Deanne Kissinger of Diversey on the Creation of a New Culture

Deanne Kissinger has over 19 years of talent management and leadership development experience and is currently vice-president, Global Talent Management, at Diversey. In this episode, Deanne provides insight into Diversey’s process of creating its core competencies, brand and culture while shifting to being a standalone company.

In this episode, Deanne discusses:

  • How becoming a standalone organization provided Diversey with the perfect opportunity to establish a new identity and create new performance review processes.

Also mentioned in this podcast:

Full Transcript

Michael: Yes. Welcome to Performance Management Stories. This is a very specific podcast. It’s for nerds like you, like me, like people who are wrestling with performance management in our organization. We know things are changing. We know the world is not accepting the old way of doing performance management, but what’s the future? That’s what we’re all wrestling with at the moment. We know version 1.0 doesn’t work. We’re not yet sure what version 2.0 is. Once we’ve all read the articles, and we have followed the news about things are changing, what I’ve been curious about is getting senior leaders from all sorts of different organizations to tell us their stories of what they’ve been trying, what they’re continuing to try because most of us are actually in the middle of rethinking our performance management approach.

I’m very excited with my guest today. It is Deanne Kissinger from Diversey. Now, Deanne has over 19 years of talent management and leadership development experience. Currently, vice president of global talent management at Diversey. She has worked around the world in such organizations as GlaxoSmithKline, Diageo, Westpac Bank and Sealed Air. Her experience covers the sectors such as pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, property, manufacturing and finance. She is part of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches Program, which is how I met her. This is another one of the bonuses for me of this program because I was lucky enough to be part of that as well. She serves on the board of the Metropolitan Business and Professional Women Organization as well as the Executive Leadership Group of Go Red for Women and Child at North Carolina, which is where she’s based. She has better science and marketing management from Grove City College in Pennsylvania and earned an MBA from Melbourne Business School. Nice Australian connection there in Australia.

She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with Kevin, her husband, and their two cats, Tom and Millie. That is awesome. I used to be a two-cat family. I’m now a one cat family, sadly. Our cat is Flora MacDonald. Deanne, welcome.

Deanne Kissinger: Thank you. Thank you very much. I’m really glad to be here.

Michael: Yeah. Me too. One of the unexpected joys of the Marshall Goldsmith Program is that I just got to meet all sorts of interesting people. You’re one of those interesting people. Thank you for-

Deanne Kissinger: Aw, thanks. I consider you one of them.

Michael: Well, I’m delighted. What it allows me to do is, basically, emotionally blackmail people to come onto my podcast, so they feel morally obliged. It’s genius. Tell me about Diversey, because I hadn’t heard of it before I met you. How big is it? What sector is it in? What are you up to?

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. Diversey is an organization that’s based here in Charlotte, North Carolina. We do cleaning and hygiene products. We like to say that we don’t sell soap. We save lives.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: Diversey has about, well, it’s a little of a short of 9,000 employees. We’re in about 60 countries.

Michael: Fantastic.

Deanne Kissinger: About $2.7 billion organization. Decent size. We were recent divestiture from Sealed Air.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: I know you mentioned that, where I use to work before. That happened in September. It’s important to know that as we start talking about the performance management stuff because there is a connection there with Sealed Air, still, as we just separated back in September. It is a truly global organization. Half of our employees are located out in Europe. It’s a great place to be.

Michael: That’s fantastic. It must be another one of those interesting parts of the journey to be spun off and going, “Okay, we’ve got. We use to be part of the Sealed Air empire, but now, we’ve got our own identity, our own journey ahead of us.” It must be exciting for you in that role of L&D and HR.

Deanne Kissinger: Yes. Definitely exciting. It’s one of those things where we’re still connected because our systems are still connected, and our processes are still connected to some extent. Creating a new path for Diversey wasn’t possible right when we separated, but we’re getting to that point now where we’re able to start making a new culture for Diversey when it comes to performance management, when it comes to competencies. Just the way that we do things in a different way. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of.

