Workforce: The role of technology and leadership in the people experience

December 05, 2023

People are at the core of organizations, and we need to treat them like the valued stakeholders they are to help retain and recruit them in today’s competitive job market. Upskilling and expanding benefits and strategic hiring for specialized skills will go a long way toward fostering the right culture for growth on your teams and in your business.

In this episode, PwC US Chief People Officer Yolanda Seals-Coffield is joined by J. Ofori Agboka, Amazon Vice-President of People Experience and Technology, for a discussion on how companies are tailoring benefits and development programs for different types of workers, and technology’s role in that process. We’ll also explore ways to personalize the career journey, including PwC’s own My+ people strategy.

Join the conversation on how organizations are adapting to the needs of today's workforce. Let's discuss how tailored benefits and development programs can drive growth and retention in your own business.

PwC Pulse podcast series landing page

About the podcast participants

Yolanda Seals-Coffield, Chief People Officer, PwC US

As US Chief People Officer, Yolanda Seals-Coffield drives PwC's people solutions and function, promoting and supporting our firm’s growth strategy to serve our clients and help our people thrive in and outside of work.

As former Chief Employment Counsel, Yolanda worked with teams across every aspect of the employee life cycle — from hiring to performance, diversity and inclusion and alumni. This gives her unique insights into opportunities to help PwC employees learn, develop and grow.

J Ofori Agboka, Vice President People Experience and Technology (PXT) - Global Operations at Amazon

J Ofori Agboka is responsible for the worldwide Human Resource (HR) practices for Fulfillment, Transportation, Delivery, Customer Service, Employee Relations (ER), and Workplace Health & Safety. He leads teams that support the employment life cycle of Amazonians globally.

His background covers diverse aspects of Human Resources in global and domestic markets spanning automotive and industrial environments. He works hard to utilize his extensive knowledge and expertise and his passion for putting people first, to the fullest potential. He has expertise in strategic human capital planning, employee relations, employment law, employee engagement, performance management, retention and recruiting. His operational background includes in dynamic environments requiring focused decision-making, understanding of how to optimize business processes, developing cost management systems, and enhancing operational efficiency and excellence. His language capabilities include moderate Spanish, and social Mandarin.

Episode transcript

Find episode transcript below.


00:00:00:00 Welcome to PwC Pulse, a podcast to provide insights to help you solve today's business challenges.


00:00:10:11 Hi, I'm Yolanda Seals-Coffield, PwC's Chief People Officer. For today's episode of our PwC Pulse podcast, I'm excited to welcome Ofori Agboka, Vice President of People Experience and Technology for Global Operations at Amazon.

00:00:27:11 He joined the company in April 2020 at the height of the pandemic and is responsible for the workplace experience of employees across multiple divisions, including fulfillment, transportation and workplace health and safety.

00:00:41:14 Today, we'll talk about how companies are tailoring benefits and development programs for different types of workers and technology’s role in that process. We'll also explore ways to personalize career journeys. Ofori, Welcome to the podcast.


00:00:57:00 Thank you, Yolanda. It's a pleasure being here.


00:00:58:23 So before we get going, we'd like to dive in by helping our listeners get to know you a little bit better. And we're going to do that with a few rapid-fire questions. Okay, so what song today? And I have to preface it with today, because I know we all have a lot of songs in our portfolio. What song today is energizing and inspiring you?


00:01:18:11 So I have to say today it's I go to work Kool Moe D. You know, here in New York is the 50th anniversary of hip hop. And I go to work, you know, you and I, we understand in nature all things are possible. Let's do it.


00:01:30:18 Oh, I love that one. That's a good one. I have to say, these days has been anything Beyoncé for me. So I was listening to Energy this morning and I was like, all right, we're going to be good. We're going to be good. All right. What's your favorite city in the world to visit?


00:01:41:29 Favorite city? You know, I've lived abroad and lived a lot of places in the United States, but I still love going back to New Orleans. My mother is from New Orleans. She's a New Orleans native, went to Grambling, met my dad at Michigan State, and is just maybe it's the story of them coming together, my dad coming from abroad and from Ghana, West Africa. But we always came back to New Orleans.


