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Learn (and Lead) Like an Owner: A Conversation with Pamay Bassey

Ekpedeme “Pamay” Bassey likes to lead by example.  

Bassey has been the chief learning officer at Kraft Heinz Co. since December 2018. In her 11 months on the job, she has modeled daily the type of continuous learning mindset that she would like to spread among the food and beverage giant’s 38,000 employees.  

Bassey’s approach is wholly aligned with the company’s culture, which is summarized in one word on the iconic brand’s career web page: Ownership. “ We think and act like owners of our business, treating every dollar as if it were our own. We recognize and reward outstanding performance at every level, in the true spirit of meritocracy.”

 “Creating a culture of continuous learning starts with ownership,” says Bassey, who will present on the topic of lifelong learning at the  i4cp 2020 Next Practices Now Conference, to be held March 23 – 26 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

 “When I got to Kraft Heinz, I saw an opportunity to immediately step up as a leader and say, ‘This is what being a continuous learner looks like. This is what I do every day, every week, every month to keep learning and acquiring knowledge.’”

 Bassey wasted no time taking ownership of the learning function at Kraft Heinz. She is currently in the homestretch of a yearlong learning initiative she designed for herself just weeks after arriving. 

“I’m on day 293,” Bassey told i4cp in October. “I want to learn something every day and share it with our people.” 

For example, Bassey seeks out relevant research, articles, and data to share with her peers via KetchApp, Kraft Heinz’s internal networking mobile app, using the hashtag #LearnLikeAnOwner.  

And, with the official launch of the Learn Like an Owner campaign, Bassey is working to ensure her daily learning ritual catches on with other employees at all levels throughout Kraft Heinz. So far, so good.  

“I’m going to keep doing this every day,” she says. “And I’ve gone from being the lone nut doing this to launching this global learning campaign to identify our employees’ learning commitment. We have 500 Kraft Heinz employees on board so far, and it’s really a big part of the commitment to modeling continuous learning.”  

Providing learning resources and roadmaps

In addition to sharing with her colleagues, Bassey sees one of her primary roles as CLO as empowering them to seek out learning opportunities on their own.  

“No matter what challenge you have in front of you, you can learn your way through it,” she says. “We talk about upskilling and reskilling being important, but it’s also important to instill belief in your employees that learning can be the way to get through and solve a challenge.” 

The way Bassey sees it, she and her peers on the learning and development team are simply charged with providing the resources and roadmap to help them get there. 

“For example, our culture is known for giving people a lot of responsibility, and making bets on people,” says Bassey. “So, if someone tells me to assume a leadership position in a different part of the organization, how do I do that? Where do I go to find out what I need to know to tackle this new role, or to take on a task that I’ve never done before?” 

Kraft Heinz employees can start this journey through the company’s Ownerversity, an academy-based corporate university designed to provide employees with continuous learning opportunities.  

Launched in 2017, the company’s online learning system offers access to more than 4,000 online courses, 500 e-books, and custom learning content. The platform is organized into various academies, with some supporting specific business groups and designed to help impart, say, marketing or research and development-related skills. Other academies are more generalized, and focus on fostering the type of skills and knowledge required for any role at Kraft Heinz.  

Passing on what you’ve learned

Life has changed over the years for learning practitioners like Bassey.  

“We all have access to the Googles and YouTubes of the world. And no matter how lovely the learning environment we’ve created within our organization, we can’t expect people to always come to us.” 

In other words, learning leaders must create internal content that’s useful and applicable, says Bassey.  

“It’s great to consume thousands of minutes of learning, but then what does that mean? How can I put this learning skill into practice? It’s not just about reading a great, informative article that’s relevant to your role, or relevant to your organization. It’s about putting that information to work, and encouraging others to do the same.” 

As Bassey’s yearlong campaign winds down, she looks eagerly toward the initiative’s next phase, and finding out what others have learned as part of this initiative.  

As learners complete their commitments tied to the #LearnLikeAnOwner campaign, for example, Bassey and the L and D team are noting the learning choices they are making—whether they are choosing to learn inside or outside Kraft Heinz’ learning environment and what types of learning materials they gravitate toward.  

Gathering this information should help to optimize the organization’s learning offerings, says Bassey, adding that the learning and development function is also conducting focus groups to solicit employee opinions about the company’s learning environment.  

“After I am done with this yearlong commitment, we’ll start having conversations on a regular basis to find out what they’ve learned, how it’s changed them and impacted their work, and how it could inform new learning opportunities for them and their peers,” she says.  

“And, as a learning leader, you need to reflect and think about how what you and other employees are learning can be applied throughout the organization. It’s one thing to philosophically commit to learning. It’s another thing to actually create opportunities for learning.”

Photo courtesy of John DeMato.