Features

Rodney Whitmore – Great Minds

Great Minds HR leader wants great employee engagement

The breadth of Rodney Whitmore’s career in HR extends from soft drinks to software. For more than 30 years, Whitmore has led HR teams regionally and nationally at companies such as Kroger, PepsiCo and The Economist Group, the publishers of CQ Roll Call.

He’s helped businesses evolve and transform in response to  globalization. He’s negotiated contracts with unionized workforces, guided career and professional development initiatives and programs and reduced health insurance costs while improving benefits packages.

Rodney Whitmore | Chief HR Officer | Great Minds

Rodney Whitmore | Chief HR Officer | Great Minds

Now the HR leader with Great Minds, he’s helping the company deliver K-12 curricula in English, math, and science used by students nationwide. He’s also amping up employee engagement and has created a program in which executives at Great Minds train directors, giving employees new purpose.

“I’ve committed my career to HR and helping adults grow and develop,” he says. “At Great Minds I love being a part of an organization that is committed to enabling every child to discover their own greatness through the acquisition of knowledge.”

Knowledge and engagement

Great Minds was founded in 2007 by a group of teachers and educational leaders and continues to be staffed mostly by teachers who design its curricula.

Its products include Wit & Wisdom for English and language arts instruction, Eureka Math and Eureka Math2, and PhD Science. The curricula are provided in print and digital format and they are used by millions of students in the U.S.

“We deliver quality in a way that all children have access to our content,” Whitmore says.

Rodney Whitmore | Chief HR Officer | Great Minds

Because 85 percent of Great Minds employees work remotely, Whitmore says the company didn’t have the issues many companies faced as their offices closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, when he arrived, he also knew the pandemic had increased demands for Great Minds’ digital content—and there were additional employee concerns to address. Those included providing information, tools and resources to keep employees and their loved ones safe and healthy.

“As a virtual workforce, there’s no water cooler talk, obviously, in the traditional sense” Whitmore says. “But there was a sense of caring we doubled down on to make sure people were physically and mentally OK.”

Learning to lead

For instance, to encourage employees to use their paid time off, Whitmore regularly sends senior executives a recap of employees who have high PTO balances so they can remind employees to take time off. Whitmore also revised the time off policy in January so sick days are now PTO—increasing the amount of available time off for any need or purpose.

Whitmore is also encouraging community involvement with a new initiative launched in December 2022. Employees in the Washington, D.C., office were encouraged to support school projects for a neighboring elementary school by contributing a teacher-student gift drive. The effort began a partnership with the school that will continue, he says.

He and his team of 22 also increased access to HR by hosting weekly virtual office hours to meet with managers and employees. The meetings provide support for employee evaluations or to answer questions during enrollment period for health insurance benefits. The meeting hours aren’t limited to those topics, either.

Whitmore and his team also use what he calls “meeting in a frame,” where the internal communications leader (who reports to HR) informs department leaders about upcoming changes, policies and events.

Rodney Whitmore | Chief HR Officer | Great Minds

There’s also a new executive-led leadership development program Whitmore launched in 2022. It’s rooted in discussions he had with executives to determine eight crucial leadership skills Great Minds leaders need.

Between May and December 2022, Great Minds directors attended 90-minute training modules aligned to the eight skills. For each skill area or competency, two executives co-led the modules three times. This kept the groups to about 15 directors per session. Whitmore adds the company is now planning to integrate these learning modules into training for all managers.

Best of all, everything was done without using consultants.

“It’s a chance for our directors to meet senior executives for increased visibility and connectivity. This will help ensure that the leadership core is prepared and trained for the company’s projected growth,” Whitmore adds. “My expectations for this initiative were very high, but they’ve been exceeded in many ways.”

Taking the lead in HR

Whitmore, who earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, began working in HR when he joined the supermarket chain Kroger in November 1985 as assistant HR manager. In his role, he recruited, selected and trained as many as 40 management trainees annually. He also negotiated labor agreements with 9,500 union members.

In March 1992, he joined PepsiCo as senior employee relations representative at its Purchase, New York, facility. Two years later, in September 1994, Whitmore was promoted to regional director of HR for an area extending from Connecticut to Florida. He had risen to corporate director of HR when he left PepsiCo to become vice president of HR for Federated Systems Group in March 1999.

Rodney Whitmore | Chief HR Officer | Great Minds

In November 2000, Whitmore joined Korn/Ferry International as vice president of HR, creating the HR department and functions for operations for the executive search firm in its North and South American operations.

After Whitmore served in executive HR roles at Net Jets and Cardinal Health from March 2003 to September 2008, he began working in media as senior vice president and chief HR officer for Economist Digital and CQ Roll Call.

In December 2014, Whitmore became chief HR officer at George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, a health care organization operating in the Washington, D.C., metro area. He also began teaching HR courses as an adjunct professor at American University in March 2020.

“My mother was a first-grade teacher for nearly 40 years, and education was central throughout my upbringing,” Whitmore says. “The sense of alignment we have at Great Minds in making education and the pursuit of knowledge more accessible for all children—it just doesn’t get any better than that.”

View this feature in the Vol. III 2023 Edition here.

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