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Success is earned, not given

Fall 2013

Managing your NS Career:

A successful career at Norfolk Southern is not something that just happens. According to senior managers at Norfolk Southern, it is something earned over time through hard work, dedication, and ambition. The most successful employees at NS, they say, are the ones who show initiative and take control of their careers by seeking out opportunities for personal development and professional advancement.

Annie Adams, assistant vice president human resources, encourages employees to recognize and leverage their strengths, think about what they enjoy doing, and be open-minded about where they can apply their skills.

"Focus on doing your best in your current role," she said, "but also seek experiences that give you an opportunity to practice and demonstrate the skills required in a role you hope to attain."

Broadening your skills and perspective is crucial, Adams said. Working on cross-functional team projects and participating in volunteer and employee resource groups, such as InnovatioNS, WiNS, and YoungNS, are great ways to network and expand company knowledge, she said.

The key is being proactive and getting involved.

Through the Employee Resource Center on NS' corporate website, nonagreement employees can view job descriptions and their performance reviews and select online training to close skill gaps.

The HR Department is working to improve the ERC site and make it easier to search for development and training opportunities.

Here are three examples of how NS employees have taken control of their careers.

Ryan McLain
Ryan McLain, mechanical
superintendent, said supervisors
and employees depend upon
each other for success.

Put yourself "out there"

Before joining NS, Ryan McLain served four years in the Marine Corps, worked as a human resources manager for a temporary services company, and was logistics manager for a chemical company. In 2004, he saw a newspaper ad for an NS hiring session for carmen in Lansing, Mich. Out of about 200 who interviewed, he was among four selected. Since then, he has worked his way up to his current position as mechanical superintendent in Birmingham, Ala.

Two years after hiring on, he applied for NS' Operations Supervisor Training program, then newly introduced. After completing the program, he became a mechanical supervisor in Chicago at 55th Street intermodal yard; within 14 months, he earned a promotion to general foreman at the larger Calumet Yard.

Between 2008 and 2010, he continued to progress: to senior general foreman in New Orleans; to a larger territory in Cincinnati; and to assistant shop manager at Bellevue Locomotive Shop. McLain assumed his current role in June 2012.

"If you do well and put yourself out there, NS will recognize you for it," he said. "We all should be grateful to work for a company that recognizes individual merit and performance."

McLain believes that supervisors and their employees depend on each other for success.

"It has been to my advantage to work with craft employees in several geographic locations, because they all have their own responsibilities and challenges," he said. "I've learned from their strategies and incorporated them into my own, adding another layer to my foundation. I wouldn't be anywhere if it weren't for them. They are the key to my success."

McLain said his most informative time was in Chicago, an NS hub. He worked with various departments on safety and service issues and eventually became the management liaison to the Chicago safety and service committee. He later became a facilitator for quarterly NS safety workshops, which provided more exposure to senior-level management. He recently became qualified as a leadership coach for behavior-based safety training and has traveled the system as a presenter for "crucial conversations" training as part of NS' ongoing culture change efforts.

McLain encourages others to consider becoming a trainer. "It's one thing to take a course where material is presented to you," he said. "It's another ball game to be a presenter because you have to master the material."

As a supervisor, McLain advises employees to get involved and be assertive, telling them, "I'd rather have to hold you back than to push you forward."

Breana Greenlee
Breana Greenlee, manager
prevention and field services,
emphasizes the importance of
networking and fostering
relationships with employees
across NS’ organization.

Connecting the dots

Breana Greenlee describes herself as a life-long learner who seeks out opportunities to network and expand her knowledge. She joined Norfolk Southern as a management trainee after graduating in 2008 from North Carolina A&T State University with a bachelor’s degree in business management.

Greenlee currently is manager prevention and field services in Network and Service Management. She said she learned about the railroad’s 15-month MT program at her college fair and thought it would be a great fit. She began as a customer service trainee, traveling the NS network and making contacts in various departments. During her on-the-job training, she worked in the Crew Management Center for nine months. After completing the program, Greenlee moved to the National Customer Service Center, where she served as a supervisor for two years before advancing into her current position.

Greenlee said she looks for networking and training opportunities to gain exposure, knowledge, and an understanding of how all parts of NS’ organization work together. 

“It’s important to foster relationships and connections at NS because it truly takes everyone to be the safest and most successful transportation company in the world,” Greenlee said. “Anytime you can be involved with something different or out of your comfort zone, it is a great opportunity to develop as a professional.”

Greenlee is active in several employee resource groups at NS, including YoungNS, WiNS, and Thoroughbred Volunteers, and she is her departmental ambassador for this year’s United Way campaign. Since receiving green belt training in Six Sigma work-improvement processes, she is involved in a Six Sigma project that relates to her work in damage prevention. She also has taken a variety of online courses through the ERC. Each new piece of information she learns is another building block and opportunity to connect the dots, Greenlee said.

“I always try to take a best practice from one group and apply it to another department or project,” she said. “That way, you can constantly reinvent yourself." Eventually, she plans to pursue a graduate degree by taking advantage of NS’ education assistance program.

“This program shows that as you invest in NS,” she said, “the company will invest in you.”

Sarah Morris
Sarah Morris, manager strategic
planning, focuses on the “right next
step” rather than job levels and
promotions to expand her
knowledge and help contribute to
NS’ success.

The ‘right next step’

Many nonagreement employees at NS get their start through the management trainee program or transition from craft positions into the Operations Supervisor Training program. Sarah Morris, manager strategic planning, followed a different path.

After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002 with a degree in economics, Morris got her start in Atlanta as a professional hire in NS’ Revenue Accounting Department. She spent two years as a customer account representative learning the basics of accounts receivable and managing customer relationships.

In 2004, Morris moved to the Human Resources Department as an employment officer, focusing on recruiting conductors and engineers. To gain a better understanding of what conductors do, she took advantage of NS’ Accelerated Conductor Training program to learn their work first-hand.

“It was a valuable experience to see how we train our conductors,” Morris said. “It was an opportunity I wouldn’t have had in any other position, and it helped me to be more effective in my position.”

Morris worked four years in HR, eventually becoming assistant manager of management recruiting, working on college recruiting and strengthening the NS brand on college campuses. In 2008, interested in expanding her knowledge of NS’ business side, she applied for a product manager position in the Marketing Department’s paper group. She spent three years in marketing, an experience that Morris said offered an invaluable education on the railroad’s business challenges and opportunities.

Morris assumed her current position in strategic planning in 2011. She was interested in the job because she wanted to gain a broader perspective of company decisions and overall strategy. “It was a great next step for me and a chance to build on my previous work,” she said.

Morris views every career move as a new challenge. “It’s important not to focus too much on job levels and promotions,” she said. “Instead, you should think, ‘What is the right next step for me in my career?’ Ultimately, I think that is where you’ll be better off.”

Along the way, Morris has taken online classes to boost her job performance. She also participates in WiNS and InnovatioNS, which she said have offered opportunities to network and learn more about the company.

“Every training opportunity helps expand my depth of knowledge about NS,” she said. “The deeper that knowledge, the greater my ability to contribute to the company.”

During 11 years at NS, Morris has received three SPIRIT awards – for securing new business, participating in marketing innovation, and helping redesign the NS system map.

“I’ve been very lucky to have great mentors and managers who provided career advice and support,” she said.