Hershey Iconic Brands Illustration
eLearning Learning
July 12, 2022

Upskilling Your Workforce to Reach Business Goals

Retaining talented team members is a critical part of any company’s long-term success. At The Hershey Company, they’re taking strategic steps and leveraging technology to skill their workforce for the future. Leanna Meiser, Director, Enterprise Learning & Organizational Change Management discusses how L&D leaders can shift their thinking from “learning” to “skilling” their workforce. 


Show Notes:

Leanna Meiser discusses how companies can grow their talent pipeline by not only seeking fresh talent, but by developing the skills of existing team members. She offered these and other key takeaways.

  • There’s a difference between learning and skilling. Skilling sees behavior-changing outcomes, setting the employee up for professional growth. 
  • The talent supply shortage is real for most companies, so the need to engage and retain a workforce is critical. Deep, functional skill building of existing employees is part of the solution to talent supply. 
  • Great onboarding and ongoing learning across the enterprise play a vital role in setting team members up for success. 
  • Consider new technologies, when appropriate, to help upskill team members with meaningful experiences to grow their careers.

Learn more about d'Vinci's ecoLearn® mentioned in this episode. 

Powered by Learning earned an Award of Distinction in the Podcast/Audio category from The Communicator Awards and a Silver Davey Award for Educational Podcast. The podcast is also named to Feedspot's Top 40 L&D podcasts and Training Industry’s Ultimate L&D Podcast Guide



Susan Cort: This is Powered By Learning, a podcast designed for learning leaders to hear the latest approaches to creating learning experiences that engage learners and achieve improved performance for individuals and organizations.

Speaker 2: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education, and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.

Susan Cort: Hello, and welcome to Powered by Learning. I'm your host Susan Cort, and today I'm joined by d'Vinci client solutions consultant, Angeline Evans, and our guest Leanna Meiser, Director, Enterprise Learning and Organizational Change Management at the Hershey Company. Leanna is a long time friend of ours at d'Vinci and our parent company [01:00] JPL and we're just delighted to have you as a guest on Powered by Learning.

Angeline Evans: Hi, Leanna, thank you so much for joining us today.

Leanna Meiser: Well, I am thrilled to be here. It is always a great time to hang out and talk anything, but especially learning with my friends at d'Vinci.

Susan: Oh, thanks, Leanna. Well, so good to see you and talk with you again. Let's start off by telling our listeners a little bit about your journey at the Hershey Company and your current role.

Leanna: Of course, I joined the Hershey Company 20 years ago and all of my careers have had the red thread of being in the HR space, but predominantly learning, communication and behavior change. My most recent role was an HR business partner for the organization. I took that role after leading marketing, global marketing training for the organization, so took a break from skill-building to really understand corporate strategy. [02:00]

Then as part of the Hershey Company's really great developmental programs and succession planning, was honored to win the role of director enterprise learning last June, 2021. I've been there ever since taking all the goodness of the training that I learned over those 20 years, and then laying on human strategy and business strategy from my HR business partner world.

Angeline: Very cool. Leanna, I'm curious, you've had such an incredible career journey at Hershey, and I know you've mentioned in the past, like Hershey's strong culture of employee retention and growth. As an L&D leader, you play a pivotal role in that. Can you tell us more about this and what you do?

Leanna: If we were recording this podcast three, maybe even four years ago, I would've said it's not uncommon to be sitting in a conference room at Hershey and everyone introduce themselves, and someone says a phrase like this. "I have only been with the company 11 years."

Angeline: Oh my goodness.

Leanna: They were the [03:00] shortest tenure in the room, but just like Hershey, just like d'Vinci, just like all our listeners right now, whether they're a small family-owned business, midsize, or even fortune 500 like Hershey, the game has changed on us and we're all suffering from a really big talent supply crunch issue and shortage. Of course, retention and our tenures are dropping because there is so much great employment choice regardless of company culture or benefits.

When I was an HR business partner that was very in the near forefront of my work. So when I took the job as a director of learning and I took the liberty of taking a 100-day assessment, found out that we were doing incredible skill-building and learning across the organization. What we weren't doing a great job of was proving to the organization that it also helped solve talent supply. [04:00] That's what really became my strategic focus as leader of this function, how can learning and skill-building truly solve talent supply. We still do all that core wonderful things, that's in our DNA. We will never give up. But now we're really showing up differently to the business as a strategic problem solver for them.

