Performance and Well being go together well at Pepsico (and without technology)


Pepsico FranceSummary : Which enterprise is not trying to rally their employees, improve the famous engagement that’s necessary to economical performance ? So they look for innovative approaches where technology plays a big part as a connection maker and catalyst. Everything that can be tried is tried except what seems the most obvious : actually change people’s life in the workplace before asking them to engage. Bet on sense instead of approaches that are poorly rooted in people’s daily work. Fortunately some organizations are still trying to solve human issues by using human levers and it works. I had the chance to talk with Pepsico France’s CHRO, Delphine Dupuis, about their third “best place to work” award in a row.

Well being seems to make businesses schizophrenic. How many times do we hear that’s it’s key to individual and collective economic performance and, 10 minutes after, by the same people “you know, it’s complicated, we first have to improve our bottom line and our productivity so we can’t afford improving well being”. So essential that it’s secondary and not considered as very serious.

The results of the 2012 edition of the  “Great Place to Work” challenge has been published a couple of weeks ago and the winner is Pepsico France…for the third time in a row. I had the chance to talk with Delphine Dupuis, CHRO of the french subsidiary of the US giant in order to understand how things are doing at Pepsico and how they triggered such a virtuous dynamic. Since I was about to talk about well being in some future posts, this one will serve as an introduction.

Some facts about Pepsico France first. That’s the French subsidiary of the US Giant, employing 556 people, half of them being sales person, the other half being split into the others functions (marketing, logistics, administration…). If you think that demographics matter, note that 56% of employees are men (so 44% women) and the average age is 34.

Are well being and performance compatible ?

Delphine Dupuis
Delphine Dupuis

Rather start with this point before going further. It’s always difficult to establish causal relationships and it’s often a chicken and egg situation. But, in 2011, Pepsico had a 10% growth, outperforming its industry average by a factor 3.

For Delphine Dupuis, things are clear and convictions firmly stated :

We have the conviction that a virtuous circle exists : motivation and enthusiasm lead to economical performance. Making human capital bloom leads to a sustainable economical performance“.

So, at this point, it’s important to guess how deeply the approach is rooted in the corporate DNA. Local, brilliant but fragile initiative or carved-in-stone principles that lead strategic and operational decisions ?

A long-term project where luck has nothing to do.

There are lots of discussions on how hard it is to lead local initatives on one’s own and the fragility of such initiatives considering the economic situation, changes in the leadership team and strategic turnabouts. At the same time, the changing role of HR needing to become business partners and the need for HR to move from a culture of process to a culture of service [fr]  is also much debated. Being about these two concerns, the Pepsico case is in some ways exemplary.

No surprise here. It all starts with a global strategic project purposely named “Performance with purpose”. The french subsidiary decided to make the most of such a lever and turned it into three streams of actions :

– Improve the quality of management

– Consider employees as people (with the specificities of each) and not as tools

All this gives the HR project a strong rooting and a legitimacy that allow long-term planning and prevents from tactical and short-term thinking. As a matter of fact, if Pepsico France has been recognized as the french Best Place to Work for the third time in a row, they’ve been competiting for 9 years. Nine years of continuous improvement to finally get the award. Such a thing would not be possible with a short term and merely opportunistic approach. I forgot to ask the question but I think thant the benefits of entering such a context for a company is not the final reward but continuous assessment and benchmark that comes with and force the organization to move forward and never step back.

Interpersonal relationships : In Real Life contact above all !

I purposely decided to chose a precise angle when we entered the detail of the Pepsico HR project. At a time when so many organization start “enterprise 2.0” or “social business” projects to address social link, engagement and performance issues, I started with the place of communications tools in the system to understand how Pepsico was dealing with their dual nature : at the same time performance lever and factors of psychosocial risks.

Pepsico admits they need modern communication tools. The company has intranets, is thinking about new collaboration tools. As Delphine Dupuis says : “we’re living with our age”. But she won’t enlarge on the topic, what is very meaningful. As I often say, technology is only the ball that makes it possible to play the game. And it’s clear that Pepsico decided to focus on the game, the players, and the style of the game play. Nothing happens online that would not happen in real life : that’s obviously an assumption shared at Pepsico. First build an organization that works IRL with its employees rather than expecting technology to trigger dynamics that makes no sense and have no cultural, organizational and management rooting. Moreover, talking about tools, she adds :”we’re trying to make them more simple“. Just a way to remind us that in the love/hate relationship between people and technology we should always remind which one is supposed to serve the other.

Conviviality between people matters more than anything…most of all in times of crisis […] the enterprise is a social link space” states Delphine Dupuis. Understand : conviviality starts in real life with people who talk to each other, discover each other. I some ways I find a lot of similarities with the idea of human rubbing which is key at Danone.

