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Ep 484: Innovation and Skills-Based Hiring


The pace of business change is continuing to accelerate. According to a recent McKinsey Global Survey, business leaders expect that by 2026, half of their companies’ revenues will come from products, services, or businesses that haven’t been invented yet. Innovation is critical for companies to survive and thrive. So how can employers ensure they have talent strategies in place to have the right skills to create and drive new ideas forward, and could innovation be the catalyst that accelerates skills-based hiring?

My guest this week is Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo’s first ever Chief Design Officer and author of a new book on people-centric innovation. In the book, Mauro does a deep dive into the skills, culture and philosophy companies need to innovate. It was brilliant to hear his views on what employers need to do to attract, retain and develop people with the diverse skills required for effective innovation.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The role of Chief Design Officer at Pepsico

• How business cultures have changed

• Designing the future with human-centric design

• The 24 skills needed for innovation and the importance of identifying and developing them in leaders

• Building a culture of innovation

• Process versus people

• The power of kindness, optimism and curiosity

• The relationship between kindness and productivity

• Recognising and recruiting innovators

• Redesigning the recruiting process

• What does the future look like?

Mauro’s book – The Human Side of Innovation: The Power of People in Love with People

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.


2 (18s):
Hi there, This is Matt Alder Welcome to Episode 484 of the Recruiting Future Podcast The pace of business change is continuing to accelerate According to a recent McKinsey Global Survey. business leaders expect that by 2026, half of their company’s revenues will come from products, services, or businesses that haven’t yet been invented. Innovation is critical for companies to survive and thrive. So, how can employers ensure they have talent strategies in place to have the right skills to create and drive new ideas forward?

2 (59s):
And could innovation be the catalyst that accelerates skills? Based Hiring. My guest this week is Maro Pacini PepsiCo s first ever Chief Design Officer, and author of a new book on people centric innovation. In, the book, Mauro does a deep dive into the skills, culture and philosophy companies need to innovate. It was brilliant to hear his views on what employers need to do to attract, retain, and develop people with the diverse skills required for effective innovation. Hi Mario, and welcome to the podcast.

3 (1m 36s):
It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

2 (1m 39s):
An. absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

3 (1m 45s):
I am the Chief Design Officer of PepsiCo. I’m the author of a book, the title is The Human, Side of Innovation The, Power of People in Love with People. And my mission in life is the one of driving design and design thinking as a way to build value for companies, but mostly once again for people, society and the world out there.

2 (2m 11s):
Fantastic stuff. Really want to talk more about your book, but before you do, I suppose by way of background, tell us a little bit about yourself and also a little bit about your work at PepsiCo.

3 (2m 23s):
Well, as you probably can hear from a accent, I’m not American, even though I’m American citizen right now, but I, I am Italian. I was born there and I grew there from a family. Put two things in front of anything else, the prioritize two things in life when they were growing me. One is the idea of culture, knowing things, knowledge, the dream. One of the two dreams they had for me was to become a professor university because I would invest all my life in growing that knowledge and the culture. And the second value was the idea of kindness, being a good person. And indeed the other dream, the most important dream that they had for me was for me to become a priest because that’s what was embodying for them.

3 (3m 8s):
That idea of kindness and being good to others. And then I, I grew up looking at them, witnessing them every day, following their love, their passion, and, and in particular my father was an architect and a high school professor, but he would spend every single day painting and sketching and drawing. And my mother was working in finance, but she really didn’t like the work. And she would spend every day writing something poems and thoughts in know diary. And over the years they pub they self-published eight books just for themself, not with intent of selling or anything. And So, I mentioned in these three things because they’ve been so important for me to become who I am today.

3 (3m 54s):
This idea of kindness, this idea of culture and learning all your life, and then this idea of doing what you love, following your passion and ideally that that was my case, is the case for me, transforming what you love also in your job. It was not the case of for my parents. And that’s inspiring as well because no matter the jobs, they found a way to carve out time for what they really loved. I was fortunate enough to combine the two things in what I do today.

