Kara Albert is the head of U.S. engagement, diversity and inclusion at The Kraft Heinz Company, as well as a speaker at our Women's Leadership Summit in Jonesboro earlier this month. In a year where we need expertise like hers more than ever, we caught up with Albert to gain some of her insight.
Kara, that’s a really long title. Can you break it down and tell us what it means you actually do?
Kara Albert: My job is to essentially remind us all that we’re a bunch of humans working with a bunch of other humans. I describe my job as creating an environment where our employees can feel recognized, supported and proud. I was hired earlier this year to think about the 24,000 employees in the U.S. who work for KHC, including our Arkansas employees. We have an office in Rogers and we make those wonderful Planters peanuts right in Fort Smith.
Obviously, we’re in a totally different time right now than we've ever been, and while I feel like we’re all responsible for engaging people we work with, it is literally your job. How are you driving engagement and culture at Kraft Heinz?
KA: When the pandemic started and we started working from home, KHC was experiencing some of the busiest times we've had. Remember, we make mac and cheese and ketchup and bacon and lunch meats and white vinegar that you clean with. My goodness, we were busy! And by the way, we still are. For those of you who are in manufacturing, it’s either gotten and stayed incredibly busy or work is drying up pretty quickly this year. We were on the side of staying busy.
We’re also in the middle of a massive company transformation. KHC brought on a new president at the beginning of this year, we reorganized and realigned our business units and ways of working to match up with our customers more effectively.
So, what did we do?
We set super clear expectations with people. We let them know, hey, we’re all trying this out. We have no idea how this is going to go.
We found new ways to connect and communicate. We talked with managers and HR business partners and leaders to remind them to check in with people. We had happy hours. Our CEO started having drinks with people on Zoom. We gave people room and flexibility to connect with their teams in ways that made sense to them.
We talked. A lot. And we talked about what everyone was going through. Leaders talked about how they struggled to get their internet to work. Our president does a weekly call with the U.S. and at first we would see his daughter in her pajamas walking through the background, then we saw his “office” was moved into their spare bedroom.
We found new ways to recognize our people in a whole new format, including a weekly moment of gratitude with our president and highlighting people/teams in regular communications.
We gave people flexibility. Do what you need to do when you need to do it and how you need to do it.
Currently, we’re really focusing on addressing that thing I said I get paid to do: remind people that we’re a bunch of humans working with other humans. We were able to implement some super cool, small changes that are making a massive difference.
- We adjusted meetings to 25 and 55 minutes.
- We have meeting-free Fridays from 3-5 p.m.
- We added an extra day off to the Labor Day holiday
- We told people they can carry over more of their PTO this year into next year
- We added extra counseling sessions in our employee assistance program
- We switched over to Microsoft Teams and really adopted the channels and chats.
We know every company responded differently following George Floyd's murder and have approached the need for social justice with different approaches. Talk to us about what you did at Kraft Heinz.
KA: At Kraft Heinz, we listened a lot. And we are still listening. We involved our employees in the process and our resource group leaders helped us. We had really difficult conversations with employees. There were lots of tears and lots of frustrations. We acknowledged that we didn’t know everything and we couldn’t boil the ocean.
And then we took action to create real change that our employees would feel. We created several commitments that served as a starting point and we made sure to talk about it as just that. We have to remember that it has taken us 400 years to get here; we’re not going to fix it with a financial donation and a mentoring program. And we needed our employees to know that also.
We believe there are four pillars:
Employee support & development: We're introducing mentoring programs, unconscious bias training, WeLead Accelerator Program (compliments our women’s accelerator program), bringing in a speaker on allyship (and how not to be a jerk) and offering overwhelming response and support.
Recruitment: We're working on campus guides, stronger partnerships with HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and pushing on experience/qualifications with hiring managers. Is a college degree or four years at an accounting firm really necessary?
Leadership & representation: We started a Global Inclusion Council and are starting a training program for supplier diversity (big companies are notoriously tough to break into if you’re a small supplier).
Community support: We pledged $1M in financial support; held a day of service on Juneteenth that allowed people to learn, serve and give in a way that felt right to them; and partnered with organizations to make long-term change (No Kid Hungry, Rise Against Hunger, My Block My Hood My City, United Negro College Fund, etc.)
We also provided quite a bit of support for our managers, leaders and employees. People want to help, they just don’t know how. So we helped give people the words and the permission that they felt like they needed to have the conversations. We sent emails from our chief people officer and sent resources on articles to read.
We also gave people the time to sit with it. To learn. To be with people.
As a professional passionate about building women in leadership, what can we do in our own lives to be better allies to each other?
KA: It boils down to three things — listen, learn and lead
Listen: Be curious about other people’s experiences. Ask questions.
Learn: Be open to the fact that you don’t know everything. Read books. Do the work on your own and begin engaging in conversations.
Lead: In every aspect of your job, it is up to you to lead and create change. And yes, leadership has a role in supporting that and helping to create it, but it’s up to you. If you see something, say something.
And for those of you who are in a place of privilege, it is your job to be an ally. It’s not enough to just watch your own behaviors and adjust. It’s up to you to stick up for everyone else.
What are some resources you recommend to learn more about engagement or diversity and inclusion?
KA: For engagement, read "It’s The Manager" or "First, Break All the Rules" from Gallup. It's an oldie but a goodie.
For diversity and inclusion, these are all good resources.
- "So You Want to Talk About Race"
- "White Fragility"
- "How to Be Anti-Racist"
- Google "Greater Good Anti-Racist" (Berkley site with great info/articles)
- Sesame Street and CNN Town Hall (It's really good!)
- Podcasts: "The 1619 Podcast" and NPR's "Code Switch"
- TedTalk: "Racism Has a Cost for Everyone"
- "When They See Us" - based on a true story of the Central Park Five
- "Just Mercy" - true story that follows a lawyer as he defends a man on death row
- "13th" - great documentary on criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison system
- "Becoming" - the Michelle Obama documentary (the book is great, but I mean, the movie...)