Coke’s New Caffeine Lift

The soft-drink company tests its agility by buying into the UK coffee chain Costa.

Almost from its creation over a century ago, Coca-Cola has been synonymous around the world with fizzy, caffeinated soft drinks. But now the company’s leaders want to the company to branch out into a considerably different type of caffeine charge.  

In a recent announcement Coke said it would purchase Costa Coffee, Britain’s leading coffee shop chain, for approximately $5 billion. For Coke, it’s a chance to buy into a much faster growing part of the beverage market than soda, where health concerns are weighing on sales. The move by Coke provides a lesson in why company executives need their organizations and their employees to stay agile. “Coke seems to have realized that they are not just selling fizzy drinks,” says Kirsta Anderson, a London-based Korn Ferry senior client partner and lead in the Global Culture Transformation practice.

There are ways to ensure that your company stays agile by always prioritizing innovation, experts say. Coke has created multiple models to ensure that they are innovating to meet the needs of consumers everywhere, says Virginia Bowden, a Korn Ferry senior client partner. “The firm is being nimble, allowing colleagues to take risks and to both fail and succeed has become core to their culture,” she says.

According to Korn Ferry research, among companies that generated an above-average total shareholder return, those that were also most innovative displayed two critical attributes. First, their employees had a far more positive view of the firm’s innovation, and second, they believed that the company responded effectively to changes in the business environment

Another element that fosters innovation: providing employees with a good work-life balance. “That resonates with the idea that people need to have mental space to be innovative,” says Anderson. The most innovative firms also tend to embrace diversity and inclusion. “Again, that fits with pieces of research which show that more diverse teams come up with more innovative ideas,” she says.

While it takes longer than a cup of coffee to alter employee demographics, leaders can get started by quickly changing how they pick team members. Working groups should be organized around the customer and not in the more usual functional silos such as marketing, or operations., says Caren Fleit, New York-based managing director of Korn Ferry's Global Marketing Officers practice. In other words, when people from different departments work together, then new ideas emerge. Whatever route gets taken, the key to success is that bosses must be willing to accept missteps. "In order to foster agility, teams need to have permission to fail," she says. "This is the only way that they will be able to take risks and try new things."