‘We’re here because we have team members - without them we don't have anything’

Tyson Food’s EVP of people sits down with HRD to talk the pandemic, processes and putting people first

‘We’re here because we have team members - without them we don't have anything’

For Johanna Söderström, EVP, people organization at Tyson Foods, successfully aligning company culture through major change initiatives has been a key focus of the past few years.

Over the past three years, the HR department has been transformed, with Söderström emphasizing the importance of maintaining a steadfast commitment to the wellbeing of their team members. 

"One of our key efforts has been to ensure that we stick to our concrete focus on caring for our team members,” she says. “We’re here because we have team members, frontline team members working on the line, and without them we don't have anything. The importance of ensuring that we truly do care and understand the needs of our hourly team members, of all of our 140,000 team members for that matter, [is essential].

Pandemic catalyst for HR leadership

And the pandemic only accentuated the need to prioritize the care of Tyson Food’s team members, making it clear that a people-centric approach is not just an ideal but a strategic imperative. Söderström tells HRD that the challenge was aligning HR efforts with the broader company strategy, emphasizing that without this alignment, there is a risk of creating disconnections that could erode the culture rather than fortify it. 

“You can do a lot of things, but if you don't align your efforts with the company's overall strategy and vision, you’ll have a disconnect that will more so destroy the culture than unite people," she says.   

To bridge this gap, Tyson Foods implemented an engagement survey spanning the entire organization. It’s this data that serves as a robust metric, offering insights into employee satisfaction, discretionary efforts, and intent to stay.

"The engagement survey allows us to understand where we're having opportunities and where we're strong internally,” Söderström says. “But also [it’s] a direct voice from the team members across the company of what is important to them.”

An integral part of Tyson Foods' strategic evolution is the digitalization of operations. Söderström acknowledges the common challenge of implementing digitalization in frontline environments. The company reevaluated its approach, striving to mirror the digitalization efforts in HR processes, ensuring that team members could access essential services conveniently.

"For us to have the opportunity to get our employees engaged in training opportunities and encourage them through the guild offering to constantly develop themselves is a win-win-win," she says. 

AI’s role in supercharging employee data

And you’d be remiss to talk about development opportunities without touching upon AI and the impact of generative chat. In the realm of digitization, Söderström envisions AI's potential in areas like talent acquisition, reducing the time spent on manual tasks and enhancing the screening process - however, she is particularly enthusiastic about its application in labour relations.

“Think about all the elements that will tell you whether you have areas which are more exposed to people seeking to leave the company,” she tells HRD.

“There are things you want to understand about the overall environment around sites or communities and how you can create what I would just call ‘heat maps’. That’s everything that’s important for you to understand your vulnerability or your risks or your opportunities - put all of that together to truly understand where your opportunities are.

“We need to do the same on the side just so that we are well equipped to understand the opportunities. This is also where the engagement survey [comes in] - the large language models and bringing insight from all different areas together to understand data that you, as a human, wouldn't necessarily but using. Utilizing AI you could do so [for you].

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