'Relying on family and friends has made me stronger,' said Manu Narang Wadhwa

Wadhwa says that negative emotions are often more contagious than positive ones, but it's important to nip them in bud by channelizing emotions into positive aspirations.


Manu Narang Wadhwa, Vice- President - Human Resources, Coca - Cola India and South West Asia. She joined Coca- Cola from American Express where she served for nine years. Prior to American Express, she worked at GE in various roles. 

What was your first job and what made it special or not so special? 

My first job was being a typing assistant to my dad in his business. I was in high school at that time and it meant the world to me for multiple reasons – 1. I earned my pocket money, which gave me a sense of accomplishment and empowered me to spend it as I pleased (and it was a very big thing in those days!) 2) My father made me feel really special after every typing job as if it was the only direct contributor to revenue generation. Those are very significant learning, which I carry to work every single day i.e. ensuring that our associates are recognized and empowered alongside feeling special that they are the core behind the growth of the organization.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

The cornerstone of any successful organization is its people.

Getting people #Inspired to drive extra-ordinary results for the organization is a challenge, though with immense possibilities. We strive for creating an eco-system, wherein our people are connected to the bigger picture and can relate the significance of their roles to the organization’s growth agenda. It is about the spirit of inclusion, diversity and being heard—always.

Another major consideration is that the global spirit of the company has to be married to a localized understanding of the land. Only then can one succeed in creating a personalized engagement experience for associates. For instance, in a country like India, it is necessary for companies to make the employees’ families feel like they are being taken care of. We attempt to #Glocalise all our people efforts.

Negative emotions are often more contagious than positive ones. They can spiral from one to another like an unstoppable chain reaction. It’s important to nip them in the bud by channelizing emotions into positive aspirations. We focus on the strengths of our people and enable them to develop them further. Our philosophy of ‘Being inspired’ is about everyone at Coca-Cola driving extraordinary results for the extraordinary organization that we are part of.

With changing business models, how you keep up or balance the hiring plans? 

We not only encourage developing leadership talent from within the organization but also bring fresh talent from outside to bring us new perspectives and insights.I joined Coca-Cola from American Express with no prior FMCG experience. So I have a different way of looking at things. This is what I appreciate about this place that the focus is on people and their ideas rather than sheer hiring numbers. That’s not to say that numbers don’t matter but the endeavor has always been to empower the people to do their best.  We have one of the best talent-enablement practices through which we bring home many of our talented professionals back to India after offering them a global experience.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

Tides in corporate or personal life are a part and parcel of one’s being. My mantra, when I am faced with rough waters, is to stay calm, focused on what I can control/change and most importantly continue to have faith that “This too shall pass.” Relying on my support system of family and friends has also made me stronger and firm to handle the tides.

If not in HR role, what would be the next career option?

My spirit is entrepreneurial. It is driven by making an impact either to my surrounding or myself. I would have been in the field of arts or architecture, maybe design or sculpting some figurines. Anything that impact our lives and make them more gratifying.

Three features of your top performers?

1) Love, passion and ownership for their job and the organization’s motto

2) Ability to take people along, whether it’s their team members or stakeholders at large

3) Courage & belief in themselves, even when the tides are against them

I will add a 4th one – Continuous learning from their ecosystem

What do you think about global HR policies like: email free days and meeting free days? 

We generally believe in nurturing an inspiring environment, where people are engaged, motivated and excited to come to work every day. Any new initiatives or monotony breakers only add to the existing engagement quotient.  We also keep organizing events such as family day and other fun stuff to add spice to our work routines.

What helps you in unwinding yourself? 

I am a proud mother of twin daughters.While they are my full-time job outside my job with Coca-Cola, I love every minute with them. Alongside, I enjoy traveling as it is truly therapeutic and I believe the world around us has such much to offer. I have backpacked across Europe. Thankfully my husband shares my passion and we make for unrelenting travelers. Our flexi-work policy enables us to follow our passions.

Taking care of HR of multinational, employees and students at campuses aspire to join Coca Cola. 

How do you assure that you meet the expectations and stand apart in making HR policies? 

Our value proposition is #BeInspired. We believe in nurturing an ecosystem, wherein extra-ordinary people drive extra-ordinary results. To enable this ecosystem, our culture breeds empowered and boundary-less work patterns. Right from physical workplace promoting a spirit of collaboration to our policies enabling flexible work arrangements, our HR practices transcend beyond ordinary and inspire more people to do better or think together for a better future. This makes us attractive to today’s millennials. It's more than working for the global beverage leader. It's an opportunity to be a part of something that makes the world a better place through our sustainability initiatives, water stewardship or the simple act of giving back to our communities.

What makes your HR strategy stand apart? 

Our HR strategy stands on the pedestal of “Partnership for Growth.” It stands out as everything that we do has to be purposeful and driven towards the organization’s agenda. Alongside, we believe in the spirit of agility and speed. And our policies are adaptive just like the pace of our business that’s evolving to meet consumer preferences.We also believe in personalization and continue to evolve to suit our associate preferences. There is greater flexibility and every opinion matters. Our HR strategy means inclusion of generational to gender to cultural diversity. Every person is unique with different drivers and motivators and this is always kept in mind before proposing any HR solution.

Which policies or areas of concern are going to be disruptive in coming years? 

Technology will play an important role in shaping up HR practices now as well as in the future. I see this as a disruption with immense possibilities. Right from hiring to engagement to work patterns, technology is enabling a boundary-less workplace. For example – collaboration is becoming stronger due to technological aid as associates no longer need to work from one confined space and can work from remote locations. For engaging our people, we have multiple channels and touchpoints to promote #Inclusion as well as a real-time two-way communication. This also means that in-person interactions will also become equally important to maintain the human touch. It’s all going to be about the balancing act. 

What are the hiring plans at Coca Cola? 

Our aim is to serve beverages for life. We are striving to offer maximum beverage choices which suit the lifestyle and preferences of our consumers. To bring this mission to life, we are looking for talent who have a growth mindset, as we grow our portfolio and business, in our core areas – marketing, brand, strategy as well as new capabilities like digital and innovation. We also launched the fruit circular economy initiative recently. The mission is to procure fruits locally and boost the horticulture in the country. There may be requirements of supply chain professionals, agro-processing specialists and new-age marketers. At the same time, in line with our talent development strategy, we will continue to hone our existing talent for them to take on greater and diverse responsibilities.

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