Culture and Organizational Best Practices with Bjorn Erland and Pamela Wasley

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and having the cultural mindset to embrace the needed diversity of the workplace.

Today’s guests are Bjorn Erland, Senior Director, HR Excellence at Taco Bell and Pamela Wasley, CEO, Cerius Executives. To hear the entire show, click here.

On the show today, we have two senior executives talking about the best practices and the healthy work culture they have in place within their respective organizations.

Bjorn Erland culture

Bjorn Erland has been with Yum! Brands since 2008 and is currently leading the HR excellence team at Taco Bell. His team mainly deals with the design work within the HR function which includes training and development, compensation, rewards, wellness, engagement and more. According to Erland, Yum! Brands gives a lot of opportunities for career growth and development to its employees. He has himself experienced this first hand since his current role is his fifth position over his seven years with the company.

Changing Landscape of HR

Having worked in human resources at Yum! since 2008, Erland has seen HR as a function undergo several changes. In his initial years with the organization, the country was undergoing a massive recession. The job market is much different now compared to back when the economy was falling. Secondly, over the years, technology has changed the game when it comes to recruitment and talent management. It was all about cold calling and scouting talent in the mid-2000s. “Social media has changed how we find and recruit people in the landscape of HR,” says Erland. Lastly, the generations of workforce has changed in the last few years. “Managing through these different generations and trying to meet their needs and develop them has been a pretty big change over time as well,” he concludes.

Recruiting a Diverse Set of People

Yum! Brands has a very diverse workforce. Hence, recruiting all of them through social media isn’t always possible. For their restaurants, Erland says many people look for restaurant jobs in their city via online searches. However, they still have a lot of people who walk into the restaurants seeking jobs. Another thing Erland has observed that is very beneficial for them is employee referrals. “In recruitment, referrals are some of the top ways of hiring talent because they usually stick since their friends are there. Since we’re a pretty strong consumer brand, we tend to attract people who like to eat at restaurants and like hanging out there. They get their friends, so it’s a pretty good avenue,” explains Erland. The company also actively uses social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook where they have a ton of followers. They have a Tumblr page that features team members who “Live Mas”, Taco Bell’s slogan, in their personal lives. Thus, Erland says they try out a variety of things and then hone in on the key areas that drive strong talent and meet hiring goals.

HR Challenges in the Restaurant Industry

With the economy recovering and the job market getting competitive, Erland says that recruiting talent has become challenging. Thus, offering a strong career path along with a great culture is important not only to attract but also retain talent. In the restaurant business, retaining talent is a challenge because some kids have to go back to college while others have to move to some other place. It’s a workforce that tends to be a little more transient at times. Hence, being able to attract people that can stay for long is a big task. Having a really strong employment brand is key, according to Erland.

Driving Culture

David Novak, currently the Executive Chairman of the organization, was very passionate about creating a winning culture during his time as the CEO of Yum! Brands when the company spun off from Pepsico. He emphasized creating a culture that was fun and predicated on recognition. In fact he has written two books – “The Accidental CEO” and “Taking People With You” – both on culture and how he built the culture from scratch when they spun off. Erland says that the company has created “How to Win Together” principles which are based on working at Yum! and competencies expected from employees. At Taco Bell, they took together these principles along with the Live Mas approach and created their own HUNGRY principles. Each of the letters in HUNGRY has different statements that align with the “Yum! How we Win Together” principles but are a lot more easy for team members in the restaurants to understand. These principles were rolled out three years back and are doing very well. “And all along the way we’ve taken our franchisees with us. They partner with us, they give us feedback and they’re really good at taking things we develop and cascading them to their restaurants,” says Erland when asked about maintaining the same culture in franchises. He adds that franchise owners realize the importance of culture for better customer satisfaction scores which in turn drives sales and profitability. When they see the business impact of culture they drive it in their restaurants.

The G in the HUNGRY principles is for Grateful and recently the company held grateful rallies across the country to show its gratefulness to its employee and franchisees and make sure they all knew how important they are for the business.

Leadership Training

Few years back, Taco Bell developed a program called MARK which is all about finding your vision as a leader and how to incorporate it into the restaurants. About 1500 restaurant general managers have been trained through this course in the last two years. The managers come out of this training realizing they are a part of something big and that they have the roadmap of how they would be aiding in achieving the overall vision of the company. The company has seen significantly lower turnover rate among managers who have taken this program compared to those who haven’t.

