How to leverage change management techniques for transformation


I was sitting in the boardroom, surrounded by the board of directors and the leadership team, and I was sweating. The executives were tense after hearing a state of the company report that was less than flattering. And I knew how we could address it.

I was pitching a program that would save (and possibly make more) money, help us set and achieve better goals, and bring our people along with us. The program: A transformation driven by change management principles.

Organizations like Mercer, Boston Consulting, and McKinsey offer change management as part of their transformation services. The principles were likely applied at your own organization if the company changed technologies, needed to reduce expenses, or attempted to renovate company culture.

PepsiCo has been undergoing its own transformation over the past few years, led by Athina Kanioura, the consumer sector giant’s chief transformation officer. The goal? To become a tech company that happens to sell snacks and beverages. We talked with Kanioura on a recent episode of Reworking Work to understand how PepsiCo has leveraged change management principles to fuel its transformation.

Change management helps hone company priorities

Getting the executive team onboard and focused on what matters is one of the first objectives of a transformation initiative. Unfortunately, many organizations overcommit and take on too many priorities, stretching their people thin. PepsiCo was no different.

The company started with a series of questions to help them downsize the number and size of their priorities. “How impactful is it for the business?” Kanioura asked. “What is the complexity of delivery and implementation, and what is its impact on our people?”

She also had to demonstrate how the transformation would help the business become better and faster. To build a baseline of understanding, Kanioura told stories of the current and future state of their financial ambitions and their operations.

Creating a change toolkit for the company

After gaining executive agreement that change was needed, she needed to ensure everyone knew how to change. For that, PepsiCo created a change management playbook outlining how to address gaps, providing foundational elements of change, and tailoring the learning and training experiences. Next, she and her team created a value realization framework, which was used as a testing mechanism for the programs they were implementing. The framework helped them ensure they were focused on the right things and were on budget. It also helped leadership assess what programs needed to be stopped to create room for new ways of working. Last, they created a scorecard that’s reviewed by the executive team quarterly.

The framework has helped PepsiCo test out ideas and quickly assess if they are viable and valuable to current efforts. Kanioura said the most significant change was not just stopping the projects but getting back the time spent in meetings discussing initiatives that weren’t adding as much return on their time. This, too, is tracked on the framework scorecard.

Building a team to lead the change

A team effectively leading the change is necessary for any transformation or change initiative. Kanioura knew she wanted a team that was 50% tenured PepsiCo employees to ensure she had the history and intellectual property that came before the transformation. The employees who stepped into these roles had to have good networks and a keen understanding of how the company operates now in order to know what to change.

Kanioura also wanted people on her team with both a “major” and a “minor.” For example, a data engineer’s major might be technical expertise. But, perhaps they’ve also worked on supply chain projects, know the operations fairly well, and are passionate about this part of the business. That makes supply chain their minor. These multi-hyphenates can cover a lot of ground, driving change at a faster pace.

Next, she assessed their soft skills. Common problems to change, like hoarding information or being the hero that handles it all, wouldn’t be allowed. Lastly, Kanioura wanted her team to reflect society and be just as diverse as PepsiCo’s clients—a goal she accomplished with over 50% diversity.

Leverage change to boost career pathing

PepsiCo wasn’t approaching this as a technology transformation, but a company transformation. On the heels of the great resignation and quiet quitting trends, they wanted to ensure their employees could envision a career beyond where they were then.

For starters, they created paths to become a general manager, role that allows someone to easily move from a technical path to a non-technical path and vice versa.

By looking for transferable skills, they’re opening up career paths and building on the “major and minor” thinking. Diversifying their own talent’s skill sets builds a workforce of digital savvy players, whom Kanioura believes will create the pool of candidates for future CEOs. 


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