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3, 2, 1 iRelaunch Podcast: Employer Edition

Everything employers need to know about launching and expanding returnships and return to work programs

3 2 1 i Relaunch Podcast Employer Edition 1080 x 1080 03 Succession Planning
Episode Three

Succession Planning for the J&J Re-Ignite Program Leader, with Sarah Klopfer & Liz Markus

Sarah Klopfer is the Program Leader of the global Re-Ignite return-to-work program at Johnson & Johnson. In this role, Sarah works to help individuals return to their professional passions after a career pause. Liz Markus is the former Director of the Re-Ignite program and currently heads the Global Talent Management Partnership Group. In this episode, we will speak with Sarah and Liz about the Re-Ignite program and some of the key steps involved with the transition of the program management role from Liz to Sarah, including the most critical component of a successful handoff. 

Liz was a previous guest on our 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch podcast where she discussed recruiting for the Re-Ignite program.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, Employer Edition. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. In this podcast series for employers, we will discuss the most important topics in launching, running and expanding employer return to work programs. Whether your organization is starting a return to work program, has piloted one, or is running a mature program, our goal is to share innovations and best practices in an effort to hire and support as many Relaunchers as possible.

Today, we welcome Sarah Klopfer and Liz Markus. Sarah is the program leader of the global Re-Ignite return to work program at Johnson & Johnson.

In this role, Sarah works to help individuals return to their professional passions after a career pause. Sarah's five years at Johnson & Johnson have been in a variety of human resources roles, including as an HR business partner and project and program leadership roles within Global Talent Management.

Liz is the former director of the Re-Ignite program. She is currently head of the Global Talent Management Partnership group, which leads and deploys talent to execute on a portfolio of initiatives aligned to the global talent management strategy and roadmap. These programs impact acquisition and mobility, succession, performance management, assessment, and selection, workforce analytics and development projects.

In this episode, we will speak with Sarah and Liz about Johnson & Johnson's Re-Ignite program and the handoff of the program management role from Liz to Sarah. Sarah and Liz, welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the Employer Edition.

Sarah Klopfer: Thanks so much for having us Carol excited to be here with you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: It's great to have both of you here together.

And Sarah, I'm wondering if you can start by telling us briefly about your career path to date and when you took over the Johnson & Johnson Re-Ignite program.

Sarah Klopfer: I'd love to, thank you Carol. So I spent my first seven years out of undergrad with my English literature degree, working in financial services, mostly in client services and user experience roles.

And I then went to Boston College to earn my MBA where I was lucky enough to earn a role at in J & J for their HR LDP, human resources leadership development program internship. And I really enjoyed the experience and was able to join full-time after I graduated from my MBA program. And what was really special about the program was it offered me the opportunity to try out different areas of HR across Johnson & Johnson.

So I spent time in talent acquisition. I had the opportunity to learn to be an HR business partner. And I spent time in our total rewards organization. And since graduating that program, I've been in global talent management in various roles related to project and program management. And I was thrilled to step into the role of global Re-Ignite leader back in July of 2021.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. Thank you. Liz, can you please tell us briefly about your history managing Re-Ignite program? A little bit about what you were doing before and what you're doing now?

Liz Markus: Absolutely. So about three and a half years ago, I was lucky enough to find the opportunity to lead Re-Ignite really just by looking on our careers page at Johnson. I had been in supply chain for 10 years previously and was not necessarily looking for or identifying for a role similar to Re-Ignite. But when I read the job description as an opportunity to start a program that hadn't existed at Johnson & Johnson, to take a pilot and bring it to fruition globally across our organization, I really jumped at the chance. I had worked at a startup for five years before Johnson and this type of opportunity was something I knew would be once in a lifetime.

And so luckily for me, the team looked at my experience of supply chain, combined with talent, combined with an opportunity to lead projects and programs, and really came together to be the perfect opportunity for both me and for the Re-Ignite program. And so I was able to do that for the last three and a half years, prior to moving into my new role here in the global talent management space.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you so much. And I just want to underscore what you said about it being a rare opportunity to develop a program from scratch, a new brand new onboarding program for a brand new talent pool, that doesn't come along every day.

So from a program or from a leadership development perspective and someone who is visionary, who is inside an organization, those of you who are either leading programs or thinking about it, it's really an exciting opportunity and an unusual one. Sarah, before we get into some details about how you both handled the handoff can you briefly review the features of the Re-Ignite program?

