by Shayne Thomas
26 Jan 2021
Organic Valley Takes a Data-Driven Approach to Performance Management
A closer look at how Cornerstone provided America’s largest organic dairy brand the fuel it needed to take performance management to the next level
It’s no secret that we love celebrating our customers’ success. There are even times when our customers truly blow us away when they tell us about some of the amazing things they’ve been able to accomplish with Cornerstone by their side.
What you’re about to read here is one of those stories.
Organic Valley, the largest organic dairy brand in the United States, has been a proud Cornerstone customer since 2016. We’ve worked with them every step of the way to build a unified talent management solution spanning every aspect of the employee experience.
For starters, Organic Valley began its journey with us by implementing Cornerstone Learning and Cornerstone Recruiting. Then in 2020, they rolled out Cornerstone Performance with Cornerstone Succession. We cover all of this in Organic Valley’s case study—so check it out!
Unfortunately, it’s hard to go in-depth in any one solution when you’ve got a customer that’s taking full advantage of what Cornerstone has to offer. So we thought we’d shine a spotlight on what the manufacturing company is doing around performance management because, in all honesty, it’s really impressive. Let’s dive right in!
Out with the ‘manual’ and in with the ‘automation’
Before implementing Cornerstone Performance, Organic Valley relied on painstakingly manual processes for managing employee reviews, feedback, succession planning, and more.
Let’s take annual performance reviews as an example. These were done purely via Word docs (gasp!) and then either returned in hard copy—via drop boxes throughout the office—or scanned and emailed back to HR. And as much as we’d like to believe that these manual processes are now more of an exception than the rule, our most recent Cornerstone Performance Management Survey told us otherwise. We uncovered a harsh reality: 45% of respondents said they still manage employee feedback meetings—including annual performance reviews—via spreadsheets, Word documents, and other manual processes.
Anyone who’s ever been in this very same position knows just how inefficient and ineffective it is to manage employee performance in this way. Whether you’re simply trying to keep track of completions or need to have the tough conversations among peers about which employees merit promotions and raises versus those needing development plans to get back on track, doing any of these things manually can quickly become a headache—for everyone.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Organic Valley was ready to automate this process once and for all. But they didn’t do it for the purposes of streamlining alone. According to Amy Ryan, Organic Valley’s Senior Learning and Organizational Development (L&OD) Manager, “We wanted to breathe new life into our performance management process, giving it a greater sense of quality, meaning, consistency, and accountability than ever before.”
Getting employees to believe in the value of performance reviews
However, to do this, they had to overcome a cultural hurdle first. “Employees were afraid that storing all this data about them in a central place would simply turn them into a number,” expressed Mark Schroeder, Organic Valley’s HR/L&OD Technology Strategist. “At our core, we’re a bunch of ‘hippy farmers’ who are, generally speaking, anti-big data. We had to reiterate again and again that we were making these changes to give employees a better way to chart their future and grow their careers at Organic Valley.”
Fortunately, this strategy worked. As employees began to see the value in performance reviews as a tool for enhancing their careers—and happiness—their perceptions around participating in the annual review process quickly started to shift. “We’ve built easy-to-use performance development templates to help employees more clearly identify their career goals,” explained Ryan. “And we’ve done it in a way that helps employees better understand how their goals ladder up to broader company-wide initiatives and priorities.”
Not surprisingly, using technology in a smart way to connect the dots between employee performance and business priorities—and its crossover into career growth and development—drove an immediate uptick in completion rates. What’s more impressive about the company’s widespread adoption of these new tools and processes is that about 50% of the Organic Valley’s employees work in production and warehouse facilities. This means they’re not in front of a computer all day long. Even so, because they see the value in this new process, they now gladly put in the time to invest in themselves and their growth at the company.
It soon became clear to Organic Valley’s employees that this shift towards automation would make them anything but a number. In fact, it’s actually brought a newfound appreciation across the entire company—even among senior leaders—for ongoing feedback and year-round conversations about performance, growth, and development. As you can imagine, this has added even more value and meaning to the company’s overall annual review process.
And this is just one of the many reasons why the company has set an audacious, yet totally achievable goal of not only hitting 100% completion during the 2021 review cycle but also getting every employee to have a work plan and professional development plan in Cornerstone. So, how do they plan to do this, you might ask?
For one, “Cornerstone provides so much visibility to help managers actually do their job effectively,” stressed Ryan. “Because every part of the process is now clearly documented, it’s easy for managers to check in on team status and send nudges to make sure no one falls behind. People are really on top of it!” And now that employee performance is closely tied to business objectives, employees now see the value in getting onboard.
Even more, the HR team also saw this as an opportunity to glean insights from both managers and employees who have really nailed this process to help those who might be struggling. In other words, they proactively use the information at their fingertips in Cornerstone to improve the process for their entire workforce in real-time. (Things we love to hear!)
Using data to uncover new value in performance management
Obviously, automating processes just makes good business sense these days—and for those of you still relying on Word docs or Excel spreadsheets to do this work, Cornerstone can help.
Now with the benefits of automation aside, here’s where this story gets really cool.
Let’s set the context. Imagine yourself in a room with your peers. The purpose is to review all of your (combined) direct reports and manually place them somewhere along the 9-box talent matrix spectrum.
When relying on manual processes to feed into these evaluations, it’s very easy for the conversations to turn subjective, emotional, and even quite heated. As Schroeder put it, “Before Cornerstone, this 9-box exercise was more akin to a ‘feeling’ evaluation above anything else.” The addition of Cornerstone Performance changed this dynamic completely.
During the 2020 performance review cycle, Organic Valley took the first step towards removing the “emotion” from these conversations, instead of relying on real data to inform their evaluation decisions. “This time around, it was less of a question of whether we had categorized employees correctly (in the 9-box format) and more a matter of identifying the right plan of attack for how to address the needs of employees based on where they sat on that spectrum,” said Schroeder. This alone was a game-changer for the business.
Adding quantitative rigor to succession planning
It gets even better, believe it or not. In addition to building a data-driven 9-box model around performance potential, Organic Valley also built a 4-box model—color-coded based on the data in the 9-box assessment—to identify the risk of someone leaving their role as well as the impact of that departure on the business as a whole.
Here’s a fun fact: Organic Valley is home to 400 different positions across 1,000 employees. This means that there are many diverse functional workforces across multiple competencies within the company at any given time. As such, when employees get promoted into a new position or leave to start a new adventure, there’s a pressing need to find the right people to fill those gaps. In this way, Organic Valley has been able to successfully create a data-driven succession planning model that can inform how they skill up current employees to fill critical gaps, if or when someone leaves their role. Additionally, they’ve added a competency bank to every role and job listing to both recruit and promote internally with greater precision and confidence.
Long story short: With manual processes now officially tossed aside, Organic Valley has been able to leverage employee data in a multitude of ways, not only to amplify employee success but also to ensure continuity by being prepared for changes in the workforce at all times.
Performance management done right
As you can see, there’s a lot to love about what Organic Valley is doing around performance management. Aside from using Cornerstone solutions to their fullest, the HR team has been able to shift to a data-driven strategy and mindset around employee performance, using data in empirically creative ways to boost employee engagement, chart a new course for development and growth company-wide, create proactive succession plans, and well beyond.
This is a great example of the impact a unified talent management solution can have on businesses to successfully recruit top talent and revolutionize the employee experience in ways never thought possible.
To learn more about Organic Valley’s success across the entire talent management spectrum—including recruitment and learning—be sure to check out this great case study.