In an industry in which everything moves at a break-neck pace, the people who oftentimes suffer the most from this fast-track environment are new hires. After receiving a rather quick orientation focused on company rules, policies and job requirements, new hires at many offices and plants — both veteran industry employees and novices — are generally pushed into the “Here’s your desk, here’s your phone...lots of luck, you’re on your own” training regimen. Not exactly a recipe for success or a way to groom prospective company leaders.

I recently heard about Chicago Meat Authority’s unique, six-month Leadership Development Initiative (LDI) program, which was launched last year. Jordan Dorfman, president, founder and owner, explains he learned the meat business by working from station to station in a plant, but he wanted to create a new employee training program with a more structured approach.

CMA’s LDI was designed to attract eager, young professionals and provide them with a six-month period to learn as much as possible about every aspect of CMA’s business. This program marks the first time CMA is hiring and training individuals in all functional areas of the company so that once participants complete their training period, they will be able to step into any open positions, assist any existing department when needed — and become the future leaders of CMA.

“We need bright and motivated young people who want to come into an industry — but may not necessarily know where they want to be,” Dorfman says. “I thought we needed to take them through something similar to what I experienced bankers doing. Employees new to the banking industry start off working several weeks in credit, then a couple weeks in marketing, etc. They basically experience all of the different stages and functions of what it takes to run a banking business.”

Dorfman decided that grooming CMA’s own talent through a more formalized structure was going to be more advantageous to the company as opposed to hiring experienced folks or novices from the outside.


   From left to right: Matt Cyr, Joe Welnhofer, Karen
     Gates (HR director), Keely Sibbald, Bill Duncan.
     (Photo courtesy of Chicago Meat Authority)


Sensible approach
Here’s how CMA’s LDI program works. Participants start out with senior employee mentors, who volunteer to walk them through the early stages of a particular job and meet with them weekly to address issues or answer questions. Each LDI participant works two to three weeks on the truck dock and are monitored by a warehouse and logistics mentor. As CMA operates two plants (located across the street from each other), program participants will work in receiving, shipping and then warehousing in both plants. They next move into dry storage and the other stations throughout the business.

By the time they’re finished, LDI participants will have worked in finance, marketing, order entry, logistics — all of CMA’s different processing areas. “It’s a six-month total commitment on our part to take them through,” Dorfman says.

Each LDI participant is rated by his or her supervisor mentors within the various disciplines. Mentors will point out areas needing improvement and development plans are ultimately created for each participant.

“Once participants complete the LDI program, they enter the pool of people who are looking to fill positions at CMA,” Dorfman says. “Our first two LDIs are completing their program in March. By now, we already have a sense on where they will go. Bill Duncan will become a production planner, which is an open position we could have hired from the outside. But thanks to this program, we have somebody who’s very interested in operations who has spent so much time in our operations, who understands our business and all of its nuances. To be able to hire our own trained-and-developed person is ideal.”

Keely Sibbald is also completing the LDI program in March and will work in sales and marketing. She’ll start in an assist and clerical/administration role within CMA’s sales department, but will ultimately end up with her own sales territory. Two other young men — Matt Cyr and Joe Welnhofer — will complete the program around May. “They’re still figuring out what their calling is, while we continue to assess our needs.” Dorfman says. Two more candidates will enter the program in March.

Four people a year will complete the LDI program to ensure CMA has a constant outflow of well-trained people to fill its wide range of staffing needs, he adds. “By the end of six months, we know a lot about these LDI participants...and they know a lot about us.”

LDI program recruiting involves getting tips for candidates from CMA’s friends and family, plus using LinkedIn and placing ads in Craig’s List and Careers in Food on Facebook. Some university campus recruiting is also done. “We’re active at Purdue Univ.,” Dorfman says “We set up a table and recruit out of Purdue fairly extensively. We’ve also been to Kansas State Univ.”

When asked if LDI candidates are paid during this six-month program, Dorfman replies, “very well.”

Karen Gates, CMA’s director of human resources and organizational development, who has been with the company for approximately six months, manages the LDI program. One of her first projects was creating the program curriculum. All LDI participants report to her and take directions from her. Once participants get through the program, they’ll report to the appropriate supervisor within their area of discipline.

“We realize we may turn some people over with our expectations, but we really want to grow our people,” Dorfman says. “We want ‘A ‘players. We’re very committed to building a platform where ‘A’ players are rewarded and stick with us so we’re able to hook our sled to great teams...that’s really the key.”

Hat’s off to Jordan Dorfman for taking the initiative to create such an innovative program. Although the LDI program is still in its early stages, he is confident it will be a real winner for CMA, LDI participants and industry.