ryan loken

Tyson Foods Head of HR Policy & Governance Ryan Loken

Ryan LokenTyson Foods Head of HR Policy & Governance Ryan Loken

Explore the multifaceted world of HR with Ryan Loken, Head of HR Policy at Tyson Foods. Uncover the broader impact on communities, the evolving dynamics of HR, and practical insights into enhancing your role. Learn how Ryan leverages the company for positive change, his motivation for community outreach, and the interconnectedness between policy, culture, and business structure. Dive into the transformation of HR from compliance to strategic partnership, with practical examples and self-development strategies shared by a seasoned industry leader. Join us as Ryan discusses his day-to-day responsibilities, the evolving HR landscape, and the mission-driven approach that fuels his professional journey.

Episode Transcript

Rob Stevenson 0:05
Welcome to Talk Talent to me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the front lines of modern recruitment.

Speaker 2 0:12
We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions where they’re willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.

Rob Stevenson 0:21
No holds-barred completely off-the-cuff interviews with directors of recruitment to VPs of global talent, CHROs, and everyone in between.

Speaker 1 0:31
Once I went through the classes and the trainings and got the certifications through diversity inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.

Ryan Loken 0:39
Talent Acquisition. It’s a fantastic career, you are trusted by the organization. You get to work with the C suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between and everybody knows you.

Rob Stevenson 0:52
I’m your host, Rob Stevenson, and you’re about to hear the best in the biz. talk down to me. Welcome back, you wonderful Rabel of recruiting HR and human resourcing people operating darlings out there in podcast land. It’s me Rob back with another episode of your favorite recruiting podcast. And I have a great guest for you. Like I always do, but this one’s especially great. I mean it. He is the head of HR policy and governance over at Tyson Foods. Ryan Loken, Ryan, welcome to you.

Ryan Loken 1:21
Hey, thanks, Rob. Glad to be here.

Rob Stevenson 1:23
How’s the week going? Where it’s a Tuesday morning where you know, settling in trying to get stuff done, how everything’s looking over there for you.

Ryan Loken 1:29
It has been wild. That is it’s been a great week, we started off actually working from home with an ice storm yesterday morning, and all the roads cleared off. So we’re back in the office today. running full throttle me it’s been fantastic.

Rob Stevenson 1:42
In your role. Are you mostly in meetings? Are you mostly doing strategy? What does your calendar look like? Does it look like a six year old Tetris board? Or do you get time for deep work? I’m curious how you spend your time.

Ryan Loken 1:52
It kind of varies. If I look at my calendar, right now, there is a variety of colors and timeframes. I would say I spend a lot of my time in meetings, having a lot of internal meetings, meeting with internal stakeholders, driving a lot of our policy pieces and aligning our policy to our culture and our values. And then meeting with external stakeholders looking at it today, and I actually blocked off 45 minutes on my calendar specifically, to prepare for another meeting. It’s rare that we get think time, right? Where as any HR professional will likely tell you there’s you’re pulled in 1000 different directions. And there’s no typical day. So I think your description of the calendar is pretty accurate. When I look at all the different color codings we’ve got going on here today. What is the meeting, you’re prepping for what I’m actually preparing for today, it’s actually not related to my job at all. It’s working with a nonprofit. I serve on a board for what’s called the Elizabeth Richardson center that provides support and care and job opportunities for persons with disabilities. I’m prepping for the meeting with a couple of the board members on how we can approach legislators to be better advocates for some of the programs that we’re trying to watch.

Rob Stevenson 3:09
Is this considered a pro bono thing for Tyson? Or is this a fully Ryan Logan’s side hustle?

Ryan Loken 3:14
there’s no money in it, right? It’s a goodwill thing. It’s something to give back to the community. And is it helpful that I work for Tyson and that we’re partnered up with nonprofits in the community that we work and play? Absolutely. It’s beneficial? Is it something that I have to do as part of my job? No, it’s something that I enjoy doing and something that I wanted to do and be involved in me as someone that has a disability myself and thinking about how that’s impacted. Not only my growing up, but my career, I want to be able to give back and hopefully provide a better future. For those who may not have the same opportunities that I did.