Angeline: Talent supply, that's a really interesting lens when you look at learning and development and training for organizations. Let's dive deeper into that. Looking at learning versus if, as a learning specialist or an L&D specialist at a company, how do you change your perspective to look at it as solving talent supply versus just disseminating knowledge or the traditional means of training compliance training, or just filling up performance gap, like what's the shift?

Leanna: Thanks for asking that question, because that was the hardest shift for my direct reporting team to get over, because they view talent supply as [05:00] what talent acquisition brings in. The only supply that we have is that pipeline from external and I'm here to tell them our number one job is up-skilling what we've got today. Because research will tell you that an employee already at your company understands your culture is going to be a higher performer, faster, more productive for you, so let's lean in and up-skill them.

Of course, we always need the balance of bringing in external thought and other different pieces so our culture can evolve. So we address both through what we call deep, functional skill building, great on-boarding, and learning for all or development for all across the enterprise. We do that in three ways.

The first way is, there's some things that we just want to wholly own the curriculum [06:00] and we've got world-class instructional designers that are able to do that for us. And thank goodness world-class partners, like d'Vinci that can step in when we come up to a technology roadblock or maybe a creative roadblock and they say, "Hey, let's partner with you in creating wonderful solutions."

The second thing is, how do we maybe borrow a solution? If you think of things that cut across the organization like project management, maybe that doesn't have to be a wholly-owned absolute skill set at Hershey, but I bet we can find a really great off-the-shelf solution for that. We partner with LinkedIn Learning, but I'm here to tell you that if we didn't have the budget for LinkedIn Learning my partner might be YouTube. Because that's just how we all learn and we trust it. And as long as we're carefully curating, you can really have a budget pleaser in really affordable content. [07:00]

The third way we do it is let's really partner with a deep expertise that would probably never need to be our core competency, or I probably can't trust finding it off-the-shelf. A really great example of that is when I got into the role in June of ‘21, I had a line of leaders asking me for Altrix training. For those of you like me, who were not familiar with the word Altrix or the tool back then, think of it in the simplest terms as a computer software that can take a lot of data in disparate spreadsheets or other sources, snap it together, and help you visualize and make insights from it. Maybe like a really souped-up Tableau, like a Tableau on a lot of cups of coffee.

They were just knocking down my door. How do we find this? How do we find this? Now no one's saying the word Altrix, and they're talking about R. Again, same type of functionality and software, [08:00] but everyone's like, "Oh, Altrix, no, like that's like the dinosaur now of snapping together data and making insights." If we would've invested in building that wholly own curriculum, or didn't have a carefully curated second party like LinkedIn learning.

And by the way, second parties get it after everyone is mature in it, and they feel confident creating content. It might have been out of service by that time. What we do is we can partner with a school or an accredited body and say, "Hey, R specialists, can you come in and can be contact with you to help train our folks?" That's how we view skilling across to make sure that not only are we developing our internal talent, but also making ourselves look attractive for external talent to join us with confidence that they're supported to be productive.

Angeline: You really have to be agile in your approach [09:00] because obviously, technology's ever-changing. Then you also have a very large organization. So how do you even begin? I'm overwhelmed thinking about it. How do you even begin to tackle identifying the skills supply problem, and then fill that gap and provide the training that you need?

Leanna: I hope that your listeners also know that I also share that. Not only is it a motivating reason to get up every day, sometimes it keeps you awake at night. So I absolutely don't want to make this seem that we have it all figured out. Susan, I love how you said a learner-centered design, and I'm able to do that because the Hershey Company has such a mature HR business partner function that focuses on human-centered solutions and business strategy.

By the time it gets to me, [10:00] those HR business partners as our first client have already helped us understand what that talent supply might be. I do say I have that luxury and I can't even tell you what a shoestring version of that might be like.

