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Case Study: The Hillberg & Berk Employee Empowerment Process
By Dawn Hillrud, CPHR
Saskatchewan designer and entrepreneur Rachel Mielke founded Hillberg & Berk in 2007. Hillberg & Berk values one principal above all others: Through education, inspiration and opportunity, we are women empowering women – one sparkle at a time.
The innovative Hillberg & Berk Employee Empowerment Process was built on this principle. It is a four step procedure focusing on employee strengths, employee passions and employee empowerment to propel them along their career path while they contribute to the business success of Hillberg & Berk.
Initially the employee fills out a worksheet listing their recent work accomplishments, their career aspirations, what inspires them at work, and what tools they need from Hillberg & Berk to continue to grow and develop in their career. The manager also completes a worksheet outlining the employee’s strengths; and the employee’s areas for development. The development areas are not weaknesses. They are areas in which the manager can see the employee moving into and being very valuable, considering their strengths. It is important that each party completes the worksheets independently. This empowers each to share thoughts that are their own – unbiased by the other party.
In the second step the employee and manager meet and exchange worksheets. The employee discovers what their manager views as their strengths and the manager’s thoughts regarding how to leverage these strengths in development areas. The manager learns what the employee’s career aspirations are and what they love to do. Based on these two things, the employee and the manager set empowering goals - goals that will capitalize on the employee’s strengths and what inspires and excites the employee, align with the employee’s career objectives, and align with Hillberg & Berk strategy. There is no focus on eliminating or developing weaknesses.
Often, employee performance processes focus on eliminating weaknesses or developing an employee’s weak areas. However, people do not often enjoy working in their weak areas, which is usually why those areas or skills are weak – so why push them into those areas? The Hillberg & Berk process is the opposite. It focuses on what people do well and what they get excited about. People like to do things that they do well. They are engaged, happy, and successful when they are working in areas where they feel inspired and excited to work. They become more productive and love their jobs!
Typically, up to four goals are set. One is educational and the remaining are aligned with departmental goals previously set at an executive level. Another important factor is that goals must be aligned with at least one of the values of Hillberg & Berk – Love Your Life, Own It, Be Brave, Improve Lives and Never Settle. For example, if a manager has listed “going above and beyond for sales and customer service in clienteling” as a retail employee’s strength and the employee identified clienteling as something that they too enjoy, then it is a strength area to be built on. The employee may develop a goal of creating and distributing a short online training video to focus on clienteling to provide sales and customer service for all Hillberg & Berk retail staff. This goal empowers the employee and gets them excited to share their knowledge and skills, as well as focuses on their strength. An additional bonus is that other staff benefit and are being empowered by the learning. Further, this goal is aligned with the Hillberg & Berk value of “Never Settle” in that day-to-day customer service is not enough for Hillberg & Berk customers – sales staff need to go above and beyond and clientele. It is also aligned with increasing sales – a departmental goal of the retail/sales department of Hillberg & Berk.
Thereafter, every three months, goal follow-up meetings occur. This is more frequent than most employee performance processes. But, it is considered essential at Hillberg & Berk as people are empowered when they grow, resulting in them moving quickly throughout the company. Goals set three months ago may be either achieved or may have become irrelevant if the employee has been promoted or has taken on different areas of responsibility. During follow-up meetings goals previously set are reviewed. If these goals are achieved or have become irrelevant, new ones are set. If goals are not achieved, they are reviewed for progress and ongoing relevance, and a plan is set in place to ensure their achievement.
Finally, in the fourth step, after year end, the process is started again with the independent development of worksheets and review of the last set of goals.
The Hillberg & Berk Employee Empowerment process is an exciting and innovative twist on performance processes to focus on employee strength, empowerment, and career aspirations to generate enthusiasm and motivation in goal setting.
Author - Dawn Hillrud, CPHR is an associate of Knibbs/associates HR Consulting and acts as the “onsite” consultant for Hillberg & Berk. Dawn is also a partner in Knibbs/associates Sourcing People- a SaSaskatchewan-based employee recruitment firm. Both organizations provide HR and employee recruitment services to large and small businesses.