How Chipotle’s chief people officer drove ‘a transformation of people’

Marissa Andrada joined Chipotle Mexican Grill in 2018 during a significant transformation. She stepped in as the popular fast-food chain’s first chief HR officer amid efforts to reinvent the brand after it suffered from significant food safety failures that sickened more than 1,000 customers and eventually saw the company pay a $25 million fine.

But by the time Andrada arrived, work was well underway to rebuild with new food safety standards, meaning that her charge—issued by then-new CEO Brian Niccol—was to continue the transformation, resetting from the foundation around purpose and culture. That work has led to establishing core values, focusing on talent, expanding learning opportunities from full-time employees to include hourly workers and family members, achieving racial and gender pay equity last year, improving other benefits and emphasizing DE&I despite already having a diverse workforce. About 70% of employees come from underserved, minority communities, Andrada says, but they weren’t represented among leadership.

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One early move? Her title of chief HR officer was immediately changed to chief people officer, she says, to highlight her focus not on company rules but instead on the experience being created for “our people.” She and her “small but mighty team” started with codifying the company’s purpose and values, which they essentially crowdsourced from some 300 hourly employees, plus field leaders and senior leaders. Centered around truth, teaching and authenticity, the four values remain the company’s north star, Andrada says.

“These values became a catalyst and the foundation for all the decisions that we made about the business and our people in that transformation,” says Andrada, a native of Southern California who worked in HR roles at Kate Spade and Starbucks and other organizations before Chipotle.

Related: Why HR needs to look up and prepare for transformation

Some might see Chipotle’s renewal as a digital transformation. Others might call it a marketing story. Both of those are part of what’s happened, Andrada says, but ultimately she calls it a “transformation of people” that led to creating a culture of purpose around “cultivating a better world.”

She recently talked with HRE about a few aspects of that transformation, which hasn’t gone unnoticed on the business side, with revenue up from $5 billion to more than $7 billion since Andrada joined. The company also has hired more than 25,000 to create a workforce of 100,000 and opened about 600 new stores. This is a lightly edited and shortened version of our conversation.

HRE: What was behind the shift in 2020 to add diversity and inclusion officer to your title, and did you have to embrace any kind of mindset shift as your position expanded?

Marissa Andrada

Andrada: Actually, no. … the way we approached it was as an evolution. [After the murders of George Floyd and others], we took a hard look at our values and we had a third-party consulting firm come in around diversity to look at all of our practices and instead of identifying a separate leader to be responsible for DEI—quite frankly, I’ve been part of organizations where that doesn’t work because then it’s like this whole separate thing—it was more about, look at this culture we’ve created and look at the diversity of our organization. When we made the decision to move our headquarters [from Denver to Columbus, Ohio, and Newport Beach, Calif., in 2018], as the chief people officer, I knew that we had an opportunity to ensure that we reflected the diversity of our people, of our customers at every level in the organization starting at the top. When we moved, the first thing we did was—I had no recruiters—we set up a network of female- and minority-owned boutique search firms to help us look for talent as we were rebuilding the organization. Imagine having to hire almost 90% of a new headquarters and not miss a beat and supporting, at that time, over 2,400 restaurants.

Over those first couple of years before we got to 2020, we increased the diversity of female and minority leaders at the top—the CEO’s direct reports and our direct reports—we changed the face of the organization simply by hiring qualified talent who happened to be a reflection of the organization. That’s a proof point.

So, when this diversity firm came out in 2020 and said, “We’ve interviewed every section of the organization and what rings true is that people are really living the values that you’ve created” … it was really just recognizing that we have been on this journey and just celebrating who we already are and then formalizing that.

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I was just really privileged and honored that it was a recognition of the journey that we have been on and of the work that my team had been chartered to do—to build a culture where employees are thriving. Especially last year, we promoted 19,000 people into management roles at the company. That’s another example of a proof point. … It’s not real growth unless it’s happening for employees. That’s what diversity and inclusion and people really mean to me, and I’m proud of it.

HRE: As you’ve mentioned, Chipotle is centered around this idea of “cultivating a better world.” How do you strive to incorporate that focus into your own work?

Andrada: It’s something I’m always thinking of. One example is that back in 2020, we decided to pay out our quarterly bonuses for field leaders when the pandemic began and everyone’s business took a pause. We decided that [missing their metrics] was beyond their control and that was the right thing to do, if you roll the marble through our “cultivating a better world” [prism]… Another example is when we made the decision to invest in debt-free degrees for all hourly employees and even offer English as a second language and GEDs. Not only is that for our employees, it’s for their families too.

Related: Chipotle to offer free tuition benefits to employees

Because if you think about cultivating a better world, and cultivating an environment where employees can thrive, we believe that success is better when you’ve got a network around that is helping you, especially with English as a second language. We hire a lot of folks who don’t speak English as their first language and when you’re going through it with a family member, your chance of success at improving and getting it increases 100-fold.

HRE: The company has redoubled its efforts to focus on executive accountability for ESG goals. What kind of message do you think that sends to the workforce overall?

Andrada: I think the good news is … to our employees, it’s already who we are: We as leaders who are responsible for driving the future of this company are willing to put our money where our mouth is. If you look at the accomplishment of that goal, we exceeded it last year, and then we just raised the stakes again this year because we’re committed to it. For us, consistent with the conversation around [changing] my title, this is a reflection of our progress on our commitment to sustainability around people, planet and animals.

HRE: What are you passionate about outside of work?

Andrada: Where I spend my extra time, first and foremost, is family. I’m part of the sandwich generation and I’m thankful that I’m living back in Southern California close to my parents who are older, and then, I have a husband, we have a daughter who’s already graduated from college. … My undergrad was at Cal Poly Pomona and I’m back with a full force, I’m back to mentoring students there, where there’s a lot of first-generation immigrant students. … I sit on the board of our college of business and really work with other industry leaders to ensure that the curriculum and the experiences that they’re creating for their students help them become knowledgeable about what’s happening in the real world so that then they are employable when they graduate.

It’s an extension of who I am. I just really believe in that. I feel the responsibility, especially having had the privilege to work in many organizations, and especially this one, to make sure that I am paying it forward and paving that pathway for others.

To me, it’s personal. I’m a first-generation American. My parents both immigrated from the Philippines … so I feel like my life [has come] full circle and that’s why I’m so passionate about what I do.

Elizabeth Clarke
Elizabeth Clarke is executive editor of Human Resource Executive. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Florida and then spent more than 25 years as a reporter and editor in South Florida before joining HRE. Elizabeth lives with her family in Palm Beach County. She can be reached at eclarke@lrp.com.

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