Talent Knows No Borders at Veolia

HR specialist Augie Schulke’s global experience helps him assemble and develop a highly skilled team at Veolia

A company’s human resources policies touch every aspect of employees’ lives, and with international companies, the cultures and traditions of each country must be considered and respected. That’s why an international background in HR is valuable for these companies as they seek out employees to run their HR departments.

“That was one of the reasons Veolia hired me: I had a strong international background,” Augie Schulke says. He had worked from 2000 to 2010 for DSM, a Dutch specialty chemical company, and in 2004, he even moved his family to the Netherlands for nearly nine months while he worked on an HR project for the company.

“During those ten years, I really gained a lot of experience traveling around the world, building an understanding of international HR practices,” Schulke says. “You really get to know people and their way of life and learn to be very open-minded, agile, and ready to change and adapt. I’ve been working internationally for close to eighteen years now. The way business is conducted in every country is unique, and the way people interact and work every day is unique. You have to understand the culture and the social system of the country that you’re working in. You have to take into consideration the working style of people. Those different traits have come in handy with me and served me well as I’ve worked at Veolia.”

Schulke started with environmental management company Veolia’s global division in May 2010 as vice president of human resources for Veolia Water Solution Technologies in North America and Latin America. In August 2013, he became chief human resources officer (CHRO) for North America, and he now is also executive vice president of human resources. Headquartered in Paris, Veolia has about 179,000 employees who operate in forty-five countries; about 8,900 work in North America.

Schulke is responsible for all HR activities for the United States and Canada. This includes everything that is a part of the employee life cycle, from talent acquisition, integration, development, and succession planning to HR systems, exit interviews, diversity, labor relations, HR policies, job performance, learning development, and compensation benefits.

A major HR project resulted from an initiative in 2013 by Veolia to consolidate its three formerly autonomous North American divisions—water, energy, and environmental services—into one. The divisions had developed independently of each other as the company grew since its founding in France in 1853.

Consolidating the water, energy, and environmental services businesses into one Veolia North America streamlined the customer experience by offering a single point of contact to help solve a range of complex environmental challenges, Schulke says. The consolidation also helped streamline many duplicated administration and functional activities across the company. However, each former division had its own independent HR policies and practices. So, when Schulke became CHRO in August 2013, he was confronted with three separate HR systems.

“You have to understand the culture and the social system in the country that you’re working in.”

“I was independent of those three organizations,” Schulke says. “Having come from the international division, I had no skin in the game. I just wanted to do what was best for Veolia regardless of past practices. So, I worked with senior leaders and the leadership team to implement programs, policies, procedures, software, and best practices for Veolia. It took about three years to reach the point we’re at now.”

The consolidation of the company meant that each of the former divisions’ managers were unfamiliar with the other’s employees. To bring those who might be suitable for promotion to the attention of each of the company’s managers, the sixty-five-person HR department undertook a massive, two-year project to interview about 1,800 employees who were deemed possible candidates for promotion.

Career development meetings and talent reviews were held with candidates from multiple disciplines in the same room. “What it did for us overall was give us a great landscape of what our talent was, what we were strong in, and what we needed to develop,” Schulke says. Five levels of courses were developed for soft skills, such as management and leadership, along with specialty programs for high-potential employees, women in leadership, emerging talent, and fast-track programs. “It really gave us a foundation for where we needed to go with our talent,” Schulke says.

In September 2016, senior leaders from across Veolia North America met in Massachusetts to address the next challenge: growth. In alignment with Veolia North America’s growth strategy, the HR team plans to focus on driving HR activities in the following themes: establishing career paths for employees, accelerating change management processes, technology upgrades, strategic workforce planning, and developing a coaching/mentoring culture. These five themes will remain top-of-mind in each HR meeting to make sure that Veolia has the skilled employees needed to meet its three-year growth plan’s goals.

The HR department’s efforts have ensured that the right candidates are selected and trained properly for promotion. Veolia North America’s promotion and retention rates are tracked to locate areas where additional work is needed. “We measure our success during the recruitment process and in onboarding the first three months,” Schulke says. “Our scores back in 2013 really were not that great. We were probably in the sixties or seventies. Now, when we measure it, we’re typically in the low nineties for all the categories of talent integration.”

For the future, Schulke wants to get deeper into metrics with more robust HR scorecards and data on time to hire, cost per fill, and scenario planning so employees understand how they can move up in the company. “We’ve done an outstanding job at talent integration,” Schulke says. “New employees feel welcome and are part of a team and get the right training. They have a mentor they can work with to feel integrated into the team. That’s something we’ve really focused a lot on.”

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