Michael: Perhaps, as much as you’re able to tell us, what was happening within Sealed Air as they thought about performance management?

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. It’s funny because in the last three years or so, which is about the same amount of time I’ve been in Sealed Air and now, in Diversey. When I first got to Sealed Air, one of the things that I noticed was that we recorded the what and the how, but the how didn’t count. By what, of course, our performance goals and the how, how you went about doing your role and the behaviors that you had, we talked about both of them, but the how didn’t count in the end for your performance management. We started to make a shift to actually include that. We realized that to be able to do that, we needed to define the how. We hadn’t even really clearly defined how outside of our CEO’s leadership behaviors.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: Because they were the CEO’s leadership behaviors, somebody who might be on a shop floor in one of the manufacturing plants wouldn’t necessarily connect to those as readily as a leader might. A leader and a senior part in the organization. We wanted to create something that everyone across the entire organization could connect to when it came to behaviors. We went through a big long project of coming up with four core competencies. Everybody was evaluated against those in their performance management process.

Michael: Fantastic. Did that shift completely or was that in progress when Diversey spun off?

Deanne Kissinger: We’d actually completed the core competencies. When I came in, I think it was about 2016 when we actually launched the competencies. We didn’t want people to get assessed on them right away when they weren’t comfortable with them. It had to think about that really clearly and say, “Okay, if they’re just going to learn about the competencies halfway through the year, we don’t want that to count at the end of the year.” Because it’s not really fair to count them on that, halfway through the year.

Michael: Right. “Hey, you changed all the rules.”

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. Yeah.

Michael: “I’m sorry. You failed. What?”

Deanne Kissinger: Right. Exactly. Yeah. Sorry about that. Yeah. Mid-year was when we started to launch the competencies. For the year-end performance reviews that year, we decided to have them have a conversation with their manager about the competencies. What would that look like for their role if they were acting like an owner or being customer obsessed and the different competencies that we had. They had real good conversations about that. The start of 2017 was when we started to actually include that as part of the performance management review. When Sealed Air and Diversey separated in September of 2017, we were still trying to figure out how that was all going to come about at the year-end process because people hadn’t done that before and it hadn’t been a part of the process before.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: We were separating and trying to figure that out. Thankfully, we’re very good friends with those at Sealed Air. It was amicable between us and the talent management department.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: We are really closely aligned and tried to help both organizations through it.

Michael: What did you take with you to Diversey? Did you take those four competencies or did you go, “We need to make our own imprint. We’ve got to refashion them in some way”?

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. At the end of the year of 2017, we kept them because we felt people had been evaluated against them, they’ve had conversations around them for nine months out of the year. It just felt right to keep those throughout the end of the year. At the start of 2018, we began looking at what Diversey wanted to be and how we want to be seen and what type of behaviors we want to have from our employees. We’re still in progress of creating the competencies for Diversey. We just did a lot of branding work as well. All these things had to come together to enable us to come up with some competencies. We’re still in the process of doing that. Employees are starting to put their goals together for the year based on our strategy. Hopefully, pretty soon, we’ll have those competencies done so that they can use those this year.

Michael: When you were telling us about Diversey at the top of the conversation, you said, “Look, we don’t think of ourselves as selling soap. We think of ourselves as saving lives.”

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah.

Michael: Clearly, you’re connecting into that Simon Sinek style or what’s the why behind the work that we do. Was that part of that branding process that you were going through? Is that also being a way that this part of what was Sealed Air has talked about itself for a while?

Deanne Kissinger: Diversey has been around for ages. It had a long history of being moved around through different organizations and finally, for the only second time in its history, standing on its own.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: That’s a huge, huge deal for Diversey. They’ve talked a long time about the why and why we do what we do and why Diversey feels it’s so important that we helped to save lives through cleaning and hygiene.

