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HR vital to Coca-Cola’s growth

Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA) group managing director, Alison Watkins, talks about the inclusive, people-focused approach she has introduced to reinvigorate the company’s performance.

At risk of sounding trite, it can be said that Alison Watkins is putting the fizz back into the beverage giant to turn around a serious decline in profits in the past two years.

CCA will axe 260 jobs in 2015 as part of efforts to save $100 million, and will funnel those savings into new products and marketing.

When Watkins was appointed to the role in March 2014 – becoming only the second female CEO of a top-30 Australian company, after former Westpac CEO Gail Kelly – it quickly became apparent that many people at CCA had previously been “deeply concerned” about how the company was travelling.

“They had a clear understanding of what the issues were and what we needed to do, and were probably experiencing frustration that it wasn’t getting heard or cutting through to the leadership,” she says. “I went out of my way to make it easy for people to tell me directly what they thought was going on so we could incorporate that into our strategy.”

CCA has more than 15,000 employees in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa. Watkins backs up her respect for employees as the most important part of any organisation with the belief that straight talk – and listening – are needed to get their buy-in.

You can have impressive KPIs and plans, she says, but results suffer if you can’t get your people acknowledging performance gaps and get them excited about turning problems into success.

HR is key to the strategy, which she envisages will get CCA back to earnings growth in Australia in the next two to three years. She holds her HR director in the same regard as her chief financial officer, considering them her right and left hands.

“The HR director is very much a thought partner in creating energy and momentum with our people,” she says.

Watkins is a University of Tasmania commerce graduate whose career stretches back through roles at management consulting firm McKinsey & Co, fruit juice manufacturer Berri Ltd, ANZ Banking Group, Woolworths and Just Group. Before joining CCA, she was CEO at agribusiness GrainCorp for four years.

Sustaining leadership focus

The three questions Alison Watkins asks to ensure her CCA leadership strategy is staying on target:

  1. Is the direction clear? Does everyone in the business know what we’re trying to do?
  2. Have we translated that direction into concrete, actionable plans so everyone knows, individually and in their team, through KPIs and job structure, what’s expected of them this year?
  3. What are we doing to create energy around that direction? “At CCA, our vision of creating ‘millions of moments of happiness’ is very uplifting,” says Watkins. “We’ve put a lot of effort in, and will continue to create that energy and momentum, which can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Four priorities

Alison Watkins has create a four-priority plan to drive engagement and fiscally strengthen CCA in a context of increasing competition and supermarket price pressure.

  1. Create a clear improvement plan and harness board support to action it swiftly.
  2. Have a vision to engage your people.
  3. Nurture critical relationships in the company and with major customers.
  4. Build a strong leadership team at the top.


This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the February 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Thirsty work’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.

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Jill McGinn
Jill McGinn

Thank you for sharing your insights Alison. It is great to see and hear a straightforward message from a leader who clearly has a great human touch.
I agree with the approach of keeping things clear and simple and treating people with respect,


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