Kellogg Company’s Melissa Howell on The Value of Recruiting Veteran Talent

"Presence in the Present"

As a branded company whose success depends on change management, Kellogg Company puts a premium on its internal culture. From the vantage point of a lifelong career in human resources, Melissa Howell talked with The HR Digest about the various Diversity & Inclusion programs which have put Kellogg on the global map as one of the top companies for veterans, LGBT employees, and executive women.

Kellogg Company Melissa Howell

The HR Digest: Under your leadership, Kellogg Company has taken great strides in the field of diversity and inclusion (D&I). On October 18, Kellogg’s brand mascot turned purple for GLAAD’s Spirit Day to stand up to bullying and show support for LGBTQ youth. Some of the other initiatives revolve around work-life flexibility, recruiting veteran talent and building a more diverse talent pipeline – all of which support the company’s long-term growth and innovation. How do you measure the value these D&I programs bring to the company?

Melissa Howell: At Kellogg, we know diversity & inclusion is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do for our business. Having an inclusive culture where people can be their best, authentic selves every day, fosters better collaboration, innovation, teamwork, and engagement – all critical elements to helping us achieve our Deploy for Growth Strategy. People are at the core of this strategy. We know our greatest strength lies in the many diverse, inclusive and passionate colleagues we have around our Kellogg world.

We take a holistic approach to measuring the impact and progress of our diversity & inclusion efforts. From a workforce perspective, we monitor and measure key data such as representation, hires, promotions and retention across key demographics as well as the diversity of our people across all areas of the business in succession planning.  We also measure things such as supplier diversity spend, consumer feedback and corporate reputation. But, one of the things I find most effective is employee feedback.  We seek (and listen to) qualitative feedback from our employees through our global opinion survey, focus groups and roundtables with our Business/Employee Resource Groups (B/ERGs). This, in addition to the numbers, paints the picture as to whether or not you have a truly inclusive environment where diversity thrives.

The HR Digest: Can you tell us about Kapable, Kellogg’s newest Employee Resource Group (ERG), for individuals with disabilities and their supporters; and KVets, which focuses on supporting veterans at the Kellogg Company and local communities?

Melissa Howell: Kapable is our Business/Employee Resource Group (B/ERG) whose mission is to ensure Kellogg is a welcoming and inclusive environment for current or future employees and supporters of those who are differently abled. Our Kapable team has driven positive change to make our internal policies and workplace more inclusive. Last year, the team ventured into the marketing space by partnering with the business to bring braille and audio options to the packaging of our Rice Krispies Treats “Love Notes” campaign. The team not only demonstrated inclusion in practice, it generated tremendous sales and positive external feedback – further demonstrating diversity & inclusion is both the right and smart thing to do for our business.

KVets & Supporters is our Business/Employee Resource Group that celebrates military service and recognizes the benefits that can be brought to Kellogg by those who serve. Our KVets & Supporters team has added great value to the organization by helping our recruiters and hiring managers better understand military experience (especially on resumes), and how to both attract and retain more effectively. All eight of Kellogg’s B/ERGs – including Kapable and KVets & Supporters – help ensure our people are empowered to be their authentic selves. They work to raise awareness from both focused and intersectional viewpoints and are also a valuable resource for innovation and idea generation, helping us to remain agile and relevant with our employees and consumers.

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The HR Digest: Has it been particularly easy or difficult to advance diversity for leadership roles?

Melissa Howell: Diversity & Inclusion is essentially about culture change. It takes strategic, deliberate focus and accountability to drive progress. This is what we expect of ourselves and our leaders in the organization. We know there’s always room for improvement, and we’re fully committed to the journey.

The HR Digest: What do you consider your most rewarding experience in professional life?

Melissa Howell: Throughout my career, I’ve had the great privilege to have had many global roles – I’ve even lived and worked outside of the U.S. for seven years. Through these experiences, I’ve gained a deeper perspective on how the history, culture and personal experiences of individuals impact what keeps them engaged and how they “show up” to work. Around the world, there are definitely nuances, but there are still many similarities for all employees. For me, understanding these varying perspectives is the most rewarding and fascinating part of my career.

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The HR Digest: What’s the key lesson you want HR leaders to take away from your work?

Melissa Howell: The key lesson I would share – and remind myself of often – is that it’s essential to have a pulse on what is happening in your organization. It’s important to know how employees at all levels feel about the company, its leaders and how they experience work. It’s also common, as you ascend to leadership positions, for feedback on company culture and employee engagement to be sugar-coated. This is truly a death wish for our effectiveness as HR leaders. Make sure you spend time with employees at all levels of the organization, just listen and hear what they have to say. Simple, but truly effective.

This article was published in the April 2019 issue of The HR Digest magazine.

Melissa Howell | Senior Vice President, Global Human Resources, Kellogg Company

Melissa Howell has been Senior Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer, Kellogg Company, since June 2016. She is a member of Kellogg Company’s executive committee.

Prior to joining Kellogg, Ms. Howell was Chief Human Resources Officer for Rockford, Michigan-based Wolverine since 2014. Prior to Wolverine, Ms. Howell spent 24 years with General Motors where she led a team of 2,800 Human Resources professionals worldwide, supporting a global business at one of the top automotive companies in the world, and also among the largest public corporations.

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