00:02:00:14 And what quote or saying motivates you?


00:02:03:12 You know, it's always quotes from Dr. Maya Angelou. People may not remember what you said, people may not remember what you did, but they always remember how you made them feel. So that's very powerful and very important to me.


00:02:12:28 What's so crazy is I'm finding so many different connection points with you. So you won't believe this, but literally that quote is over my desk at home, because I do think, particularly in the human capital space, I want to never forget that how we make people feel that people experience.


00:02:28:18 That’s right.


00:02:29:05 Is what matters more than anything else.


00:02:30:18 Exactly.


00:02:31:01 So that's fantastic because it kind of gets us into the topic of today.


00:02:33:18 That’s right.


00:02:34:03 So let's talk about Amazon. So many of us think about Amazon every day, but I don't think we think enough about the people who make that organization work every single day. And you get the pleasure of waking up every day thinking about how so many of those people enjoy their experience. So tell me, what attracted you to your role at Amazon?


00:02:52:12 not, only is it a pleasure, but it's a privilege and awesome opportunity. I've been with Amazon on three and a half years and I came to Amazon after 24 years in the automotive industry. And my career started in employee relations operations, and then ultimately in HR. I work domestically in Texas, Virginia, Michigan and then internationally in China, Switzerland. Multiple responsibilities.

00:03:10:08 But what drew me to Amazon was that opportunity to continue to grow and create jobs and employment opportunities in the lives of people, in their families, in their communities.

00:03:19:08 For us to deliver on the customer promise, which we are honored to serve you as a customer in those packages coming, investing in our people to make sure they're engaged and know the value that they bring, but also invest in them so they know the value that they have in themselves. So it's just a wonderful opportunity.


00:03:35:18 I want to talk about the varied workforce that you have, because when we look at some of our data and one of our recent surveys showed us that 90% of CHRO’s are thinking every day about how to personalize benefits and development opportunities for different types of workers. And you talked a bit about that. You manage a workforce of very different workers.

00:03:56:16 How do you all go around thinking about that? Because your title acknowledges that intersection between the workforce experience and technology, which is so key because we know that how we go about creating development opportunities and benefit opportunities inherently involves ensuring that we're dealing with specialized skills and leveraging technology in a different way.

00:04:18:16 So how does Amazon find unique ways of developing talent, especially across so many different workforces?


00:04:24:12 Yeah, it's very important. So we have everything from supply chain to tech, employee relations, engineering, delivery, fulfillment, transportation, air, workplace, health and safety. So we've got a wide variety and with that we recruit from many different backgrounds and workforces.

00:04:42:12 And also particularly during the pandemic, we brought in people who joined Amazon for a host of reasons. Maybe they were furloughed, maybe they were laid off.

00:04:48:00 But we have veterans, we have people who have high academic prowess, people who just got out of high school, people who may have not finished high school diploma.

00:04:54:00 We have programs such as Welcome Door where we welcome refugees, where we have people who don't speak English. So that variety is huge. So we have our leadership workforce. As you know, leadership is a privilege and responsibility.

00:05:07:28 So with that, to develop them, we want to make sure their onboarding is right. We want to make sure the developmental course in action as they assimilate and move up their ranks is right.

00:05:16:28 But in particular, by starting with our leadership, we have a thing called Leadership Liftoff or Frontline Leaders. That is a seven-week program to make sure there's classroom learning, it's tech learning, it's functional technical skills learning.

00:05:28:16 It’s E-base learning, but a lot of experiential learning where they go into the workplace, and we have it segmented that we want to make sure they have a strong start because they're leading people right. That privilege is very important.

00:05:40:16 So we want to make sure they feel secure and understand our leadership principles and what it means to be a leader and what we expect out of safety, people cost, responsibility, organizational efficiency, etc. And then we have leadership programs that also touch leaders that are more senior level, you know, our leadership pipeline, things like that.

