Why Pepsi's CEO writes to her employees' parents

Indra Nooyi says her letters have 'opened up emotions of the kind I have never seen.'

By Forbes Digital Feb 6, 2014 3:01PM
Credit: © Ruben Sprich/Reuters

Caption: Indra Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCoBy Kevin Kruse, Forbes Contributor

We've all heard about the value of writing thank-you notes to our employees. Doug Conant is one role model, having sent 30,000 handwritten notes to employees while he was the CEO of Campbell Soup (CPB).

And I've written previously about the US Marine Corps' tradition of including family members in promotion ceremonies.

But should you write notes to your employees' parents -- or even call them on the phone?

Reaching out to your employees' parents is precisely what PepsiCo (PEP) CEO Indra Nooyi (pictured) thinks you should do. Normally an idea like this would be easy to dismiss, but when it's offered by the executive named by Forbes as one of the 10 most powerful women on the planet, we should probably take note.

In a wide-ranging interview conducted at Davos, Nooyi describes her wholehearted leadership approach. She said:
We've worried about buying employees, we've worried about bouncing them when things didn't work, but we've never focused on engaging them with their hearts.
Nooyi's epiphany came when she visited her own mother and was greeted by an endless parade of her mom's friends. Nooyi realized that her career success didn't just make her mother proud but was also an indicator of "what a good job" her mom had done in raising her.

Nooyi decided to write to the parents of each of her direct reports so they could experience pride in their children and know they had succeeded as parents. Nooyi describes her approach:
I said, 'Therefore I'm writing to thank you for the gift of your son, who is doing this at PepsiCo, and what a wonderful job this person is doing.' . . . It was a personal letter for each family member. And it opened up emotions of the kind I have never seen.
In the same interview, Nooyi describes how PepsiCo was struggling to hire a candidate she wanted badly. Taking the outreach to parents even further, Nooyi decided to call the candidate's mom on the phone and sold the mom on why PepsiCo was the right choice. She landed the candidate.

Other companies have begun to integrate the parents of their workers in different ways, too. LinkedIn has established a Bring Your Parents To Work Day, which has been successful, and at least 22 other companies have signed on to participate.

While critics may suggest this is another sign of unhealthy "helicopter" parenting, our bonds to our parents and their desires to see their children succeed are certainly timeless.

We live in a time when most business leaders are focused more on quarterly goals than on the company's mission and focused more on tasks to be done than on people to be led. Integrating employees' family members into their work experience is an example of wholehearted leadership and recognizing the "whole person" at work.

Ideas like Nooyi's may be unconventional but may also be a direct way to strengthen relationships with employees and to increase engagement.

More on Forbes

68Comments
Feb 6, 2014 3:35PM
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I don't really want my employer contacting my parents.  I hope I'm not the only one who is grown up and finds this weird.  I don't need my parents to hear how much my employer values me to feel good about myself and all warm and fuzzy inside.  My parents know how hard I work because they instilled work ethic in me, and didn't give me a gold star for every trivial thing I did.
Feb 6, 2014 3:46PM
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My employer  thanks me every pay day.

Feb 6, 2014 3:53PM
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I don't have to have an employer tell my mother how hard I work or how well I do my job, she is proud of me, no matter what.  But I believe what this article is attempting to state is  that this type of "thank you"  is to let the employee know that this company cares about family.... period.  This is a good thing if they make good on that appearance.  Making employment a family affair gives the employee a feeling that if this company cares about my parents, my wife and my kids  then no matter how hard I work, it is worth it,  I will be rewarded.  Again, great thing, if the company truly cares.  Bad and in poor taste if the sentiments are just words on paper.
Feb 6, 2014 4:08PM
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Pay decent pay, expect hard work, pat on back...end of story.  You don't need to know my politica beliefs, religious beliefs, my parents names..nothing, except did I do a good job and if your majesty could bring herself to say thank you and treat me as an adult, not a child.

