Blair Bennett started as senior vice-president of global talent acquisition (TA) at PepsiCo at the end of 2019. She shared at UNLEASH America 2022 that she was hired to transform the food and beverage giant’s TA process; PepsiCo has more than 300,000 employees and hires around 60,000 people a year.
The aim was to rethink the types of talent that PepsiCo was trying to attract, and ensure they were winning the competition for top talent with other large global employers.
There were four key tenets to the plan; these included getting laser-focused on diversity, data and tech, wellbeing, as well as innovation in the TA Team. For PepsiCo, Bennett explains, it is not just about delivering for today, but thinking about “what’s on the horizon” and how to get ahead of future challenges and opportunities.
However, less than six months into Bennett’s tenure at PepsiCo, she was grappling not just with a TA transformation, but also with a global pandemic.
COVID-19, hiring and PepsiCo
In an exclusive interview at the Las Vegas show, Bennett tells UNLEASH that the pandemic pushed PepsiCo, like many other companies, “to quickly evaluate how we could change all of our [hiring] processes to be virtual”, or as much as possible.
In fact, one of the first executive hires that PepsiCo made virtually was the CEO of APAC. Bennett notes that the fact that the CEO hired one of his direct reports “virtually”, “sets a nice tone” for the rest of the business.
Bennett adds: “We looked at how we enable the interview process through technology”, as well as how to onboard new workers, including thousands of summer interns.
Thankfully, PepsiCo was very used to using technology for its TA processes; “we had a bit of an advantage because people [already] had to use technology to do the processes”. The company was already leveraging HR tools from PepHire, Brazen, HiredScore, Degreed, and Paradox.
The food and beverage giant also relies on Gartner and Draup’s data and technology to help it stay on top of what its competitors are up to, and ensure PepsiCo’s hiring strategies stay relevant.
Despite having all this technology, Bennett and her team still had challenges in actually tapping into the full potential of its tech stack.
She shares: “We had a lot of technology, but it wasn’t connected to our process flows in a simplified way, or in a scalable way.”
So the HR team got to work on simplifying, optimizing, and standardizing the process to ensure it delivered the best experience for candidates and recruiters.
The aim is to make sure technology is actually making TA teams’ jobs easier, not harder; this was originally the goal of the wider TA transformation Bennett was hired to oversee, but COVID-19 accelerated this work.
“I think COVID-19 actually helped us to make that change”, the progress would have been hard to achieve “had we been doing it in a normal analogue world of just regular change management”, notes Bennett.
Inside PepsiCo’s ‘Interviews that Work’ strategy
Fast forward two years and the world is moving towards a post-pandemic world. UNLEASH was curious how PepsiCo’s TA and hiring strategies have adapted to the new normal.
Bennett shares that the food and beverage giant’s approach in general, but especially as a TA function, was reflecting on the COVID-19 period to “see what are some of the best things that came out of that” and what “we could continue”.
The answer is ‘Interviews that Work’, which mirrors PepsiCo’s flexible future of work policy, which is called ‘Work that Works’. The ability to choose where they want to work is primarily aimed at the employer’s corporate workforce, but Bennett adds that the employer is trying to figure out how to offer similar flexibility to its frontline workers, who make up the vast majority of PepsiCo’s 300,000 strong workforce.
She adds: “We’re trying to use data and employee listening to help us understand where are [the] places that we can make some changes that will have the most impact on the associates. That’s the work that’s being done right now.”
Going back to ‘Interviews that Work’, Bennett notes that “we really encourage our business to maintain virtual interviewing so that they maintain the benefits”.
The pros include quicker hiring processes, the fact that candidates said they prefer this type of interviews, and sustainability; “if you’re not flying or driving candidates [to interviews], then you’re also contributing to our overall efforts to be more sustainable as a company”, Bennett shared.
But PepsiCo is also looking at ensuring it’s also “incorporating the in-person touch when it’s necessary”, according to Bennett.
The ‘Great Resignation’ is an “opportunity”
The conversation then turned to the ‘Great Resignation’. While Bennett admits that PepsiCo is being impacted, she shared that “we have used this as an opportunity to engage with talent that we otherwise may not have had the door open to”.
“There’s no better time than now to really be out there with what we’re trying to do, and getting that story in front of talent”. Bennett continues that “it is really important right now to be able to articulate the branding component of your company” – “are we highlighting the things that matter the most at this point in time” to candidates?
She adds that the ‘Great Resignation’ is really a chance for the TA team to be front and center within PepsiCo, and inform leadership decisions on talent strategies by sharing trends they are seeing.
“As an example, relocation may not be something that talent is wanting [anymore], [so] how can we [in TA] help our business understand maybe there’s [a need for a new] location strategy that can help us get into different talent pools”, notes Bennett.
In this struggling market, employers need to make “TA a driver of the business”, and TA teams need to make it really clear that “what we do is really important to getting the right talent in a company”.
PepsiCo and the Ukraine crisis
“Our first priority has been the safety of our people”, that means not just the company’s 3,100 employees based in Ukraine, but also their families and loved ones, Bennett adds in her exclusive UNLEASH interview.
PepsiCo immediately closed its operations in Ukraine, and the HR team started to talk to employees about what support they needed.
As a result of these conversations, PepsiCo spent more than $5.9 million to help employees relocate and sent convoys that brought more than 600 workers and their families to safety outside of Ukraine.
PepsiCo also housed those workers and their families who had relocated to neighboring countries like Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic. The company also worked with charities to provide schooling to employees’ children who were also displaced, this included providing laptops.
Beyond this, the food and beverage employer guarantee Ukrainian employees’ salaries for 2022, and even paid their wages in a lump sum to help them cover immediate expenses.
“We worked to redeploy our workforce wherever possible”, which included using HiredScore to match “displaced employees with open roles [elsewhere in Europe]…and also offering support to family members in finding jobs”.
Ultimately, for PepsiCo, “in the face of so much uncertainty, we were determined to try and bring some stability to their lives”, concludes Bennett.
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