But, what I can tell you is when they tell me of a human-centered design problem and what a talent supply problem looks like, here's what I do know how to do, is then I now know how to write a value case or a business case. I'll use those terms interchangeably on how to win the hearts and minds of the organization to help give me resources to have learning be part of that talent supply problem. I've done that on a shoestring at Hershey, and I've also had some recent luxuries that come into play.

Let me start with like a shoestring case study here at the Hershey Company. [11:00] Let's rewind the clock to 2019 when we are implementing DME or direct marketing expenditures systems for those of you that aren't armchair chief marketing officers. It's a system that helps us creatively and smartly budget our marketing spend. Had a brand new process, we were going to stand up for that and a tool. I had to justify partnering with a second party, it just so happened to be d'Vinci. The code here is the same for anyone that you might need to partner with and that was, could I get a more efficient workforce after this training?

Literally what we did was, we had recently purchased a company at the time called SkinnyPop and we still have it. We bought a bunch of SkinnyPop bags and two stopwatches and we recruited a very highly skilled person in our current DME system, [12:00] a moderately skilled person because they had maybe only been with the company for about six months to a year, and a brand new within one month person in our company using the tool.

So one would say you had a learning person, a person who was learning the skill, a person that was developing the skill, and a person who had mastered the skill of the current tool. We put them all in front of computers and we just put them in cold to the new tool and we stood with stopwatches and found out how long it would take them to make a transaction. They executed transaction really well right now in the current tool. What if I led them in cold and said, "Execute that same transaction in this tool." What we were doing was just a very shoestring budget time study.

Then we placed quick job aids in front of them for that transaction, [13:00] timed them again. Then we sent them through what I would call a storyboard or a script for an e-learning by me reading it and sort of educating them how to do that transaction and we timed them again. Took the averages of those three times and said, "Hey, listen, the higher touch learning you get, the faster these people are." Remember it's incremental so it fits our 70-20-10 learning model that we all geek out about.

Remember I let them try it there at first 70% of on-the-job practice, then I gave them a support tool to mentor themselves 20%, and then I gave them a formal training that 10% by reading that script and that got through. "Okay, listen, I know that formal training will work, here's your money to resource it," and we were able to do that. That's the shoestring budget.

Angeline: What an awesome case study.

Susan: I know and you know what else that does too, is that it reinforces the need for having the training because they realized [14:00] trying it on their own maybe wasn't so successful and you've got great buy-in right there.

Leanna: Yes, all with $2.99 cents stopwatches that we bought at Staples that morning.

Angeline: Awesome.

Leanna: What I was doing was a time study and there might be some of your listeners that are saying, "You know you can pay firms for that." I'm like, "Yes, yes, I do know I can pay firms for that." But the whole point was like I was also trying to ask for money. Now we've won the right to say, "Hey, if you commissioned a time study, I could get even more accurate for you."

Now let's talk about it really in the luxury that I have right now since 2019, man, the Hershey company has over-invested in a world-class workforce analytics team. I'm talking data scientists, data analysts, where I can go ahead and make a call to them and say, "Hey, I'm seeing there's a talent supply shortage in our manufacturing facilities. [15:00] I'm noticing that it's in a trade role where I need accredited certification and either mechatronics, electronics, PLC, or mechanics.

I'd like to partner with an accredited organization and perhaps send our folks to school, maybe in a 30-10 model. You work 30 hours for us, attend school for 10 hours but this is rather expensive. Could you figure out and project out for me possible retention of these individuals, higher engagement, and can you also predict their success profile through performance management?”

That team goes away, takes a lot of time, asks me a lot of continual questions and we're able to come back together with them being inspired by these questions, how do we solve? Some really interesting data that just makes my head explode how great and how world-class these individuals are, and we can make an inference then. [16:00]

I now have the luxury of having them as great partners to commit with me to help with these value cases and also an organization that has matured in its acceptance of learning. Thanks to my predecessor, thanks to the teams, thanks to great partners that we partner with. You can win a heart in mind with a great ROI and a team that's proven they can be trusted with dollars. That's how we do it now.

Angeline: After you roll out a program, how are you measuring the effectiveness of it at the ground level, but then also in alignment with Hershey's overall strategic plan and knowing that it's contributing to that.

