Building Leadership Bench Strength at FrieslandCampina

Building Leadership Bench Strength at FrieslandCampina



By Sean Huang, Managing Consultant, Organisation Solutions

Getting the right people in the right roles at the right time is critical for business growth and success. However, as a person’s performance in their current role does not necessarily predict their potential for future success, pinpointing the right talent is extremely difficult. To address this, companies are increasingly using structured assessments to identify and develop talent for critical business roles.

I spoke to Kelly Galesloot, Director of Customer Development and Shopper Marketing, and Natalie Chan, HR Business Partner, with global dairy giant FrieslandCampina, about how they use Organisation Solution’s Growth Leader Assessment to build a strong talent pipeline of Sales Directors, a critical role in the company’s growth strategy.  

Sean: Why did you decide to use a structured approach to assess potential for next-in-line Sales Directors?

Kelly: The core of everything we do is very much guided by our purpose—Nourishing by Nature—which means better nutrition for the world, a good living for our farmers, now and for generations to come. We strongly believe that to realise this purpose, we not only have to invest in the development of our people today but also build a strong, sustainable talent pool for tomorrow.

Natalie: When we developed our route2020 strategy, which articulated our aspirations for the future, a key aspect was to build our critical commercial capabilities so we could achieve our long-term growth plans. From a business perspective, we were also very clear that we needed to develop local talent bench strength and promote from within. So, we adopted an evidence-based approach to talent assessment to facilitate a structured analysis of potential future Sales Directors across the region.

Kelly: We set about validating our internal “high potential” talent using a data-driven, objective tool. We identified their key development areas and made targeted development plans to build the capabilities they would need to be future Sales Directors.

Sean: What did you assess and who was involved in the assessment process?

Natalie: It was very important to objectively and holistically assess our talent pool. Without a structured assessment process, it would have been too easy for HR or the business unit to use their gut feel or make biased talent decisions. So, we developed a commercial capabilities framework that combined functional and leadership competencies for the Sales Director role.

We use the Growth Leader Assessment for the leadership competencies as it highlighted the capabilities our future Sales Directors would need to drive FrieslandCampina’s growth. As part of the assessment process, we brought together the Customer Development and Shopper Marketing teams and our current Sales Directors to identify and provide an objective view of the talent across the region.

Kelly: We knew it was important that the business unit and HR work closely together on this new approach to talent. HR needs to understand the business strategy, direction, and demands regarding talent. The business unit best knows the capabilities and competencies it most needs and the gaps. When the teams met together for the talent assessment process, there was so much energy in the room, especially from the Sales Directors! Having robust data really facilitated healthy discussions and meant we could all make detailed observations that validated the assessment data. The conversations gave us a shared, collective view of our talent bench-strength across the region.

Sean: What were the benefits of including the growth leader capabilities in the assessment?

Natalie: When we developed the commercial capabilities framework, we were very clear about the key functional competencies that were critical for the Sales Director role – and driving the business’s growth. We felt that our existing leadership competencies were relatively generic, but the growth leader capabilities were very relevant to what we were looking for in our Sales Directors. They were also specific enough to help tease out specific developmental areas and chart customised developmental pathways for our leaders.

Kelly: The growth leader capabilities gave HR and the Commercial team a common language so we could have targeted conversations about talent development. It not only allowed us to examine our existing competencies, but also to talk about potential to take on higher roles in an open and transparent manner. We were able to drill into specific competencies that were deemed to be critical for Sales Directors such as Build Resilience, Develop Growth Mind-set, and Develop Talent, and have deep, robust discussions with each individual about their strengths, development areas, and the opportunities we as an organisation can give them to develop specific competencies, so that they can assume a Sales Director role within five years. From a broader perspective, the assessment allowed us to benchmark our talent amongst our operating companies across the region.

Natalie: The assessment data also allowed us to avoid “near misses.” For example, we had a leader who was considered a strong candidate, but deeper assessment revealed that he was not strong in Structuring and Executing Plans. This gap was then further validated through conversations with him. We gave him an additional project to develop this competency, and it turned out that he was not ready for the Sales Director role. So, we decided to move him into a role that leveraged his strength in Managing Complexity. In addition, another strong candidate emerged, but he needed to develop his functional skills and trade experience. So, we intend to move him to a role that will allow him to develop in these areas before accelerating him into the Sales Director role.

Sean: How has the assessment changed the way you develop your talent within the business?

Kelly: We have always been very invested in the way we develop our talent, not just financially, but also in terms of the time and commitment we invest in each development plan. Everyday coaching conversations are at the core of our approach. The assessment data facilitated robust discussions about succession planning and bench-strength in a very tangible way. For example, we could examine our cover ratios objectively using the assessment data to determine the readiness of our leaders to take on Sales Directors roles in either a 1–3 or 3–5-year timeframe. The data also enabled managers to have honest discussions with individuals; matching their aspirations against their assessed potential and developing a personalised development plan for them to realise their future aspirations and potential.  

Natalie: There are many instances where we’ve leveraged the assessment data to either assign short-term projects or move leaders into roles to develop specific competencies that were highlighted as developmental gaps in their assessment. One good example is a leader who was identified as a future Sales Director, but was relatively weak in the competency of Set Vision and Inspire Action. So, we moved her into a role where she will lead a team and execute growth plans in one of our largest operating companies in Asia. With this move, we are adopting a very proactive and deliberate approach to develop and prepare her for a Sales Director role in the future.

Sean: What results are you beginning to see for the business?

Kelly: We’ve only just started this initiative, so we need more time and investment in realising individuals’ development plans before the business can report tangible results. But despite the short timeframe, we have already seen some immediate wins. Our succession plan cover ratios have improved as we were able to validate the quality of our bench-strength. We now have sharper and more targeted development plans, which have enabled us to identify opportunities for talent to get the necessary experience and exposure to become Sales Directors. As a result, we have much greater confidence in our talent pipeline. Through this exercise, we’ve also observed a greater sense of collective ownership of our talent pool amongst the current Sales Directors. Importantly, there is now a greater sense of shared responsibility amongst our leadership team to develop our talent across the region. 

Natalie: To date, we’ve moved one leader into a Sales Director role following the assessment, and we are observing good performance so far. The assessment also revealed some “diamonds in the rough”; leaders who were not on our talent radar but have now emerged as potential Sales Directors. Another indicator of success is that leaders have become so comfortable with this assessment approach that the sales teams within our local operating companies have started to embed it in their talent profile. We’ve also started to use the assessment more broadly with our Operational Directors in our Supply Chain organisation as well.

Sean: What tips and advice do you have for people wanting to use assessment to build growth leaders?

Natalie: The close partnership between the business and HR was a crucial ingredient. HR was fully embraced and involved in all the regional business meetings—not just on talent/HR-specific topics. HR went on market visits so they could understand the challenges faced by the Sales Directors. This meant HR could speak the same language as the Sales Directors, understand their challenges, and build trust.

Kelly: I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having senior leadership buy-in and commitment in this process, and it’s not just financial investment, but also the investment in individual development plans. When our talent sees such a level of commitment from our senior leaders, they take even more ownership for their own development. From an organisational perspective, it is also about the commitment and ability to move people around to different roles and projects, and offer our talent the right exposure and developmental opportunities. By having a consistent and structured framework for talent assessment, the organisation has greater confidence in benchmarking and deploying talent within or across the region’s functions.

Sean Huang
 was Managing Consultant at Organisation Solutions based in Singapore. He provided Growth Services to our clients globally. Sean has extensive experience in conducting psychological measurement, leadership and organisational development as well as talent and performance management across a number of industries. Contact Sean


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