How PepsiCo is rethinking the associate experience

NRF 2023: CEO Steven Williams on the ways companies can invest in their employees

During a keynote at NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show, PepsiCo North America CEO Steven Williams discussed his company’s approach to hiring, developing and retaining its workforce with Kelly Pedersen, a partner at PwC.

There has been a great deal of change over the past few years in the ways large corporations relate to their workforce, due to a number of factors, including inflation: Salaries simply don’t go as far as they did just a few years ago. “We’ve seen a lot of investment in retail go toward the employees,” Pedersen said, including pay and benefits.

PwC has also seen investments in wellness, he added, as well as upskilling; companies are spending money on technology and automation for both front-line work and corporate offices to take a lot of the more transactional work out of employees’ lives and make their work more fulfilling and more interesting.

NRF 2023

Take a glance at what's been happening at NRF 2023: Retail's Big Show.

“This is an important topic,” Williams said. “One reason we’re so interested in it is that we are a truly end-to-end, seed-to-stem business. Most of our workforce is either making, moving or selling the merchandise. Of our 70,000 or so employees in North America, about 60,000 are in a truck or in a factory or putting our products on a shelf. So, this is a very, very important subject for us.”

The past few years have underscored the need for a company made of well-trained and diverse associates. “We’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about what we need to do to get to that point,” Williams said. “I’m not here to say we’re perfect, but we’re making progress.”

A lot of taking care of employees involves removing friction from their jobs. “It may not sound like friction, but it is,” he said. “It can be something as simple as updated handheld devices that you order with, versus keypunch. You don’t have to plug in your phone to send an order to the distribution center — it just does that automatically.”

Friction removal applies to other areas of employee life, he noted, saying the process for obtaining health appointments has been much simplified. “That’s table stakes,” he said. “You have to do that, and you have to be concerned with their overall wellbeing.”

"We’re committed to having a workforce that is not just diverse but inclusive. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what your background is, or who you love — you need to be able to succeed to be your best self."

Steven Williams, PepsiCo Foods North America

Part of wellbeing is the opportunity to advance in life, professionally and otherwise. “We’ve taken a really comprehensive look to how we upskill talent,” Williams said. “How do you help provide the opportunity ... to gain knowledge and, frankly, better yourself?” PepsiCo North America offers employees free education, from vocational/technical training to community college and four-year universities.

Turning to another aspect of opportunity, Pedersen asked for an overview of PepsiCo’s approach to diversity. “PepsiCo has been a champion of diversity for a very, very long time,” Williams said, noting it was the first company in the United States to hire Black managers and the first company to have a Black executive officer.

“In 2015 we set a 50/50 parity goal for women in management, and we’re getting close. We’re committed to having a workforce that is not just diverse but inclusive. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what your background is, or who you love — you need to be able to succeed to be your best self. We’re not perfect by any means, but we’re on a strong glide path, and we have a very, very strong commitment to this.”

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