 

Writing parents is treating an employee like a child

 

 

Feb 6, 2014 4:05PM
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Has anybody noticed that there are fewer and fewer articles where you can comment on news sites on the web? What is happening is that big corporations cannot control what people say on the comments and even though they have their paid minions to push their agenda through comments that seem to be from "the people" , if you have a few minions against thousands of real people, the truth will always prevail.
Feb 6, 2014 6:04PM
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How about doing it the old fashioned way - by giving out a bonus? At least that extra money will come in handy when they turn around and lay you off.
Feb 6, 2014 3:57PM
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How the heck does she even know who an employee's parents are?   None of your  business.   Companies used to ask you what church you go to,  gonna have babies,

 

Talk about government nannies!!!!!!!!!!   Big business nannies

Feb 6, 2014 3:49PM
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The "Thank You ... your son/daughter is great" to an employee's parent sounds nice ... calling a perspective employee's mom to get them to take a job ... over the line.
Feb 6, 2014 5:33PM
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Gee kinda reminds me of my mother sending "Got caught doing good" letters to her students' parents.  Really!  Are we in grade school?   I am a young adult and soon will be in an administrative position providing management support to 250 people.   My boss is my boss.  He is  not my teacher, parent, friend, spiritual adviser, guru, yoga instructor or anything else.  He is the person to whom I am accountable for my work.  He was hired to  is to manage the workers in his department and get the best productivity from them.  Yes, I guess you could say for some people sending letters such as this to their parents that might produce better productivity.  However, to me, this is very creepy. My parents would laugh....then probably be as creeped out as I would if they ever received anything like this.  Probably  they would suggest I look for a new job.  I would rather keep my parents out of my work life just as I do with my social life. 
Feb 6, 2014 4:13PM
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This sort of thing makes for great press ... but in reality does little or nothing to further a company's cause.  Sure you might earn a couple of brownie points with my mom - but in the end, if you can't convince ME that I'm a valued employee, if you don't sell ME on why I should be working for you - you're pissin' in the wind.
Feb 6, 2014 4:23PM
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I think it's kind of creepy and indicative that maybe she has too much time on her hands.
Feb 6, 2014 6:16PM
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It's all flowers and rainbows... until it's time for a corporate re-organisation....
Feb 6, 2014 6:09PM
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I don't get it.  Here are my questions:  How do they even get the parents' phone numbers?  Are the employees required to provide Mommy & Daddy's contact info?  Or do Mommy & Daddy already call the office all the time to run interference for Madison and Justin?  What about older employees?  Does the company call their children?  What about employees who are estranged or even in hiding from abusive families?  This is really taking the 20-something unique & specialness too far.  After I post this, I'm going to see what brands are under this company's umbrella and make a note to quit using them.  What a waste of space this CEO must be.

Feb 6, 2014 3:55PM
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Paternalism like in coal mines and the old cotton mills.    I wrote your daddy today to tell him I was disappointed in you falling for that union stuff.
Feb 7, 2014 8:37AM
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How cute, and how CHEAP. If an ADULT employee is doing that well, MORE MONEY is the way you show approval--just like it is for executives. (Usually, ONLY for executives.)
Feb 6, 2014 5:57PM
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This sounds like "How to engage with Millenial workers," since they probably still live at home well into their 30's. (And I'm not disparaging Millenials for still living at home.  With the cost of healthcare now taking 1/3 of monthly income and beyond, Xers will be moving back home too.)
Feb 6, 2014 8:25PM
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Yeah...also found that a bit creepy....I'm 47 and know i'm a hard worker. I really don't need the pinch on the cheek from my mommy to tell me so. But as was stated, if you can send out this many ADULT Report Cards to our parents...I would say it's the best paying Kindergarten job ever...But I'm sure you don't personally send them out..I have no doubt this gets passed on to some other already overworked minions under you. Seriously..this is what we are calling Intelligent business. Just goes to show when these companies get so big any idiot can run it, cause they basically run themselves. Save the money and give it your employees
Feb 6, 2014 3:44PM
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Who has time for that? Being a CEO is a full full time job.
Feb 6, 2014 5:09PM
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If she's sending my Momma a note....It's gonna take a lot of postage and a space shuttle..
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