Image for  "What can you learn from Coca-Cola?"

What can you learn from Coca-Cola?

A couple of months ago, I attended a meeting where one of the world’s best-known companies talked about its improvement efforts. The company is almost 140 years old, which means that there is a clear risk that it is very conservative in its development.

I know another old company that I met, where they clearly stated that they were very careful in their improvement work. This was because they did not want to make a mess of things, based on the historical success of the company. That is, their past success was now a hindrance to future development.

Here it is important for you to remember that whatever it is that brought you and your business to where you are today, it will not ensure future success.

That’s why you need to make sure that you and your team think new, think bold, think differently and dare to drive change.

So which company was it Matts that you met and told about his improvement work, you might say?

Yes, it was Coca Cola. Her name is Tapaswee Chandele and she is the global head of their business development, and she told the rest of us how they work on their improvement efforts.

She also said that it saw the need for improvement to maintain the market position it has today. They also saw it as a crucial prerequisite for further strengthening.

It’s wise thinking, as it’s closer to the abyss than many think. Think of giants like Blockbuster, Nokia or Kodak who didn’t do their homework. These are just the best known, while there are a host of businesses that disappear quietly into the night because they are not constantly improving.

Well, back to Coca Cola. There were a few things that I noted and learned from. In particular, their four-point improvement framework now permeates their entire improvement work.

1. Push for progress, not perfection

They work very clearly to constantly push for improvement. It’s more important to be constantly moving and developing than to be perfect.

I totally agree and I have mentioned it many times; you can’t wait for the perfect moment. It is more important to move forward and learn from what you do, than to stand still and think that you can imagine all scenarios in the future and how to face them.

If you’re not happy with the process you put in place, well, you change it to make it better. It’s better to drive forward all the time and correct as you go, than to stand still and get nowhere, other than the possibility in your mind.

Think, do, follow up, learn – think, do, follow up, learn – think, do follow up, learn.

It’s an approach, part of your culture.

2. Make it happen

The second is to make sure things get done. It’s related to the above, about not standing still and thinking, thinking and thinking, and then….thinking some more.

No, it’s clear that things are going to happen. However, it has not only to counteract the caution and anxiety of making mistakes. No, it also has to do with actually working on improvements. Do it! Don’t think you’ll get away with it. And don’t forget that if you don’t, then you’re smoked.

And, as point 1 shows, there is room for further improvement. The important thing is momentum and a culture of doing, rather than being afraid to do wrong.

Unfortunately, I see many, especially public organisations, where people are so afraid of making mistakes that they get stuck and do nothing. The culture is that it is better to do nothing than to do wrong. Initiative is not rewarded.

If you have that in your business, then it needs to change urgently. You must have, as they say in English, a “can do attitude”.

3. Always seek, never settle

The third is also related to the previous ones; to always look for what can be improved and to never be satisfied with the way things are.

If you think you’re good enough as you are, you’ll be surprised when reality catches up with you. This also applies to those who work in a monopoly position. You only have that position as long as you do as good a job as you can, or change will be forced.

No one is protected from travel. Therefore, it is better to exist than to be existed.

Coca Cola is constantly working, throughout the organisation, to improve. This despite having a long and successful history. Can’t you just chill out and rest on your laurels? No, that’s exactly what you can’t do.

My father had a painting, in the printing shop he owned and operated, that I remember so well. It said that your competitors are your best friends, because it will never miss a chance to point out things that you are not doing well enough.

For Coca Cola, it means that if you don’t get better, Pepsi Co. will accept the invitation and then use the missed improvement in Coca Cola to step up a notch.

4. Amazing together

The fourth, which I also really like, is their expression of striving to be better together. It’s not that one individual or one part of the company should get better. No, it is the whole that needs to be improved.

I like to describe it as your whole business is like a web. A network made up of every component that creates value. These are your processes, which in the network can be likened to nodes. Not all nodes are connected to all others, but through other nodes, everything is still connected.

You can’t just invest in a process in your business and think it will have a huge impact. You need to invest in the whole business, working together to get better.

Of course, this does not mean that you should work on all processes in parallel, so it becomes too heavy for the business. However, this means that you need to see the big picture in order to prioritise and be structured in your improvement work.

One business I work with has now, after a few years, reached the profound level of seeing how everything is connected. From the beginning, it was more that the business structure, the one that shows the value creation flow of the whole business at a high level, was a guide.

Now, with dedicated work and increased maturity, you can clearly see how the web is really connected. It becomes so clear when you deploy one process after another, that they in turn demand that others also improve.

When time is reached, it becomes clearer and clearer. A bit like one of those pictures that you need to focus on to see what it is. From the beginning it consists only of a mass of points or figures. But then, all of a sudden, it snaps into your head and you see what the picture represents.

So it is in your business too. However, to see the whole picture, you need to have created the business structure first and in the right way. Because otherwise, no matter how long you stare at it, some image will always appear.

What do you do with the hierarchical structure of the line organisation?

After Tapaswee’s briefing and description of how they work with improvement work at Coca Cola, I asked her the above question.

I asked the question because I see this as the single biggest obstacle to development in businesses. This is regardless of the type of activity. The stovepipe focus effectively kills off any radical improvement work.

Her response was quite surprising and at the same time very gratifying. She explained that they don’t focus on the hierarchy in the line organisation at all, but that they focus entirely on the flows that create value for customers. Line organisation remains, but is becoming less prominent in the business.

It transfers more power and more responsibility to those who work in the value-creating flows; their processes.

I think this is very positive and, as I said, a bit surprising. Because a company with almost 90,000 employees (and another 600,000 in close-partner companies), after 130 years, can shift its focus, well then you can too.

They are moving from an all-encompassing focus on the line organisation to a focus on the value-creating flows.

Think about what Coca-Cola’s sweeping points would mean for you. What would it look like for you if you put the same items on your overall improvement agenda?

Hope you have a great week,