that it's not just, I would love to give everybody more money, but you have to be strategic about it. So we've tried to put that into place so that we would get some return on them because not only are we monitoring that cost expenditure for salaries, but we're also making sure that they understand here's my career. Here's where I can grow. This isn't just a job. This is my career. And this is what it looks like.

Tony:

So you mentioned the talent issue, any great ideas that people can learn from you?

Adrienne:

Oh, we did all kinds of stuff. Last year, we did an incentive for those that had perfect attendance, because again, we utilized a lot of temporary labor. They don't have to come to work every day. We really tried to do some things to increase the retention for our temporary workers. And so some of that was through incentive programs. I instituted an attaboy card that we would do for them. Since everything is in pouches, we did a silver pouch awards and some of that, just something fun to bring into the workplace to try and get them connected to what we were doing. We also have been doing food truck Fridays once a month. So we bring in a food truck feed them lunch, things like that. So we just tried to do small things that would make it easier for them to get to work. For those that had really good attendance and were real solid workers if they had an issue with transportation, we would try and get them an Uber or something. We would try to make it so that they could get to work.

Tony:

I'm curious because you're obviously competing with the Amazon warehouses of the world and all of that. Is it about culture? Is that part of it trying to get people to feel like they really belong?

Adrienne:

That is a huge part of culture. Huge, huge, huge. Or culture should I say is a huge part of that for sure. They have to like where they want to be. And especially working with a very large temporary labor force, we've had to do, I mean a hundred temporary associates. And so part of that was as they came in, initially when they would bring in the temporary associates, they would just come in, clock in, clock out. So I started where we actually did an interview process. We actually told them here's who we are. Here's what we do. This is what we make. This is your schedule. This is what to expect. We did an orientation with them. We showed them the training videos that they would need to watch to be able to be safe on the production floor. And we invested that. It was two hours of their time, but we were investing in that time with them.

Adrienne:

They got to know me, they got to know our staffing coordinator. They got to know their managers. We set them up. Here's your locker, here's how you clock in and then walked them onto the floor and handed them over so to speak. So it was really very much like an onboarding of an employee minus a lot of the paperwork. We treated them the same. And a lot of them really liked that. And we found that when we got super busy, we would have to bring in additional and the timing didn't work. So the people that we spent that time with and invested that time in had much longer retention than the people that just showed up to work for the day. They were the ones that left before the end of the day or didn't show up and never called. And so we looked at the process and we set up a process.

Adrienne:

So even though they're not my employee, I still wanted them to feel like they were part of the Big Easy Blends family. And we really made that a priority. And we got some really good... I've actually got a few workers that have been with us since November and it's been fantastic. And we've had some temporary associates that they come back year after year to work for busy season, and like call me I'm ready.Like, okay we got you. And for those that we have been able to bring on temp to perm, one of the things that I live by at work is if I've done my job correctly, the only thing that changes is where you clock in and out. You clock in on this time clock versus that time clock, everything else should feel exactly the same. And that's just, that's culture.

Tony:

No, that's wonderful. And when you develop that kind of loyalty, that leads to employee referrals. I mean all sorts of things.

Adrienne:

Absolutely. They love to bring everybody that they know, which is great. If employees are referring their friends, their family, people they know to your company, you're doing something right. Because people aren't going to want to bring the people they know into some place that's not good.

Tony:

Language barriers? Other challenges?

Adrienne:

Oh, big time. We actually have a very large Latina population and I'm brushing up on my Spanish. So it's been a little bit of a challenge. So what we try to do is to identify early in that interview process, who are my bilingual speakers, who can I lean on to assist? Because sometimes we have to have conversations if there's a correction that needs to be made or if there's a work performance issue. We want to address those. Even if it's temp labor, it doesn't matter. They're still producing for you. They're still part of the team. So we wanted to make sure that if we could find improvements and coach, we would do that. So we'd find those that were bilingual, we've actively sought out line leads, supervisors that are bilingual to better be able to serve that population. Because they're a great part of our workforce.