00:05:56:16 But then with our other workforce, our social workforce, and this is the workforce that's in our fulfillment centers that is taking our orders and put it in the boxes and put it in the delivery van, getting a delivery van and getting it over to our DSP partners to and again deliver that promise to you, that workforce.

00:06:10:25 Again, we believe in a strong start for them as well. You know, the pandemic didn't allow us to do things that we aren't able to do now. The face-to-face onboarding that is so important. We call that program Behind The Smile where we bring people in.

00:06:23:25 And again, we're helping them understand our safety metrics, our safety process, and how they own safety as much as leadership on safety, understanding their role in the different programs and the jobs that they will take on.

00:06:34:07 But part of that onboard is helping them understand what benefits we offer them and understand it because their health and well-being is so important to the enterprise. You know, we want them to bring their whole self in. So with those benefits, we have day one benefits, full health care, vision, dental, the same benefits that I have as a vice president.

00:06:49:27 Our associate workforce has from day one, no probation period. So in addition to the health care, we talk about the development opportunity they have for their what we call career choice opportunity programs. Career choice has opportunities to help you get, again, English as a second language. If you don't have a high school diploma, help you get your GED.

00:07:07:04 We want to help you get your degree in with that. We have programs that allow people to get into tech fields, coding robotics because again, that workforce is a pipeline to our leadership workforce.

00:07:20:04 Because again, we have people who've come in with a variety experiences, but we want to meet people where they are, whether it's education level, it's a linguistic level, your health and well-being level.

00:07:29:08 We want to help you rise because we have a leadership principle. It's called Strive to be Earth's Best Employer. And when you get into the details, it talks about leading with empathy, being an inclusive work environment, safe performing environment, but helping people have fun and grow, whether their career is inside Amazon or out. So I got to calm down because I get charged with a lot of leadership principles.


00:07:48:12 I love it. I'm seeing so many incredible synergies with our people strategy. So PwC in the past two years has launched a really transformative strategy that we call My+. And what I'm hearing you say is that so much of it is consistent with what we're doing, which is thinking about leadership at every level in the organization. So our people strategy, called My+ focuses on four key elements.

00:08:08:28 It focuses on well-being because we have to start with treating people well and making sure that they have the flexibility that they need for the different seasons of their lives. It focuses on benefits because, to your point, creating those customized benefits experiences that meet people when they need them and gives them the right benefits that they need as their lives changes are so important.

00:08:26:15 The third element is development. We've been on this leadership development journey and a big part of our message is regardless of where you sit in our organization, you are a leader, you lead yourself, you lead your team, you lead your clients. And then the fourth piece is Life after PwC, which really connects with what you said, which is we're going to give you great skills.

00:08:43:11 And whether you keep those skills here or you leave with those skills, those skills are going to be important for how you grow and develop. And one of the things that's been really important for us to think about, and I know is something that you're thinking about, is the role that technology starts to play in all of this.

00:08:57:27 So we've talked about our My+ journey as both a digital and a cultural transformation. And again, technology is a core part of your role. And so let's talk about the role that technology has played in Amazon in terms of creating these really customized or personalized experiences.


00:09:14:14 It's all about the people, create great experiences, but use technology to make it better, make it more efficient, make it more just delightful, surprise and delight. So with technology similar to what you have, what you call you said Myh+, we call it MyHR.

00:09:28:14 So MyHR is almost like a one stop shop where you get answers quickly from a handheld device from your computer or laptop to answer questions, solve and submit suggestions.

00:09:37:28 Learn about your comp and benefits and something that's available to you 365 days a year, 24 hours a day in over 16 different languages that speed and that matters to a person who has a life experience, and they need to know something now and then from the macro, when we look at technology, we always want to make it official.

00:09:53:20 We want to make their lives better every day and we want to keep learning from it, it's simple. We have a leadership principle called Inventing Simplify. Is it simple? Is it working?

00:10:02:20 Because tech, just for tech sake, is not good. Tech has to work. And then ultimately, if it doesn't work, you will find a way to make it better.

