Development and Leadership: Peter Fisher, Ventura Foods and JD Sanders, GoalSpan

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – Talent Talk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  Talent Talk connects professionals who care about employee development, leadership cultivating and other talent-related issues. 

Today’s guests are Peter Fisher, Vice President of Organizational and Leadership Development at Ventura Foods; and JD Sanders, HR Consultant and VP of HR for GoalSpan. To hear the entire show, click here.

Leadership is first and foremost a responsibility to your employees and your company, and not about power and prestige. This is a time-tested approach of both Peter Fisher and JD Sanders. When employees are given clear expectations, given opportunity for development shown their career path ahead, communicated to regularly, and given praise, results can soar.

PETER FISHER development          

Fisher is Vice President of Organizational and Leadership Development at Ventura Foods. He began his career working in IT before deciding on a career change to HR and eventually joining Rolls-Royce, where he spent a year in England followed by six years at Pepsi. At Ventura Foods, he manages field operations consisting of approximately 2,000 employees across 11 manufacturing plants.

Line of Sight in the Talent Wars

Fisher very much believes that there exists a war for talent today. Drawing on experience from each of his positions, he explains: “One of the bigger things that I’ve learned when it comes to talent management is really how to acquire the best talent. There really is a war for talent going on out there. It…is the best HR professionals…who win the war.”

But it’s not just finding and hiring them, he contends. “It’s managing them. Showing them that future career, that progression, development and learning.” Ultimately, Fisher feels what every employee wants is a “line of sight” to their future. “‘Give me line of sight to what’s next. What more can I do?’” says Fisher. 

Staying Sharp

Ventura Foods spent a lot of time and effort developing a system they call “Staying Sharp,” a leadership model that identifies 12 core competencies. “It really resonated with employees. We’ve always been developing talent, but providing tools and resources has [created] unbelievable results.”  As effective as the system has been, it’s important to realize continuous improvements to the model are essential for continued employee development. Fisher believes in tweaking it as necessary. He asks himself, “Are the values of the company shifting? Do we need to change any competencies based on where we want to go as a company or what employees are giving us in terms of feedback?”

What to Expect with Millennials

In comparing millennials to others, Fisher contends we’re all essentially the same. “They’re probably no different than you and I were at that age. I tend to think of myself in my mid-twenties, and I probably would say the same things about myself as I would the millennial generation – to be honest.”  There are key differences, he acknowledges. “I think they do have higher expectations of their work experience. They like more feedback, they want more and they want it now. Their employment development may include more frequent conversations.”

That said, Fisher feels 99% of employees, regardless of age, want to be better at their role. “I believe that even someone working on a production line deserves some kind of development. And if it is true that millennials expect more because they’ve been told they’re great and they will do great things, he thinks anyone can do great things. “It’s very rewarding when you help people realize their potential.”

Play to Your Strengths

Not all development is created equal, however, Fisher believes. “Ultimately…the goal of development is to find out what someone’s good at and make them even better at that thing. And not to identify their weaknesses and help them become average at their weaknesses. Ventura Foods wants people who are great at maybe a few things, [and] to make them really great at those things.”

Another area where HR comes into play is in sponsoring mentor programs, creating a win-win for both the leader and employees while fostering employee retention. Fisher explains, “People feel, ‘This company is investing in me. They’re allowing a mentor to spend time with me, and they’re working with me on my development.  Why would I go anywhere else when I’m getting everything I need from this work experience?’”

How Can People Connect with You?

People can connect with me on LinkedIn or can find out information about Ventura Foods at

JD SANDERS development

JD Sanders is an HR Consultant and VP of Human Resources for GoalSpan. He also works in his spare time to help people find jobs, with the strong belief that there is a job for everyone.

As an aid in performance management processing, GoalSpan addresses one big hurdle companies face — the process of journaling. Using GoalSpan, “You can capture things in an efficient and effective way instead of trying to remember. The result is a much better performance management process,” says Sanders.

“Every day I get to get up and do what I do best and what I enjoy the most, which is helping individuals and organizations grow. It’s a great feeling when you see an organization struggling, but then you come in and…the result of your programs and processes helps them move forward in a positive direction,” says Sanders.

Vision, Accountability & Branding

Sanders consistently sees three areas in need of improvement:

  • a lack of alignment on vision;
  • a lack of accountability or ownership; and
  • a lack of clear direction or branding of the culture. 

He explains, “The leader has to establish the vision and the rest of the organization has to support it, and rally and align around that vision. They should be involved with accountability systems and performance management standards.”  And when it comes to reward and discipline, Sanders asserts, “Leaders have to practice what they preach.”

He also sees challenges with HR as a profession overall, but also sees an opportunity for the category to improve its reputation. “One of the biggest issues in HR is they forget they are businesspeople first. The advice I give is to learn and understand the business first and make sure you can support the business in your area of expertise.”

Positive Engagement & Profit

Sanders is adamant that employee engagement and development is critical to driving bottom-line results. He says, “If…people are fully engaged, then there is a positive effect on profitability. If…people are not engaged, it has the direct opposite effect. And so it drains profitability.”

He continues on to share a few proven approaches companies take to improve employee engagement. “Making sure people understand what is expected of them, that they interact successfully with coworkers and they are respected in the workplace will result in higher employee engagement profiles.” 

In working with entrepreneurs as well as large companies, Sanders finds another common issue. “There’s an assumption that employees do not need praise.  There’s an attitude of ‘They should be happy they have a job.’ Yet, the reality is that employees do respond to praise. “The most powerful praise I’ve seen is in catching somebody doing something right in a timely manner and simply saying, ‘Thank you.’ It costs you nothing and it has the biggest impact. It makes people loyal and engaged because they realize what they are doing is appreciated,” shares Sanders.

What are You Reading?

Sanders is reading, “Five Dysfunctions of A Team by Patrick Lencioni and “Boost Your Interview IQ” by Carole Martin.

How Can People Connect with You?

People can connect with me on LinkedIn, or find out information about GoalSpan at

Remember, do what you love….and show the world how talented you can be, today.

Date: January 13, 2015