Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Live Positively Conference at Coca Cola

Last month Coca Cola invited me to a mini-conference in Atlanta. I had the chance to connect with other mothers over two days of sessions covering everything from branding, product development, Coca-Cola initiatives, and women in leadership. I didn't really know what to expect, but came away impressed with some of the great things these women are doing and with a better understanding of how Coca-Cola conducts business.

Also, there were all the drinks you could ever want at any time and with zero judgment.

By far my favorite session was a panel of female executives (they've thought of everything these days!) who described the kinds of tactical and strategic choices they make everyday while on the job or in their personal lives.

I am extremely interested in the way that companies have changed over the past 20 years to accommodate not just women working, but anyone who wants to have more balance between their work and home lives. It's almost hard to describe the extraordinary tectonic shift that's happened to how we think of work since I first hit the workforce almost 20 years ago. From my experience, technology companies have been at the forefront of flexibility in hours, sharing, and telecommuting, but learning how traditional companies are also adjusting what it means to work, is fascinating. This survey is important to me because I have to work, but I am the mother of young children that are my most pressing, and beloved, priority. I have the luxury of being able to set my own parameters for employment, and I feel passionately that other people should have those same opportunities.

A few examples of how Coca-Cola is changing work:
  • Open to job sharing, flexible hours, telecommuting, and both formal and informal accommodations for employees.
  • The Head Strategist for Still Products (think water, juices) is a job share--meaning that two people split the job, sharing the workload. 
  • 70% of Coca-Cola call center employees telecommute in the Atlanta area, and are only in the office once a week. 
  • Championing and mentoring other women to be OK with their preferred balance of work and home life (sometimes we are our own worst critics.)
  • A sea change inside the company over the past few decades that includes advancing women and minorities so that it looks more like the market.
When I asked if there were concerns with the quality of work, one VP replied that telecommuting employees are more productive, period. It was a challenge to move to more flexibility at first, because of policies, the education for the associate, as well as the education of managers, to help them understand the different ways employees were working, it all had to change. Transitioning workloads, seamless project hand-off, training, it all required a new learning process. The executive stressed that she had to change as a manager.

The results were fiercely loyal employees who demonstrated greater productivity.

I pressed that several large companies (like Ernst and Young) have made a point to offer women flexibility (in hours, positions, locations, levels of involvement,) because they were tired of totally losing talented (and trained!) women when they voluntarily stepped away for different responsibilities at home. How do you keep your best people? The executive confirmed that statement: we will lose our employees if we don't offer flexibility  In order to retain the best talent in the industry, they had to come up with different ways to deliver the most that they could.

The reality is that Coca-Cola is trying to reach mothers. We are the gatekeepers to the home. We make 2/3rds of all purchasing decisions, and the majority of transactions to enter a home come through women. The best way to understand mothers is to employ mothers. And when you employ a mother, she isn't an island who can cut off her personal life, nor should she be.

Direct from the vice presidents, directors, and executives:
  • We bring our whole selves to work. My outside passions enrich me. It's a mistake not to have personal interests
  • Nurture your personal interests, bring them to work, make them part of what you do, and give back
  • Encourage the shifts in how, why, and where, to help women accomplish the work they want to do
  • Lift as you climb

What's the bottom line? If you tailor a job to your employee's schedule and their life, you get a fiercely loyal, more highly productive employee as a result. It's worth it to change the way we look at work so that everyone has a better balance in their lives.


eliana23 said...

This is very interesting, thanks. Also, that is one of the most lovely Diet Coke photographs everywhere. Now I will have to have one.

Hilary said...

Way interesting. my work is trying to eliminate part time workers by making their benefits insanely expensive... but nursing is different then your usual occupations.

Blue said...

twelve years ago this month, i booked my family on a flight from JFK to SLC for thanksgiving. i had no idea when i bought the tickets online that it was the inaugural flight on the airline. it was JetBlue, a new airline, and the tickets were insanely cheap, so i went with it.

during that flight, a chance conversation with the inflight crew in the back galley changed my life. "you could job share and work here part-time, and be home with your babies the rest of the time", they informed me.

twelve years later, the girlfriend and i who applied and were hired as a team are SO grateful for the visionary person who implemented that option. it's changed our lives in every possible way, and we love love LOVE working as flight attendants.

i could never have done it if i'd had to be full-time. motherhood is and always will be my top-priority, and i had baby and preschooler at the time. by being flexible and offering that option, they were able to attract and retain a wider variety of candidate, and employ people who love what they do, and who don't burnout like so many others. as part-timers, we are "fresh" and happy to be there when we fly, and our customers get to experience being served by people who are delighted to serve them.

it's been a win for both sides, and i can't fathom why any company whose expenses include a lot of recruiting and training and retention don't offer this kind of thing.

loved your description of Coke! ♥

Tiffany said...

fabulous! Thank you so much for sharing what you learned!