2 (4m 26s):
And tell us a bit more about what you do at the moment.

3 (4m 29s):
Well, I work three dimensions of, of, of design for the PepsiCo Corporation. The first one is Designing, the identity holder brands who have in the portfolios from Pepsi to Lace to Quaker, and many, many more we have in in our portfolio. The second is leveraging design thinking to build experiences around those brands, essentially is a new way to build brands in this global social media driven tech society we live in. And so this goes from collaborations in the fashion world between Pepsi and the Square, Pepsi and Puma, Nike and Gatorade brand and many others.

3 (5m 14s):
All the way to building restaurants in New York inspired by the world of colors or experiences in the fashion world during, you know, a fashion week in Shanghai and many, many others. Essentially is, is is the idea of engaging with people so much, creating so much excitement in a meaningful, relevant way for them that they’re gonna take out their phone, take pictures, videos, and share them with the world, becoming generators of content for us and building a complete different kind of connection with our brands that is based on love and and and emotional loyalty versus simple satisfaction for a need that we fulfill to our products and brands.

3 (6m 2s):
And then the third dimension is thinking about the future, where the world is going, where society is going, where we will all be in 20 years, in 30 years, and then going back to today and try to understand how to prepare the company, but mostly the industry for the future. This is where we have products like Gatorade, gx, wearable technologies that you put on your skin, like a smart patch that you put on your skin to measure your sweat in the composition and send and then send in information to an app that suggest you the kind of concentrate of Gatorade that you need. And then you have a smart bottle, sustainable, you fill with water, you put your pot, you get your perfect intake, what you need, what your body need, and the mo the bottle monitor everything you are drinking and send back the information to an app.

3 (6m 52s):
This is an example of four pillars of innovation that we are investing on that are common also to many other industries. Sustainability, health and wellness, personalization enabled by tech,

2 (7m 5s):
Amazing stuff. And I know that these are some of the themes that you pick up, In, the book, I know it’s been recently published. Tell us more about the book and its core message.

3 (7m 13s):
Well, there are two main messages. In the book, the first part of the book talks about how the world is changing under the winds of globalization, new technologies, digitization. So what we’re observing every day and now all these changes are forcing companies to build brands in very different ways in, we live in a moment in which it’s so important to put people, the people we serve, what some companies call consumers is a word that they don’t particularly like. But putting people before anything else before the goal of increasing your market share or generating more revenues or increasing profitability or before the goal of leveraging a patent or a technology that could really disrupt the market.

3 (8m 4s):
All of this is a thinking that is not working in this new world as it used to be for a variety of different reasons. So, I, In, the book, I talk about how everything is changing and you need to refocus all your efforts on what, what we call human centricity, putting people before anything else. What, what that means is that you wanna hire people that come to the company thinking, wow, this company is a platform to create something amazing for people out there. Amazing products and services and brands versus people that come to your company thinking, well I’m gonna grow this company from A to B and I’m gonna look at the product as one of the levers for the growth, but if I grow the B the business leveraging other levers, distribution, pricing and so on so forth, I can still win.

3 (8m 53s):
I can still become an amazing business business leader, I can still do good for this company and grow. Well it is a slightly different culture. The first one is a culture of individuals that put other individuals before anything else thinking I’m gonna generate business value for the company if I generate human value first. The latter culture study is I’m gonna generate business value for the company and if I can generate also human value for people, that’s a great added value to what I do. This kind of culture doesn’t work anymore in the world we live in today. That’s the first part of the book with all the reasons why it doesn’t work.

3 (9m 35s):
The second part talks about the fact that, well, once you understand that and you wanna introduce this idea of human centricity and you start to introduce all the tools, the methodologies, the ways of work, for instance in my world is the world of design thinking. You introduce this idea of design thinking within your company. Well that’s what I did for many, many years in my previous life in 3m before arriving to PepsiCo in the tech company from Minnesota. You do all of this at a certain point you realize that those tools, those methodologies, what you buy from this consult and pay millions and millions of dollars, you know, for them to sell you those tools and methodologies is not enough.