00:10:09:05 We haven't relieved the pain point. We still never lose sight of where's a person that they can talk to? Who can they speak to, to take them through this next step. But that is so important that My Chart app as an example, touches our entire workforce globally. But again, the macro pieces use it to make it better. Got to get it right.

00:10:28:04 And when it's too complex, make sure as a person to support them. And we need this technology because of the scale, we can learn from opportunities that people are presented to us. Solve it, scale it, repeat it, scale it, and improve it.

00:10:42:04 Every day we get excited about it. Another example we have is A to Z. A to Z is a tool that we have that takes a whole host of our Amazon total benefits and networking learnings and what our company's about and what we're doing.

00:10:53:19 So people who need information and want to learn go to A to Z. It's right there. It's right there at their fingertips or at a computer kiosk because again, we want to make sure we're inclusive of everyone because everybody doesn't have a phone, everybody doesn't read English, everybody doesn't see, you know, people with disabilities that we want to make sure they feel included.

00:11:09:15 And they also have access to information and the proper support they need. So we are constantly looking at how do we make it better. But technology is critical.


00:11:16:28 I love the tech enabled solution that is going to be inclusive from the start and building it with inclusion in mind. So it's hard to talk about tech without talking about Gen AI. Gen AI is here.

00:11:28:28 When I talked to CHROs across the country, so many of us are thinking about how are we going to leverage Gen AI, what role does the human capital team play in driving the ethical use of AI, the appropriate use of AI?

00:11:40:09 But then just as importantly, and what makes me really excited is what is the role of HR? What is the role of Gen AI to enable the human capital?

00:11:49:10 And I'm really excited about that. I have to imagine that you all are thinking about that. So tell me a bit about how you're thinking about Gen AI, what you think the art of the possible will be, as you look ahead in Amazon?


00:11:58:06 We're excited about it. We understand that there are limitations and with that there's a couple of things that we have to be diligent with. And I'm sure things like you pointed out, it's lawful, it's relevant.

00:12:09:06 It's relative to the countries and regions that we're dealing with. It's inclusive, and be very intentional about its capabilities in it, but basically limitations that it has. It won't solve everything, but it has solved a lot and it can help us.

00:12:21:15 It's already proven that it's helped us. It's already been a part of our lives anyway. But it's how do you continue to take their journey, to continue to make a life in the work experience is better.

00:12:30:15 From an employee standpoint what we've seen is resume writing, to capture your body of work, to really to share your story. Again, we talk about our leadership principle, whether you're Kirby inside or outside of Amazon. How do we maximize your potential in capturing your body of work. How do we help you better utilize your time. We're a data driven company, right?

00:12:47:09 Summarizing information and trying to get to an outcome. What we used to do in weeks or hours now you can do in minutes. That frees you up to have more time for thought leadership, more time for personal one to one engagement or group engagement, to have dialog, to learn from that data.

00:13:02:09 And then from our leadership standpoint, it's helping us again dissect data, analyze formation much faster, provide greater insights in areas that we need to double down and focus on improved employee experience.

00:13:11:03 It's helping us with recruiting, it’s helping us with identifying talent. It's helping us just move faster, but it moves faster appropriately so. We are optimistic, cautiously optimistic.

00:13:20:28 Again, we're aware of the things that people are hesitant on. But we will continue to be responsible with it, just like we've done with every other technology. So we will be responsible. But we're excited and we're looking forward to in some ways maybe possibly leading in the journey. But learning from others as well.


00:13:33:25 We're in a very similar place. One of the things that I'm really excited about is we've promised our 75,000 people across PwC that we're going to take them on this Gen AI journey with us.

00:13:43:25 So our commitment to our people is we are not going to leave any of you behind, we all are going to have a basic understanding around what Gen AI is, how it works, how to use it ethically, and how we use it to enable our own jobs.

