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A Dynamo in The Energy Field

Greatest Challenge: Creating the first succession-management program for companywide use.

Greatest Accomplishment: Reducing the company's recruitment function's footprint by 40 percent while increasing its efficiency by 200 percent.

Thursday, July 1, 2010
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Perhaps the most telling evidence that Devon Energy's Tana Cashion is the very definition of a rising star is this: She's already been promoted in the short space of time between being nominated and publication of this issue.

But aside from that fact, there is plenty else to validate her being named one of HRE's 2010 HR's Rising Stars, including her creation of a succession-planning program at the Oklahoma City-based oil-and-natural-gas-exploration-and-production company, as well as her ability to reduce the footprint of the company's recruitment function while also increasing its efficiency.

Cashion, 39, who was recently promoted to vice president of human resources from senior director of talent management, came to Devon almost five years ago after HR assignments at Fleming Foods, Enron, Shell Oil and Southern Ute. After joining the company, she was tasked with heading off a possible exodus of talent stemming from the company's lack of a succession-management program.

"The talent market within the oil-and-gas-exploration-and-production sector was extremely hot, and the risk of defection of key talent was great," says Frank Rudolph, executive vice president and CHRO at Devon. But a large road block could have easily detoured Cashion's efforts, he says.

"She had to gain credibility with a very diverse and technical population, and then build consensus not only around the approach, but the necessity and benefits of the program where no common basis of understanding existed."

So, after assembling and directing a team of external human-capital consultants to design and develop the succession program's overall approach, Cashion knew success would rely on convincing the recalcitrant among the company's more than 5,000 employees when it came time to implement the program across 78 offices in the United States and Canada. 

She acknowledges that people were skeptical the new program would take up too much of their time, or wondered whether it would be worth their time. "Many people in the business are often asking those [kinds of] questions, and our approach ... was that it was very, very clear that the work of succession planning and the heavy lifting had to rest on HR's shoulders. We manage all of the data, we run the meetings, we take on the responsibility of aggregating company data. We drive it."

Three years later, the program is going strong, Rudolph says, adding that "the adoption has become so complete and the consensus of the program's value so strong that the wider implementation is being organically implemented by each business unit."

After Devon made a number of acquisitions in a short period of time, Cashion also helped to establish a companywide basis for leadership and employee-based competencies that would serve as a foundation for both performance measurement and talent development.

That competency model now "literally serves as the fabric" of Devon University, where employee-development programs are offered, says Rudolph. It's also an integral part of Devon's performance-appraisal process, in which the alignment with leader or employee attributes are measured.

"This model has become a foundational element of Devon's employee and business culture," Rudolph says.

Perhaps Cashion's greatest feat during her time at Devon involved a re-conceptualization of the company's recruiting and talent-acquisition function within HR, which Rudolph says "had been viewed as an inefficient set of order-takers within the company. ... No automated capabilities existed to measure, track and categorize the need for talent and the internal capabilities of the organization."

In order to bring a new mind-set to the function, Cashion hired a new manager of talent acquisition from outside the company and implemented feedback loops and scorecards with each hiring manager in order to break the perception of being simply order-takers.

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Cashion has also set a high bar for the suppliers that work with Devon's HR group. When the vendor of its recruitment-automation tool was acquired by another company, the new owner did not live up to Cashion's expectations, so she took the new vendor to task and worked with the company to see to it that an entirely new team was installed. This ensured the success of the new program and resulted in improved performance for both sides.

"Through [Cashion's] efforts, Devon is now able to first review our own internal talent pool rather than always hiring externally, and recruit in any market through a shared-services model," Rudolph says, adding that her actions reduced the company's recruitment footprint by 40 percent while increasing efficiency by 200 percent.

"I've worked with a lot of HR people, and Tana is really at the top of all the people I've worked with, and that's quite a statement because there are a lot of great HR people at Devon," Rudolph says, adding that she is a "constant target" of executive recruiters.

"Tana is destined to eventually head the HR organization either at Devon or another Fortune 500 company," he adds.

These are the other 2010 HR's Rising Stars:

The Quintessential Collaborator: Nancy Wolfe

The Innovator: Prasad Setty

Inspired by Human Performance: Adam Malamut

The Change Agent: Kevin Close

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