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PepsiCo finds that digital skills development is what it likes

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels March 16, 2023
By building teams of digital-savvy professionals on personalised learning paths, Athina Kanioura is helping her company to attract and retain a diverse pool of tech talent.

Athina Kanioura

Athina Kanioura, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at PepsiCo, is using a dual-pronged approach focused on diversity and inclusion and career architecture to ensure her company has access to the digital capability it needs.

Kanioura says a mission-critical part of her work is ensuring the company has the right tech talent to develop and enhance customer experiences through digital technologies. She is responsible for about 1,000 staff in her department, but also is using a range of strategies to ensure people across PepsiCo have the right capabilities: 

What we're trying to do with the company is to go beyond having 1,000 superior IT staff and to think about what happens with the rest of the 300,000 employees in the organization. This is my target when it comes to up-skilling.

Annual attrition rate in her own department is just seven percent, which is lower than industry averages that are often around 15%, and can be much higher. Kanioura attributes her success at retaining staff to two key factors: focusing on diversity and inclusion (D&I) and providing a strong career architecture, with training and development opportunities on an ongoing basis.

One of Kanioura’s objective when she joined PepsiCo in September 2020 was to ensure her digital leadership team was split equally between men and women by 2025:

From the very beginning, there was an effort from my existing female leads that we would go and talk to different institutions. That was about us actively talking about diversity and inclusion with future graduates or candidates.

Kanioura says the female IT network in the US is a close-knit community, with senior IT professionals trying as much as possible to support and promote each other. By going out and meeting women, her senior team spreads the word about PepsiCo’s D&I objectives in digital strategy and transformation:

When people speak with us, they know there is parity – it’s de facto and non-debatable. From the moment I took this role, people knew there was someone who believes in 50/50 and, therefore, there was a big pool of female candidates that knew me or my female leaders and wanted to apply for work.

Kanioura has already achieved a 50/50 split between male and female managers – a rarity amongst blue-chip companies, particularly when it comes to IT. What’s more, her department will achieve a 50/50 split across all roles by 2024 (right now the split is 43% male/57% female). She says female IT professionals know PepsiCo offers a supportive, equal environment and are more likely to join and stay:

We have an influx of CVs coming from diverse groups because they know the composition of the leadership team. I have more of a natural pull than a push for talent, and by itself that creates loyalty because they know we are serious. That's a huge incentive for people.

She also ensures internal talent has access to opportunities. For example, her current product manager was interested in tech, but worked in a different part of the business. When she found out about Kanioura’s strategy and transformation plans, she made the shift to technology. Kanioura says an effective approach requires a combination of tactics:

I don't have a magic wand. D&I takes effort. We have very close ties with universities and consulting companies. I monitor every function for its journey to 50/50 as a KPI. And that's not the only KPI. My Black segment in the US is almost 15%. I’m also tracking LGBTQ+ proportions in my own function.

Career architecture 

Kanioura believes that digital leaders often underestimate how tough it is for IT professionals who join their companies. Tech firms might give new entrants a strong sense of internal priorities and long-term aspirations but traditional blue-chip firms often don’t spend enough time on career architecture, she argues:

Typically people land in the role and then they are lost. The most critical thing is people come in here and know what is expected in terms of performance, activities and their job specification, and then – depending on their aspirations – that they know what they need to do to move to the next job. 

To that end, Kanioura ensures every employee in her department has a five-year career plan. Senior managers sit down with staff and ask them about their short-term and long-term aims, also considering the training and development required to hit those targets:

It’s all about ensuring people can be considered for an opportunity. No-one promises you will get the next job, but our responsibility is to allow you to have a chance to be considered. That’s a big parameter. People now believe that they have an opportunity to grow in this organisation when they have a technical skill set.

Development efforts are supported by what’s known as a 'digital employee value proposition'. This initiative provides a personalized learning path for every employee who is interested in pursuing a career in digital. In fact, Kanioura believes every modern professional should be digital- and data-savvy.

With that in mind, she’s honed PepsiCo’s Digital Academy curriculum and certification processes, which includes three tiers – gold, silver and bronze:

Gold is for digital-savvy people. So, if you are a data scientist, I expect proficiency in algorithmic libraries. Silver is for the deep practitioners. For example, you are a commercial person, you are driving pricing decisions, but you should absolutely know how to use a net revenue management tool at the highest level of proficiency. And then we have the bronze layer, which is about providing basic digital literacy to everyone in the company.

PepsiCo also runs a 'digital month' every year, which includes on-the-job training with instructors and hackathons for practitioners. Rather than training courses that take people out of their roles for two or three weeks every six months, Kanioura says it’s important to treat career architecture and development opportunities as a constant work in progress:

I prefer to train people constantly, but with small increments, so they never forget the things they’ve learned. That way they always get knowledge throughout the year.

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