00:13:53:03 And then some of us will go deeper and we'll think about what the use cases are. We have a Gen AI factory that's working every day to build some of the use cases. So as my team is thinking about how do we use Gen AI in the recruiting process, how do we use Gen AI in learning and development to create new learning tools for people?

00:14:09:10 We have a team of people who are working furiously to help us bring that to life and then to help some of our clients transform as well. I think it will be an incredible tool to enable work. We're always going to need human beings. We are going to need independent judgment. We're always going to need people who are making the right decisions.

00:14:22:18 And in our world, we are human-led and tech-powered technology enables the work we do. It doesn't replace the work that we do. So I'm really excited about what's to come, and I'm excited to see what Amazon does in this place.

00:14:35:04 Let's talk a little bit about purpose and inclusion. And you talked a bit about the inclusive mindset with which you are build technology, which I think is phenomenal because it's so important to think about those things from the beginning as opposed to figuring out how to bolt them on. But I want to talk a bit about your organization because you do have this incredibly diverse workforce.

00:14:52:02 And to your point, you are in so many countries. You have people who speak so many different languages, different educational levels, different backgrounds, the ability to take people from different places in the world, in different parts of this country and create upward mobility and opportunities at Amazon is something I'm sure you all are really proud of.

00:15:10:25 Talk to me about how you all work intentionally to create a diverse workforce to both attract diverse talent and to grow that talent at Amazon.


00:15:17:13 You’re taking the words out of my mouth where our chief inclusive experience and technology officer talks about built in versus built on and we're intentional about our goals as a company.

00:15:28:25 I'm particularly proud as a company. So one, it starts with being very specific in goal setting and making it visible in measuring, measuring and monitoring and understanding, what can we do better, what can we do different?

00:15:39:22 And if there's areas that we're not succeeding, why, what can we learn from it? Again, we want to be a learning organization. The next thing is being intentional with a leadership principle.

00:15:48:22 Again, Strive to be Earth's Best Employer in our responsibility comes with growth. Leadership principles are real. I said it earlier, they aren't wallpaper where it's nice to talk about.

00:15:57:07 They're embedded in our interview process. They're embedded in our promotion processes. They're embedded in our everyday dialog of how we produce and go about solving customer pain points or being customer obsessed, which is also a leadership principle.

00:16:09:07 How we do it is very intentional setting goals and then also we have this the scenes where we look at the data, we also look at the anecdotes.

00:16:17:15 What does the data tell us? But what are people saying to us? You know, I travel quite a bit. I travel around the globe, I travel around the country. I had my last team meeting a few months ago in India. We went to Bangalore to learn from our Bangalore team. How is it that you onboard people with disabilities?

00:16:31:09 How is it that you onboard this group of employees, they have autism, and they are productive and they just shared with us how they enjoy their work? What is the environment that you've done there that we need to create in copy and skill in other parts of the company? So it's intentionality, it's the words, it's the accountability, and it's and it's the use of our resources.

00:16:52:22 Early we talked a little bit about how we develop and advance our employees, part of that development also comes from our employee resource groups.

00:16:58:22 We have 14 affinity groups, the LGBT group, the Latina, Amazon, the people with disabilities, the military fairs, the black employee network. A whole host of these groups that have mentoring programs that also surface information to us to help us understand how we could be better.

00:17:13:22 We celebrate our diversity, and we highlight where we're the same, areas that we are different, but we talk about working as a total team together.

00:17:22:01 But that intentionality has to be constantly brought forward and discussed. There is nothing that's on the side. It's a part of what we do. It's built in, is not bolted on in every aspect of that employee journey from recruitment all the way to exit into retention, into the alumni network.

00:17:38:01 How do we learn and how do we grow? But it's just woven into everything we do and we can always continue to get better, but it's intentional.


00:17:44:28 I'm going to pick up on one thread you talked about because before we close, I want to talk a bit about trust. You talked about being data led but understanding the anecdotes. And that's so important that you have both, right?

00:17:56:13 We can't just listen to anecdotes because, gosh knows we'd go into so many different directions. But being data led and listening to the anecdotes because one of the things that our data suggests to us is there is still a tremendous trust gap.

