Mentoring and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at Kraft Foods

Posted by Elizabeth Pearce on Thu, Dec 29, 2011 @ 05:20 AM

Our December 18th blog covered the maturation process where an informal Affinity Group transitions to become an Employee Resource Group (ERG).  An ERG can mature into a Business Resource Group (BRG).  As these groups mature and evolve, corporate mentoring programs can be extremely helpfulould be helpful in moving an informal network of coworkers into a useful tool for improving revenues, innovation and profits.  Kraft Foods, one of DiversityInc's List of Top 50 Companies for Diversity, provided us with some great examples of using mentoring with an ERG to achieve meaningful business goals.ERG

We posted this blog near the holidays in December and, upon reflection, felt that it was worth reposting when people came back to the office in January, refocused on the new year.

James E. Norman, Vice President, Talent Acquisition, Diversity and Inclusion for Kraft Foods participated a Diversity Inc. Panel: Innovative Ways to Use Employee Resource Groups, which resulted in an hour long video which can be found here.  In addition, you can read the full article, “Ways to Use Employee-Resource Groups,” at DiversityIncBestPractices.com.

More than a decade ago, Kraft had a significant problem retaining people of color. “We had a five percentage point higher turnover rate for people of color than for the general population.”  They used the ERG to provide peer mentoring and training “to help people of color in the organization build strategies and deal with headwinds and tailwinds in the organization and to reach their career objectives,” said Jim Norman.

In his current role, one of Mr. Norman’s first actions was to focus and direct Kraft Foods’ numerous diverse employee councils toward the maturation into effective BRG to tackle retention and engagement and to be a useful resource for the company.  Mr. Norman made it his mission to increase intra-council collaboration and to leverage the councils nationally toward diversity and inclusion business strategies.

Through an ERG mentoring program, Jumpstart, more senior members of Kraft Foods’ line management and employee councils teach newer employees (member of protected classes, with less than three years with the company) lessons in the unwritten rules of company life. The corporate mentoring program also helps participants to understand how to build and maintain relationships, obtain power and influence within the organization, and establish effective mentor networks. The goal is to get the employees fully immersed and to remove all impediments to rapid success. More information about Jumpstart and Kraft's ERG programs can be found here.

Both sides of a Mentor-Mentee pair realize benefits, as reflected in comments by Ms. Wooldridge a Kraft Food Mentor, who captures the sentiment of her fellow mentors with her comments, “mentoring is my passion.” Part of Kraft's success come from buy-in and participation from senior management through mentoring pods. Through those pods, junior employees get real face time with colleagues several levels higher in the corporate hierarchy.

Kraft also uses peer-to-peer mentoring within its ERGs. Peer coaches are nominated and receive two full days of customized mentoring training. These coaches meet quarterly to share skills and observations.  Kraft uses this to intervene in three points where employees can slip in their leadership development:

  • Movement from the field office to corporate headquarters;
  • Succession planning over the next two to three years;
  • With managers who need to be more effective in dealing with traditionally underrepresented groups.

Kraft has also used on-boarding mentoring to manage the challenges of merging cultures after merging with with British candy-maker Cadbury early this year.  The company turned to its Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for help in assimilating the two corporate cultures.  During the merger, it was critical to develop loyalty and engagement for all employees. On-boarding mentoring can help new employees get comfortable during the first 60 to 90 days, the critical period of adjustment for people from traditionally underrepresented groups.  The first 2 to 3 months can determine whether an employee is going to stay for the long run or leave the company in short order.  Norman said. “Cadbury did not have ERGs, so we used our ERGs to reach out to Cadbury employees, to share a little bit about the culture, our environment, and let them know that help was on the way.”

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Topics: diversity, management development, leadership development, On Boarding, BRG, Employee Value Proposition, Employee Engagement, mentoring programs, Peer to Peer mentoring, Employee Resource Groups