3 (10m 17s):
It’s just not enough. I was looking at all the projects I was running with this design driven approach and some of them were doing very well and many others were failing. And over the years I came to a realization that it’s pretty obvious now, I’m gonna say, you know, in this podcast, but so many times we don’t talk about these in companies. The realization was that what was really making the difference in each of these product projects was the people behind the tools and the methodologies. And yet this company invest in these ways of work in tools, methodologies, and now data and all these different kind of additional tools that technology is giving us.

3 (10m 57s):
And when things don’t work in the proper way, very rarely they focus on who was the person behind that tool and the collective people behind the, the tool in the team. How they think do they have, do they have the right ability to analyze those datas with the right empathy, the right sensitivity? Did they have the right ability to push things through the system, the right resilience, the right courage, the right intuition, the right vision, the right kindness and ability to connect with others to bring everybody with them a series of skills. In the book, I talk about 24 different skills of these incredible leaders that I call the unicorns that are so important.

3 (11m 41s):
They literally made all the difference of the world in what we were able to do with Designing PepsiCo in tri, and yet we’re not scientific in in, in identifying them, growing them, filtering them. And some are more obvious, some are less obvious. If we can talk with If, you want, we can talk more about some of these characteristics. Some are really unexpected in this working environment and are actually the one that made the biggest difference in what we did with design in this companies.

2 (12m 11s):
Absolutely. Really wanna dig into that because I think it’s, it’s absolutely fascinating. I know it’ll be incredibly interesting to everyone listening. Just before we do though, I suppose just a bit more about the culture of organizations. So you talk about a culture of innovation and you were sort of talking a little bit about that there. Tell us a little bit more about that and how it can change in organization.

3 (12m 34s):
Well again, i i I, I study a school first and then I heard from so many consultants when I, I joined these companies that to drive innovation, you need specific methodologies. I’ll give you an example of one of them. The double diamond of design thinking. You are observe the people out there and then you start to create a series of hypothesis. So the first phase is divergent. You just fanta fantasize, essentially you create concepts and, and then once you start to have a few, you start to test them. You, you talk again with people and then you start to converge.

3 (13m 15s):
When you arrive to specific more focused solutions, you diverge again and then you converge again. And, and this is why you create this dive diamond shape and this is how it’s called a process. So you’re like, okay, great, I’m gonna do that and I’m gonna put people in a team with cross-functional that are, that have different kind of backgrounds. So I’m gonna put designers, marketers are in the, they’re in the organization, engineers, scientists and so on, so forth. And, and then you start this process and, and for so many years, so many companies believe that by applying the kind of process you will solve the problem, solve your company, that that process will really make the difference.

3 (13m 59s):
And when I witnessed this happening so many times when the process didn’t work, instead of trying to understand if they are at the right people behind the process, they started to blame the process. Design thinking is not working. You see we tried it here in these projects, but it’s not working. And the reality is that it was all about the people you are assigning to the specific project with the process. You could see also, I remember Hiring, so many big design firm and innovation firm, the salute, the methodologies, the way they working. And then the reality is that depending on what people were assigned to the specific project, the output was complet completely different.

3 (14m 40s):
And so that’s when the realization came that you needed to really understand who are the people that work on the process, on the project. And, and you need to be really strategic in the way you identify them. You grow them inside your organizations.

2 (15m 0s):
So let’s talk about that and talk about the people. So you talk about these unicorns, how do we define that? What are some of the skills that, that are really important here?

3 (15m 9s):
Well some of them are more obvious. For instance, the ability to, to dream, to think big. We’re all born with that ability. As children, we dream by definition we fantasize and then society try to stop us, try to normalize us, tell us that dreaming is childish and yet we try to preserve that ability to dream. We go to school, we get outta school, we go to these companies and when we enter the companies, we still think that we can change things. And then people come to us and they’re like, no, you can’t. Who do you think you are? Are you so arrogant to think you can change this company, this industry, this product, this society?

