During a recent executive breakfast held at Michael Page boardroom in Sydney, we had the pleasure of hosting Rob Phipps, Chief People Officer at KFC, who spoke about connecting people and customer experience with a brand.

As Chief People Officer, Rob strongly believes that KFC’s greatest competitive advantage is its outstanding people and as a result has spearheaded multiple culture and people development programs that has seen KFC South Pacific become a leader in this area.

We took the opportunity to interview Rob after his presentation, posing questions on employee retention, managing culture and promoting innovative thinking.

How do you improve employee retention in an industry seen by many as a stepping stone in their careers?

You know they’re young people; they’re new in their careers but they helped us sort of define the best part of the working environment for them and what we’ve done is try to enhance that. So they told us they appreciate when they can be their best selves at KFC, they get help to, for instance, grow skills that improves their life not just their career at KFC. So our engagement strategy in a way, is centered on what they’ve told us.

How do we help them be their best self in life? If they want to become a teacher, we want them to be a better teacher as a result of working at KFC. And if we can do that for them, then when they come to work they feel like there’s a bigger purpose to what they’re doing.

Well my plan for us is actually based on the insight of research we did with our team members. So we were all aware from the research that there were conversations going on and team members really appreciated those conversations with the restaurant managers. Those conversations really centered on what they want to do in life or perhaps it’s some goals that they want to achieve. Our restaurant managers would try and help them with that, and they did a very good job of it. 

How do you manage culture?

You know every company in my view has a set of values and every company has a culture. In my view, values are what the company says things ought to be like around here. The culture is what the aggregated opinions of the people in an organisation say it is like around here.

So values are owned really, by the organisation and culture is owned by the people that are a part of that organisation.

The way that we manage culture over the last few years is through using tools. We have used the Human Synergistics OCI tool that measures culture. We are now using a slightly different tool called Heartstyles which helps individuals assess their behaviour at various times.

And whilst you can’t directly force people to sort of act in a certain way for culture; I don’t think that works, knowing what it looks like and enabling people with tools, individually, to understand their behaviour, not change themselves, just to understand their behaviour at times, and improve that behaviour wherever they can, tends to have a very positive influence, in my opinion, over culture.

How do you promote innovative thinking at KFC?

I don’t know whether most people realise but we tend to release a new product every four weeks. So our new product development pipeline in terms of how we bring that to life through the organisation is kind of almost on steroids. It’s just so frequent, the cycles of new products that we bring to life. So for us, having a great culture helps us to make that process a) smoother b) more effective and, I guess implicitly, faster.

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At a recent Michael Page boardroom breakfast, we had the opportunity to interview Rob Phipps, Chief People Officer at KFC. His key takeaways were:

  • Focus on helping employees grow skills that improves their life;
  • Use tools to manage culture. One example is Heartstyles, which helps assess employee behaviour;
  • Innovative thinking comes back to a great people culture, helping the process of innovation become smoother and more effective.
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