Tony:

So how big is your HR team?

Adrienne:

So I have me, I have a payroll and benefits manager and then I've got a staffing coordinator. That's it.

Tony:

So how many full-time employees?

Adrienne:

I've got about 60 full-time employees and then for high season we run about a hundred, hundred and twenty five temporary associates. That's the pool that we pull from because everybody has issues and things like that come up from time to time. So that's a pool that we pull from on a day to day basis.

Tony:

So how about your training and your team's training? Obviously you guys got to stay on top of everything that's going on in HR.

Adrienne:

Absolutely. SHRM is a huge help, go into the monthly NOLA SHRM meetings here in town with the local chapter, listen to the podcasts, reading the magazines and talking to other professionals, what's going on? What are you experiencing? I actually have reached out to several of our direct competitors in town in terms of the food manufacturing space, because we're all dealing with the same general people. So how are you doing, what are you doing? What's working. What's not working, partnering with our temporary agencies. What are you seeing in the marketplace? What are you seeing in the workforce? What are you seeing? So really just asking for and trying to find that feedback.

Tony:

So someone's new, just graduated college. HR is their future. What's your guidance?

Adrienne:

Find your space, get a little taste of everything and then find your space. For me, I call it the fun side of HR. So it's the employee engagement. It's the culture. It's recruiting, it's training. It's all the positives. I'm not getting bogged down in a lot of the discipline or the terminations or the left. So you have to do it, but that's not where I like to spend the majority of my time. And then payroll and benefits, I can handle it, but it's not my forte. And you find that out by doing it. So that's why I have a payroll and benefits manager. And so she handles the majority of that leg work. When it comes to strategy and let's look at the plans, obviously I'm a hundred percent all in on that, but the day to day, somebody else is going to manage those. So that would be what I say is get a little taste of everything. Do some internships if you can. Get a job as an admin or a generalist to get your feet wet and really see the breadth of what HR is. And then find where you're good at. Not everybody can be a recruiter. Not everybody can do payroll every day. So you've really got to explore and then dig into what you find you're passionate about.

Tony:

And what do you think big company versus small? Do you try? them all. What do you think?

Adrienne:

The big companies are nice because they're going to have the processes and the structure in place. And then I think if you have that experience and then can say, well now let me go do that at a small company. So where I'm at now at Big Easy Blends, we're building, we're growing, we've had double digit growth over the past three years. And so with that comes a lot of growing pains. And so I'm having to come in and build the processes. I filled out a paper application. I told my CFO, I said, this will be the last paper application that we ever fill out. And two weeks later I had us up on an ATS. Because you have to can't it's 2020. At the time it was 2020. You can't be on paper. And that comes from having that exposure to those bigger systems.

Adrienne:

What is an HRAS? What is out there? How do they work? What do they do? How do I process payroll? How do I process things like PTO plans? You need to have some of that exposure, if you're going to be working at a small company that may just have an office manager, that's been doing the HR function. And you really have to go in and build that. So I think getting a wide variety of experiences is good. Starting out small is commonly what will happen. But if you can get that bigger company experience and then take what works in some best practices and then bring them to ultimately your next adventure, whether it's big or small is always good.

Tony:

That's great. I want to say thanks so much to Adrienne Salvaggio for sharing a great story. Lots of learnings, lots of good lessons. You can hear all of our HR storyteller podcast by visiting our website at shrm.org/podcast. Thanks so much for listening.

Speaker 1:  

BambooHR is HR software that lets you hear your employees’ stories. How they’re performing. How they’re growing. How they’re working together to accomplish a shared vision. Its intuitive design helps connect everyone in your organization and build trust, whether it’s through on-time-every-time payroll or asking employees for unflinchingly authentic feedback. Start hearing your employees’ stories with a free demo. Visit www dot bamboohr dot com, slash storytellers.