Lessons from Coca-Cola: centralize for efficiency

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You have 62,000 workers spread across North America, with HR managers in every centre – how do you reduce costs and still ensure a consistent and high quality response to human resources issues? If you’re Coca-Cola you move all your HR management to one location and install a hotline.

It’s not a new concept, but it’s a new scale: in the first six months the team received 19,318 calls and were able to solve all but four over the phone.

The system has essentially taken a “mission control” approach, where requests are given a case number and are assigned to coordinators who assess the issue and pass it on to consultants, senior manager of field employee relations, Wanda Ford Crumpler said.

Consultants have access to a knowledge database as well as a variety of training tools that help increase efficiency. However each case continues to be considered individually, Crumpler added.

However the transition was by no means seamless. Even with a phased approach, the team soon was overwhelmed by the number of requests. By August 2009, when all employees had been transitioned into the new model, about 200 cases were being logged each week. The company also found an extraordinary amount of data coming from the new system, including the fact that 80% of calls came from managers, not employees.

Some managers were frustrated by doing tasks they considered to be HR work, senior manager, Wendy Lawson said. Yet HR made it clear that they were doing “leader work” that HR had been doing, and most have now lost the “go down the hall to talk to HR mentality”, Lawson said.

Leaders have been empowered to handle certain issues on their own, such as attendance issues and minor safety violations. If cases rise to the level of dismissal, however, the employee relations team is called in to help examine potential risks and confirm that procedures have been followed.


  • Paul Berdusco on 2013-05-09 7:53:14 AM

    As a former front line supervisor and manager, I always appreciated the human interaction that the HR department had with my staff and I. It helped them to better understand the challenges of the heavily unionized environment.

  • AB on 2013-05-08 2:53:18 PM

    In my view this approach completely strips HR of any connection to the operations. Talk about dehumanizing - if you've got an issue, here's a fridge magnet with a number to call. I totally get the need to diminish the "go down the hall and talk to HR" mentality and to breed supervisory independence, but I would never want to work in this kind of environment. Supervisors/managers will always find work-arounds to avoid dealing with call-centre bureaucracies.

  • Chris on 2013-05-10 10:53:49 AM

    I agree completely AB. This might work for a transactional HR department but never for a strategic HR department.

  • Annonomous on 2013-05-10 7:59:30 PM

    I used to work there but lost my job due to the implementation of this project and I still believe it was the right thing to do. The system provides some accountability. I saw countless times that employees had issues and each different hr person would provide their own opinion not really following and company guidelines. There were also many occasions where employees weren't even responded to. This system provides a record of each concern and requires resolution and follow-up. It also makes everyone work off the same rule book so employees receive one consistent message no matter who they talk to.

  • JA on 2013-05-27 10:10:04 AM

    I can see the allure for a company the size of Coca Cola to centralize just about anything they can, but my biased opinion is that HR is one thing that should not be centralized, especially in cases of multinationals such as Coca Cola, where one size does not fit all. The model also contravenes a proactive approach to HR... Seems to be a step back to the transactional Personnel Departments of what I thought were days of old. Actually, it just seems to be a step back in every way and takes away the spot at the table we've earned over the years. In any case, I hope this doesn't become the flavor of the month industry wide.

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