Michael: Yes.

Deanne Kissinger: We provide little wet wipes for grocery stores. When you walk in and there’s shopping carts, you need to clean off the shopping carts, in the hospitals, in cleaning floors, in schools, and all sorts of great ways that we can actually help people stay healthy and help keep things clean when they need to be kept clean, certainly. That’s a great history that Diversey has had for quite a long time. It’s been really important for us to be clear about that and really share that and help employees see why we do what we do.

Michael: You talked about the what and the how. Where that takes me to is, conversation about ratings. How do you think about ratings in your organization? Because there’s a lot of talk about that at the moment, there’s some neuroscience that says ratings actually demotivate and confused, but for most organizations, ratings have been an absolute central part of performance management for decades. I’m wondering where you are in the whole ratings conversation.

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. When I first arrived at Sealed Air, one of the things that the relatively new CEO at the time, Jerome Peribere, who’s now recently left Sealed Air, he came in and realized that we weren’t really differentiating performance. A lot of people were in the fours and fives because we use the one through five rating scale.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: He said that, “If this is the case, we should just absolutely be knocking it out of the ballpark,” which we weren’t necessarily doing that. We put in an expected distribution curve of where we would land when it came to the ratings. That was a big process for Sealed Air to go through. That was still happening when I first came in to the organization. We do use the one through five and we have meet expectations and exceeds expectations. One of the things that we were doing as well is looking at, including the what and how. This year, we actually removed the numbers. We just used descriptive ratings. If you were, what would’ve normally been a three at the end of the year, you are now a solid performance year.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: If you are a four, it was an excellent year. If you are a five, it’s outstanding. If you were two, it was a challenging performance year. If you are a one, it was unsatisfactory.

Michael: Okay.

Deanne Kissinger: We use those terms. It really made some people very uncomfortable because they were used to seeing numbers in it.

Michael: Yeah. “I need a number, man.”

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. They wanted the number. When you have organization with people who are engineers and people in R&D, and they like the numbers, that’s understandable that they like the numbers because it’s a huge change to move away from that. People were used to seeing, “I was a 3.6” or “I was a 2.4.” That’s really what we wanted to get away from. We wanted to get away from people talking about what number they were and start having more real conversations about their performance. What did you do really well? What could you have done differently and could’ve improved upon? I do think that we’ve started to shift the conversation. It was funny because given the fact that Sealed Air and Diversey were both going through that at the same time, it was funny to hear how, on both sides, that some people were comfortable moving to the no numbers and some people just weren’t. It was a real change.

Michael: Why did you do that? What prompted you to drop the numbers, because it would’ve been easier just to keep them in some ways?

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah, it would be easier to keep them. Something that we were really conscious about as well is, if we kept them in the back-end and everybody thought, “Well, those numbers are back there and I’m going to go find those numbers somehow or figure that somehow.” Then it really didn’t serve its purpose. We really realized that the conversations weren’t happening the way they should. It got down to a point where you’d say, “Well, last year, I was a 2.4, 2.8, or 2.9” whatever it was, and this year, “I’m a 2.5 or 2.9 or 3.0.” What’s different? You can’t really differentiate a 2.9 and a 3.0.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: It’s too hard to do.

Michael: It’s a meaningless section.

Deanne Kissinger: Exactly. Exactly. It really doesn’t mean anything, but to say that you had things that you are working on that you improved upon and what those things were and how you actually changed your behavior over the year or met some targets that you weren’t able to achieve last year. This is the reason why. Those are the better conversations to have instead of what changed from a 2.6 to a 2.7.

Michael: What’s the expectation with your managers and leaders around how often and how regularly they have these performance focused conversations?