Sarah Klopfer: Sure Carol, I'm happy to. So at Johnson & Johnson, our return to work program is typically a four to six month returnship program where we bring talented individuals back into the workforce when they've had a break for two or more years and give them an opportunity to do real life work in a real role at Johnson. And understanding that it can be hard to come back from a break, we provide opportunities to help them with that transition back to work. So that includes, again, making sure that their projects are based on their professional passions. We have comprehensive onboarding, an industry specific skills training, and we make sure that they are set up with mentors and alumni buddies to help them with that transition, to have go-to folks, both were in the organization that they're in, as well as folks who have also returned to the organization and had the same kind of experience of transitioning and going through the motions of coming back to the workforce. And then of course there's a community that comes along with it. So we meet regularly to ensure that we're learning from each other, introducing ourselves to each other and getting together for various development opportunities.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And that's one of the critical advantages of being in a program that has been running for a while is that you have the community and you have this critical mass of Relaunchers inside the organization who can be mentors who can give feedback and whose stories can be featured. It's really exciting that the program is mature and at that point, and we've always envisioned a world of what would it look like when there were a lot of Relaunchers inside an organization and we're really getting there. So that's exciting. Sarah, can you comment on what's involved in the day-to-day management of the program?

Sarah Klopfer: Absolutely.

So one of the things that's really key is just making sure that hiring managers and HR leaders across J & J understand what the program is, that it exists, how we can help them include Re-Ignite as part of their talent acquisition strategy. So we meet with them regularly, both myself, we have champions across the organization who are advocates for Re-Ignite, as well as recruiters who really are, boots on the ground, helping to get the word out and partnering with our leaders.

We also provide, as I mentioned earlier, some development opportunities. So I work with different folks so that returners can get exposure to different areas of the business, different leaders learn from their career journeys as well. We also founded a while back a Re-Ignite coaching program specifically about different topics that someone might be interested in as they're thinking about reigniting their career.

And what we actually found was these were topics that folks around Johnson & Johnson, were really interested in, as everyone starts to think about how do I want to continue developing and igniting my career. And so it's now a program that's open to all Johnson & Johnson employees. And it's a piece of Re-Ignite that we can share with others.

It's really nice to have that opportunity and work with some of our internal Johnson & Johnson coaches, honestly, who volunteered to do this as part of our program. And the other thing that I feel really lucky for, Carol is honestly, the relationship that I have with you and your team that we partner on.

And also you've helped me connect to other employers who have programs, and it's a really nice opportunity to help share best practices so that we can all let the world know that these returnships are really great opportunities, both for companies and the returner, and also to help further develop and evolve our own program.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you Sarah, for saying that. And it's wonderful working with you and it was wonderful working with Liz as the program emerged and evolved. So I appreciate that. It's interesting about you saying that the coaching program that started as now of interest to people outside of the program. And just to people who didn't take career breaks or have different situations. And that's one of the things that we've always thought about in terms of when you have this opportunity to essentially create a new onboarding program to create a new experience for this new pool, you are either pulling from other modules that are from other parts of the company's onboarding programs, or maybe you have to create something new like you did.

And then that becomes like the new standard or a new feature that wasn't there before. And I just love that it has this broader appeal. Thank you for mentioning it. And also the idea that the program is, has become part of the talent acquisition strategy of J & J. Liz, can you, I'm guessing the handoff had a lot of pieces to it, and there are a lot of details there, but I'm wondering if you can share a sampling of some of the steps that you took when you were thinking about what did you need to do to hand off this big responsibility from you to Sarah?

Liz Markus: The most important thing about the handoff was really ensuring that the proper documentation was there for Sarah, as much as I want to be there day in and day out to support her.

I knew there would be a point in time where she would need reference material, that she could access that could go back to day in and day out. So even before I knew that it was Sarah that would be taking this role, I made sure that I went through my day to day and documented those, even those little things that I did that I may not have thought about or the connections of the networks of people that I interacted with to really help her feel that she could run this program on her own without constantly having to pick up the phone.

Of course, again, I'm always there for Sarah to pick up the phone. But part of the transition that's so important is to allow that individual to feel that they own and can run and lead the program. And there's so many nuances when we think about our program that come to play, that we need to make sure that we consciously document all of that throughout our day-to-day.

So the transition does not happen that moment that person is hired and you're handing them the keys to the kingdom of your return program, it happens when you know that you're moving on and you start to think about what that journey would look like for the person replacing you. And so that's really important.

It's not just about that moment in time. And here's the two hour block of time that we have to go through everything you do for the returnship program. It is going to be a continuous journey to document and upload everything that you do.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And so I love this idea of the balance between transferring knowledge, but also having the new person, Sarah, at this case have ownership over her how she thinks she's going to lead the program and what vision she has for it. And this idea that it is a really big job and it's multifaceted, it has many constituencies that, that you have to respond to. And I could totally see how this is not one of these, pass the baton over a two-hour kind of meeting and then everyone moves on, that it's much more involved than that.