Rob Stevenson 3:57
When you think about the best way for you to contribute to the nonprofit is it couched mostly in your experience with your own disability? Or are you just like across the board, we can look at ways to make things more accessible no matter the disability. We can remove bias these sorts of things. How would you say your approach is sort of structured?

Ryan Loken 4:15
It’s a combination of a number of things. So I’ve only been on the board a short period of time and I look at it through a couple of different lenses. Certainly I look at it through the services that were available for me as a person with a disability early on and early career. But I also look through it as a business, right. There’s a profit and loss statement that we have to work with. There’s services, there’s costs, there’s expenses, there’s reimbursements. And then I look at it through the HR lens of how are we developing the staff? How are we making sure that we’re paying appropriately for the services rendered? How are we making sure that we continually develop our clients and our staff for me really this opportunity Ready to serve and give back is a combination of my personal and professional experience.

Rob Stevenson 5:07
Interesting. So your role in the board is a little bit more like the business dealings, right? You have all these corporate muscles, right? You developed over your career. And you can kind of lend some of that half to the nonprofit. Is that the idea?

Ryan Loken 5:18
Yeah, exactly. And so there’s several people on the board from different backgrounds, different walks of life, different careers, etc. And so where I bring the most value is the combination of my, my skills, my experience, and some of the things that I’ve seen. But it’s really kind of fascinating, because this is my first foray if you will, into board work. And when I think about the HR professionals that we have, now, HR business partners are a combination of everything, he used to be a time when HR professionals were just focused on compliance, they would be the person that you came to, to investigate issues, or they would be the person finding the issues investigating holding people accountable, doling out punishments, etc. But now, they HR business partner is a true business partner. And that’s why we have business in the name, because they are counseling their customers on not only people matters, but also metrics that impact the profit and loss statement for the company, or the department or the division that they support. They’re also responsible for the engagement, they’re responsible for showing the ROI. They’re responsible for being a listening ear for that top level leader. And then responsible for actually having business acumen and making business calls actually saw a thing not long ago, an article that came up that indicated that in the future, when we look at succession planning, in the future, the CHR o may be equal, as qualified to be a CEO, as the CEO, my thought was fascinating. I kind of diverge there a little bit from our talk about board work. But I really do think that if you have a background in HR, and if you’re performing that HR business partnership role, it gives you skills way beyond just the role that you’re assigned to or that you’re working in. So for me, that led to some work in board work and getting into that, but for others, it may lead them down a completely different path.

Rob Stevenson 7:20
Yeah, I tend to agree with that article you’re citing I feel like I brought it up on the show before but my take on it is that the senior folks on the HR side of the business interface with every department in a way that really only the CEO does, right, like your chief revenue officer may interface with sales and marketing a little bit, your technology, things may group together, but the people side, the HR side that comprises everyone. So you have to have this literacy in every arm of the business and ability to work with all of them, which yeah, that feels like the CEO role in a nutshell. In any case, you mentioned that HR for a long time was sort of the the compliance police right the the fun stopper. And now there’s this more far reaching role and now you have this this true business partner approach to the role. What do you think precipitated that change?

Ryan Loken 8:03
When you mentioned the word fun stopper, it actually reminded me of kind of a story from my own career, where I was working for another company and based on compliance and safety and all the right reasons. I may have canceled the program or proposed a different way of doing it and and I was forever known as the person who killed Halloween.

Rob Stevenson 8:27
Well, your candy away Ryan’s coming.

