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Nicole Gasaway, SVP of HR & Communications at Blue Diamond Growers, joins Integrated Talent Management Strategies Class

Guest speaker Nicole Gasaway visited Dr. Steve Safier and Tina Anderson’s class during the Summer 2022 session to share her expertise leading performance management in an organization that has been redefining itself.

Blue Diamond Growers – a cooperative made up of about half of California’s almond growers – has been building upon its reputation as a stable, agriculture cooperative to further increase its impressive array of almonds and almond product offerings and customers. As Nicole explained, this effort demands continued attention to the company’s culture and talent and has included the addition of new people and skills to drive innovation and functional excellence.

As Blue Diamond has grown, there is a need to onboard new talent and create successful teams where legacy employees and more recent hires collaborate seamlessly. Often, companies can encounter a mindset that new employees have arrived to “fix” things. Instead, Nicole says, “We are creating a Blue Diamond culture, building something new - together... Everyone is part of this ‘evolution’,” as she calls it. By the same token, new employees may come from larger organizations and, although they value the smaller feel that Blue Diamond provides, they might look for similar HCM programs and experiences that larger organizations can provide. Her team must address how Blue Diamond will provide the development opportunities and career paths these employees seek in a flat organization with more limited career progression.

One way Blue Diamond is addressing career progression is by redefining “growth” to focus less on title and more on unique experiences. “We aren’t avoiding creating traditional career paths, but doing both,” Nicole says. Employees are promised the opportunity to wear many hats, to be exposed to learning opportunities, to get to know key stakeholders, and to fulfill their purpose through meaningful work.

Performance Management is an important component of Blue Diamond’s talent strategy. Annual appraisals are a part of performance management for all salaried staff and for some hourly employees as well. The biggest challenge is differentiation: in this egalitarian culture, Nicole explains, managers are less comfortable rating employees differently. The idea is that everyone has done a great job and deserves to be rated high on their annual appraisal. Nicole’s team has been socializing the idea – to both managers and employees - that “meets” expectation is actually a positive rating. She also stresses the importance of leaders being able to have good goal conversations, and to take it further by providing feedback throughout the year.

At the end of her discussion, Nicole shared this career advice:

  1. It’s important to have an idea of your path, but keep it wide and stay open, because interesting opportunities will come your way.
  2. Know your strengths, joys, and passions, then seek the sweet spot that is the intersection of all three. If you are able to find it, she says, “stay in it.”

Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your expertise with us!