How Hershey Used Data to Increase Retention Rates and Improve Workforce Planning

March 6, 2018

For many of us, Halloween and Easter are excellent excuses to indulge ourselves in our favorite sweets. And for The Hershey Company, this makes these holidays two of their busiest times of year.

As one of the largest U.S. snacking companies, having fully-staffed sales teams is a key ingredient for Hershey to make the most of these treat-filled seasons. However, the company was facing a challenge: they needed to be able to predict if they would have the right people in the right roles during their busiest times of year. In order to proactively plan for hiring needs ahead of time, Hershey needed a systematic process to predict attrition.

And that’s exactly what Sean Kirlin, Senior Manager of HR Operations & Systems, and Emilie Thomas, Director of Advanced Analytics, set out to build with their teams at Hershey.

Using workforce data, they’re creating a predictive retention model that helps identify flight risks at an individual and macro scale, allowing them to boost retention with targeted support and plan their talent needs months ahead of time to ensure they’re fully staffed when they need it most.

Sean and Emilie embraced people analytics because they knew how to drive results with data: now they’re putting those skills into action.

“We needed a way to make talent planning into a cyclical and predictable process to ensure continuity across our business” Emilie says. “Using analytics to more definitively gauge the supply and demand on our talent, we would operate more smoothly and enable talent acquisition to be more targeted in their efforts”

Here’s how Hershey does it—and how you too can start gathering the right set of data and using it to elevate your talent operations.

What Hershey’s retention model looks at to predict attrition

The model combines several variables—many of which are relatively easy to find.

They started with foundational data that they attained from employee’s profiles:

  • Year-over-year performance. If there is a dip in performance for a proven, consistent performer, it could be a good indication that they’re less engaged or discouraged enough to start looking elsewhere.
  • Number of managers. Extremes on either side of the spectrum can indicate a flight risk. Too many in a short period of time can frustrate employees and make it hard to establish a rapport with managers. One manager for a long stretch of time may leave employees feeling stuck or burnt out.

Hershey also leverages pulse surveys throughout the year in addition to their annual engagement survey too keep a pulse on employee engagement and experience, factors that could signal risk.

  • How regularly employees meet with managers. Workers who don’t get enough facetime for coaching and development are significantly more likely to leave.
  • Engagement. No surprise—employees who feel engaged and passionate about their work are more likely to stay.

External factors also enter the equation:

  • Long commutes and remote workers. Proximity to the office may be indicative to connectivity to company culture and exposure to co-workers and leaders—all facets that could help enhance employee’s overall experience. 

The retention model takes all these factors and more to come up with remarkably accurate predictions—it’s correct about 87% of the time, which enables HR practitioners and leaders to take action on these insights.

How Hershey turns these insights into action to reduce attrition and improve workforce planning

“Building the model isn’t the hard part,” says Emilie. It’s translating the findings into actionable steps and systematic processes to catalyze change.

While Hershey is still in the early stages of taking action based on these insights, the company is focused on two main approaches: intervening to help retain flight-risk employees and workforce planning to recruit the talent that’ll replace the employees who do leave.

Retaining employees

When high performing or high potential employees are identified as a flight risk, there are a number of ways we can intervene. It can be as simple as offering a raise or promotion to an individual; as targeted as bringing in third-party consultants to help coach struggling leaders; and as sweeping as opening new satellite offices to serve areas with lots of remote workers.

As in Sean’s and Emilie’s cases, lateral moves can also be a tactic to improve retention. Hershey allows employees to dip their toes into new departments through cross-development assignments—projects where high-performers (who could also happen to be high flight risk) partner with a new team in a different department. If it goes well, they can consider a lateral career move internally. And if it doesn’t work out, they’re not out of a job—they simply remain in their current department.

Improving workforce planning

The insights from the retention model have also allowed Hershey to make great strides in their workforce planning. Hershey has already started to adjust their hiring process in response to these location-specific attrition insights. By understanding where they’ll need talent, when they’ll need talent, and how long it takes to recruit, they can deploy recruiters with much more precision.

They can also draw on data beyond the retention model, like Bureau of Labor statistics, to get a greater sense of local talent pools. For example, when choosing where to dedicate more recruiters, Hershey can prioritize high-risk locations with a low supply of local talent (i.e., where it’ll be harder to replace people), over locations that are brimming with local talent.

The retention predictions even allowed Hershey to try out a totally new talent practice: “always on recruiting.” In a couple areas, they’re starting to continually recruit new talent, developing a warm pipeline of candidates ready to step in before a current employee has even given their two-week notice.

“It’s been really successful so far,” says Sean. “Instead of being reactive and waiting until we’re in immediate need, these insights allow us to be proactive with our hiring, which keeps our business operations running smoothly.”

Tips for elevating your own HR and talent teams with data

While each company faces its own unique challenges in acquiring and retaining talent, just about every company can benefit from more data-driven insights and approaches.

Emilie and Sean shared a few tips to help recruiters and HR professionals get meaningful insights from your analytics—and integrate those insights into part of your everyday practice.

Start with a clear, concrete outcome you’re trying to achieve. Hershey knew it needed to start making workforce planning decisions earlier. To solve that challenge, they developed the retention model.

It made sense for Hershey—but a retention model, might not solve your most pressing challenges. Identify a concrete challenge that you’re facing first, then ask how data and analytics could help make an impact.

Under promise, over deliver. “Working with these kinds of datasets can take a lot of time, and you don’t always know if you have any worthwhile insights until you’re near the end,” says Sean.

With that in mind, don’t talk up the analytics until you’ve actually secured some meaningful findings. Sometimes, your hard work won’t reap game-changing results, so stay humble until you’ve got the insights in hand.

Don’t underestimate how difficult change management can be. As Emilie says, building the model isn’t the hard part—it’s everything that comes next.

“Once you have results, you need to communicate it convincingly to leaders, lay out the consequences and turn it into an actionable process,” she says. It takes a lot of work to implement those kinds of changes, and partnering closely with department leaders is a must.

Final thoughts: making analytics an essential part of your HR and recruiting practice

In Emilie’s eyes, Hershey is only beginning to see the impact of their data analytics.

“We haven’t reaped the full benefits yet,” she says, “that will come when this becomes part of our core processes. We shouldn’t be talking about ‘doing people analytics’ or ‘doing retention modeling’—that should be built-in. When that happens, we’ll know we’ve been successful.”

While today’s technology makes it easier than ever for HR and recruiting teams to identify meaningful insights, integrating those insights remains a challenge.

We’re still in the early stages of talent intelligence: recruiters, HR pros, and teams who start integrating analytics now will reap rewards for years to come. Hershey provides an example of narrow, concrete, and impactful analytics that everyone can aspire to.

*Image from Hershey

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