Ryan Loken 8:29
Yeah, exactly. Hide the decorations, nothing to see here. We’re working. You know, I think about my career when I first got in HR, I did not like it. I might as well have worn a Sheriff’s Badge. Because you really were the compliance police. You were building playbooks building rules, doing a lot of things, HR things for HR sake, doing a lot of HR, so you could tell other HR professionals that you did HR work, doing a lot of HR things, because I was the most recent HR article that you read, and you wanted to be a successful HR professional. And it was fine for the time, right? It was fine for the time. But as companies evolve, and companies have to pivot to changes in customer to changes in employee base, to changes in employee requirements, if you will, flexible work, remote work. I think all of these changes in your employee base, have led to HR becoming mandatory really mandatory becoming a true HR business partner. Because from when I think about my very first role, it was easy for me to teach supervisors, our HR processes, here’s the rules. Here’s how to follow them. Here’s where there’s some gray area. And if you have really studious supervisors and managers, they become I’m responsible for that compliance, they become accountable to providing the advice to their team members having the conversations with their employees. And so in some ways, if you do that, well, the traditional HR person isn’t necessarily needed, right? You work yourself out of a job. And that’s something I’ve done successfully over the years. And I can tell you more about that later. But the companies now require that we have some entity that can bring all of the pieces together from an organizational health landscape, right? How does my engagement affect my output, my productivity? How does my attendance policy, vacation policy, how do these things impact output, performance, and ultimately profit. And you realize that a majority of these metrics tie back to HR processes and systems and requirements. And so to me, HR is positioned better than any other department to be able to look across those metrics, garner the insights, and provide feedback, provide influence, provide ideas, provide concepts, provide programs to your customer, whether that’s a manager of our department or the CEO, in helping bridge gaps that you identify through your insights, do them cost effectively, and show the ROI. So now you have an organization, that is not just the compliance police, but they are aiding in running the business. Another benefit you’ll see from that is, the more your HR people are involved in the business, the more passionate they are about the work they do, the more passionate they are about the brand of the company. And the better, they will actually sell the company to customers, or sell it to candidates. And the better, they will create a living breathing employment brand, right? We’ve all seen the employment brands that are words on a page. But when you can bring it to life through the actions of your HR department, which then inspires bringing it to live through the actions of the people that you support. That’s how you have a living, breathing employment brand.

Rob Stevenson 12:30
Yeah, it’s well put and this need or desire on behalf of people working in this space to not merely be administrative people, right to not merely be compliance, please. But see how it all hangs together and how the HR role is in the middle of all of it. That’s maybe the answer to my question, why it has become more strategic, less of the compliance police and fun stopper over the years. If you’re listening to this, and you’re someone who’s like, Okay, I do feel more like an administrative person, I want to be more strategic, right? I want to be connecting the dots of my work to the bigger picture. What do they do?

Ryan Loken 13:03
Pause, pause. And without sounding too transactional here, make a list of the activities that you do track your activities throughout the day, and whether it’s transactional, what have you track your activities throughout the day that identify for each activity? Why do you do that? Why is it important to someone? Why is it important to you? Why does it what isn’t important to the company? And then what benefits do you get from it? And then look at each of those actions now that you understand the benefits now they understand why you do it, who is important to who it’s important for, then I would start to look at some metrics. So ask yourself, continue asking yourself, why five times. So I’ll use one transactional example, from a small business that I talked to not long ago, they said they’re struggling on how to transform themselves. They’re a one person shop, from being transactional kind of office manager to being strategic, they want to have more impact on the business. And I said, Okay, did you payroll? And they said, Yes. I said, all right. Why do you do payroll? Well, so we can make sure that we’re paying our team members on time. Why do you want to pay your team members on time? Well, so they stay with us. And so that way, they come to expect that this is a reoccurring thing that they will be paid appropriately for your time. Why do you want to pay him appropriately for their time? Well, because we want them to stay we want to be fair, were an employer that believes in paying appropriately for the work being conducted. Well, why do you want to do that? Well, because of when she finally broke down, and she’s like, well, because without it, we wouldn’t have any people. Right? I said, Okay. Well, now just looking at that one exam,

Rob Stevenson 14:45
the fundamental agreement of the work right, right?

