Why Kraft Heinz is function agnostic
It’s the food and drink giant’s HR “secret sauce”.
Why You Should Care
Food and drinks giant Kraft Heinz wants to be the best place to work.
Engagement and DEIB are core to this, but so is its different take on development: being function agnostic.
Find out more in this exclusive interview with Rodolfo Camacho, CPO - International Zone.
Kraft Heinz is the fifth largest food and drinks company in the world – it produces not just iconic Heinz products, but also owns over 200 products like Philadelphia, Capri Sun, Jell-O and Lunchables.
The company may be headquartered in the US, but Kraft Heinz’s 38,000 employees are spread across more than 40 countries across the world.
Leading the HR function for all the non-US employees is Rodolfo Camacho, chief people officer for the International Zone.
Camacho has been doing this job since 2019, and he oversees 17,000 employees across the company’s six geographies of the International Zone – Latin America, Europe, North Europe, East (which is Russia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa), Asia, and, finally, Australia and New Zealand.
He jokes with UNLEASH that “it’s international from a North American perspective” – but it does mean that Camacho is looking after people in “literally all time zones in the world”. This gives him “access to so much diversity, and so many different cultures and people”.
The link between engagement and inclusion
Kraft Heinz is on a mission not just to be a great place to work – it has won numerous accolades in this space – but to be the best place to work.
Camacho shares: “One of our values is to do better every day”, so the food and drinks giant is fully committed to the long-term journey to achieve this, and it sees having an engaged, motivated workforce as crucial to success.
Engagement is Kraft Heinz’s first HR priority “because we see the importance of retaining and attracting people”. Its people are what makes Kraft Heinz thrive as a business – “we have a very unique combination of people that are smart, driven, ambitious, but at the time they’re collaborative, friendly and humble”.
And despite the disruption of COVID-19, engagement scores are up in the International Zone – according to Kraft Heinz’s Glint surveys, the company’s ratings have increased from 74 out of 100 in November 2021 to 76 in November 2022.
Camacho sees engagement and diversity, equity, as intrinsically linked. “It’s very difficult to have an engaged workforce if people don’t feel like they can 100% be themselves at work. I think the DEIB agenda has a huge impact on engagement”.
“One of our values is we demand diversity” – and Kraft Heinz takes that very seriously. For instance, the food and drinks giant partners with a range of colleges and universities to ensure it is tapping into candidates from diverse backgrounds, it leverages AI to remove unconscious bias from the hiring process and has a global inclusion council that keeps the organization accountable for its progress around DEIB.
This cross-over between DEIB and engagement is clear in those engagement Glint surveys. Not only do they ask employees how happy they are at Kraft Heinz and whether they would recommend it as a great place to work, but it also measures their sense of belonging, how inclusive leadership is, and whether employee voices are being heard.
That sense of belonging and inclusion has been improving year-on-year, notes Camacho.
“Last year, in 2022, we achieved a top quartile score, which we are [on par] with the top companies in that question. But we won’t stop there. We believe that every voice needs to be heard at Kraft Heinz – that’s in our DNA”.
Ownership, meritocracy and development at Kraft Heinz
Accountability and ownership are another part of Kraft Heinz’s DNA – this is exemplified by the fact that “all of the leadership team is measured against engagement” (this means it is part of their key performance indicators and proves that it is not just the HR team’s responsibility to improve Kraft Heinz’s workplace).
For Camacho, this focus on ownership is what makes Kraft Heinz stand out as an employer. “When we ask our employees, they say they like to work here because of the growth opportunities”, notes Camacho. “From day one, everybody feels like they own something” and feel empowered to make decisions and create a legacy.
Linked to this, Kraft Heinz’s approach to career development is function agnostic; “It is our secret sauce. Not many companies out there have it”, says Camacho.
Usually, people start their careers in finance, for instance, and retire in finance. “We have a different view. We acknowledge that experience matters, but we believe that to grow people and to prepare the leaders of the future, they need to experience different things, especially early in their careers when people don’t necessarily know what they want”.
It is not just experience that matters – “aptitude, growth mindset, and learning agility” are crucial to individuals’ and the company’s future success.
Camacho is actually a great example of this function agnostic; he started his career in supply chain management, before moving into trade marketing and then into HR.
Another high-profile example is Jojo Lins de Noronha – the president of Northern Europe. She started her career in finance and sales before moving into HR and then into her broader senior leadership role.
But the functional agnosticism isn’t just for senior leadership – it is for everyone. In fact, Kraft Heinz’s trainee program doesn’t have a function-based training flow – “it really stimulates employees to rotate, try different things and to learn”, which ultimately helps prepare them to be leaders of the future.
Camacho adds: “We believe that growth doesn’t come only vertically. Growth comes from different challenges. We have a hundred years of life – our careers are not a sprint”, they are much more a marathon.
Retention, purpose and the future of work
For Kraft Heinz, its approach to engagement and development has been highly successful, and has had a positive impact on its retention rates. For instance, in the trainee program, Kraft Heinz has almost a 100% retention rate.
In addition, in the context of the Great Resignation, the employer actually saw reduced turnover in 2022. “If I speak to my colleagues, CHROs in other companies, I don’t think anyone else is telling me that. Our decrease, which is something we are proud of, shows we are doing something right.”
Despite this, the food and drinks giant is not resting on its laurels. Looking to the future, Kraft Heinz remains on a mission to be the best place to work, so it will keep “improving what we’re doing” but also adjusting where necessary.
For instance, Kraft Heinz looked at the global economic situation and saw that some countries were struggling with particularly high inflation. So the company moved quickly to “make sure that the salaries of our employees remained competitive”. “We had to be agile to respond to the needs of employees, and those needs are different in different locations”.
In terms of career development opportunities, Camacho shares: ““I spend a lot of time with my manager – the president of the International Zone – [thinking about] what are the most critical roles that we have in the organization? How can we plan two, three years ahead? How can we keep the best talent [and give them] the best opportunity to develop?”, adds Camacho.
This innovative, ideation-based approach also comes to fruition in Kraft Heinz’s attitude towards the future of work.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company prioritizes employees’ health and safety, and particularly their mental health, but in 2021 and 2022 it started to think carefully about the new normal.
Employee feedback and model testing led the company to conclude that a three-two hybrid approach was the answer – two days virtually, three days in the office.
“It’s been working quite well, and I see more people seeing the real benefit of the office for collaboration”, states Camacho. But employees also value “that culture of flexibility” – Kraft Heinz is an international business, so employees are also able to work abroad for four weeks a year.
“At the core, we want to be a flexible company. The output is what matters”, not the location where people work.
Allie is an experienced business journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.