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Training & Learning

L&D for Diversity: How Coca-Cola Celebrates its Diverse Workforce

Diversity is critical for business, and L&D leaders have a key role to play in nurturing it. Research shows companies perform best when they celebrate the rich mixture of skills and capabilities amongst their teams, as this helps them find new solutions to tough problems. 

At the same time, a diverse workforce can give rise to unique challenges for L&D leaders. How can you design training material to match a range of spoken languages? And how should you build in the right mix of theory and practical learning to suit different backgrounds?

Recently, I chatted with Tuba Kazmi, Group Head of Diversity, Inclusion, Leadership Development & Learning at Coca-Cola İçecek, about how she designs training experiences that celebrate and nurture the company’s diverse workforce of over 8,000 people.

We started by discussing the size and breadth of Coca-Cola İçecek’s activity - and the challenges that come from operating in a range of countries.

‘We’re operating in frontier markets’ - The diverse world of Coca-Cola İçecek

As one of the key bottlers of the Coca-Cola System, Coca-Cola İçecek operates in ten different countries across Central Asia and the Middle East, including Pakistan and Turkey. As Tuba explains, this broad geographic spread leads to a diverse and varied workforce.

“We have the license to produce, distribute, and sell Coca-Cola products to consumers across ten countries,” she says. “In these geographies, there are more than 30 different ethnicities, and many different languages. Naturally, this gives us a diverse mix of people in our workforce.” 

For Tuba, being active in such a range of countries requires a nimble and proactive approach to business. “We’re in a true ‘VUCA’ market,” she says, meaning Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. “Of course, with recent global events, no-one is safe from unpredictable situations. But on top of the pandemic, we’re also operating in frontier markets.” 

“These are high-growth areas, but the geopolitical, social, and economic situations can change very rapidly. That’s one of the main challenges for us.” 

Another major challenge? Delivering L&D experiences that are people-centered, and suit a broad range of learning needs.

In these geographies, there are more than 30 different ethnicities, and many different languages. Naturally, this gives us a diverse mix of people in our workforce.

The challenge of delivering learning to 8,000+ people of diverse backgrounds

Shaping the right L&D approach can be challenging for any L&D leader. But when you have a workforce of more than 8,000 people across ten countries, the stakes are even higher.

“We’re a multinational beverage company, producing, selling and distributing beverages of The Coca-Cola Company,” says Tuba. “We have 26 manufacturing plants, and a workforce that is equally distributed between ‘white collar’ and ‘blue collar’ employees. When we talk about serving the learning needs across the organization, it’s extremely challenging, and exciting at the same time.” 

“We don’t always share a common language. We focus on English from a business communication point of view, and as our HQ is in Turkey, Turkish is our second essential language. But when you go to central Asia, Russian is the predominant language. We also have Kazakh and Turkmen, and when we go to the Middle East, we have Arabic and Kurdish.”

Languages aren’t the only differences Tuba has to keep in mind, either. “We have a diverse workforce, and capability levels can be quite different between geographies,” she says. “In our more mature markets, employees tend to have a higher capacity to learn. In other places, while people are eager to develop their skills, we have to focus on the fundamentals first.”

Another key strategy for Tuba to nurture her diverse workforce? Shifting Coca-Cola İçecek to self-guided learning.

When we talk about serving the learning needs across the organization, it’s extremely challenging, and exciting at the same time.

Embracing diversity with self-guided learning

“Because not everyone has the same capability in English, we’re shifting more to the concept of internal trainers,” says Tuba. “We’re also using self-guided learning platforms, which are available in a range of languages.” 

“For example, in central Asia, we have providers who can offer content in Russian. That really helps us to provide the solutions people need. Our employees can then create their own learning pathways to suit their specific needs and goals.”

But what about content that is available only in English? “In some cases, we have our colleagues learn content in English, then create an internal network. That way, they can share their knowledge through peer-to-peer engagement and social learning.” 

Tracking progress with personalized learning using clear metrics

While personalized L&D helps Coca-Cola İçecek cater to the different needs of its diverse workforce, it also gives rise to a new challenge: how can you ensure every one of these learning activities is making a positive impact? 

For Tuba, the answer lies in tracking learner progress with clear metrics. “There are a lot of discussions about determining the exact ROI for L&D. For us, we understand L&D as an enabler of performance. And if our employees are performing well, then we all succeed.” 

As she explains, this monitoring involves three key steps.

Step #1: Define performance objectives based on core values

“We dedicate a big part of our performance management to setting development objectives,” says Tuba. “At the start of each year, every employee defines their own objectives based on our core values of culture and leadership. They identify the things they need to learn or strengthen further, and we connect them with the self-guided learning platforms they need.”

Step #2: Stay nimble and responsive to learner needs

As Tuba explains, her approach to L&D helps the company to be nimble and responsive to learner demand. “We don’t want people to be waiting for sign-off from HR to be able to learn. If they decide what they want to work on, we want to connect them to the right resources. Then, their line managers can see their performance on the job. They know if it’s working or not.” 

Step #3: Use 360 feedback to track progress

“Some people also have their own personal development plans,” says Tuba. “In this case, we track how well they’ve performed against their priorities. We also use 360 degree feedback before major interventions and afterwards to track progress and contributions to business.”

Piloting new approaches to distributed L&D for a diverse workforce

A key part of Coca-Cola İçecek’s L&D approach is a focus on distributed learning, where everyone is empowered to take charge of their own needs. For Tuba, this is a critical step in celebrating and recognizing the company’s diverse workforce.

“In the last 18 months, we’ve piloted different learning platforms with smaller groups of volunteers, and then cascaded it to a wider audience,” she says. “We take a segmented approach to match people with resources. This way, everyone in our organization has access to some learning material. Then, they can pick and choose what they need.”

“For our signature leadership development programs, we’ve also switched to an enrolment model, where people raise their hands and opt in. Then, they go through a selection process to make sure they have the right capacity and capability, and the right appetite for learning.” 

As Tuba explains, the goal is for every one of their learners to see development as something they choose, rather than something chosen for them. “We’re creating more of a ‘pull’ approach rather than a ‘push’ approach. It helps to create more accountability for our learners to achieve their goals.”

Thanks again to Tuba for sharing her thoughts and experiences with us!

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