Ryan Loken 14:48
exactly right. But you can tell she was getting kind of frustrated. I said, so look, you can process payroll day in and day out. Or you can look at and go, are we paying the right amount? once for the work being conducted, how do you determine what those amounts are? If you’re working on payroll, you’re seeing overtime, when you look at overtime, does that overtime exceed what it would cost for an additional headcount? Is it sustained over time? How is it sustained over time? I think you can look at each of the transactional things that you do at a deeper level, and then glean insights that you can then take back to your business and say, I think we should do X, maybe it’s maybe it’s I think we should add more headcount, maybe it’s, I think we should change our headcount or our mix or our employee base, but you will glean insights. And that’s how you become a business partner. Now, the next question that they usually ask is, that sounds really great on a white paper. That sounds really great on podcast podcasts, right? But how do I have the time to do it? Yeah, well, sometimes you have to just schedule it for yourself, you have to take the time, we are all extremely busy. And if you don’t take the time, it won’t be given to you.

Rob Stevenson 16:06
That is absolutely true. And you’re right, people do get bogged down with the roll in front of them. And, frankly, you may not be getting paid or you may not be incentivized to have that strategic point of view, like you said, payroll is a great example. The payroll has to it has to go out everyone has to get paid, it’s super important to restore business, right? Okay, so you need to be there to push that button. But okay, once you push that button, take some time to reflect on why and could it be better and et cetera, I’ll ask you ask all those questions. You may not be incentivized on that. But it’s such like a paradox, because it’s like, while you’re not incentivized on it, it’s the way you advance in your career, right. So you kind of have to make the space for it yourself. If your boss isn’t making the space for it

Ryan Loken 16:51
that leads to self-development, right? With every job we hold, we learn some things. And you may be where there’s so many different directions, I can take this to be candid, because they’re using that example, to payroll, it starts with what you want, right? If you want that job, and you don’t want to grow. And that can be for a wide variety of reasons. Maybe you don’t want to grow your career now, because of family obligations. Maybe you don’t want to grow your career now, because you have outside competing factors, maybe don’t want to grow your career now, for a variety of reasons. But you might want to down the road, we have to be honest with ourselves and say that is fine. That is fine. You are doing what you need to do your processing payrolls, getting out on time, it’s accurate, you are meeting the measurement of the job that you’re in, right. And it’s okay. That you don’t want to grow in that. Now others may want to grow, they may say I don’t want to do this forever, I know I can add greater value, I want to do something that impacts more people, I want to do things that influence more I want to give back I want to grow, then it’s a matter of taking those things that you learned, and finding ways to learn more. It’s self motivation or self ambition. So I started my career in call center management and radio, right? I had no aspirations of ever being in HR. But I knew I wanted to do more. So radio, when I realized I wasn’t going to go very far with that as a career. But I honed kind of my conversational skills and a few other things. That helped me a call center management, in call centers. I did the job. And I learned how to utilize systems with customers. And I was like, Man, I wonder if we can use this same I mean, back then the internet was brand new, because I’m old. But I wonder if we can use the same technology on recruiting candidates. And that led to me going into recruiting. So if you’re curious, you can always learn more from your job than you’re really expected to. And that’s that self motivation piece I was talking about.

Rob Stevenson 19:10
You know, yeah, the curiosity piece that feels like it’s at the core of every person who is connected to their work, right, because they’re asking smart questions. They’re excited to find the answer and lead you in new places. That’s a it’s kind of reductive, but I do feel like the people I meet who are really, really fulfilled in their role, they have that in common curiosity as a base human trait. However, it’s so interesting that I feel like you’ve shared all this wisdom with us. And yeah, I don’t think we’ve talked about your job at all.

Ryan Loken 19:42
We’re talking about lamps. I mean, so coming from a policy guy, we’re talking about foundation work, we touched on DNI, we’ve touched on development, we’ve touched on HR transformation. You know, each one of those topics can be a podcast on their own right.

Rob Stevenson 19:56
That’s right. And I call it out because I do feel like it’s because As you’re curious, man, you know, and because you had this career in lots of different places, and because you think about this stuff, but how does it all tie back? If your current role were to draw a circle around all this stuff? How would you describe that?

