People and Strategy

Andrea Ferrara on HR as the “Conscience of Culture”

Episode Summary

After joining PepsiCo in 1990, Andrea Ferrara is now the organization’s CHRO of North American Beverages and Nutrition at PepsiCo. In this episode of People and Strategy, Ferrarra speaks with host Tony Lee on advice for pursuing the C-suite, HR’s role as the “conscience of culture”, and her favorite PepsiCo products.

Episode Notes

After joining PepsiCo in 1990, Andrea Ferrara is now the organization’s CHRO of North American Beverages and Nutrition at PepsiCo. In this episode of People and Strategy, Ferrarra speaks with host Tony Lee on advice for pursuing the C-suite, HR’s role as the “conscience of culture”, and her favorite PepsiCo products.

This episode of People and Strategy is sponsored by ADP.

Episode transcript

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1: Business success requires thinking beyond today. That's why ADP uses data-driven insights to design HR solutions to help your business have more success tomorrow. ADP always designing for HR talent, time, benefits, payroll, and people.

Tony Lee: Welcome to today's People and strategy podcast. I'm Tony Lee, vice president of Content for the Society for Human Resource Management, and the SHRM Executive Network, which is the premier network of executives and thought leaders in the field of human resources. I'm excited to speak today with Andrea Ferrara, CHRO of North American Beverages and Nutrition at PepsiCo and purchase New York.

Andrea is a 30-year veteran of PepsiCo who oversees HR for the company's $21 billion beverage service in North America, as well as global food service with a portfolio of beverages, including Pepsi, Gatorade, Tropicana, Bubbly, Mountain Dew, and many others. Andrea, welcome to the People and Strategy podcast.

Andrea Ferrara: Thank you, Tony. It's a true privilege to be here.

Tony Lee: Well, thank you. So in your current role, you and your team work with more than 55000 associates in over 400 locations across the US and Canada. Could you have imagined that this is where you'd be after joining PepsiCo in 1990?

Andrea Ferrara: No, gosh, not in a million years would I have thought that. It really just shows you, Tony, what's possible, right? If you come into a great company and you really flourish in the culture, and it's a culture where they give you the opportunity to grow and develop and take risks and do a bunch of different diverse roles, it just really shows you what's possible. I feel really blessed every day.

Tony Lee: Yeah, no, that's wonderful. So you are a bit unique in that many CHROs have climbed the HR ladder by moving from one company to another. So I'm wondering for HR managers who hope to reach the C-suite, is your advice to work in different businesses within the same company rather than change employers as a way to advance?

Andrea Ferrara: My advice, Tony, is I think everyone's got to follow their own path, and for me, I always asked myself a couple questions, was I growing? Was I learning? Did I feel valued? Did I feel challenged? And was I making a contribution? And as I said, I was very lucky to be able to answer yes to that for 33 years.

Now, PepsiCo's a big company and with that afforded me the opportunity to do US based roles, internationally based roles, global roles, specialist roles, and cross into different businesses. I had the opportunity to work in beverages and in foods, and I think with a diverse portfolio like that, I think you can stay with one company, but it really goes back to, I don't know if I think there's a right or wrong answer.

I mean, most companies selfishly want their leaders to stay and grow, but again, it's a partnership. You've got to be able to deliver those results, but the company also has to afford you the opportunity and give you the stretch and the development. And I think when you get a match like that, it makes sense to stay.

Tony Lee: Well, that makes perfect sense. So let's dive into some of the hot topics in HR these days. I'd love to get your perspective. Maybe we start with employee engagement. There's been a lot of media and a lot of research that there's been a big decline in employee engagement from the great resignation to quiet, quitting, to quiet firing, to many quiet things it seems. Do you think this trend is here to stay? And if so, how should HR respond?

Andrea Ferrara: Well, I hope not. I think we're starting to see things quiet down. I mean, at PepsiCo, we really didn't see a sharp uptick in resignations even at the height of the pandemic. But I think a lot of that is tied to the environment, that culture that we've established. And so when you think about what is hrs responsibility, I think it's being very purposeful in helping your business leaders shape and activate the culture that they want.

I think things like very purposeful, active listening more than maybe yearly organizational health surveys and really understanding the needs of your associates is what I think HR needs to do and then lean in pretty aggressively with those business partners. They've got to carry the load. I think oftentimes young HR leaders think that they own the culture. I just don't agree with that. The CEOs and the business leaders own the culture of the organization, which ultimately drives employee engagement.

HR professionals, we're responsible for putting the tools out there and I always say we're the conscience of the culture, and I think that that's a critical differentiation. The one thing I would say, Tony, that we saw coming out of the pandemic was a pretty significant shift in what associates are valuing.