3 (15m 50s):
This is what usually we face. We we we live in a society that prefer the norm, the standard because it’s more controllable, is more stable than people that go in all kinds of direction, dreaming too much. So the ability to dream is very, very important. If, you wanna change things but it’s not enough. You have a few people that are able to dream, but then you also need to be able to make things happen, to land things. And landing things means also to be able to take compromises, to take trade offs. Understanding that you are taking them still progressing towards the dream, understanding how to balance the long-term vision with the day-to-day kind of activities.

3 (16m 32s):
Now something like this is not happening that much. Many times we have leaders in key positions that don’t have that kind of ability to dream or we have performance reviews that are not focused on rewarding the ability of these people to think big. There is a beautiful article on Fortune in these days that talks about performance reviews in corporations and challenge their ability to actually incentivize people and, and, and, and dimension research is actually talk about the fact that some of these performance reviews are demotivating, even the people impacted by them a and, and one of the questions that they ask is, should we focus on different kind of values as the one that I just mentioned, that ability to create a vision for the team on top of the, you know, results that you bring in the short term.

3 (17m 27s):
But how do we reward people for thinking big to prepare the company for results that will come out of the performance review cycle in two years, in three years, in four years. So all of this is, is not discussed enough inside this organization and often it’s not happening. And when you have this visionary people is because they want to be visionary. So I’m not taking that for granted, but at least when you talk about leadership, people talk about this, there are other characteristics that people don’t talk too much when we talk about innovation and changing again, for instance, The, power of kindness, the power of optimism, the power of curiosity.

3 (18m 7s):
And they’re So important to build the right teams that can really navigate not just the more traditional innovation capability of the company, but in general the fact that we live in a world, we live in a society where we need to innovate, we need to flex and change and adapt because things are moving around us at the speed of light and changing at the speed of life. And so no matter what you do, what is your job? The age in which you go to school, you learn something and you do that for the rest of your life is gone. So you need to innovate even on what you do as yourself, you know, as a talent within this organization, what you do as a team, what you do as a company.

3 (18m 47s):
And so these disabilities are important. Let’s start with curiosity, for instance. Curiosity is what drives you to see life as a never-ending opportunity for learn the cos People doesn’t rely on their bosses, their companies to give them the tools to learn. The co people understand that there are so many tools out there to grow and learn. They see their colleagues in other functions, the colleagues in Designing marketing in in r and d as mentors, as professors, as Gates to learn, you know, in that discipline. And then they read books, they travel, they see anything as an opportunity to grow.

3 (19m 30s):
They see different people as a chance to learn new things. They, Korean people love diversity by definition because they know that in diversity there is the previous, the precious gift of knowledge. In diversity there is the precious gift of knowledge because you know that somebody with a different kind of background with different biases even from yours will have a different perspective on things. And innovation is all about looking at something with that everybody look at every day and then one day for the first time changes lively perfe per perspective and since something that nobody ever saw before. This is where innovation starts from.

3 (20m 12s):
And connecting with others through dialogue, respectful dialogue, reading, traveling in a curious way is so, so important. And yet we see multiple people in key positions in these organizations that are not curious at all. They go to work, maybe they have great technical skills, but then they have zero interest in learning, in in connecting with others and growing intellectually and culturally. The another characteristic that I mentioned is optimist. If, you try to change things If, you try to drive innovation in these organizations in everything you do, by definition gonna face roadblocks all the time.

3 (20m 52s):
And If you are not optimistic. Sooner or later you’ll give up because the burden is too much. But if you’re an optimistic person, then by definition you’ll keep going on and on and on. Now optimist as all the other traits of the unicorns is partially something you are born with but then is something also you can nurture and you can grow. For instance, a technique that I use when I face a very big problem and it’s so difficult to go on, I try to step to step back and I try to put things in perspective. I remember first of all the dream, the dream is so important to keep going in the moments of difficulty.

