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Color Me Fun

The HR team at Crayola promotes a kid-centric culture throughout the company’s global organization to keep the workplace fun and fresh. For more than a century, this manufacturer of fun has inspired children to express themselves colorfully.

By Margaret Brown and Archana Mehta

Imagine a place where “rules for our playground” are the company values, executives include childhood photos on their business cards and you can even draw on the furniture and not get into trouble. Many people would say such a place will have a hard time succeeding in today’s ultracompetitive business world. They would be wrong.

When you walk into the Crayola factory and headquarters in Easton, Pa., with its brightly colored walls and where the faint smell of childhood drifts through the air, you know it is a fun place to work. Home to one of the world’s iconic brands and recognized as a most beloved brand of kids everywhere, Crayola has helped children express their creativity for more than 100 years. One of Crayola’s driving mantras is to be “passionate about helping parents and educators raise creatively alive children who we believe will grow to be inspired, original adults.” That focus on the end result — children — drives every “Crayolian” and imbues work product, meeting structure and even company handbooks.

In fact, Beverly Vogel, director of Compensation, Benefits and Environmental Health and Safety for the company, keeps her office and her training manuals bright and whimsical. “We don’t touch the products every day, but we try to engage employees through kid-inspired programs and by offering our training materials in that tone,” says Vogel. “Our training is serious, but we always want to keep children in mind, so we make our benefits booklets and employee manuals colorful and friendly.”

Vogel has been in human resources for 20 years and has held the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®) certification since 2002. Through studying and testing for her certification, her eyes were opened to the depths of human resources and how it works in the business. Whereas she enjoys how certification has opened doors for her and kept her up-to-date on the profession through recertification, she feels that it most importantly ensures that a professional has the necessary skills to succeed in the HR field.

“People outside HR don’t always understand what we have to know in terms of regulatory and legal compliance, particularly at a place such as Crayola, which has both corporate and manufacturing arms and is in several countries,” Vogel says. “HR is changing constantly in areas such as healthcare, FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] and pensions, for example. Certification keeps you up-to-date.”

The focus on children comes from the top down, according to Lisa Stitt, director of Organizational Effectiveness, Learning and Development and Communication, who has been with Crayola since 2007. “Our desired company culture revolves around our ‘Rules for Our Playground,’ which are kid-friendly and kid-centric behaviors that are easily translated into the workforce,” Stitt explains. “For example, when we say ‘Be Brave,’ we mean be innovative and risk-oriented. Don’t let the competition get ahead.”

To that end, all employees learn the company culture through “kidspeak,” but the intent stays the same. In 2009, the HR team incorporated kid-inspired cultural training into the onboarding process with a half-day immersion into Crayola’s intent to have everyone think like kids and better understand what inspires children to be creative. “We want to have Crayolians keep children’s creativity top of mind,” says Stitt. “We want our employees to keep in mind what inspires kids and to remember what it is like to be a kid.”

One way Crayola does that is by encouraging employees to put either a childhood photo or a photo of one of their children on their business cards and security badge. In addition, those in the corporate office often use the voice of a child for their voicemail greetings. “These types of reminders keep us all focused on our goal ‘color, kids and fun.’ We believe in the magic of imagination,” Stitt continues. “‘What if?’ is the greatest question in the world, and we want to create a workplace that frees the magic of ‘What if?’ for our employees.”

One of Stitt’s roles in the HR department is to help employees understand what the company mission means to them and to keep them kid-inspired, regardless of whether they are in departments that do hands-on work with products. “On a practical level, we think of ways to keep employees kid-focused during meetings by trying to keep the fun in them in some way.

All of our meetings and all of our business objectives focus on the greater mission — our True North — ‘to help parents and educators raise creatively alive children.’ Our CEO [Mike Perry] starts every presentation or meeting with our mission slide first and works from there.”

Michelle Powers, executive vice president of Human Resources and Administration, joined Crayola in 2001 and was drawn to the company because of its size, growth objectives and transformational aspirations. She had previously been in human resources for American Express and JPMorgan Chase and wanted to apply her experience to a smaller organization.