Leanna: I love how you say the ground level because we-- I'm in the company of some of my favorite learning geeks, we call that the Kirkpatrick impact level, that's the Kirkpatrick model. We use that internally now, and we rarely ever tell the business because I view that now as telling me [17:00] how well is the learning function and our learning partners operating as a resource and partner for the business. We rarely need to educate the org on that, but instead, I get to look at how our skills are being applied in the roles by our attrition engagement and just the overall health and quality of the business.

Now our HR business partners are really accepting of me saying, "Hey, listen, I'm reporting from attendees to training a 20% increase in confidence and a 46% increase in knowledge. Let's go ahead and watch and monitor this situation but I think you're really going to see an impact in that capability." Then we check back in on it usually anywhere at the 30, 60, or 90 day, depending on how fast and how you repeat the capability. [18:00] If it's something you do monthly, we check-in 30-60-90.

Unfortunately, if it's something you do only annually, like a brand plan exercise, you have to check in after each one and then we make an assessment on ourselves. So it is more art than science, but at least we're continually having the conversations and identifying better root causes through performance evaluation.

Angeline: Interesting. For the everyday L&D professional that might not work at a large organization like Hershey but would really benefit from this perspective of learning versus skilling and solving talent supply. What advice do you have for them in shifting their thinking?

Leanna: Sure. I was at a conference one time, I believe it was a Josh Burson conference, a Burson learning impact conference. [19:00] The CHRO of HP at the time stood up there and she corrected the announcer. The announcer gave her title, she's like, "I'm here to tell you, I am a business professional that happens to minor in human resources." Man, I just remember how inspiring and what an unlock that was for me. So that's what I would tell anybody of any organization size, and by the way those that are bigger than me, is show up as a critical business partner, as a business junkie, as someone thoroughly committed to the goals and the strategy of the company. And then, oh by the way, how does it fit the learning lens? That would be my best advice.

For those of you that are looking for interesting value cases, the best thing you can do [20:00] is really identify what are those future skills for your company, that's really going to take that business to the next level. That's hard for me because my whole entire professional career has been at Hershey. I say sometimes I fall victim to the Henry Ford syndrome, where if Henry Ford would've asked consumers what they wanted, they just would've told him faster horses. You truly, your mind can't dream up the concept of a car. Henry Ford's mind could, but there's couldn't.

So if I were to ask people at Hershey right now, or to any of your listeners at your organization, where do you think the skills are that our organization needs to go forward? They're going to tell you but you need a certain level of external expertise. If I was on a no-budget, I would open LinkedIn, every single business, social, and reach deep into my network and say, "What the heck are you all doing? What cool skills do you have going on?" [21:00]

I would either do it through message or asking for a quick virtual coffee. Oh my gosh, I've called d'Vinci and your parent company more times than I know, just saying, "Hey, what are you seeing in the industry?" It's a quick 15-minute conversation. It doesn't have to have to be a calculus problem. But if you wanted to really convince your company of a great investment, we are now partnering with a third party that looks at our internal data, our internal job descriptions, our internal, what we say we want as future skills and it scans the marketplace and it looks at companies where we want to go. By the way, we want to be $15 billion in 2028. We've publicly stated that.

Susan: Where are you now, Leanna? Just for reference.

Leanna: Our last quarter close for 2021, we were at $8.9 billion [22:00] and I said, we couldn't find the other $100 million laying around somewhere to close the year at $9 billion but our incredible finance and investor relations team will not allow it. We couldn't shake anybody upside down and have that change fall out of their pockets, but I believe we will get there. It scans the marketplace and says, "Hey, here's what $15 billion companies in and out of your industry are doing." It snaps the two together. It says, "Hey, internally Hershey, this is what you say you value and you want, oh and by the way, the external industry is saying this." It snaps them together and it gives us a view of that.

Not only does it give us a view, but it allows us to self-rate ourselves and our managers to check back in on that self rating and maintain that precious, transparent conversation between manager and report about reality [23:00] and where you're going and what you need to develop. The tool has other rocket-shipy things like then eventually it can do like dynamic career planning. We're not there yet. That is the crawl that we're doing before we run and then get astronaut trained for that rocket ship. Those are the two ends of the spectrum that I would recommend.