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. That’s another thing that we’re hopefully changing at Diversey. Previously, the only thing that was required absolutely mandatory was a year-end conversation.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: Yet, your goal setting conversation… Well, that was mandatory because you had to set your goals, but you had the goal setting conversation. The midyear was suggested. We didn’t really record it. At the year-end, it was, of course, mandatory to put those ratings in for the year-end. What we’re trying to move to, now, is more quarterly conversations. That’s a conscious shift to quarterly. What I’d love to get to in the future is that we’re having those in a more constant basis. “This is June. We need to have our conversation now.” I’d love to have it more in the moment so that any employee at any one time knows where they stand with their manager and their performance, but I think we’ll take that step one step at a time and go from the midyear and the year-end to a more quarterly basis and hopefully, managers will find that a better easier step to make than go in straight to having more frequent conversations like that.

Michael: How are you supporting your managers to even step up to that quarterly expectation? Because it’s one of the things that sounds good on paper but it can be quite a shift in behavior for managers. Particularly, I think, and I don’t mean to paint everybody with this brush, but if you’re more numbers oriented, just show me how I’m doing on a grafting rather than, “Oh, I love this type of conversations.” You might find some resistance from people going, “Deanne and her HR crew, I just ignore them and maybe they’ll go away.” How are you supporting your managers in moving towards this goal of more regular conversations?

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. Well, we recognize that we don’t have a lot of support in place. I’m being really frank that we realize that if we are going to call managers and ask them to have these types of conversations more often, then we need to be able to give them the tools to do that.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: We’ve supported, somewhat in the past, where we’ve given them some conversation guides. We have been vendors at skills. Our customers of Skillsoft, they have videos around performance management that we could use. Things like that that we use to support them, but I think what really helps is when you can actually have a real conversation. Nobody likes role plays but they are helpful to actually have a real conversation help somebody address the fears that they have. What happens if the employee says, “I disagree with that.” That’s wrong and just outright and says that. What do you do in that situation? We’re really focusing on what we can do to help managers in that way and create a training program for them specifically around performance management.

Michael: Yeah. Fantastic. Has there been a shift in the technology that you use for your performance management? Is there a platform or a way of just making this whole process work and it’s worse it can be this nightmare paper heavy bureaucracy to being more elegant experience?

Deanne Kissinger: Right. Yeah. That was one thing with Sealed Air. Originally, we were with People Soft. We didn’t utilize the system to, I think, it’s full extent.

Michael: Everybody who’s ever worked with any technology platform ever.

Deanne Kissinger: Everyone ever.

Michael: Yeah.

Deanne Kissinger: The interesting thing was, Sealed Air was moving over towards success factors and we chose to move over towards work day.

Michael: Okay.

Deanne Kissinger: We’ve moved to different platforms. My hope and you hit the nail on the head right there is that we’re going to make it simple because if it gets complicated and then people start feeling like “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here” or “when are we supposed to enter our reviews?” Or “Where do I go from there?” It just gets too frustrating for managers and for employees. We need to make it and keep it as simple as possible for them. I think that’s the goal for the year is keep it simple.

Michael: Where that takes me, anyway, is wanting to ask you around lessons you’ve learned, not just from Sealed Air and Diversey over the last three years, but perhaps, in your story career around the changed management process around this. Because even when you have geeks like us talking about the nuances and some related stuff, in the end, we have to try and get a bunch of people. You’ve got 9,000 people to try and be part of this new process. What have you learned around approaches to changed management that would be either scars you picked up or moments of triumph you’ve had in terms of seeking disengagement in this changing behavior?

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. I think one of the things that I’ve learned over time is, one size does not fit all.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: Because you’ve read some article or participated in a webinar that talked about how we’re moving away from ratings.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: That kind of thing. It does not mean that that’s the right thing for your organization at that time. That’s probably the most important thing that I remember when it comes to performance management because I will participate in those types of programs and learn all sorts of new ways to look at performance management. I think, let’s do that. That’s sounds really exciting. I think we should do that. That’s the way progressive organizations are going, but it’s not necessarily right for your organization at that time in the culture that you have. We were taking it in steps. We decided that we’re going to move away from the ratings. Well, first of all, you’re going to introduce the how. We’re going to move away from the ratings. We’re going to start moving towards quarterly conversations. If we had tried to do that all in one year, I think it would have been, actually, a chaos.