00:18:07:13 There is a gap between what we as employers think, our people think about us from a trust perspective and what they actually think about us from a trust perspective.

00:18:16:26 And so what does the data tell us? What does the anecdote tell us? What are people doing on the ground? How are you all thinking about closing that trust gap that so many of us are facing?


00:18:24:21 Yeah, it's always interesting because I had a leader tell me a long time ago the slogan that I repeat is “what lives out there works in here”, and I'm sure it applies in the workplace.


00:18:33:24 I like that, I like that.


00:18:34:13 People when they come in the workplace, their life and what they experience and what they read and see doesn't just disappear. So some of what we see in society, it does show up in the workplace and we have to help people understand where the boundaries are of what we're in control over, what we are in control of.

00:18:49:21 But the things that we are in control of tremendous change management is important. And it's not just a buzzword, it's real. It's help me understand people, as you said earlier, taking people along the journey with AI. It's telling people what we're going to do, how we're going to do it, what we're going to do it, why we're going to do it given time for the why.

00:19:06:23 And it takes a lot of time, you have to not be afraid to tell people this is what we're doing and why we're doing. It may not be a popular answer, but help people understand why and giving them parameters and the truth behind it. People are going to have to make a decision of how they accept some of those things.

00:19:22:05 But we should be able to look at ourselves as a leadership team and say we gave people the truth. Again, in the lines of getting back to leadership principles. Amazon as a leadership principle of earn trust. I earn trust by speaking to you. I earn trust by listening to you. I earn trust by telling you. I earn trust by doing what I said I was going to do.

00:19:39:10 I earn trust by recognizing you when you've done something wrong. I earn trust by correcting you, when you've done something incorrect. So it's a never ending journey. It takes a lot to earn it, but you can lose it very quickly.

00:19:51:10 And, you and I, I'm sure as professionals we know. Our words matter. How you show up matters, consistency matters because people are watching us and people want to know, does this apply to everybody or does it just apply to me. Why is this change happening?

00:20:05:00 When you don't bring clarity to a change and people fill that void themself, that distracts them from being productive and focused on the job. We have an opportunity to earn that trust, to move the distractions.

00:20:10:00 So we say we're going to do something and why we're going to do it in the timeline, you know, we know, and we can now focus on other things. Because the decision is made.


00:20:26:29 And you've created the transparency, so you don't have to agree with where we're going.


00:20:29:13 That’s right.


00:20:30:29 We're going to be transparent about it. It all comes back to leadership. This entire conversation sort of started with leadership and it ends with leadership, right? Because it's so oftentimes I'll hear someone say, what are you all doing to develop the soft skills at PwC?

00:20:42:22 And I'm like, if you're talking about leadership skills, those are human skills. Those are not soft skills, those are core skills to the effectiveness of our business. So I love that we came back to that in the end because trust is about leadership, it's about transparency, it's about driving change, it's about showing up and doing what you say you will do for your people.

00:20:58:27 So thank you so much, Ofori.


00:21:00:24 Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure. And congrats on your success as an individual and as a leader and as your company moves us also forward into the next generation of this world and what we can do. So we're all in this thing together. So thank you as well.


00:21:11:17 Ofori, thank you for joining us today. It's exciting to discuss the role emerging technologies can play in development and growth, and I'm looking forward to seeing these opportunities expand. I also want to thank our listeners for tuning in to another episode of PwC Pulse. You can find more information on these topics and more by visiting


00:21:34:03 Thank you for joining us on the PwC Pulse podcast. Subscribe to PwC Pulse wherever you listen to your podcast or visit to hear our next episodes.

00:21:47:26 Copyright 2023 PwC. All rights reserved. PwC refers to the PwC Network and or one or more of its member firms, each of which is a separate legal entity. Please see for further details.

00:22:07:00 This podcast is for general information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

Contact us

J.C. Lapierre

J.C. Lapierre

Chief Strategy and Communications Officer, PwC US

Follow us