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Setting the Right Expectations

Melanie Curtis

Greatest Challenge: Building a development program for front-line supervisors where no previous program existed.

Greatest Accomplishment: To that end, she began the company's first M.B.A. program in partnership, with the University of Missouri, St. Louis, as well as created a front-line-supervisor certification program, an emerging-leader program and a robust, web-based curriculum for all employees to develop their skills.

This article accompanies Meet Some Future CHROs.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
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For Rising Star Melanie Curtis, vice president of talent management and organization development at St. Louis-based Express Scripts, success is all about creating and managing expectations, and that mind-set begins with how the company defines its mode of acquiring talent.

"We don't use the words 'recruiting' or 'staffing,' " she says. "We are called a talent-acquisition group by choice and for a specific purpose. ... It's about setting expectations with the talent-acquisition team on the importance of their role, that they're not just order-takers."

When Curtis was given the responsibility of leading the company's talent-acquisition function in 2010, she spearheaded an effort to develop tools and methods to feed the pipeline for critical positions, allowing the company to more quickly fill those spots. As a result of her team's work, time-to-fill on critical positions decreased by 14 percent and cost-to-fill dropped by 30 percent, both while also satisfying the talent needs of hiring managers, of which 90 percent said they would rehire the same employee if given the opportunity.

Before that effort, Curtis's initial task was to overcome the company's blind spot when it came to internally developing its own talent. When she joined the organization, she says, she noticed that there was a dearth of development programs for front-line supervisors, among others.

In order to remain competitive in acquiring and retaining key talent for a Fortune 100 company, "a robust development suite needed to be put into place," she says.

So Curtis developed a leadership suite of programs that caters to various levels of leaders, providing meaningful development opportunities and driving results within the organization. The suite now includes an on-campus M.B.A. program, in partnership with the University of Missouri, St. Louis, designed for an average class size of 14 to 18 high-potential employees at the senior-manager, director and vice-president levels within the company. "We try to keep it small because we think that's the best learning environment," she says.

Her team also created a front-line-supervisor certificate program that consists of both required and elective courses pertinent to particular positions, learning activities and performance ratings, as well as an emerging-leader program for high-potential contributors who've been identified by their managers as having the potential to become a leader within the organization; it consists of self-paced, web-based classes and learning activities.

"We are making sure we are investing in the people we want to retain the most," she says.

Curtis' skills also have been well-utilized in the area of change management, as the company previously had, according to her, "a culture of initiating large amounts of change without a sophisticated way of introducing that change, monitoring the change or gaining buy-in and support for the change." 

To address this, Curtis and her team created a new model, which has a complete set of change-management tools -- including impact analysis, communication plans and templates -- designed to help assess stakeholder acceptance and readiness, generate metrics and communications, determine impacts on roles, and create training and sustainability plans.

Since the creation of the change-management model, the organization has used the tools on a number of enterprisewide change initiatives.

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"We look at the impacts on peoples' jobs [as a result of change initiatives]," she says, "and ask ourselves, 'How do we make sure we ready these people for those changes?' "

While Curtis and her team were vital in the creation of the model, she cautions that it takes more than just HR to make sure changes take root in the organization.

"We help guide [the change-management process]," she says, "but our business leaders are the ones who have to drive the changes."

Armed with an M.B.A. from Webster University, a graduate degree in industrial organizational psychology from Southern Illinois University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri, St. Louis, Curtis brings a tremendous amount of knowledge to her position.

But she also carries that certain spark that simply can't be taught.

"It takes real passion to be in HR," she says. "But, above all, [success in HR] requires a collaborative person who can build relationships in the organization. 

"In HR, you have to execute on what you say you will," she adds, "and you always have to be thinking about how to drive the business forward."

Susan Stith, Express Script's senior director of diversity and inclusion, says effective HR leadership must be poised to adapt and quickly respond to a changing workforce.

"I believe Melanie Curtis not only has the skills to adapt," she says, "but also the ability to be an HR change agent ... for Express Scripts and in the field of HR as a whole."

Sara Wade, senior vice president and chief human resource officer at the company, adds that, "through [Curtis'] guidance and leadership, the talent-management team has flourished and is recognized for its commitment to providing exemplary customer service inside and outside the organization.

"I truly believe she is a rising star," Wade says, "and someone who will help to change the future of human resources in the coming years."

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