David Flavell, who began his current role as PepsiCo’s EVP, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary in March, has spent a decade at the company, during which he’s lived in Texas and Dubai, worked on mergers and acquisitions across the globe, and most recently, served as Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer. All of which is to say, he knows a thing or two about talking to people — often about difficult or sensitive issues.
“It’s a muscle I’ve built over the course of my career,” he explains. His job description includes everything from leading a global department of more than 400 employees to helping PepsiCo comply with all laws as well as protecting the company’s reputation. Effective communication is a skill David says he uses to interact with everyone from CEOs to interns.
Here, he shares his tips for having positive and productive interactions in your professional life and beyond:
Knowledge is an asset, but when you share too much detail, your message can be less effective. “There’s a temptation to tell everyone everything you know on a particular subject, but quite often, that’s not what the audience needs,” David explains. “You’ll lose them in the details and don’t necessarily get across key information.” Instead, he suggests narrowing your focus. “Think about: What are the two or three major points you want a group to take away from a discussion?”
When you’re working on a project, David says staying in touch with all the stakeholders is important for having the best outcome. It can be tempting, especially if you’re hitting a lot of roadblocks, to wait until things are in a good place before briefing others. But David cautions against this: “Be very transparent. Be open about ups and downs and everything else. I’ve had good results from that."
When it comes to having conversations about sensitive topics, David says it’s important to understand that most people want to do the right thing — especially at PepsiCo, a Most Ethical Companies award winner for 15 years running. “For me, it’s about being willing to sometimes be a voice of reason in the room,” he says, “expressing a different view or calling out when possibly a wrong decision is being made.”
All jobs have their moments of intense pressure, which can lead to hasty, ill-considered communications. In stressful times, David says, don’t feel like you always have to respond to that email right away. “I think it’s important to just stop, take a few minutes to reflect and put things in different boxes of urgency,” he suggests. “And don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
David’s leadership role means he has to define and uphold a “clarity of purpose and direction.” That means communicating openly with his team, ensuring they understand their part in the larger goal. “If your team understands the big picture, then they are empowered to deliver within that picture.” To do that, he takes a cue from the pit crew of Formula One racing, one of his favorite sports, and makes sure his team understands the importance of their individual expertise. “The car comes in and it’s ten people, all with very specific tasks, and it’s like clockwork,” he explains. “It really shows you the value of teamwork and trust.”