So was there a milestone moment when both of you felt like that that turnover was actually more [inaudible]?

Sarah Klopfer: Carol, it's interesting. I came in at just the right time where Liz happened to be joining you for an external engagement. So I was very lucky early on in my transition that I got to see Liz in action, really being able to talk to the program.

And, as I mentioned earlier, part of this role is also helping the rest of the world, those who might want to return understand what is Re-Ignite, helping employers see the value in having these types of programs. So I had the opportunity to see her at an event talk about all these different aspects of both Re-Ignite and the concept of return to work programs.

So that was especially wonderful to see both you and her have that interaction. So that was a good learning experience for me. It was probably about six weeks or so over the course of period of time where, you know, joining Liz for some meetings, like she said, she prepared a lot of content for me, spend time introducing me to different folks so that I would be, ready to go and ready to lead.

And as she mentioned, she's been really terrific at saying, here's what's been done, but don't be afraid to change or think differently or reach for the stars, connect with other people and see what else is possible, because we're constantly evolving. We want to grow and change as needed. And she's really encouraged me to be able to reach out and have those conversations to do that.

And the other thing is, some of our offerings are, we offer onboarding for both our returners, our hiring managers, as well as our mentors. So aside from the content that Liz prepared for me, as I was stepping into this role, we had a lot of other content that helped me better understand what are different community members learning and experiencing.

And so that, that provided another opportunity for me to get to understand the different facets of the program.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And just to underscore that opportunity that the three of us had to meet in person, because I think that was my first business trip that I took after at least a year of COVID. When we all met it was in San Diego at the ASU GSV 2021 summit.

And we, Liz and I were up on stage as part of a fireside chat of all about return to work programs. And it was that moment, Sarah, when you were there too, and I could see how that was a perfect opportunity for you to hear how Liz talked about the program in a public domain setting like that. And also, it was just great for us to get to meet each other, all in person at that time. So I remember that fondly. So we're, I want to wrap up right now. And Liz, I want to know if you can comment on the significance of this role in your professional development now, retrospectively as you're looking back, having moved on to your new role.

Liz Markus: Oh, that is such a great question, Carol. And it is something that I think about a lot in this new role in just about the journey and the view and the vision that Re-Ignite has been able to give me across Johnson. I think the ability to be able to influence, engage and work across the globe on something that has never existed at an organization like Johnson & Johnson should not be sold short and is something that I continuously leverage in my career today.

And the stories and the journey that I have built from the networks, the returners themselves, through seeing the legacy live on in the great work that Sarah is doing is something that I will always carry with me. And will always use an interview stories and will continue to burn in my soul as a journey that I could never have predicted, but always needed in my heart.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. I love hearing that. That was so profound the way you are describing it and the impact that it's had on your professional development. And I can really see that because when you think about a program like Re-Ignite, that's global that's across business units, that's including so many different people within the organization, it's very unusual that you have this kind of interaction across the whole enterprise. So I can see why it was so significant and Sarah, excited for you to have that same significant professional development opportunity.

Thanks both of you for joining us today.

Liz Markus: Thank you, Carol. It's been a pleasure.

Sarah Klopfer: Thank you so much, Carol.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And thanks for listening to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the Employer Edition. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. iRelaunch is recognized by SHRM to offer professional development credits, PDCs, for SHRM-CP® or SHRM-SCP®, and each episode of our Employer Edition of the 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch podcast is approved for .25 SHRM professional development credits. The activity ID for this episode is 23-2UUUX.


Be sure to check out the irelaunch.com website, where we have a special section, dedicated to employers, all sorts of tools and resources, including a section on making the business case for an employer return to work program, which we invite you to cut and paste and use in any proposals that you might be making inside your organization to start a return to work program.

Thanks for joining us.


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Approved for .25 Professional Development Credits

iRelaunch is recognized by SHRM to offer Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for SHRM-CP® or SHRM-SCP®. Each episode of iRelaunch's 3, 2, 1 Podcast, Employer Edition is approved for .25 Professional Development Credits. To receive the activity ID for each episode, please join our iRelaunch Employer Community Group on LinkedIn for instructions on where to find this ID.


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If you are enjoying this series, be sure to check back for more information on our 2023 iRelaunch Virtual Employer Summit to hear a more in-depth discussions on these topics and more.

Take a look at our 2022 iRelaunch Virtual Employer Summit agenda and speakers here.