Counting every drop

Coca-Cola has implemented a unique internal communications program to help employees all around the globe gain a better understanding of their impact on the business.

Coca-Cola has implemented a unique internal communications program to help employees all around the globe gain a better understanding of their impact on the business.

When Tom Mattia joined Coca-Cola as SVP and director of worldwide public affairs and communications in early 2006, he had a number of goals he wanted to tackle immediately. One of them was to improve the level of internal communications within the company, and in the process help associates (Coke's term for employees) worldwide better understand their role in the success of the company.

"We're working on getting our internal communications more wholesome and focused," he told PRWeek in May 2006. "And we need to make [our associates] feel good about the fact that they're part of the Coca-Cola system and its successes."

To that end, in 2006 Mattia supported "This is My Drop," a global program his internal communications team created and began testing that year. The program, available to the more than 70,000 associates around the word, is intended to create a line-of-sight for associates, showing them how their day-to-day jobs are directly connected to Coke's long-term business goals. During interactive group meetings and exercises, associates are asked to create their own "drops" - or personal expressions of what they feel their contributions to the business are - in images or written descriptions.

Marcus Wade, director of global resource at Coke, and Dianne Culhane, group director of internal communications, are the driving forces behind My Drop. Wade says Mattia wasn't the only executive who got behind the program early. Coke chairman and CEO Neville Isdell reached out to Wade and Culhane, asking how he could help support the program after Mattia brought him results from the initial sessions.

"So we asked him to do his own drop and then sent it to our top 150 leaders around the world, informing them about the program," Wade says. Isdell's video drop is now part of the sessions and is shown to all participants.

Culhane says the idea came from viewing the results of the Employee Insight Survey conducted in 2006. The survey showed close to one-third of the company's associates didn't think the goals laid out in Coke's 2005 Our Manifesto for Growth handbook were attainable. The manifesto consists of 10-year goals, such as becoming "the most respected company in the world" by 2015, and doubling the value of trademark Coke, while growing the rest of its portfolio to equal trademark Coke. Culhane says associates "loved" the goals but couldn't see their connection to them or how they could help achieve them.

"So we in communications wanted to create something that would facilitate and accelerate associate connection to this transformation," she says. "The program is our way of saying we can all do this, but it's not just upper management [who's] going to make it happen. It's up to all of us to get in there and help."

Worldwide rollout

After tests last year in Atlanta, Vietnam, Egypt, and Mexico, it officially rolled out in 2007 in parts of North America, Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Plans call for further deployment in 2008. Nearly 3,000 associates across the globe have participated.

Ian Hirschfeld, senior manager of international relations and research of Coke's Africa Group, participated in a My Drop session with about 40 people in Johannesburg in November and says he found it "very stimulating" because it provided a local evaluation of the company's global issues.

"It was very real in terms of what My Drop was conveying about the objectives of the company, the challenges we face, and where we need to step up," says Hirschfeld, who created his drop online. "All of the participants provided input about how they saw the issues specific to their local operation, along with their perception of that issue corporately or globally. That led to [our] asking why things [are] the way they are locally, and what could be done to get closer to our objective." Hirschfeld says this sparked discussion during breaks on how "we [can ] do things better or communicate better."

He adds that the session provided him with a greater insight into the connection between his work and Coke's goals. "For me, it was about my functioning," Hirschfeld says, "and I have a better understanding of what my operation is doing in the greater global picture."

Chris Gorman, a quality systems certification auditor at Coca-Cola, has run a couple of My Drop sessions in Atlanta for his technical stewardship team. He points out that 87% of the people who took part said they would recommend the program to other associates.

"People like the part where they can step out of their 9-to-5 job and be creative," Gorman says.

He says the department is now looking for a way to sustain the momentum the sessions created. "Our intent is to put [the drops] in a book and make it available to our department, and in January think about where we are as a technical stewardship program against the Manifesto for Growth," he says.

Culhane says My Drop aids in the company's idea of accessing the collective genius of the associate staff.

"It's the next [step in] how you think about internal and associate communications," Culhane says. "[There's]always a role for getting information out to employees, but I think the next level is showing how people contribute to helping the business achieve its goals."

Anatomy of a "drop" session

The "This is My Drop" sessions can be attended by large or small groups and can last up to four to five hours. The sessions are broken into five separate "chapters."

Chapter 1
Coke associates go over the Manifesto for Growth and are updated on its progress toward the 2015 goals. Coke chairman and CEO Neville Isdell's My Drop video is also shown.

Chapter 2
Associates voice their opinions on how they feel Coca-Cola is doing from both a local and an international standpoint on the company's five "Ps": profit, portfolio, partners, planet, and people.

Chapter 3
Associates then break off and create their own drops.

Chapter 4
After creating their drops, associates discuss their creations and talk about how to operate more effectively.

Chapter 5
Associates then take part in a group visioning exercise looking forward 12 to 18 months to discuss what their collective group drop would look like, if they are successful.

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