3 (21m 32s):
And then I look back and I remember and I try to focus on the progress I did because in the moment of difficulty you just see the challenge and you don’t remember actually you did so many positive things to get where you are, you know, in the moment. On top of it, I try to remember other moments of difficulty in the past that actually helped me so much to become a better leader, a better person, or eventually even to advance certain ideas in the organization. And So, I try to understand that the moment of difficulty is just a step towards my dream and actually is a step that could gimme a lot of energy and a lot of awareness in the germ.

3 (22m 13s):
And finally to close The power of kindness that is so, so important. And yet we go often to these companies and we hear the kindness is, is weakness often, you know, it is a vulner never vulnerability. And the reality is that kindness is so powerful to connect people one with the other. Let’s take a few examples. If, you go to your work, to your company and you’re surrounded by people that are not nice to you, that are not kind to you. What do you do? Well, you go to your meetings, you do your meetings, and then you rush out of the office as fast as possible because you wanna spend time with these negative people. But If, you are If, you love the people around you, If you care about them and they care about you.

3 (22m 56s):
what you do well probably you’re gonna spend time with them, maybe a meal, maybe a drink here and there. And in the quality time, that’s when you build those unbelievable bonds and synergy that helps you solving problems when these problems will arise in your projects, in your business, also in your private life because you will bring those problems to work or If you have people surrounding you that you don’t trust, that are not kind to you, that could betray you any moment. What you are gonna do well, you’re gonna do a series of activities to protect yourself from them, to protect yourself from any kind of potential betrayal they could do to you and your team.

3 (23m 36s):
This series of activities are not necessary to the company. They’re redundant by definition. Multiply all those activities for the number of people of your company, in our cases, hundreds of thousands of people, and understand the level of lack of productivity totally hit them totally invisible inside these organizations. And yet when we talk about productivity, we talk about optimizing processes, cutting costs eventually lay enough people and very rarely we talk about productivity and increasing productivity by investing in kindness. There are many other examples I make In the book, but this give you the idea, there are so many different trades that often we don’t focus enough on that make the difference between an effective team able to drive innovation in everything we they do versus things that are by far less effective and and less successful at the end.

2 (24m 30s):
I mean there are some amazing points in there and really, really, really fascinating stuff. I suppose the question would be how can organizations sort of identify and recruit these types of people into their business? Because you know, there are lots of things that you are describing there that wouldn’t be part of a, the current sort of recruitment process that that many companies have. How should companies get these types of people into their business?

3 (24m 60s):
Look, I, if somebody has a good good answer to that, please contact me and let me know because I think it’s so difficult. It is one of the biggest challenges of my job and and the answer is that in that one hour interview is difficult to identify the right people. But first of all, let’s start with full awareness about what are these skills. Often we’re not even aware So, we don’t look for kind people, for curious people, for optimistic people. So first full awareness and try to ask a series of questions to probe a little bit how they are in their life in general.

3 (25m 40s):
The second thing I do, I usually have people in my team interviewing these candidates and I have specific people with very different backgrounds from one another, interviewing these candidates so that we can all focus on different areas, different skills of these unicorns and we can help each other assess in the candidate 360 degrees no matter this. We often make mistakes is part of the game. And, and so for me, the most powerful thing to do over the years has been something else complimentary to this. You need people to embody those characteristics.

3 (26m 22s):
If, you work in HR, identify these unicorns, the one I mean the one that really embody all this as as many of these characteristics as as possible. And make sure that you tell their stories, that they tell their stories and, and essentially, you know, now if I go back to my experience, I don’t want to lecture anybody, this is literally me and my experience, and this is what I’m sharing In the book. What I did over the years is to first identify the characteristics because I realized that the technical skills and few other things were not enough. I gave them to HR and to the recruiters to help me finding those talents. But right away I published them in a paper for the Design Management Institute review.

