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How HR leads work reinvention at Tree Top

A case study from The Future Chief People Officer: Imagine. Invent. Ignite.

Future of Work|Talent|Total Rewards
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February 4, 2020

How Tree Top automated work to improve its focus on value-added, variable tasks requiring technical skills.

This case study is an excerpt from The Future Chief People Officer: Imagine. Invent. Ignite. The study reveals the key skills, mindsets and behaviors that will help the chief people officer of the future shape rigorous and innovative human capital solutions.


Tree Top, a grower-owned fruit processing cooperative, provides fruit ingredients to more than 20 of the world’s top 25 food companies and branded fruit products across the United States. Contributing to its competitive market position is Tree Top’s use of advance technology in its plants.


The challenge


At the start of the 2018 fiscal year, Tree Top embarked on a work transformation project in its plants with the goal of optimizing the use of automation. In particular, it was looking to automate lowerlevel, repetitive work such as fruit checking and data entry in order to improve its focus on higher value-added, more variable tasks requiring technical skills.


The approach


Instead of playing a more traditional supporting role, helping the business align aspects of the talent life cycle after changes and capital investments were made, HR executives led the initiative. This involved thinking through work reinvention to determine which tasks should be automated, how work should be reinvented using a combination of automation and human talent, and where the work should be completed.

Approaching this project through an HR lens at the onset resulted in significant production efficiencies and even improved the safety of some of the lower-level processes that engineers might not have considered

Only once these ideas were fleshed out were the engineers and technicians brought into the project. Approaching this project through an HR lens at the onset resulted in significant production efficiencies and even improved the safety of some of the lower-level processes that engineers might not have considered. Through this type of work, HR generated ideas that could eliminate 5% of total hourly production positions.


The results


As a result, Tree Top has changed part of its capital investment strategy to include labor optimization and process improvement ideas fueled by HR. After reviewing the revised strategy, the board of directors requested additional project ideas. When extra capital investment dollars became available in the 2019 fiscal year, these were among the first initiatives to be funded.

Operations and executive leaders now look to benefit from HR’s insight and participation in other cross-functional projects. Tree Top’s CHRO, Scott Washburn, refers to this approach as “leading with the work and not with technology.”

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