An interview with Sally Atkinson, Learning and Organisational Development Director, Tetra Pak
Tetra Pak is a global leader in processing and packaging solutions. Its products are available in more than 175 countries and in 2016, some 188 billion Tetra Pak packages were sold worldwide. The company has over 24,000 employees and 11 technical training centres.
Central to the company’s core values is attracting talent from all over the world and providing them equal growth opportunities. Its leadership and workforce is extremely diverse – the 150 managers at the company’s global headquarters in Switzerland represent 30 different nationalities. The global leadership team of 14 top executives represents nine ethnic backgrounds.
More than 40% of Tetra Pak staff are millennials; and 15% are under the age of 30. To develop and grow staff, the company has a Leadership Acceleration Programme. Succession planning is a key part of the L&D team’s work.
Sally Atkinson is a global learning and development and change management specialist, with corporate and consulting experience. She has extensive experience in senior executive development and particular expertise in personal development, executive coaching, leadership and general management.
In this exclusive interview with Sponge, Sally explains how the company has changed its learning and development offering, with millennials – and the future of the business – in mind.
Why are millennials so important to Tetra Pak?
Millennials are absolutely critical because they are going to give us access to the top international talent of the future, so they are effectively helping us to build the organisation of tomorrow. By hiring them and then giving them the most amazing growth opportunities, we can equally build our organisation of the future.
We’re investing in our growth through them.
What challenges and opportunities does this present for a global business such as Tetra Pak?
Every generation considers that people of the next generation are quite different, but in reality, we mainly want the same things. We want to have an environment which is challenging and developing for us.
With new employees, they want to come in and find a workplace where they feel they fit, where they can relate to the company values, where they feel part of something bigger, where they feel proud of what they can do at the start of their career. They want to feel as though they can make a difference.
And they want to be somewhere that will train and grow them, where there are leaders who are genuinely interested in their development, where they feel that having the experience of being in a forward-looking company will be good for their career, not just because it looks good on their CV, but because of the experience they’ve had, and the skills they’ve developed.
What we particularly see with millennials is that they demand a creative and dynamic working environment. Tetra Pak has always been an engineering business at heart and is entrepreneurial and innovative, so we believe we can offer that in an industry like engineering.
People coming in at the start of their careers have always wanted to progress fast, have their contribution and performance recognised, quickly build their confidence and their sense of themselves as professionals. So having a well-thought through, well-structured performance system that enables them to perform and develop has always been important.
What appears to be particularly important for millennials is the ability to work flexibly, to have international opportunities, to be able to work in a variety of different ways, leveraging digital technologies that allow us to work different time zones and different places. So we can be quite flexible to their requirements.
Of course, they want to work on the most exciting projects, develop the most quickly and have a lot of attention. But that’s no different from any other generation.
How is the business changing its Learning & Development offering in response to the growing numbers of millennials in the workforce?
Over the past few years we have been using much more digitally-enabled learning and development and we are accelerating that a lot now. We’re increasingly looking at bite-sized learning, app-face learning, mobile learning, and trying to find ways that we can deliver learning that’s highly accessible for the digitally-fluent generation.
At the same time, we’ve always had an extremely strong commitment to good face-to-face learning experience programmes. Yes, we are moving at the fast pace that digital is taking us. But there’s still a place for other effective learning methods as well.
What are your millennial employees telling you about the way they want to learn?
Millennials are very in tune with individualised or social learning, learning that they can seek out, that they are drawn to. When they find things that interest them, they like to take them further and comment on them. They thrive on being part of a learning community because they’ve learnt those skills through using social tools like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.
We are increasingly looking into how we can harness these skills and this clear appetite for learning that is a characteristic of millennials.
But it’s a mistake to think that only millennials like to work this way. Actually, most people have a relatively short attention and retention time-span, so a lot of people like to work with short input, videos, and things that they enjoy and are attracted to.
It’s not something that’s unique to millennials; the difference is that they’re used to it. With people that have grown up with more traditional, longer learning and development programmes using more traditional methodologies, there is more of an education process to get them there.
From your experience, what type of learning experiences work well for millennials?
We’ve started to place much greater emphasis across the business on induction, in particular having digitally-enabled induction programmes. We will continue to develop that much more than we have in the past. We have the opportunity to place millennials on short-term international projects in quite exciting parts of the business, so they can make a difference from Day One with their skills, their perspectives and their contributions.
We are often using millennials to take some particular business issue that we have and look at what solutions they may come up with. That’s been used to generate different sorts of ideas, particularly around how we might use digital – but not just in some of those obvious places. It’s more: “How can we use refreshing new thinking to look at some of our existing issues?”
Because we offer an international environment, that tends to be very stimulating for the millennial learner. Coming to work at Tetra Pak, where you could be working in a project team with potentially 20 different nationalities, it’s enormously stimulating and millennials tend to enjoy that a lot.
Historically, we have very high levels of employee retention. Tetra Pak is a leader in sustainability, it’s one of our core values and has been for many years – in terms of the whole spread of what sustainability means. We know that this matters a lot more to millennials, who tend to be educated about these issues, they care deeply and are very motivated by these areas and want to be part of it. They want to work for companies that take these sustainability values very seriously.
Are there particular challenges in developing millennials as leaders and managers?
We have a Future Talent Programme, which has been set up specifically to enable graduates to move and develop fast. We’re willing to give them amazing opportunities to work on very exciting projects in our business, grow themselves and through that, to help grow the business. We take the whole area of millennial recruitment and development very seriously because we see that in due course, it’s what will sustain us as a business.
What’s your advice to other learning professionals about creating learning for millennials?
Millennials want learning that is engaging, fast-paced and digitally accessible. We need to re-think learning so that it’s shorter, pithier, more international – and easily accessible in terms of technology.
Gone are the days when you’d do all your learning on a training programme, miles away from your work.
And we know that people learn more through their experiences, so we are designing learning experiences through our Future Talent Programme and based around what people are actually doing on the job, not just what we’re doing in L&D. It’s about the total learning journey rather than necessarily creating just brilliant training.