I think historically, many people, particularly people with particular organizations that have a heavy frontline thought it was always just compensation and benefits. What we've done through active listening is really gotten a deep dive and found that an energizing workplace, job fulfillment, having a trusting environment, having predictable and flexible work and having a peer set that they can lean on really rose to the top. And I think that's one of the biggest evolutions we've seen since the pandemic.

Tony Lee: That's great. By the way, I think that's a book title. HR is the conscience of the culture.

Andrea Ferrara: All right, you and I can write it together.

Tony Lee: You and I can write that together. How's that?

Tony Lee: I like it. I like it. So let's talk about frontline workers. I mean, PepsiCo employs a lot of drivers and warehouse staff and many others that were on the frontline who frankly, really didn't have the opportunity to work from home to steer clear of Covid-19, and probably felt the brunt of a lot of other issues like childcare and elder care. So how did you manage that experience for frontline workers at PepsiCo?

Andrea Ferrara: You're exactly right, Tony. It was a pretty heavy focus. I mean, first and foremost at the beginning of the pandemic, we obviously focused heavily on ensuring the safety of our associates, and we tried to do that in the most holistic sense, obviously from a social distancing and doing as many things virtually as we could, and obviously protective equipment and things of that nature.

But we also leaned in pretty heavy from a mental health support standpoint. And we did things like provide resilience training for our frontline supervisors. We also did an enhanced childcare support where we provided associates a $100 a day for 30 days to just ramp up childcare if they needed to leverage a family member, because many, many of the daycare situations were obviously closed.

And we also tried to focus on celebrating all the work that they were doing. While many office workers could work remotely, our frontline people, the majority of those 55000 that make, move and sell were there every day working extraordinarily hard. And so we were very purposeful in how we celebrated those associates.

And we obviously did the kind of traditional celebratory things like the barbecues and things of that nature, but we also leaned in on trying to amplify their employee experience. And we did that through a series of training programs and a series of leadership programs for people that wanted to continue to accelerate their careers. So we really tried to do a multi-pronged approach to get people through this, and many of these things have continued to stick and stay even as we exit from a pandemic to an endemic.

Tony Lee: So let's fast-forward to today. I mean, what are the biggest issues now facing frontline workers? Is it many of those same issues or has it evolved?

Andrea Ferrara: I think it's evolving, but I'd say some of the issues, particularly the predictability of schedule, the flexibility, I think one of the big insights we gained was that the blue collar and the white collar needs really blended together. I think that this concept of predictability and flexibility in career are across the board needs of every single associate we have.

What that looks like and how that comes to life for each individual is where the nuance is. And so, what we've tried to do is get a bit more agile and flexible so that we can customize what we provide for our associates depending upon where they are in their life and what their aspirations are. I'll give you an example.

We now have a frontline career map where we can showcase all the frontline roles that exist, and then we've equipped our frontline supervisors to have career conversations at the frontline, which historically, something five years ago we would never have done. We would've waited for people to raise their hands to say, hey, you know what? I want to do something different, or I'd like to try to become a supervisor. Now it's a much more engaged and proactive approach for us. That's a big differentiator for us.

Tony Lee: Yeah, no, that makes sense. So talking about flexibility, obviously frontline workers, as we've said, did not have the option to work from home, but you have a lot of other employees who have had that option and frankly continue to work from home or remotely or in some hybrid fashion. Is hybrid the answer for workplaces moving forward, or do you think we're going to shift back to back in the office?

Andrea Ferrara: I believe for now, I think hybrid is the answer. I mean, that is the approach we've taken at PepsiCo. For us, this concept of connection to people and work groups in our culture is super important. And the way we've approached hybrid is we're asking our associates to engage with each other, and that can look and feel different depending upon your role.

For some folks, it's obviously engaged by coming back into the location or into the office. But for others, a lot of our sales professionals, it's engaging in the market, engaging with customers, engaging in doing market visits and stores because what we want is, we understand that people will need time at home because life has changed, but what we don't want if people to lose the feel and the touch of PepsiCo and those connections.

Those connections are really important. It helps you solve problems in unique in different ways, and it helps you understand the culture and it helps you network. And for us, making sure that we have a balance, we don't want it to skew one way or the other. I think sometimes Tony, the pendulum swings. It was all the way five days everybody in, and then it swung all the way everybody at home. I think imbalance is the way that PepsiCo's proceeding right now, and I think we feel really comfortable with that.

Tony Lee: I'm curious, we've seen some data lately about younger workers, Gen Z, young millennials who are actually saying that they feel like they've paid a price for not being able to come into the office. They're not getting the mentoring, they're not getting the face time, they're not getting the water cooler movement moments with more senior employees. Is that an issue that you think about?

Andrea Ferrara: Absolutely. It's one of the reasons why we've been pushing so hard to take this hybrid approach. I mean, we've always believed leaders build leaders, and you pull young leaders through. I mean, candidly, that's why I stayed. That's how I got to where I was. I had people more senior to me that pulled me through, and those connections and those touchpoints are critical.