Michael: Yeah. Misery.

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. Exactly. We took those steps. What I ultimately like to get where we are having more frequent conversations and when we don’t worry about what the numbers are and everybody is really clear about their performance, yes, that’s the ultimate goal. I’m not going to jump there in one year. I’m going to take my time and help people through that process because people need to understand why they’re doing it. Give them the tools to be able to do that and really support them in that. I think that’s probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned.

Michael: Right. Yeah.

Deanne Kissinger: Like you say, managers are going to need that support because it is not easy to have a difficult conversation sometimes. When somebody does really well, it’s not easy to have a conversation about feedback because just saying, “Great job this year. Really great job.” They need something more than that. They need that actual feedback to say, “What was it that I did well? What can I do to improve” …

Michael: Yeah. Beautiful.

Deanne Kissinger: … “for next years that I continue to do a great job?” Yeah, that’s some of what I’ve learned over the years.

Michael: That’s right. Have you kept your focus on this and got the support of your senior leadership team when there must be so much going on? That whole process of pulling away from Sealed Air, re-establishing the brand, establishing your own identity. I couldn’t imagine all the other things that are required to become and set yourselves up as a standalone organization again. Yet, you’ve kept making progress on this. How have you persuaded people that this actually matters?

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. Well, one of the things that I absolutely love about my role and I feel incredibly privileged to be in this type of a role, because any decision that I make with learning and development, performance management, succession planning, has some sort of an impact on our culture.

Michael: Right.

Deanne Kissinger: If you believe that culture eats strategy for breakfast, then you have the ability to make a tremendous impact on the organization. I’m grounded in that. When I talk with leaders about performance management and what we want to be seeing us as an organization with the culture work and the branding work that we’re doing, people really buy into that because they understand the need to create a culture. We’re at a unique point too because we’re creating an organization from scratch. It’s not from scratch because it’s been around forever but it feels like it’s from scratch.

Michael: Yeah. It’s been around forever and it is also from scratch at the same time.

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. Exactly. We’re in a unique position that way, but when I was starting that competency work and creating the how at Sealed Air, I didn’t know any of them. I didn’t know anything about Diversey down the road and it separating out. The conversations that I had at that point with the leaders was about how important it is that we measure the how and that we don’t want to have somebody leaving all these bodies in their wake and achieving great results, but at the same time, not doing it in a way that we feel is right for Sealed Air or now right for Diversey. I think using that is as part of my… It’s not argument. It’s just as, why we need to focus on it. I don’t feel like I had any problem getting people to pay attention to that. I will say truth be told too for this year. We kept the wheels on the bus. There was a lot of change going around.

We knew that Diversey was going to be moving in a different direction, so keeping the wheels on the bus and keeping managers feeling like they were supported through the process this year was really the number one goal.

Michael: This had been great. Deanne, this has been a great conversation. Before we wrap up for good, any kind of final comments or final thoughts? This has been so valuable to hear the journey you’ve been on with Diversey and with Sealed Air.

Deanne Kissinger: Yeah. I appreciate that it’s not easy. Certainly, we’re all living through it. Everybody’s situation is unique. If anybody ever wants to reach out, I’m on LinkedIn, and please free to connect with me on LinkedIn and have a conversation about it. I’d love to keep the conversation going.

Michael: Thank you, Deanne. That’s a really generous offer. I can attest, that just how smart this woman is. If you’re clever, you take this person up on their offer to connect on LinkedIn and become a sounding board or perhaps, a thought partner in this. Deanne Kissinger from Diversey, thank you so much.

Deanne Kissinger: Thank you.

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