Skip to main content
Success Story

How The Coca-Cola Company brought career enablement to life

A modern approach to career management at The Coca-Cola Company’s Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability communities

Future of Work|Talent|Total Rewards
N/A

November 26, 2019

In a world where traditional career paths are no longer the norm, The Coca-Cola Company partnered with Willis Towers Watson to embrace a progressive approach to career management that allowed employees to chart their own journeys.

Career advancement, or lack thereof, is one of the top reasons employees join or leave a company. Therefore, in a world where traditional career paths are no longer the norm, employers focused on narrow skill sets and on-the-job training — necessary only for upward advancement — may no longer have the right idea about what it takes to draw or retain the best talent. Instead, employers must embrace a modern approach. Working with Willis Towers Watson, The Coca-Cola Company found success.


The Coca-Cola Company’s challenge: In a streamlined company with less vertical advancement, how do you attract and retain talent?

Solution: Shift the mindset to embrace lateral or dual career paths based on experiences, capabilities and competencies, and provide tools and resources that enable employees to take ownership of their careers.


Context

The Coca-Cola Company knew it had to be forward thinking about career enablement to remain competitive, and their leadership had questions: What defines a successful career in a changing world? And whose responsibility is career growth: individual employees or those who manage them? According to recent Willis Towers Watson research, only one-third of employers provide lateral or dual career paths, beyond-the-job training, employee self-service tools or integration within technology.

Leadership within The Coca-Cola Company’s Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability (PACS) function wanted to be both progressive and strategic in learning more, so Human Resources director, Kim Harley, reached out to Willis Towers Watson for a partnership centered on creating a career management strategy for the function.

PACS at The Coca-Cola Company includes:

  • Global Communications
  • Global Sports Partnerships
  • Business Integration
  • Global Licensing and Retail
  • The Coca-Cola Company Foundation and Global Community Affairs
  • Global Public Policy, Environmental Sustainability and Social Impact

A recent reorganization of The Coca-Cola Company had made the company leaner globally. They wanted to focus on career enablement for PACS in their new structure, strategically grow talent and offer career enriching experiences and opportunities that met both the business’s need and employees’ personal and professional preferences.

We needed to look at careers for this team, and we knew we needed the expert help of Willis Towers Watson.”

Kim Harley
HR Director, The Coca-Cola Company

Danielle Rasey, senior director of Talent and Rewards at Willis Towers Watson, worked with The Coca-Cola Company on methods of deep listening that could provide solutions to their challenge, which Harley said was complicated by a diverse group of teams coming together and figuring out how to make that work.

“We needed to look at careers for this team, and we knew we needed the expert help of Danielle and Willis Towers Watson,” Harley said.

Approach

Listen to employees

Willis Towers Watson used results from The Coca-Cola Company’s recent 2018 employee engagement survey, and conducted virtual employee focus groups and leadership interviews to learn more. The engagement survey highlighted a critical need for opportunities to learn and grow. The focus groups showed a diversity in how PACS employees define career success — from development opportunities to job moves, to work/life balance. Leadership interviews showed that leaders’ perceptions were mostly aligned to key themes from employees, except for a notable exception: Employees cited clear career paths as part of how they define career success.

“The Coca-Cola system is huge. Traditionally, people knew exactly what they did in their function and never left. Now we're telling them to understand the whole system and think expansively about where else they can use their talents in the company. Short-term assignments and special projects help people see and understand other parts of our business and, ultimately, help them understand our whole system,” said Harley.

Traditionally, people knew exactly what they did in their function and never left. Now we're telling them to understand the whole system and think expansively about where else they can use their talents in the company.”

Kim Harley | HR Director, The Coca-Cola Company

According to Rasey, employees’ desire for clear career paths generated much discussion by the PACS leadership team. “The legacy of how The Coca-Cola Company operated was to take care of their people in helping them move across business units and different functions, so employees were looking for their leader to know the secret path to their success. On one hand we've got employees saying they want clear career paths. On the other, because of the new structure and changing nature of work, we have leaders who aren’t sure what those steps are and want help painting this picture for employees,” said Rasey.

Based on these insights, Bea Perez, senior vice president and chief PACS officer, chartered the career enablement initiative with the message, “Employees are hungry for this, and we want this to be very dynamic and agile.”

Design the career enablement solution

Harley, Rasey and a committed project team set out to design a career enablement solution that would allow employees to chart their own career journeys. The solution encouraged employees to look beyond traditional paths, lateral or dual career paths, and consider new, novel and unchartered paths. The solution also emphasized development, beyond-the-job training, and tools to aid and empower individuals to gain varied and fulfilling career experiences.

