Topic: Company Culture


Evolving Your Culture with Guests Kristin McDonald & Gareth Whalley

season 2, episode 8

Kristin McDonald & Gareth Whalley during an interview of The Work Place podcast

This episode, we talk with Kristin McDonald & Gareth Whalley about their role in guiding Coca-Cola’s corporate workplace culture into the future.

Both Kristin and Gareth come to us from Coca-Cola’s HR department, where they’re the Director of Employee Experience Design and Director of Global Total Rewards Transformation, respectively. Together, they’re leading Coke’s company culture into the future, crafting a modern mission, values, and behaviors to guide the 20,000 plus employees all over the world. Their work has had a massive impact on the employee experience at Coke, and the passion they pursue it with is infectious.

Kristin & Gareth were interviewed by me and they were so much fun that I kind of want to get a job at Coca-Cola just so we can all hang out after work. But I won’t, because this podcast isn’t gonna host itself, right?

Host: Andrew Scarcella
Guest: Kristin McDonald & Gareth Whalley

Topics covered:

  • How to evolve an established corporate culture to fit the 21st century
  • Embracing flexible work spaces
  • Aligning culture with business strategy
  • Enabling creativity at every level
  • Communicating cultural change effectively
  • Behaviors vs. values
  • Taking recognition global
  • Getting buy-in for cultural change
  • Vulnerability in leadership
  • Notebooks vs. iPads
  • Technology and wellbeing

Tangible Takeaways:

  • The first is that if you want to innovate, focus on progress over perfection. For Coke, that means the ability to quickly develop new products and see how they perform in the real world without obsessively testing it for months. They call it “1.0, 2.0, 3.0”, but it’s better known as MVP or “minimum viable product”, or in some circles, “skateboarding.” The idea being, it’s better to quickly create the simplest expression of a concept (the skateboard) than to spend a ton of time perfecting a more capable, but more complicated version (a Tesla Cybertruck). Now rapid development is a little easier when your product is carbonated sugar water instead of, say, global financial services or healthcare, but the principle remains the same. Don’t keep your chicks in the nest, give them a gentle, motherly nudge and see how they fly.
  • The second is a word that might make your eyes roll. Empowerment. As in, employee empowerment? It’s a concept that can ring pretty hollow in the wrong hands, but your hands aren’t the wrong hands, are they? Of course not. In fact, let’s not even call it empowerment, let’s call it ownership. That feels better, doesn’t it? As Kristin reminds us, ownership is about accountability as much as it is about control. So instead of having every decision run through the hierarchical meat grinder, give individual contributors the autonomy and support to take on both the risks and the rewards. Such is the double-edged sword of ownership. Just as important is to make sure senior leaders and project owners give their people the space, respect, and opportunities to make tough decisions and own the outcomes. Otherwise, ownership is just another buzzword. And you know what we do to buzzwords. (Cue the buzzsaw.)
  • The third is that at the end of the interview, Kristin and Gareth turned the tables on me and asked me my own questions. I let them because it’s only fair after peppering them with questions for the better part of an hour to let them have one. Maybe we should have left this on the cutting room floor, but in the interest of equality, here’s our guests putting me on the spot.

KRISTIN: Who are your heroes? I'm just curious.

ANDREW: Oh, my heroes? Oh gosh. Well, Melissa Arnot, for one. She is amazing. And I would say mountain guides, any mountain guide that’s out there, slogging, working hard, helping clients hoof it up these mountains. They're the real heroes. I've been on some trips with mountain guides before, and they are everything I want to be.

KRISTIN: Wow. That’s powerful.

That’s it for this episode of The Work Place. If you liked it, or even if you didn’t, please rate, review, and, of course, subscribe to The Work Place on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was written and produced by yours truly, with editing and original music by Daniel Foster Smith, who also composed our theme song.

If you have a burning question about workplace culture, or a story about why YOUR workplace culture is the best (or worst) send it to

The Work Place is sponsored by O.C. Tanner, the global leader in engaging workplace cultures. O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud️ provides a single, modular suite of apps for influencing and improving employee experiences through recognition, career anniversaries, wellbeing, leadership, and more.

If you want your organization to become a place where people can’t wait to come to work in the morning, go to

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