Awesome Workplace: Defining Employee Experience

Hosted by: Coca-Cola


It’s hard to argue the fact that a highly engaged workforce has several benefits to a business – employees work 57% harder, individuals are more committed and nine times less likely to leave, stock prices are higher and EBITDA growth is increased.

Backed by 62 years of operations under their belt, it’s no surprise that Coca-Cola Japan appears to be at the leading forefront when it comes to engaging talent whilst building a robust organization.

HR Leaders in Tokyo gathered at the Coca-Cola Japan office last week to have an in-depth discussion led by Eriko Talley, Head of HR at Coca-Cola Japan, on what the key elements are to making a workplace so “awesome” and highly engaged.

What makes a workplace awesome?

The discussion opened up with participants sharing ideas on how to define what an awesome workplace should look like. Competitive remuneration, frequent paid-holidays, a nice office and casual wear were just a few thoughts among the many ideas that came to light, but everyone seemed to be in agreement that those were just the baseline. In order for a company to be different and special, they need to go above and beyond to navigate the employee experience by creating a culture of transparency, investing in employee development and fine-tuning the corporate vision.

Transparency and open communication

A transparent corporate culture appears to be key in maintaining a healthy and engaged workforce.  A general understanding of what’s being discussed at the executive level and how that communicates down combined with a fair and consistent decision-making process should help breed trust and empowerment among employees.  But it shouldn’t just start from the top. There should also be an environment where employees can speak up from the bottom up and contribute to the shared mission, showing that they are respected and valued.

“Some healthy conflict is good for the business,” commented Makoto Yawata, Senior HR Manager at Microsoft. It was also mentioned that leveraging IT tools such as Yammer and Teams for collaboration is also indispensable.  This so-called non-hierarchical and free-flowing type of communication seems quite far from the norm in Japan but some organizations are placing a heavy emphasis on setting new standards. According to Talley, at Coca-Cola Japan, every employee has the opportunity to give upward feedback to their manager and many employees leverage this to start a conversation.

Investment toward Employee Development

At Microsoft, they start investing in their staff early on by providing a brand-new Microsoft Surface Pro as a welcome gift for freshers. This is followed by a new graduate training program that lasts for two years, along with foreign language and business communication development programs.  Investing in young talent and the so-called future of the organization sounds like a solid plan but what about investing in leaders?

At Coca-Cola, anyone that manages even a single person must go through a 1-week offsite leadership training program followed by continued training sessions to ensure that all of their managers can be ready to display high quality leadership skills and understand what they’re supposed to look like.

As for other cases, Emma Ley, Head of HR, Japan and Korea at ANZ, shared an example of a restructure in their IT department where IT project managers provided the option to sign up for a 6-month intensive course to become IT engineers. They started off with a questionnaire followed by a 2-day offsite workshop to identify key talent; a drive to really understand their motivations in order to make the employee experience something worthwhile.

Defining the vision/purpose

A workplace is only “awesome” if the employees can be bought into a clearly defined vision. If there’s a shared sense of values between the employees, then they can thrive toward collaboration and even if there are little arguments here and there, the common values will hold the team together.

Pete Sparber from Molex mentioned that Koch, their parent company, has a very carefully articulated philosophy called “Market-Based Management” which aims to innovate, improve and transform, and is at the core of everything they do.  This provides a sense of connection to the company and also helps employees build a personal connection with the markets they are exposed to with the interest of creating value in society.  When the employees are bought into the vision and strategy, they are of course highly engaged, but they could also contribute to employer branding by triggering word of mouth and directly impacting their social circle of 100 people.

What’s the genesis?

It all starts with the engagement survey that can gain access to the objective data that’s required to identify the root issues of an organization.  Is it an HR issue or a business issue? What are the triggers and how do we make this an awesome workplace that excites people?  These are some of the questions that an organization must keep asking themselves.  It’s not all fun and games and in order to become an awesome workplace, sometimes companies need to engage with people and find ways to turn them around.  This means that at times, employers need to be prepared to have difficult and emotional conversations.  Eriko Talley closed off the seminar by saying that she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to make her workplace awesome as “we are in it for the long haul.”

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