So I think what we've tried to do, Tony, is several things. I mean, sometimes what seems like a hindrance can be a help. And I think there's a lot of negative on all the Zooms and the Microsoft Teams, the virtual, but in some ways, I try to tell our team, hey, the virtual makes it easier to connect with people. Instead of jumping on a plane and flying, leverage those tools that are out there to have more purposeful and a higher cadence of connection.

That said, we also want to get people back in because I do think some of the most meaningful mentoring I've ever had was sitting face to face with someone and just talking and getting to know them on a much deeper and personal level. And those are candidly, I think the relationships that for me have stayed across my entire career.

And so for our young Gen Z and our younger millennials, that's something we're very thoughtful about. So we've got mentoring programs. We do something in HR called HR Pods, where it's a small team and they stay connected both virtually and physically. And I think, again, for us, it's that balance, but those connections are really purposeful and meaningful.

Tony Lee: So kind of a related topic, and not an easy topic to talk about, but employee mental health took a beating during the pandemic, but now even today, it feels like it's an issue that a lot of companies hadn't paid a lot of attention to, but now they are. What's your take on the quality of your employees mental health and how you maintain it?

Andrea Ferrara: It is something we talk about a fair amount at PepsiCo, and I think many, many companies are leaning in, in this space. We've done a pretty significant focus on training our leaders to lead with empathy. We actually rolled out an initiative during the pandemic, and honestly as a result also of some of the racial equality issues in the country, and it's called the three C's, and it's about focusing on connections, career and care.

And that connection and that care piece is super important. And so we've done things like resiliency training. We've done a lot of campaigns, Tony, around articulating very clearly what mental health benefits we have so that if people need the help, they can go in a very confidential but supportive way to seek that health and guidance. But it's also teaching our leaders to be a bit more in tune to some of the signs and things that they should look for with their associates, so that if someone's struggling, we can catch it earlier and try to help.

Tony Lee: It's interesting, you just stood on a point that we also don't talk about a lot, but probably should, which is middle managers have had a tough time the last few years and training middle managers how to manage their teams and how to look out for employee mental health issues seems to really be a critical issue. I mean, is that something that you focus on too?

Andrea Ferrara: Yeah, it really was. That's really heartbeat of what we want with the empathy. The thing I'd say, Tony, is the outside world bleeds into the workplace at a rate that I never thought in 33 years would be possible. Before you'd have one or two things that you'd need to help talk through with your associates, but it's a lot of bad things happening out there right now.

And I think giving those leaders first and foremost, license to ask for help, and how do they address teams? So we're trying to do that. In HR, we really do try to be that single source of information where we can give them the guidance and the training and the tools. It's hard. I think every company's struggling with this, and I think every company's got to lean in and not take their foot off the gas because it's a complicated issue.

You have people on both sides of many arguments. And for leaders to try to navigate through this, it's complicated and sometimes it's scary. And so what we try to do is start from a foundation of, it's an open and a safe space. We want it to be a safe space, both physically, but as importantly psychologically. And that's really been a huge tenant of the PepsiCo values. I think that really matters.

Tony Lee: Yeah. No, absolutely. Well, so as a CHRO, what are you worried about? What keeps you up at night? What's the next trend that you're looking for around the curve?

Andrea Ferrara: I think for us, what I always spend a fair amount of time thinking through is just trying to create the most robust culture we can. And Ramon Laguarta, our CEO has really challenged us to try to create a human-centric organization. And so for us in the beverage side, we're trying to ladder up to that higher order aspiration.

And so all the tools and the processes and the ways of working need to all be in support of our associates, and life is stressful. So creating a work environment that is, as I said, is safe in the most holistic sense and enables people to reach there a aspirations is really important. And so for me, I do spend a fair amount of time thinking about how do we need to lead at each level of the organization? Where are the gaps that we have and how can we continue to give people those tools so that they can create this space of human centricity?

Tony Lee: Before I let you go, I've got to put you on the spot. What's your favorite Pepsi product?

Andrea Ferrara: Oh, gosh, that is a tough one. I lift a lot of weights. I'm a big sports person, so I'm a pretty big user of our Gatorade portfolio. But I've got to admit, I'm also a pretty big drinker of Pepsi Zero, and we have a new lemon lime out there, Tony, you should try. It's called Starry. The Starry Zero is phenomenal. So I'd say those are kind of the three beverages I'm drinking quite a bit of, of late.

Tony Lee: Sounds good. Excellent. Well, Andrea, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us today. We really appreciate it. You can follow the People In Strategy podcast wherever you listen to your podcast, and you can learn more about the SHRM Executive Network at

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Speaker 1: Business success requires thinking beyond today. That's why ADP uses data-driven insights to design HR solutions to help your business have more success tomorrow. ADP, always designing for HR talent, time, benefits, payroll, and people.