My Summer in Steel-Toed Shoes

Wow. Did that just happen? It’s time to catch up on a whirlwind summer. Last time, we “spoke,” I was preparing to join PepsiCo as a human resources intern at its Frankfort, Indiana, site. I went into this experience very excited, but cautiously aware of its telling importance: what would this reveal about my decision to change careers (in my late 30s!)? Could I see myself doing this for years to come? Would this internship affirm my choice to enter HR or serve as a foreboding reality?

I lived in Lafayette, Indiana, and drove to Frankfort. This is what my drive looked like each morning…
This is the East plant parking lot. In the background is an ADM plant that did some kind of soybean refining. There’s quite a heavy manufacturing presence in Frankfort which, of course, has ramifications for recruiting and staffing.

When I entered the plant on my first day, I felt out of place. I’d never stepped foot into a factory that makes food! But I was immediately welcomed by people whose kindness and support were unlike anything I had experienced in the professional world. They were good people who believed in treating others the right way. I’d find out later– through their actions and through the actions of others in the company– that this way of doing business is an expectation of PepsiCo. There is an ethical mindset that guides the decision-making process.

This is THE awesome Frankfort HR team: Melanie, Kristi, Ramona, Shelby, and Alicia. They were nice enough to give me this framed picture at the end of the summer.

Not to say decisions were ever easy. I was given free rein to take part in almost every project on tap for the HR team, including staffing and interviewing; investigations; succession planning; performance management; and more (it all kind of blends together in the HR world). I found that Professor Inks really is right when he says that– so often– the answer to problems HR challenges is, “it depends.” Making the right decisions requires a focused analysis of all the facts, alignment with colleagues on desired outcomes, and careful consideration of the decisions’ ramifications– good and bad.

In addition to the daily HR generalist functions, I worked on two projects (most internships include one or a handful of “side projects” in addition to daily duties). The first and most all-encompassing was the migration of printed employee handbooks to digital platforms. I worked closely with my mentor and with others in the company to research the payoff of putting handbooks online, the pitfalls, and– of course– the cost. The scope of the project was huge and entailed many facets: legality, technicality, and culture, to name just some. But I was happy to take on the challenge and think it speaks volumes of PepsiCo that I was allowed to work on it.

The second project focused on outreach optimization. Specifically, figuring out how to do more than a standard outreach event where local organizations are invited onsite to learn about open positions– how to make sure the right people attend and how to turn attendance into relationships that will yield applicants.

Both projects were discussed during an end-of-summer “report-out” in Las Vegas. A “report-out” is generally a standard feature of internships; most often, people at fairly high levels (decision-makers) will watch the interns’ presentations and their input will help decide which interns are invited to return in a full-time capacity. It was three days of presentations, mixing and mingling, and fun, of course.

Elvis was in the house on the final night of our Las Vegas conference! I couldn’t resist. Shelby was a good sport!
This is Chris, fellow MHRM. He interned at a plant in York, Pennsylvania.
Chester Cheetah made an appearance! Forgive the poor quality of the pic. It was a mad dash when he arrived; everyone wanted their moment to meet him. Pictured in the background is Matt, fellow “MHRM” and friend. Matt was in Birmingham.

I also was encouraged to take part in many other activities and events to get a better understanding of the business operations and the organizational values. PepsiCo expects its HR people to get out of their offices and truly know what its employees face every day. I even wore steel-toed shoes so that I could go out on the plant floor! (On a related note, the attire at a plant is nice and easy: khaki pants, a shirt with no buttons, and steel-toed shoes; I loved not having to wear a dressy outfit every day.) As a side note, the scale of the site was amazing. The size of the machines and the amount of product was quite impressive.

Interns are expected to get the “full flavor” of what plant employees do. This is me in a truck that took product to a bin in Illinois. Of course, the person who did all the work was the driver– who earned major respect from me. It’s a demanding job because they drive *and* unload product.

Among many epiphanies this summer, here are some of the most impactful:

  • HR is awash in change. Before the internship, I knew on some level that change is constant (thanks, in part, to the MHRM classes, including Organizational Development and Change. But this experience reminded me that HR leads the conversation about change and how the change affects employees, individually and in teams. HR must be an overt change agent– supporting the change and explaining its effects.

 

  • HR professionals are always on-call and must respond immediately to unanticipated events; planning can sometimes (and often does) go out the window. They must have the ability to stay cool, calm, and collected– and to keep emotion out of the equation. I was amazed at the poise of the HR team in Frankfort, particularly the HR Director. Anything could come her way– any employee could come to her door with any kind of concern– yet she was able to calm the employee and work together to address the concern.

 

  • Most importantly, what is tolerated is taught. During our orientation in Dallas, the company clearly explained how it sees HR and what it expects from its HR professionals. Woven throughout the discussion was that ethical mindset I referred to above, but also other impressive values, including transparency and candor. I saw throughout the summer that good behavior is modeled– and emulated by those who witness it.
Speaking of values, PepsiCo is an inclusive company that, as was explained to me, wants its employees to “bring their whole selves to work.” This is me and fellow MHRM Irinka at the Chicago Pride parade. PepsiCo had an impressive turnout at this event!

I’m truly grateful for my time with PepsiCo over the summer. It was exactly what I needed to see that I’d made the right decision about changing careers to HR; to demonstrate the profound impact HR can have on both organizations and people as individuals; and– on a more personal note– to demonstrate that one doesn’t have to abandon his moral compass to succeed in business. I was able to walk into the plant every day and truly feel good about what I was doing and how I was doing it. That’s something I’ve struggled with in other professional environments.

It still impresses me that– as a student in the MHRM program– I’ve been able to take part in this amazing journey. I’ve learned so much. I’ve met fantastic people: peers, faculty, staff– and of course, professional colleagues. And I’ve been valued. Seen as someone whose talents, skills, and education are desired. It’s been a fun ride– and it’s not over yet.

 

 

Author: Tony Reed

Career "pivoter" becoming an HR management guru at tOSU