Also, the restaurant general managers are like father figures to the employees. Thus, Taco Bell chooses its general managers very carefully because they want people who can lead effectively and also really care about the people working for them. Some managers conduct monthly meetings with their employees and talk about everything other than work. They ask them about their school, their family and other things going on in their lives. This is a great way of connecting with employees and makes them feel taken care of. In the company’s engagement survey, these employees often come out as the most engaged. Yum! Brands does an extensive succession planning all the way down to the restaurant level. They identify people who have the potential to become great leaders and then explore ways to prep them up for new roles. They have an Individual Development Plan (IDP) process, a mid-year check in that is focused on employee development. It lays out a plan based on skills required to become effective in a new role along with a list of competencies that the person is good at. Leaders then sit together and have an honest conversation about that individual’s future. All of this is rolled up into a broader succession planning process that is reported to the CEOs of different brands and then eventually to the parent company.

What Are You Reading?

Bjorn Erland is currently reading “The Good Jobs Strategy” by Zeynep Ton, Adjunct Associate Professor of Operations Management at MIT Sloan School of Management. Drawing on more than a decade of research, Ton shows how operational excellence enables companies to offer the lowest prices to customers while ensuring good jobs for their hourly employees and superior results for their investors.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Bjorn via LinkedIn. To find out about job openings at his company, visit the career pages at or

Pamela Wasley culture

Pamela Wasley is the CEO of Cerius Executives, an interim executive management firm. This year, the company launched its first online talent platform which enables people to find their vetted executives whenever and wherever they want. “Think of us an eHarmony. You answer a couple of questions and then you find a perfect match. We do the exact same thing, only that we have eight questions not 100s,” says Wasley while trying to explain the Cerius platform. It helps find the best match one needs in order to resolve an issue at a company.

Focus Areas

Wasley has two primary areas of focus:

  • Clients – Both, interim executives as well as companies, are Wasley’s clients. She says she has to know what’s happening with them, what are their likes and dislikes and where they’re going.
  • Vision – She is a voracious reader and likes to keep a tab on what her competitors are doing, especially in technology since that’s her background.

Interim Executive Management Landscape

According to Wasley, there has been an interesting evolution of interim management in the United States. It’s only been a couple years since CEOs and HR executives started warming up to the idea of using part-time executives. They were familiar with the concept for lower level employees but not for upper management. Now that they’re getting pretty comfortable with the idea, they’re hiring interim executives for more than just a project, sometimes even for positions such as VP of Sales, Chief Marketing Officer and so on. Earlier Wasley used to believe that small mid-sized companies would need her firm’s services more than bigger companies. However, recently she has been seeing that the bigger companies need them just as much. Whether it’s because some of them may be falling behind their competition or their technology may be behind or simply because they have the wrong talent – they need someone to help. Thus, all kinds of companies need part-time contract executives to help them solve their issues.

Culture at Cerius

There is no hierarchy at Cerius Executives. “The culture is about no politics. We don’t worry about titles. We work together as a team. We motivate and push people to be responsible for achieving their goals as well as the goals of other people they work with. So, at the end of the day if you achieved all your goals but you didn’t help anyone else meet their goals, then you’re not getting a big bonus,” explains Wasley. This technique helps everyone work towards the overall goals of the company.

Wasley says she loves to see people stretch their potential. She highly emphasizes the importance of putting people in situations that demand them to do more than what their job descriptions say. “Even if they make a mistake, they learn more from their mistakes than they’ll ever learn from their successes,” explains Wasley. She also adds that no one should be judged by the number of hours they work. Wasley says she had worked with companies where employees would hang around as long as the boss was in the office and creep out ten minutes after he left. It was all about being seen. At her company, Wasley has no problem with people leaving early or doing other things during work hours as long as they meet their goals at the end of the month.

She believes in inculcating leadership among her employees by having them be a part of the decision making team and asking their opinions. Especially with millennials, she believes it’s very important to make them feel like they are a part of the company. They are very passionate about what they do and she makes sure they’re included in every aspect of the business.

Passion for Mentoring

Wasley doesn’t do consulting anymore because she is busy running her company. But she still continues to mentor entrepreneurs, something she is really passionate about. She loves seeing her mentees go through different stages of their business. She finds it very invigorating to mentor them or be a part of their Board of Advisors or Directors and see them take their company to the mid-level and then to the IPO level. She has recently also started working with family businesses. She finds it fascinating that for nearly 200 years these businesses always insisted on keeping it within the family but that’s no longer the case. The family members who are supposed to take over the business are not very keen on doing that and the ones that are interested in taking over the business want to keep it for about ten years and then sell it. These members, a lot of them being millennials, are interested in doing something new instead of doing the same thing over and over. Wasley enjoys seeing these generational differences.

What Are You Reading?

Pamela Wasley is currently reading “The Future of Work” by Jacob Morgan that talks about five trends that are impacting the future of work – millennials, mobility, technology, new behaviors and globalization.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Pamela via LinkedIn.