So Pepsico tries to prevent technology from distorting human relationships. Pepsico established a “no email day”. The goal was to reinforce oral communication. Instead of sending an email to the HQ, sales people take their phone and talk to an human being. Hear his voice. Something no technology can do. They organized workshops to help employees write better emails…and they even hired a professional writer to teach them how to write clear and concise messages, keeping in mind that the receiver of any message is an human being with his own personality and emotions.

And what about “socializing employees”. Many would answer “social networking and communities of course”. Once again Pepsico puts the “real” first. Sport, cultural workshops, anything is done to make employees meet, discover each other and foster relationships outside of the context of work, without hierarchical barriers.

And since bringing people together matters, so let’s celebrate successes ! Albeit not being very common in the french culture, such celebrations seems to be appreciated by french employees who gather twice a year (summer and christmas party) to celebrate the corporate successes. There again…rubbing and conviction that the best encounters happen in real life.

And what about work relationships then ? Still a strong conviction :”[work relationships] are not mechanical relationships with people sitting behing tools“. In fact tools are “a wider concern that is all about relationships between individuals. Who’s in my team, what are their passions. At Pepsico it’s important to talk to each other. The personality of an employee is more important than the emails he sends“. So Pepsico implemented a concept that many people are talking of but don’t know how to make it work : “work is relational”.

To end, I mentioned leaders who decided to launch their own internal media to directly engage with employees (blogs etc..). The answer was not a surprise : “at Pepsico we will always try to favor in person meeting to deliver important messages“.

What about relationships between employees and the company ?

The doors of board members are always open“. Employees are encouraged so submit ideas, provide feedbacks on the company, on their work. And “ideas coming from the field are the most relevant“. Even more : they’re being implemented. They often have a 8 people think tank, kind of itching powder or troublemakers that speaks in front of the leadership board every month and challenges received ideas. 90% of their suggestions are implemented.

Pepsico France is “a startup inside a large company“. “Managers are here to make sense of things and unleash energies. Ideas are provided by staff members working in the face of the customer because they’re the more relevant“.

And what about sharing ideas ? Each department has his own internal bulletin. Something simple that gathers initiatives and successful tricks. Departmental bulletins are shared across the organization. Maybe a rudimentary way to break down silos but it’s working while avoiding unnecessary complexity.

In the other hand, the recognition system is more formal since “awards” are given twice a year for exemplary ideas that delivered great results or fruitful initiatives in a field that was not the one the employee who took it was assigned to. But note that the company does not rewards ideas but the results of the idea. Awards are given in public, with all employees attending.

So Pepsico is managing to do “the old way” what many organizations try to do with lots of technology and ambitious programs. “Yes, it works without tools provided the manager/employee relationship is good“. That’s why Pepsico is investing that much on the quality of human relationships and management quality. An exemple ? Objectives setting.

At Pepsico, individual objectives are 50% business related, 50% personal. So delivery and behavioral skills are equally valuated. Each employee can define with his manager a personal objective which, if met, would make the coming year a sucessful year for him. It could be “starting playing tennis again”, “pick up my kids at school on Thursday”. It helps manager to understand employee’s expectations and priorities, what makes sense, and play an active part in helping the employee to reach the objective. For example by not scheduling any meeting on Thursdays after 4.00 pm for the one who wants to pick-up his kids… “All these things contribute to bring trust and well-being into relationships“.

What about tomorrow ?

What are the future projects ? What will help Pepsico to be France’s great place to work next year, for the 4th time in a row. A couple of examples, following the main lines of the global HR project :

– management quality : improve trainings, most of all on the intergenerational issues. Lots of managers have to manage both Yers and seniors. All the more that the fast internal promotion system makes that Yers are starting to manage seniors.

– work-life balance : going further what’s already done. Work is intense so people need breaks. So the “take a break” program will help to make breaks in their workday with purposeful activities (improving cardiac health, nutrition advices, massages…).

– conviviality : the summer and Christmas parties won’t be open to all employees and not only those from the HQ as it used to be.


Elements of conclusion

Only “elements” because this post is already too long but the case was so interesting that removing a part of it would have been a pity. But there’s food for though for many posts in the future.

Talking with an “enterprise 2.0” standpoint, it seems that Pepsico clearly gets what the “it’s about people” that’s endlessly repeated elsewhere means. If everything is about people so let’s start with people and don’t expect to build any technology-enabled organization that would rely on nothing tangible in real life. They worked on sense and meaning instead of exhorting people to engage, found the levers to increase trust in the management relationship by helping people to discover one another.

So of course, there are a lot of “what if…” that can come after such a post….and I’ll deal with them later.

That said, at a time when nearly everyone is complaining about HR feebleness, this interview made me end my day with a big smile and lots of hope. What does not happen that often on such matters.

Meanwhile, I leave you with three quotes to ponder :

– nothing happens online that would not happen IRL if the people where in the same room. (B. Duperrin)

– technology will never solve issues that are originally human ones (if my memory is good, this one is from Rex Lee)

Do social networking….not online but in bars (Sam Palmisano, former IBM Ceo IBM, speaking to french students at HEC Business School)



Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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