Recognizing the significance of this undertaking, the PACS leadership team identified a set of design concepts to support the initiative:

  • Champion culture change by providing clear communications, involving employees and taking individual accountability for a culture of development and career enablement
  • Test and challenge traditional paradigms by brainstorming and being open to new ideas and possibilities
  • Design for 1.0 while planning for 2.0 by laying a strong foundation in 2019 and celebrating accomplishments while also planning and communicating what’s next on the journey
  • Recognize this is a journey by acknowledging the demands yet understanding it’s a multiyear process.

Harley said the most important thing was taking action on these concepts. “Our business is changing so quickly. We needed to design something that could be iterative, and come to life and pivot as needed.”

Guided by these design concepts, they established the following career enablement principles:

  1. Dreamer mentality/doer reality: This would have employees challenging themselves to reimagine the concept of a career by being open-minded and pursuing innovative, boundary-pushing and forward-looking ideas to create a space where they could transform their career possibilities into realities.
  2. Learn today for tomorrow’s work: This principle would encourage employees to become rich in diverse experiences in order to be successful in a future filled with unknowns.
  3. Career journeys as unique as employees: This principle would help enable each employee to grow, make an impact and chart personalized career experiences based on their unique skills, experiences and personal aspirations.
  4. Bold bet experiences: Growth, innovation and advancement requires strategic risk taking and a leap of faith. This calls for employees to embrace change, thrive in ambiguity and seize opportunities to gain experience — even when the “next step” is not fully known.
  5. Never done, and we’re okay with that: This principle encourages associates to embrace career enablement as a journey that will involve measuring progress, learning from mistakes, revising ideas and celebrating victories along the way.

We’re training our leaders to ask what their employees are passionate about. Because sometimes getting clear on what are you passionate about expands your thinking about what you want to do and where you want to go.”

Kim Harley | HR Director, The Coca-Cola Company

According to Rasey, these five principles were critical for the career enablement journey, signaling to leaders and employees how they would collectively partner to enable careers and develop talent going forward. “The leadership team immediately embedded these principles into ongoing communications, used them to shape the talent review process and guide decisions regarding talent movement,” she said.

Bring the principles to life through storytelling

One of the unique ways PACS rolled out the principles was through storytelling. Employees from across the function were invited to tell their personal career story during the team’s annual global meeting. These personal stories allowed employees to connect on a more intimate level with one or more of the principles. When initially rolled out, the stories were shared in live sessions with employees and met with rave reviews. Over time, the stories were transcribed, and a library of human experiences was built and shared online.

When an associate sits down with their leader now and says they need a new job but they haven’t thought about what they want, they are encouraged to spend more time thinking really big and come back. “We’re training our leaders to ask what their employees are passionate about. Because sometimes getting clear on what are you passionate about expands your thinking about what you want to do and where you want to go,” said Harley.

Establish a competency model

Another critical element of the career enablement journey is establishing a competency model that illuminates the common skills and capabilities needed across PACS. Although the function is comprised of diverse groups with distinct technical needs, this unifying set of competencies illustrates the varied career paths potentially available to employees.

The competency model encourages PACS associates to anchor around the four key categories: Think disruptively, Know your stuff, Act with confidence, Lead boldly.

Several functions within The Coca-Cola Company share these common categories and define specific competencies for their function. The PACS leadership team also identified the following competencies as important for all PACS employees, regardless of their specific role: 10x mindset, Know the Coca-Cola system, Know your sub-function, Plan dynamically, Simplify and solve, Partner and consult, Champion sustainability, Develop talent.

A four-pillar model – Think, Know, Act, Lead – for The Coca-Cola Company’s Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability Competency Model
The Coca-Cola Company’s Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability Competency Model

Results

Success of PACS career enablement would ultimately be defined by its employees’ careers. That was identified early on by PACS leadership. The initial rollout was successful, and employee response was great. The competencies were deployed and embraced. Career development tools are out there for the taking. There’s better clarity on career paths, and leadership is supporting and investing in this initiative and its ongoing implementation. These are some of the pieces The Coca-Cola Company has put in place, with others still in progress and still more being planned.


Early wins

  • Multiple short-term assignments and project experiences are in play
  • A curated curriculum for development is aligned with new competencies
  • A “Human Library of Experiences” is bringing career enablement to life across the PACS function

People are so excited and at the same time eager for more. Employees are embracing the initiative and keeping the career conversation active.

According to Rasey, one of the most important parts of this work is the leadership team’s passion for the effort and commitment to the principle: Never done, and we’re okay with that. Every month or so the project team releases something new for the initiative. They don’t know what the initiative is for month six, but rather than spending 12 months planning before rolling out something new, they have embraced being comfortable figuring it out as they go. Rasey concluded, “It’s ground breaking in PACS right now. People are so excited and at the same time eager for more. Employees are embracing the initiative and keeping the career conversation active. Both Kim and I, and others from the project team, are getting calls from other departments saying, ‘We heard about PACS career enablement initiative, and we want to learn more about what they did!’”

Contact Us
Related content tags, list of links Success Story Future of Work Talent Total Rewards

Related Solutions