Coca-Cola BIG Re-Defines HR Strategy To Meet Needs Of A Changing Workforce

Kristin McHugh
Established Explorer

teejay gonzales- HR coca cola.jpg

Coca-Cola BIG Re-Defines HR Strategy To Meet Needs Of A Changing Workforce


The pandemic has unquestionably inspired executives to digitalize at least some parts of their business. But what about companies already underway in their transformation journey? According to TeeJay Gonzales, HR Transformation Director at Coca-Cola BIG, it's the right time to reassess, reset, and redefine the path ahead.


While many businesses were taking their first step toward digitalization, TeeJay Gonzales faced an entirely different challenge at Coca-Cola Bottling Investments Group (Coca-Cola BIG). A three-year-long transformation across its HR operations needed to be revisited – and possibly reimagined – to respond to sudden changes in work practices, business operations, and foreign markets.


If this experience sounds familiar, you're not alone. The pandemic has exposed critical gaps in HR processes, work experiences, data, and technologies in most organizations. For HR leaders, this unusual transformational era is challenging them to go beyond their comfort zone to deliver HR services that are relevant now – not a year ago.

The Customer Enrichment and Community team from SAP SuccessFactors recently caught up with Gonzales to better understand what HR executives, like him, are facing and how this experience is inspiring a new perspective on the role and power of HR transformation. 


Like most companies, Coca-Cola BIG is experiencing significant change across its workforce. The only difference is that you have 28,000 employees in 39 plants across 16 countries. How have your HR goals and priorities changed since the initial start of your transformation three years ago?

Gonzales: The pandemic allowed us to rethink everything from how we recruit and onboard new hires to nurture every employee's skills, talent, and potential. After three years, we realized that our strategy for deploying our HR system across all 16 countries was not viable. Only a handful of plants could adopt it well.

Until now, we didn't realize that our approach to HR transformation strategy was rooted in siloed thinking, even though each bottling location operates as a separate entity. Every country has different priorities, budget restrictions, digital maturity levels, and compliance standards. So, when every aspect of our bottling operations significantly shifted within the first 120 days of 2020, we knew we had to reassess our HR digitalization agenda and rediscover what matters to the management team and workforce at each individual site. 

A move like this can be a bitter pill for transformation leaders to swallow– I know it was for me. However, it is also a great opportunity to become a more networked organization, allowing us to absorb new requirements and capabilities for HR processes and the employee experience and deliver them in the middle of a transformation initiative. Plus, we can collaborate with business process owners from 39 locations with unique needs. Luckily, our investment in SAP SuccessFactors solutions is flexible enough to support such a significant transformation. 


How were you able to bring your individual systems and business process owners together and agree on processes? Did you start with a prescriptive approach?

The effort, time, and money needed to evaluate 16 individual markets is too much for any business to take on. Instead, we conducted a cost-benefit analysis of our investment in SAP SuccessFactors solutions. Then, we looked at the other side of the fence, comparing our plans against how each site operated and the capabilities they needed to run optimally. 

We discovered our contracted subscription model for the cloud-based HR solutions was affordable and flexible enough to deliver the changes that each plant needed. Plus, we learned that the solutions provided the capabilities required to comply with our policies and standards. Before the pandemic, core HR and recruitment processes were considered more important to transform. But for our company's survival during a time of immense disruption, we needed to shift gears and act in ways that matter most to the workforce.

Plus, when asking 11,000 people in the Philippines, 8,000 in India, 300 in Bangladesh, 650 in Nepal, and countless others to adopt a substantial human capital management platform, it's always best to deliver the right capabilities at the right moment. And during the pandemic, compensation and total rewards management were the right ones.

It's always challenging to read the business and know which capabilities should go live, when they are most relevant, and which locations should acquire them first. The key is being flexible enough to have those difficult conversations and change the road map when needed. I even anticipate making another set of changes if the vaccine proves to be successful, perhaps even expediting the transformation altogether.


Leveraging best practices across 16 regional organizations is a monumental undertaking. How do you plan to utilize data and people analytics across BIG to help with business decisions?

For us, HR transformation is more than just workflows, trainings, request and timesheet approvals. We also need to give everyone in the organization permission to ask tough questions about the current state of our operations and performance, hear honest answers, and act on those insights in tangible ways.

By having real-time data, we can better understand the bigger picture of our group and identify ways we can make it even better. For example, our leaders could use reporting dashboards to make procurement decisions, hire the right candidates, and augment the labor force with external resources – on a global and country-specific basis.


In past conversations, you mentioned how the SAP Store helps your business quickly access the innovative, scalable product solutions that your workforce needs. Can you share how these solutions are helping Coca-Cola BIG solve its challenges? 

Understandably, a business cannot get every unique need addressed from a standard solution. The way companies must navigate change and the pace at which it happens makes it unaffordable to purchase completely new foundational technology every couple of years. However, SAP Store has helped us overcome this reality by providing access to advanced, forward-looking applications that can be integrated and implemented quickly into the SAP SuccessFactors solutions that we have implemented.

The beauty of the SAP Store is that it doesn't let change get in the way of our transformation success. We never want to leave any of our bottling plants behind. The site allows every location to access capabilities that address their unique requirements in an affordable, responsive, and quick way.


Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your perspective on how significant disruption can help improve a transformation in progress is inspiring. Do you have any lessons learned from this experience you would like to share?

The bottom line for any transformation project is the employee experience. By embracing a people-first mind-set, we are always discovering new ways to improve how our people work in every aspect of our transformation.

One of the most exciting breakthroughs for us was the decision to survey our bottlers in their local dialect – some that I never heard of myself. Most businesses provide surveys in 17 major languages. But in some regions, such as India, as many as 21 languages could be spoken across the workforce.

The ability to speak to our employees in their native tongue goes a long way in establishing the trust and support we need for our transformation to be successful. Engagement is remarkably high across all 39 plants. Our employees usually do not hesitate to point out good aspects of their transformation experience and areas for improvement.

Our executives are happy with the price point, and our employees are satisfied with the data they access. And most of all, we're excited because we have a technology partnership that can grow with us and deliver the things we need now and in the future – no matter what happens next.


TeeJay Gonzalez is a member of the  SAP SuccessFactors Executive Innovation Board. Learn more about SAP SuccessFactors and how the SAP SuccessFactors Human Experience Management (HXM) Suite is helping businesses create more flexible, end-to-end experiences for employees here.