Finding The Best Talent

Coca-Cola's strategy for developing its workforce, and the skills the company wants to see in the next crop of business school graduates.

Business schools are focused on turning out skilled, qualified, and passionate graduates and companies like Coca-Cola are focused on finding new hires who will best suit their culture and their future plans. Here, Coca-Cola's chief people officer and senior vice president, Ceree Eberly, talks briefly about the company's 2020 Vision Plan, which maps a strategy for developing its workforce, and the skills the company wants to see in the next crop of business school graduates.

Coca-Cola launched its 2020 Vision Plan in 2009 with the goal of being known as a “great place to work.” What have you done so far toward achieving that goal?

To engage our associates in the workplace, we first want them to understand our vision and strategies, which we call the six “P’s”: people, portfolio, profit, plant, productivity, and partners. Under the “People P,” we’ve invested in developing a global, diverse talent pipeline, because we want our workforce to reflect the markets that we serve across 207 countries. Today, our workforce comprises many women, as well as associates drawn from local talent. We want to build an inclusive culture that allows associates to bring their best selves to work, because that leads to better business outcomes.

We also have created a Coca-Cola Ambassador program, which encourages all associates to be ambassadors for our company, our brands, our customers, and our people.

Has there been one talent development strategy that has been especially effective for the company?

We have incorporated experiential learning much more directly and strategically into our learning and development programs. We use actual business challenges or live situations as we are developing leaders, and we use cross-functional, global, virtual teams to problem-solve and come up with solutions. The teams also prepare the solutions and present them to our senior leadership team of the company, which gives them great exposure and recognition for their work. Their recommendations are then incorporated into the business planning process of that country or region that needed the help.

What is one primary challenge or obstacle that Coca-Cola still faces today in recruiting talent?

Finding qualified local talent across many markets in the world who have strong learning agility, global mindsets, and cultural sensitivity in a global business ecosystem.

What would Coca-Cola like business schools to do differently, or more effectively, to help the company overcome that challenge?

Experiential learning is always a plus, and practical application through opportunities such as part-time work, internships, and shadowing is also important. We also want business schools to get students more prepared for entering the workforce through building better foundational skills.  The world today requires workers who have more global acuity, possess effective written and oral communication skills, have experience working on both global and virtual teams, are able to solve problems, and know how to deliver a completed work project on time and on budget.

What trend do you see on the horizon that you think will most affect your job and Coca-Cola’s “People” strategy—and that business schools should be preparing for?

Clearly, it is the war for talent. As the world becomes more interconnected, and as more baby boomers retire, the qualified pool of talent will become smaller. There will be a huge war for the same talent across many global markets. The challenge for us is how to recruit more local talent that reflects the diversity and needs of the markets we serve. For the long term, the challenge will be in how we partner with other companies, governments, and universities to address making sure younger workers are employable and getting them ready and qualified for the new roles of the future. That will take much longer, but it is a responsibility for all of us collectively.

Ceree Eberly is a panelist for the session “The Changing Nature of Recruiting and Developing Talent” at AACSB International’s Deans Conference [LU1] in Miami, January 31 to February 2, where she will go into more detail about global trends in hiring and Coca-Cola’s plans for its own workforce.