How Keurig Dr Pepper Delivered during the Crisis by Putting People First

Leadership Profile
Written by Dan Christopherson

Mary Beth DeNooyer


Keurig Dr Pepper

May 2020

Before making her easy, in-house “commute” to her HR home office since the middle of March – Mary Beth DeNooyer remembers to stop, set aside the burdens of this life-altering COVID-19 crisis, and start her day with a moment of gratitude:

  • She is thankful that, to date, Keurig Dr Pepper is retaining its workforce of 26,000 employees. 
  • She appreciates how her HR team acted fast to protect people and keep operations running. 
  • She is grateful reading employee notes on the internal Workplace site that begin with, “I am proud to work for KDP.”

When DeNooyer joined Keurig Dr Pepper as CHRO last July, she never imagined a spring season quite like this. But the company’s pandemic response taught her so much, so quickly, about what this organization can do when truly tested. 

An empowering thing happened, DeNooyer says, when physical distancing took hold and remote-work kicked in: Her 10-person HR leadership team became more connected than ever.  


Working remotely, we now meet daily and talk about the issues.


DeNooyer says, “Somebody captures notes, versus having a lot of pre-reads and power point. We just don’t have time for that.”


It’s enabled us to work with speed, and with a higher level of connectivity than we had before.


As she maps out post-pandemic, return-to-work strategies, DeNooyer takes time to reflect on what she has learned these last few months:


When you look at challenges your organization faced during the COVID-19 crisis, what surprised you and how did your team respond?

We set out with two priorities that were equally important and mutually dependent: To keep our employees safe and healthy and to keep operations running so we could deliver for our customers and consumers. It was all hands on deck. We had to create new processes, policies and procedures, and there was no playbook. The corresponding part to that was we needed to move fast. We said we’re going to try things and then adjust as we go. And it has worked. We always talked about being better at doing the 80-20, and in this case, we had a real need to practice that. If it wasn’t perfect, we fixed it as we went versus trying to have it perfect before we rolled it out.


What are you most proud of when you look back at how your team and your organization stepped up?

From a company-wide standpoint, I’m most proud of the fact that we put employees first. It is the very first line item on anything. It’s how the CEO is talking internally and externally. That is ideal from an HR leader’s perspective – employees first. I think we always did that anyway, but to have it overtly said in every conversation, that makes me proud. Specifically for HR, I am really proud of the creativity and the fast solutions that we’ve been able to come up with for some really complex problems. And how we’ve been true partners with our executive team and our line leaders – understanding what they are trying to solve and what unique HR levers can we push or pull to make that work.


Have you set aside some medium-and-long term plans during your immediate response to this crisis?

I would say for the first two-to-three weeks, it was heads-down in the moment, solve for what we need right this minute. But by week four, we were up for air a little bit – let’s make sure we don’t lose sight of what is on our plan for 2020. Do all these initiatives still make sense? Does anything need to go on the list that wasn’t in our line of sight in January? So, we’ve tried to rescope the medium-term, but we’re doing that in light of what the recovery looks like. And, for everyone and every company, COVID-19 has changed us. It’s not going to be the same business. It isn’t today and probably won’t be the same for the balance of the year. I would say our horizon has gotten shorter. We’re mapping what the rest of 2020 looks like while gaining insights into what’s ahead.


You said, “It’s not going to be the same business.” Is that scary to think about? Exciting?

For starters, it’s just going to be different. I think what’s exciting about that is we get to rethink what’s important. Our responsibility as an HR function is to understand what the business looks like and therefore what HR work needs to be done to support that. We’re trying to think about the pieces of the business that will be different. Our restaurant business, our fountain business, our away-from-home coffee business in hotels and restaurants – that will be different. It will come back. Our challenge is how do we keep the right people engaged and ready for it to come back, but how do we also manage our costs and our priorities in the meantime? So, yes, I think scary and exciting are both good terms for what we face ahead.


How are you growing as a leader through this?

When you get into crisis mode, everybody reverts to their natural ways of working or leading. What I have been conscious of – number one is servant leadership – making sure you are present and knowing what the team and individuals need and how you can meet them where they are. The second learning for me is moving fast, but not being reckless. When you have principles and a framework in place, you can move really fast. And the final one for me is the notion of leading with gratitude. Taking those moments to say ‘thank you’ always goes a long way, but particularly during this time.

Special thanks to Mary Beth DeNooyer and Keurig Dr Pepper.

by CHROs, for CHROs


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