She also joined Crayola because the company has heart. The focus on mission and values from the top level down is a powerful indicator that human resources at Crayola is embedded in the organization. “Every company puts a different value on human resources. Some companies value the administrative side of the profession over the consultative side,” Powers explains. “At Crayola, the HR function is embedded in the organization and that is a result of Mike Perry’s attitude toward it. Our CEO is open to including HR in strategic conversations because he understands that HR is a conduit to the people in the organization.”

The desired outcome is engaged and empowered employees, and, as Powers explains, the most brilliant strategy will not matter if you do not have the right culture and talent to support it. A powerful culture captures employees’ heads and hearts and then gives them the tools, setting and colleagues they need to create a dynamic environment in which they can make a clear connection back to the corporate strategy.

She explains that the way Crayola human resources will evolve is by aligning with the business strategy. One way Powers stays true to this goal is by beginning each year with an outcome focused HR strategy. The planning falls around the strategy. “We need to continue to ensure that the HR team functions as a catalyst and ensure that we’re not just doing things because we always have, but because there is a true business objective.”

Crayola has manufacturing plants and offices in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia and Italy. One of the challenges the HR department faces is ensuring that there is a consistent corporate culture and that Crayolians feel connected to it. “No matter where you go in the world, there are children and adults who care about them,” Powers says. “Kids do several things no matter where they are: play, go to school and color or draw on paper. We help them do that.”

One way the company works to ensure all 1,500 Crayolians are in tune with the culture is through a focused, integrated HR team and having HR employees who know the company culture and understand local labor and other laws around the globe. From talent management to communications and learning and development, the integrated HR team at Crayola works together and with employees to keep the culture alive in all of its offices.

Powers and her team stay connected through weekly, biweekly and monthly HR meetings. “Regardless of where we are in the world, we have one corporate culture, we work to stay connected to the vision and the mission and we keep to the mindset that all Crayolians are leaders and are responsible for pushing ourselves and moving the company forward,” Powers says.

Meghann Corsetti, an HR generalist who holds a Professional in Human Resources (PHR®) certification, is one of those onthe- ground employees who helps keep the culture alive. She got her degree in Public Relations with a focus on human resources and joined Crayola in 2006. As a generalist, she supports multiple facilities for manufacturing as well as The Crayola Experience, the children’s discovery center that nearly 300,000 visit each year. At those facilities, she oversees everything from policy interpretation to training, hiring, termination, business needs, one-to-one coaching and counseling with employees.

Three HR generalists support 500 manufacturing employees at Crayola, and a challenge they face every day is change. The company is currently implementing Lean manufacturing, a production practice that maximizes customer value, while minimizing waste. “There are inherent challenges to change, and we work with employees to help them understand why we are changing,” Corsetti says. “We are streamlining processes and implementing Lean, so HR must ensure that we help make that change happen and communicate the need for change in a way that people understand it and support it going forward.”

Powers and her team work together to keep employees — and the HR function — outcome focused. Building a stronger global company is a combination of working together and with all Crayolians. “HR needs to continue to be a catalyst for growth, inclusion and change,” says Powers. “HR can no longer be a siloed department in a company, but must work across the organization to show the success that can come from the right levels of engagement, talent and enablement with a deep understanding of a company’s business strategy,” she states.

“Aspirationally, from a global perspective, you must be attuned to the markets where you’re selling your product and be willing to work across cultures,” Powers continues. “HR needs to be able to anticipate global challenges and cultural differences and help the business team understand them and overcome them.”

Proof that Crayola has been successful in its mission to keep employees engaged in its brand comes from Nicole Nix, CCP, PHR, compensation analyst. Nix joined the company in 2006 because she loves the fact that Crayola makes products that help kids express their creativity and imagination. “I think our positive culture is evident just by walking through our facilities. You see employees wearing Crayola-branded clothes, displaying product, smiling and working diligently.”

[That focus on the end result-children-drives every “Crayolian” and imbues work product, meeting structure and even company handbooks.]

[“When we say ‘Be Brave,’ we mean be innovative and risk-oriented. Don’t let the competition get ahead.”]

[“‘What if?’ is the greatest question in the world, and we want to create a workplace that frees the magic of ‘What if?’ for our employees.”]