Run like a Deere: Making strides with skills-based talent strategies at John Deere

Julianne Brown-Meola, Head of Talent Management at John Deere, shares what led her organization to embark on a skills-based journey and her best practical advice for starting the transformation.

Run like a Deere: Making strides with skills-based talent strategies at John Deere

  • From strategic workforce planning to completing projects, John Deere is applying a skills-based approach.
  • Employees are in the driver’s seat of their careers while providing the organization with the strategic awareness to build or buy talent with the critical skills they need.
  • The best way to start your journey to becoming a skills-based organization is to focus on simple use cases and building your top 10 “no-regret skills.”

An industry leader in equipment engineering and manufacturing, John Deere is also setting the pace when it comes to talent management. 

Deere is focused on rethinking its talent strategy — and putting its 75,000 employees in the driver’s seat of their careers. Helping lead the way is Head of Talent Management Julianne Brown-Meola, a true advocate for working in a skills-based world. 

In this episode of The New Talent Code, Brown-Meola joined hosts Ligia Zamora and Jason Cerrato to discuss her role and learnings from John Deere’s journey to becoming a skills-based organization, including the importance of building a talent management COE, her belief in “opportunity for all,” and her top three tips for becoming a skills-based organization.

Read on for highlights from this episode. 

Related content: Listen to the full podcast here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Building a talent management COE: ‘All roads lead to skills’ 

Brown-Meola’s team is responsible for building and growing a talent management center of excellence across John Deere. Their goal? Ensuring Deere’s talent pipeline is fiercely competitive and prepared for tomorrow, and that all employees can discover new opportunities within the company.

John Deere’s journey to become a skills-based organization began with a realization. 

“I truly believe that all roads lead to skills,” Brown-Meola said. “Everywhere we turned, it was a similar need. Whether it’s career architecture and you’re building the infrastructure for your jobs and roles or questions about future compensation or recruiting, filling gaps, thinking about future strategic workforce planning, and what employees want and are asking for — all of those questions can be answered with skills solutions.”

An understanding of what skills someone has and what skills your organization needs can help inform every aspect of the talent life cycle — who to hire, what they should do, and how to best prepare them for tomorrow. This understanding flips every talent process on its head in the best way possible.

“It’s an entirely different exercise to say what degrees are on the reserves of our workforce versus what can our workforce do, what do we know, and how are we competitive when it comes to creating the future and doing things that have never been done in agriculture or in construction and forestry,” Brown-Meola said. 

This data-driven approach to work has given Deere a competitive edge while opening the door to new opportunities for employees.

“Executives would ask, ‘Where can we find someone who does X-Y-Z, or do we have someone internally who can advise on this or support a project?’” Brown-Meola said. “You can’t answer that if you’re not sure where those skills are.

“We like to say the hidden gems or the unicorn individuals that may have a job in one area of the business but a long history in another corporate function or a different degree that we’re not leveraging — that’s really where some magic can happen,” she continued. “You can say [to that executive] we have that skill internally. We don’t need to buy that skill or pay consultants to help. We can do that.”

Creating ‘opportunity for all’

Success for Brown-Meola’s talent initiatives comes in two parts. The first is ensuring her organization has the best talent possible by investing in employees and seeking out talent with critical skills. 

The second is wanting “every employee at Deere to feel that they have opportunity — opportunity for all, no matter what organization you’re in or what role you have, that you could be successful in what you want to do or you’re interested in some [role] at Deere,” she said. 

Before starting this initiative, employees were seeking ways to showcase their strengths. Now, through talent intelligence, employees have a “living résumé” that showcases their skills, certifications, and event patents. It gives them — and others in the organization — a clear picture of their skills, helping managers recruit best-fit talent for projects and giving employees insights into potential career paths and the skills they need to reach the next level.

“It’s one thing for hiring managers to have a strong experience [using talent intelligence],” Brown-Meola said. “It’s another for an individual employee who is even new to the company to have all of this information and feel like they’re in the driver’s seat for their future.”

Not only does this approach help Deere realize the potential of its employees and inspire them with other possibilities, but it also helps Deere in its strategic workforce planning. Leaders can now plan up to seven years out, asking, “Where will the workforce have specific needs in technology?” Brown-Meola said. “Where will changes be in terms of need or decline? We may not always be able to buy or borrow that talent, so how do we build it?” 

She added: “We want to invest in Deere employees who are fantastic already. So, with that being said, our TA team can often source that talent externally based on skills, and now, with our most recent updates in terms of our technology, specifically in Eightfold, we can have our internal employees have that same experience. They’re representing themselves and their skills and using that data. Our TA team is using the same lens externally that we’re using internally, which is really powerful.”

Brown-Meola said the secret ingredient to making everything work — understanding skills and what’s needed —is a combination of three things: Talent acquisition (what they are buying), talent management (what they are building), and the business (what they do).

3 tips to begin your skills-based transformation

Brown-Meola’s best advice for those starting out on their skills journey was not to get distracted. 

“The landscape is moving so much, and everyone is building everything to answer all the questions, but don’t be distracted by what a tool can do or what’s on the road map for the future. Instead, keep it as simple as you can. Does X-Y-Z solve my problem and how?”

Her second tip was to “become besties” with IT and build a cross-functional team that deeply cares about this initiative. 

“I don’t want to underestimate how important that relationship [with IT] is,” she said. “[Adopting a skills-based approach] is not just an HR initiative, but really building a team that’s invested in the success of the outcome, so SMEs who want those skills to be highlighted. Leaders who need the talent, IT who have the expertise to ask the right questions, and your talent team that can help build that collaborative team on the front end.”

Finally, Brown-Meola said to go after your top 10 “no-regret skills.” 

“What are the 10 no-regret skills that we know no matter what role you’re in this organization in five years and 10 years that we all need, that might be a journey of AI or augmentation?” she said. “How are we going to upskill in that space? Choose the really big ones, and then have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a fancy university program, but how are we going to invest learning time intentionally to upskill on no-regret skills? That’s powerful, especially if you’re doing that at scale.”

Build a future-ready workforce with ‘The New Talent Code’

To hear more insights from Brown-Meola, including how John Deere gained buy-in from its employees on its skills-based transformation, listen to the full episode on our website or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Interested in becoming a skills-based organization? Schedule a demo of the Eightfold Talent Intelligence Platform today.

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