Angeline: That is so neat. We might hit you up for another podcast to hear more about the AI technology as when you hit the rocket ship phase next year.

Leanna: Oh my goodness. I love that your time bounding me to next year. Yes. I also love that. Like now you're like making the competitive nature in me go, “Yes, I am going to talk…”

Susan: No pressure. We don't do calculus at d'Vinci, but we will hold you to that year before you blast off to the next level. It's just fascinating, Leanna. The way that you're able to use technology and just use the knowledge [24:00] of the people on your team to really solve for talent and make that shift in thinking. That's, really I think very inspirational regardless of the size of the company to make that shift from learning to skilling.

Angeline: On top of that, just that culture of succession planning and each employee really knowing that their skill, like developing themselves truly matters. It's just, what a wonderful culture. Yes.

Leanna: Yes. Thank you. I also want to be transparent here too, and also tell you the hard work to get to that culture too is, and oh my gosh, I even just said this to my team today. There's a lot of fear when you talk about AI. Really cool tech and my team asked the right question and it was a very fair question is, how do we stay relevant? I gave them two answers. The first answer was, no matter how sophisticated the tool, [25:00] it will 100% fail if there aren't smart humans understanding what the tool is saying and making that insight, snapping that together. So if someone approved a tool for me, but not the human capital support for it, I'd say, "Mm, no, thanks. You can have your money back and reinvest it somewhere else."

The second thing I said was, I also have your back that I will give you access to training and skilling to make sure you can evolve with it but you have to come to the table and own that and own. That's what we say at Hershey. Your career is owned by you, enabled by your manager and company supported. It is working at Hershey, but I also don't want to make it seem like it just works effortlessly. There's real time, honest, scary conversations, even as early as this morning that you have to have, and you have to have a little bit of trust and faith, too. [26:00]

Angeline: Thank you for sharing that.

Susan: Well said. Well, we give a lot of credit to you and your team, and always exciting to hear what's going on at the Hershey Company. Well, we won't hold you to next year, but we definitely will like to have you back and hear part two of the stories. Leanna Meiser, thank you so much for joining us today. Great to see you.

Angeline: Thanks, Leanna.

Leanna: Thank you team

Susan: Angeline, it's always so great to talk to Leanna and what an exciting shift in thinking at the Hershey Company to keep great talent on staff with up-skilling.

Angeline: I agree. I love talking to Leanna and yes, it was great to hear her perspectives. It was. It was really interesting to hear how Hershey's up-skilling their existing team. It's so true that growing your existing talent is going to reveal higher performers. They know your culture, they're dedicated to your business' mission and vision and building their skills to fill those gaps is going to make a lasting impact, while also bringing in those new people with new ideas to stay fresh with an external perspective. [27:00]

Susan: Yes, it's great that they're able to look at the talent pipeline and new ways, and also interesting to hear what they're doing with AI at the Hershey Company. Have you heard other clients using that type of technology?

Angeline: We have had a few clients come in using learning experience platforms with that AI technology to really customize each learner's journey. We've also especially seen an increase in interest for Bespoke or custom learning management systems like d'Vinci's Eco learn platform. Not that off the shelf solutions don't have a place, but building a custom learning management system is a great way to tailor that platform to exactly what your organization needs and the experience you want your learners to have. ButI will be really interested to see more artificial intelligence be embedded into the learning and development industry as things evolve. It's really cool what's going on.

Susn: Yes. Super interesting. Thank you for sharing, Angeline. We're definitely going to look forward to bringing back Leanna Meiser from the Hershey Company on our podcast again. If you have any questions about what we talked about today, you can reach out to us on d'Vinci social channels [28:00] through our website dvinci.com or by emailing us at poweredbylearningatdvinci.com.

Speaker 5: Powered by learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education, and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.


Angeline Evans

By Angeline Evans, Client Solutions Consultant

About Us

d'Vinci Interactive is an award-winning comprehensive learning solutions provider for corporate, government, medical, non-profit, and K-12 target markets.

Ready to Connect?

Contact us today to start the conversation. We work with you to find innovative solutions that drive a sense of shared accomplishment and trust.