How Kraft Heinz boosted manager support and training

Kraft Heinz CPO Melissa Werneck realized a huge need to train managers on coaching—here’s where she began.
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· 4 min read

The Kraft Heinz company was revamping its learning and development (L&D) programs when its global chief people officer, Melissa Werneck, learned something she found alarming.

“I heard from Gallup,” she told HR Brew, that only “one out of 10 people are naturally wired to be a manager.”

Werneck said the revelation affected her greatly. “I could not sleep for a week,” she said. “Oh my god, we have a gigantic job to do with the other nine!”

This, coupled with the results of an internal survey that showed that 80% of employees wanted their leaders to be better coaches, and 92% of leaders wanted to be better coaches for their employees, led to what Werneck called “the year of the manager” at Kraft Heinz, during which she and her team were “obsessive” about pursuing a holistic manager development strategy.

“We were much more intentional [about] putting a big amount of resources on making managers better, because there is a halo effect on that,” Werneck explained, referring to managers’ ability to impact many people in the organization.

Philosophy. The “year of the manager” initiative came as part of a broader effort “to build a state-of-the-art learning and development department and our corporate university,” which started in 2016, Werneck said.

In the spirit of ownership—one of the company’s core values—she moved to make development opportunities more available, expanding Kraft Heinz’s content library to include different formats such as podcasts, in addition to traditional training materials.

“We wanted to foster this ownership of learning, so [we] democratized learning and the ownership of learning…we built what we call the Ownerversity,” Werneck shared. Employees were encouraged to set their own individual learning goals.

“If you do nothing related to your own development, research says that in five years, you will be obsolete,” Werneck explained. “So, we will create everything for you. We will make it available, but you need to take action on that.”

Always-on coaching. Werneck acknowledged that the events of the last few years have made manager development tougher than ever.

“You put a pandemic, then you put a war, then you put inflation, then you put supply-chain challenges across the board, then you bring hybrid/emote/full-time/in-person decisions, and on top of that is the first time in history that we have five generations in the workplace, so being a manager is really hard,” she said.

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These challenges led to the creation of Project WIN (work as a team, inspire excellence, and navigate our future) in 2022, inspired by research from Google’s Project Oxygen—an internal study on leadership excellence—and a similar effort at Microsoft. Some 600 company leaders voluntarily participated in the first available training.

Training technology. To help managers put their updated training to practice, the HR team rolled out Humu, a manager-coaching platform. Werneck said she and the company made this decision to make manager training as scalable as it was customizable. Founded by Laszlo Bock, Google’s former chief people officer, the Humu software sends push notifications to managers’ computers to encourage them to engage in different forms of coaching with direct reports.

“It’s simple, pragmatic, on-the-go, ‘snackable’ advice, and you can customize it,” Werneck said. “You can put in all your priorities [and] what you want to get better at.”

Kraft Heinz launched Humu with a pilot program of about 1,500 leaders, mostly in commercial and office functions. Werneck said that 86% of the company’s Humu users are engaged with the platform, and that it helps ensure coaching and development are practiced more consistently. Next year, her plan is to expand it to all 4,000 of the company's managers, including those in manufacturing.

Measuring success. As with any L&D initiative, it can be challenging to measure how Kraft Heinz has benefited. Werneck said she reviews feedback from managers, employees, and 360 assessments for signs of improved satisfaction with managers and their coaching. Of course, retention is also an important goal given the conventional wisdom that people don’t leave companies, they leave their managers.

“[Managers] are not only engaged and think they are becoming better managers,” she explained, but, “Employees are saying that they are becoming better managers [too].”

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Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.