A sustainability intrapraneurship story at General Mills Canada: Jessica Kirshenblat-Gooderham
Jessica is the perfect example of a CSR intrapraneur- a sustainability leader creating change from within her company. When Jess started at General Mills as a sales rep almost a decade ago, there were no sustainability teams or green initiatives. Fast forward to today, Jess is the leader of a thriving employee-led team of sustainability minded professionals- a.k.a the General Mills Canada Sustainability Team. In our interview with Jessica, she not only shares how she came up with the idea, but also how she got it sold internally and tips for others looking to do the same. We know that not everyone can find their dream CSR job right away and how hard it is to break into the limited number of CSR roles. Jess’ story provides the inspiration to get your next CSR job, all without quitting your day job.
What inspired you to become an Intrapraneur?
When I started at General Mills 9 years ago, there were no sustainability teams, no green initiatives, and no discussion about developing our business and employees with a forward looking lens to the environment. I started my career as a Retail Sales Rep on the road and the first presentation I gave was called “A Profitably Greener Retail Sales Force”. I saw ways to reduce our environmental impact and knew the way to influence the organization was through driving the discussion toward the bottom line. My boss saw this initiative as equal parts visionary and comical. Nonetheless, he was inspired, and I was given the green light to present my ideas in a boardroom with our VP of HR and VP of Sales. This encouragement drove me to be a part of the inaugural General Mills Canada Sustainability Team with 5 other engaged employees – a team I led and grew for 7 years to follow. What inspires me is passion and following this passion gave me a platform to lead engagement, action, and a new culture of sustainability in our workplace.
This encouragement drove me to be a part of the inaugural General Mills Canada Sustainability Team with 5 other engaged employees – a team I led and grew for 7 years to follow.
Briefly describe the process you took to lead change at work and the work you lead.
The process was simple but the progress was slow as I learned that a lot of people don’t like change! We started as a team of 5 engaged employees, and have since grown to 25+ individuals volunteering time toward initiatives we believe in.
The GMCC Sustainability team has 5 main areas of focus surrounding our objective to “Build a Culture of Sustainability”:
1) Internal Communication & Outreach, 2) Waste Reduction & Building Improvement, 3) Community Commitment, 4) Employee Centric Solutions, and 5) Annual Earth Month.
The process was simple but the progress was slow as I learned that a lot of people don’t like change!
Can you go into more detail about the process to start an initiative like yours?
Here are my 3 key steps:
- Define where you fit in: I developed a relationship and line of informal reporting to the right person for my team’s development. For me, this started with our Director of CSR, and we branded our team as an extension of this division. This was critical in a large organization as navigating approvals, budget, and initiatives required Senior Leadership approval. This merged into a mentorship relationship with someone that believed in empowering employees who are engaged and enabling us with the platform we needed to move our initiatives forward!
- Build Your Mission: You want people to understand your goals, direction and how the team fits in to the broader organization values. Our Mission is to build a daily culture of sustainability among employees that reflects values & commitments we’ve made with our corporate business practices & partners globally. We are committed to thinking globally and activating locally and strive to provide changes in the workplace that enable employee choice toward sustainable living and contributions.
- Be a People’s Champion: If you want to influence employees, champion their causes, make it easy, make it fun, and value their impact, no matter the size. Throughout the year, we work on key initiatives as a smaller team, however, every year, we inspire employees to volunteer and be part something big during a full office “Takeover” during the month of April. Participation could be as a volunteer or participant in any of our workshops, lunch and learns, challenges, contests or volunteer work. This annual Earth Month campaign and its evolving themes have anchored our team’s voice gave me the ability to champion new causes every year for our employees and be a point person for questions, ideas, and opportunities to be a part of the change.
What’s the coolest part about being an Intrapraneur?
The coolest part by far is having a passion project that exists regardless of day to day job responsibilities. It’s a creative outlet and connection to like-minded people who inspire me every day to keep going in this direction. On top of that, it’s the importance of driving social and environmental change within daily business practices. It’s beyond cool to see the changes we are making as a global organization and the pride of being part of this road to positive, measurable impact. (Check out the General Mills 2017 Global Responsibility Report to learn more: https://globalresponsibility.generalmills.com/HTML1/tiles.htm)
It’s a creative outlet and connection to like-minded people who inspire me every day to keep going in this direction.
What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is influencing people to think differently. And budget…budget is always a challenge – but that’s where my day job is Sales comes in handy!
And budget…budget is always a challenge – but that’s where my day job is Sales comes in handy!
What advice would you give other professionals who want to make a difference?
Don’t wait for someone else! Take on the challenge and build up your cause by finding common values to influence those around you. When in doubt, find a mentor either within or outside of your organization, to help navigate the path to impacting change. Chances are, if you are inspired, you will inspire others around you!
Don’t wait for someone else!