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Karen Viera | Global Chief People Officer | Church's Chicken

Karen Viera: Maintaining a Laser-Focused Concentration on Achieving Commercial Objectives

One often reaches a point where one feels stagnant with their choices, pondering questions like, are you doing something you love? Are you getting closer to your objective, or are you getting further away, eventually becoming a watershed moment in your life.

Karen Viera experienced the same thing when she started her professional career with a summer architecture internship. However, she quickly discovered that her passion for business and people was better aligned with human resources. And as time went on, she continued to branch out into new fields of work to widen her commercial horizons. Currently, Karen is a Global Chief People Officer at Church’s Chicken, a 70-year brand and private equity owned quick-service restaurant chain.

Insights Success caught up with Karen in our endeavor to find “The10 Most Inspiring Women Leaders to Follow in 2022” to know more about her journey.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at the Company. What challenges did you have to overcome to reach where you are today?

I began my professional career with a summer architectural internship but quickly realized that field wasn’t the right fit. Instead, my calling was to pursue a career in human resources where I could change how people react to different or new situations, especially in the workplace and make a business impact. I haven’t always worked in human resources, including venturing into project management, and I lead an organizational effectiveness division for a Fortune 500 Insurance Company under their Operations Division for several years. I think it is important to gain experience across your discipline and in different areas of a company as that adds to your skillset and broadens your business perspective. Contributing to the advancement of business objectives through human capital initiatives requires a solid understanding of people and the impact of those initiatives to the revenue stream of a company.

Tell us something more about the Company and its Mission and Vision.

Founded in 1952 in San Antonio, Church’s Chicken is one of the world’s largest quick-service restaurant chicken chains, with more than 1,500 locations in 25 countries and international territories.

Church’s Mission is to provide great value and the bold taste of Texas to our guests, growth to our franchisees, opportunities to our team members, and support to the communities we serve.

Church’s Vision is to become the global franchisor of choice.

Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in the industry through your expertise in the market.

In the midst of an unprecedented era of urgency, human resource professionals have found themselves front and center in a push to launch new initiatives. Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Church’s leadership teams launched an engagement campaign to recognize its essential workers in the restaurants, implementing enhanced bonus programs to ensure our employees know they are appreciated.

Our human resources team is also focused on integrating equality, inclusion, and diversity into the Company’s global initiatives, taking deliberate measures to expand cultural perspectives, strengthen and build cultural security, and instill global equality of opportunities.

Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.

Our employees are the heart of the organization and the strength of the brand. The brand is the image and personality – and our people are the spirit that brings it to life for our guests. The “Our Texas Way” people brand integrates the Company’s values, employee appreciation, and guest experiences. The program is designed to increase employee engagement and build the kind of team-member pride that is the basis of memorable brands. In addition, Church’s Chicken won the Top Workplace recognition by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2021.

If given a chance, what change would you like to bring to the industry?

The Great Resignation wave hit retail and restaurant jobs particularly hard. Recruiting and retention will continue to be a strong focus, as will effective recruiting methods, onboarding, and training technology over the next few years. Today’s technology is changing rapidly in every industry, including the restaurant space. Training current employees and new hires on new technologies along with ensuring a strong people culture are critical to our success.

The “Our Texas Way’ people brand began by creating an employee value proposition based on an internal survey and focus groups. We included domestic and international employees, along with franchisees, to ensure that the outcome would resonate with everyone. The resulting value proposition based on this feedback is “Building Friendships and a Future with our Down Home pride.” Building a future says a lot. Our employees want a career; they want growth. Through the focus groups to create Our Texas Way, we uncovered what was most valuable to employees and how they take action every day in the restaurants.

As we continue with our people-first strategy, we are also focused on leveraging technology for enhancing communications and training to have a more consistent and broader reach to all employees. We will continue to focus on these key areas as we ensure our employees feel appreciated and are engaged, learning, and continue to grow.

What, according to you, could be the next big change in the industry? How is your Company preparing to be a part of that change?

Our focus on our ‘People First” strategy will continue to be our top priority, and that includes training and developing staff as well as driving the “Our Texas Way” people brand with our restaurant teams.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for the Company?

Church’s is expanding internationally, and we are going into new countries for the next few years beyond the 25 countries where we currently reside. In addition, we are rebranding our restaurants and looking to grow our franchisee base domestically.

What would be your advice to budding women entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the industry?

Church’s Chicken was my first venture into Private Equity and the Food Industry, as most of my experience comes from Fortune 500 Insurance and Medical companies. I found the QSR Industry to be fast-paced and a fascinating place to work. There is a broad range of jobs to consider, from restaurant employment and management and operations, marketing to supply chain to the more traditional finance, legal and human resources areas. This is the closest I have worked with the supply chain teams, and I am fascinated and have great respect for their work. I am deeply impressed with the skills of our restaurant managers and the heart and work ethic of our restaurant employees. The greatest percentage of our restaurant leadership are women, and working in this industry provides a path to management and can be a great step to becoming a franchise owner.