Ryan Loken 20:10
So when I think about my current role, I have to think about the journey that it took to get here. So like you mentioned before, I started out my career in call centers, and then in recruiting, and then I went to HR didn’t really care for it went into training and knowledge management, and then back to HR. And I’ve always been drawn to roles that allow me to help people, I’m not a people pleaser, necessarily. But I do like to know that we are making the world better for someone, whether it’s a customer, whether it’s a candidate, whether it’s a client, or whether it’s just the people I work with every day. But I have that instinctual need that just says I want to make tomorrow, better than today, just in every aspect of my life. That’s how I roll. And I’ve never really had aspirations of having this title or that job or this thing. It’s always been a situation of how do I make my job more efficient? How do I make my team more efficient? How do I make the work that we’re working on either automated, and so we can focus on more of the insights versus focusing on the tactical pieces. And that’s led to a couple of job changes. Some were actually stepped down in my career. And we can talk about the lattice versus the ladder and career development if you want at some point. But I’ve never chased a title, I’ve always chased a mission. And so my current role, I have had a conversation with my boss at the time, and what I’d call my personal board of directors, those that I trust that I said, I’ve got people reaching out to me about CHRO opportunities, but I personally don’t think I’m ready. And I don’t want to have impostor syndrome. And if I interview for these roles, I don’t want to have a gap. Like when I go I want to go full throttle, right. And everyone agreed that I’ve done all the people facing things, right. I’ve done recruiting, I’ve done HR business partner, I’ve led large teams, I’ve supported large organizations, I’ve been on the big stages, but I have never shaped something from an enterprise perspective. And when you think about the CHRO, like we talked about earlier, being that successor to the CEO, being that person that’s tied in to all aspects of the company scna cost, value proposition to customers and candidates. It starts with building the frameworks and building the policies. And I was thinking to myself, Man, that is the least sexy job on the planet, it sounds terrible. But then after I did some research and talk with a few people, I realized that the only way to drive culture, we’re not the only way. But one of the best ways to drive culture and your company values is through policy. Because the culture and the values that you align with your leadership on the words you put on a page. If those are not reverberated throughout your policies, they will not be executed through your procedures. And they won’t be executed through your programs. And that puts you in a position where your culture and your values become words on a page. Maybe they’re a sign on the front door, but they’re not felt by team members. So I’m a firm believer now that culture and value drive policies, policies, drive programs, and programs drive procedures. And I’ll give you an example from another company. But this is the example that really got me kind of excited about this role. When you look at the most successful CHR OHS. They were able to drive a culture and a set of values that drove profit for the company. And there’s a big line in between as to how they did that, but that’s what they accomplished. And so I think about a company that wore kind of on their sleeve, you if you will is on their website, it was on all their things, their culture was judgment based decision making. They wanted to empower their supervisors, their leaders and their team members to make the best decision for their position for themselves and for the company. Right. That was their mission. Very inspiring is very a one company approach, but allows for you to have some individual decision making based on the metrics and based on the information you have readily available. That sounds great sounds like a fun place to be. All of their policies. Were 100% punitive. So I talked to the candidate who worked for this for work for this company. And they’re like, Yeah, you know, you are he kind of joked that, yeah, the culture was, you are enabled to make the best decision for your department. It’s very open and collaborative, what he felt was, you are enabled to make the decisions that your leadership would make. And if you think differently, let’s collaborate so I can tell you what to do. Right? Everything had a policy. And that’s why I’m looking at this going. The gap in my career really is that ability to work on behalf of the enterprise, and grow and live out our culture through our policies and procedures and practices, which my hope is that it’ll make an impact. So that way, we can focus on ensuring that what candidates here is what they feel, and if what they feel is what they’ll tell others. And that creates a full circle where you truly become the most sought after place to work,

Rob Stevenson 26:16
and where you become an CHRO.

