A Recipe for Success

As CHRO at Schwan, Scott Peterson has been instrumental in transforming HR's role and making sure it's delivering real value to the business. 

By David Shadovitz

This article accompanies Measure of Success and The 2013 HR Honor Roll.

If you ask Scott Peterson what's been his biggest accomplishment since joining Schwan Food Co. five years ago, he points to the talent-management initiatives he and his team have put in place, particularly in areas such as leadership development. But those familiar with Peterson's achievements suggest his impact on the Bloomington, Minn.-headquartered company extends far beyond that.

"For the past five years," writes Schwan CEO, President and Chief Operating Officer Greg Flack in his letter of nomination, "Scott has been much more than my chief human resource officer. He has served as a trusted adviser, a skilled business leader and strategist."

Flack goes on to say that Peterson, one of this year's HR Honor Roll winners, has had a positive impact on every strategic area of Schwan and has fundamentally transformed the role of HR there.

Undoubtedly high praise, especially considering the source. But judging from many of the programs and initiatives he's helped put in place at Schwan -- a 15,000-employee company that produces frozen-food brands such as Red Baron, Pagoda Express and Mrs. Smith's -- the accolades appear well deserved.

Jeremy Hanson, a managing partner at Heidrick & Struggles in Minneapolis who was involved in recruiting Peterson for two CHRO positions, echoes Flack's assessment, noting that Peterson has played a key role in shaping the business strategies of the companies he's worked for -- and "knows when to push for something that's good for the business and when to sit back and listen."

Shaping a Talent Strategy

Peterson recalls that he and Flack "really connected during the interviewing process" back in 2008. "We knew that if Schwan was going to be successful in the market, it needed to make sure that it had the right talent at the right levels."

Peterson and Flack quickly started to map out a talent strategy for privately held Schwan, which got its start as a company in 1952 when 23-year-old Marvin Schwan packed his beat-up 1946 Dodge panel van with 14 gallons of his family's signature ice cream one March day and delivered it to rural families in western Minnesota.

Leadership development has clearly been a main ingredient in Schwan's talent-management strategy.

In an effort to strengthen Schwan's leadership, Peterson and his team launched an initiative for more than 200 key leaders that focused on the critical competencies needed to succeed. They also developed an onboarding program aimed specifically at engaging new senior leaders in the company's mission and values.

For the first time, leaders at Schwan were encouraged to take ownership of their talent strategies, says Peterson, "by putting in place a single talent-management process, and a common language and common approach for assessing talent."

To be sure, getting leaders on the same page hasn't been easy, especially for a company that operates in nearly 500 different locations. But by involving leaders in the dialogue and putting in place a single process, Peterson and his team have succeeded in doing just that.

Each year, Schwan's leaders meet with Peterson and Flack to present their "people roadmap."

"We engage with them at a very direct level, sitting down and having a two-way dialogue on where their organization is strong and where it could be stronger," Peterson says.

Peterson also unveiled in 2009 Schwan's first companywide employee-engagement survey, recognizing that the company needed to get a better handle on employee engagement. Survey scores are now broken down to the supervisor level so they are able to address specific issues within their work groups. Since the survey's launch, participation rates have been 85 percent or more.

Community Minded

Peterson and his team have also put in place programs aimed at encouraging community involvement, including an onboarding program for new employees at its corporate headquarters, where workers spend time at the Twin Cities Second Harvest/Feeding America distribution center. In the morning, the new recruits learn about Schwan's rich heritage, mission and values. Then, in the afternoon, they help pack food for those in need.

The plan is to eventually roll out the program to field operations.

On a more personal level, Peterson is doing his part to make a difference in the community, co-chairing a statewide group comprised of business and higher-education leaders aimed at addressing the skills gap in Minnesota between what colleges and universities are teaching and the jobs employers need to fill. He is also active in Enactus (formerly Students in Free Enterprise), an international nonprofit organization that works with leaders in business and higher education to mobilize university students to become socially responsible business leaders. (In 2011, the group applauded Peterson's efforts by presenting him with its Champion of SIFE Award.)

As a company, Schwan has also received a number of recent awards for its efforts in healthcare and wellness, including being recognized last year as of one of the healthiest employers in the Twin Cities by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

Schwan -- which moved its workforce over to a consumer-directed health plan this year -- has beefed up its wellness efforts with health screenings and assessments, personal wellness coaching, tobacco-cessation programs and other initiatives aimed at getting employees to take ownership of their health and well-being.

"The goal is to give employees the tools to make the right choices," Peterson says.

And like so many of the initiatives Peterson and his team have put in place at Schwan, it's beginning to realize a solid return for the business.

Read also:

Scott Peterson in Brief

Oct 1, 2013
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