Product Stewardship Talent Management at J&J and BASF

What does a career in product stewardship look like? To explain how companies hire and retain stewardship talent, three panelists at Stewardship 2016 discussed what companies can do to enable product stewards to grow professionally.

Rob Shimp, program director at the Product Stewardship and Regulatory Affairs Council (PRSA) opened the discussion by referencing a PRSA report. The objective was to identify consistent themes and language that companies can use to describe the responsibilities of product stewards. Another objective was to identify best practices for hiring and retaining product stewardship employees.

Product Stewardship has evolved, so that the function involves many responsibilities and a growing list of expectations from customers, NGOs and other stakeholders. One theme links them all: “We’re ultimately a multi-disciplinary group that has to cross boundaries and translate what we do into relevant business content,” said Shimp. In other words, incoming product stewards must be good integrators and collaborators.

Talent management is necessary because product stewards lack a clear functional identity or obvious academic credentials. Product stewards from outside the organization lack business knowledge, so helping new hires through the learning curve more quickly can aid in talent management.

The report suggests ‘branding’ the function by linking product stewardship at your company to its societal role — making sure products are safe for humans and the environment. Some employees are motivated by the opportunity to work across functions and business units, so that’s another approach to recruiting talent.

How J&J and BASF Manage Talent

At Johnson and Johnson, the talent management process starts with planning at the beginning of the year. Performance reviews are conducted mid-year. Succession planning and year-end performance reviews take place at the end of the year, said Al Iannuzzi, senior director, environment, health, safety, & sustainability.

Iannuzzi also described the career ladders for product stewards at Johnson and Johnson. To develop skills and experience, stewards can work on short-term projects, development projects, or stretch assignments outside of their typical responsibilities. The development process also includes robust succession planning. They identify critical positions on the tem and conduct cross-training so if a person leaves, the gaps are filled.

At BASF, the product stewardship group is about 75 employees in North America and 10 to 15 contractors, said Kara Sparks, director of product stewardship & regulatory affairs, North America. She said there’s an expectation at BASF that employees will need coaching in order to perform better over time.

The development process takes many forms and many possible pathways, said Sparks. The goal is to put people where they want to be. For example, there’s an ‘expert’ path, where employees can rise to the VP level but not be pushed into running a business.


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