Ryan Loken 26:20
Well, I don’t know about all that. Maybe someday, right? Maybe someday, but it’s, it’s certainly not a race. If you enjoy what you’re doing. And you have the ability to be curious every single day. I think I’ve been very blessed in my career. And so who knows, maybe someday?

Rob Stevenson 26:35
Well, if you’re being approached for these roles, and you’re saying to yourself, I don’t have this one particular experience my tool belt, I’m not ready. Don’t you think you should feel not ready? Don’t you think that a big step up like that should be a little uncomfortable?

Ryan Loken 26:49
It should, I mean, if you don’t get a little nervous about something, we can take this down a couple different roads to if you don’t get a little nervous about something, whether it’s a presentation or podcast, or a new job, if you don’t get a little nervous about it. It doesn’t mean anything to you. People get nervous around things that they care about mean something, yeah, that they care about. Right. So I think you should get a little bit nervous for sure. Is it a big step? Kind of depends. I mean, I’ve had the fortune of running large organizations, large HR groups, supporting multibillion dollar divisions. So you had to put it in perspective. But I’ll tell you this, even if it was a smaller company that was comparable to organizations that I’ve run, it might be considered a big step. But some advice I’d give people on that is don’t chase titles either. So I look at every job, every company I’ve had the privilege of working at, they had a cool factor, right? If somebody called me and was like, hey, we’d really like to have you as a chro. For this. No Name company that nobody’s ever heard of, and our products really not that great. And we’re failing. That sounds terrible. But if somebody called me for, they’re like, Hey, we’re CHRO for a small company. We know you use our products. You’re invested in our company, you’ve been following us for a long time. That’s cool. Because I’m interested right? When I made the transition from swans to Walmart, the cool factor was all Mart was the number one it still is the number one company in the world. Who is going to say no to go from small town, Midwest America, to go work for the largest company on the planet fortune one, right? Yeah, Fortune one legit. That was my catchphrase for when I call people or send them cold emails.

Rob Stevenson 28:41
I’ve worked for a Fortune one company like, oh!

Ryan Loken 28:45
It was always funny to send these. You know, looking back now, it always sounded kind of cheesy, because like reaching out to you at a confidential search for this position, representing the Fortune One company called Z. Yeah, who could have been? And then when I left Walmart, right, the cool factor for Tyson was that I would get a chance to work with a geographically dispersed organization. I had never supported a sales or CPG. company before. And so for me, that was cool. It was like a Walmart, I got to represent Walmart, right? But now at Tyson had the opportunity to represent a whole host of brands. And I want to learn what is that? Like? What does that mean? What is it like to support a geographically differentiated organization? What is it like to support the CPG who’s a supplier to Walmart, right? There’s got to be a little bit of a cool factor. If you’re looking for your next job, because if you’re, if you’re looking for your next role and just focus on money or title, those things fade. If there’s a cool factor for you, whatever that is to you, right? Whatever that is to you. If there’s a cool factor If there’s an ambition, if there’s an inspiration, if there’s a purpose, if there’s a mission, if there’s something that draws you to that company, then it might be the right job for you.

Rob Stevenson 30:12
It is great advice, Ryan at the end of episode full of great advice. So here as we creep up on optimal podcast length, I would just say this has been really fun. We didn’t cover any of the topics we intended to none. But that made for a great episode nonetheless. So thank you for being here. Thank you for your candor. And of course for your curiosity Ryan, this has been great. Thank you for being here today.

Ryan Loken 30:31
Thanks, Rob.

Rob Stevenson 30:35
Talk talent me is brought to you by hired hired empowers connections by matching the world’s most innovative companies with ambitious tech and sales candidates. With hired candidates and companies have visibility into salary offers competing opportunities and job details. Hired unique offering includes customized assessments and salary bias alerts to help remove unconscious bias when hiring. By combining technology and human touch, our goal is to provide transparency in the recruiting process and empower each of our partners to employ their potential and keep their talent pipeline full. To learn more about how we can help you find your next great hire, head to hire.com/tt2M