3 (27m 7s):
And then right away I started to use them as the topic of speeches I will do in conferences all around the world. And then they were the topic and theme of multiple interviews. So what I was trying to do was to put the message out there so the people interested to join our teams in 3M and then later on in PepsiCo would use those traits as filters to understand if they were the right fit or not. And I would reference them in interviews and in conversations with people so that again, communicating that to these people was part of the Recruiting strategy. But then, you know, you hire a certain number of people but then you have all the other people inside your company and that’s another thing.

3 (27m 52s):
There are other things that you can do within the company. If, you have as many people as possible that embody those kind of characteristics and talk about them and story tell them they’re gonna essentially create a hello effect. They’re gonna diffuse those kind of values, that kind of culture inside the organization, especially if there are leaders, Hiring, more people like them then will start to create groups, collectives of people with those kind of characteristics. And then we start to spread like fire inside the organization.

2 (28m 25s):
Absolutely. And so as a final question, and I suppose also by way of, you know, summary in terms of what we’ve been talking about, obviously we’re at a very disruptive point when it comes to work and and business at the moment. What do you hope the future looks like? You sort of talked about building, you know, for a future in two years, three years, five years. What, what do you hope that future looks like?

3 (28m 48s):
Well, I hope, and I’m doing everything I can in my, you know, my little scale to make sure that happiness is at the center of everything we do in life and therefore also at work we spend the vast majority of our life or our week or months and years at work. And so it’s so important that we are happy in that environment. It is so important for leaders and companies to drive the happiness before anything else. And then these happy people should try to drive through what they do, products, brand services, happiness for the world out there.

3 (29m 28s):
This is, you know, the subtitle of the book is People in Love with People The, Power of People in Love with People. Who are these people? The love, the the, the second set of people I talk about is this idea of human centricity. You want to focus, you want to love the people you serve. The first set of people I talk about the people loving are the innovators, entrepreneurs, the employees of your companies. The love synthesize it all is the care that you have for the people you’re serving through your products, services, experiences, and brands through your business in general. You wanna care about them, you wanna create real value for them.

3 (30m 8s):
The second dimension is the love that you have for the people around you. You wanna pay people with you in this journey. You wanna excite them, you wanna, you wanna, you wanna be fair to them, you wanna be kind to them and If you do all of this. They will be happy and they will create so much positive energy to drive the company forward, lead by compassion and kindness and don’t lead by fear. That’s So important. Today is a major shift that we need to embrace in this new society. And then finally, the third dimension of love is the love that you have for what you do. We started this conversation today talking about, this is the example that my parents gave me.

3 (30m 49s):
The passion to do something no matter what, you just love it and you do it. And, and we have so many studies starting for instance, from this beautiful book of emotion of Daniel Goldman on emotional intelligence. You know, pillar of the word of emotional intelligence published many years ago that talks about how people that love what they do perform are far better than many others. So as individuals, let’s think about this. Do we love what we’re doing and do we love the people surrounding us and now we are really creating value for other people as well. While doing all of this, if any of this question, the answer is no, then maybe it’s time to change things.

3 (31m 31s):
And as business leaders, HR leaders and, and and in general leaders of any kind of organization and community, are we driving this idea or love and happiness inside our organizations? The positive news that this is not something ethical to have and good to have in our organization. That should be enough to take the decision. But often it’s not the positive news and is the key message of the book that in this new world we live in, hyper-competitive, global digital, and technological love in these three dimensions can make your company more effective, more efficient, more productive, and generate higher quality than the four better growth in the long run.

2 (32m 15s):
Maro, thank you very much for talking to me.

3 (32m 18s):
Thank you Thank, you for having us. It’s been a pleasure.

2 (32m 21s):
My thanks to Maro. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at Recruiting Future dot com on that site. You can also subscribe to the monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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