Leola Britton is unlocking talent and inclusion at Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa

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Leola speaks on her career journey and the unique challenges facing the beverage industry.

Leola Britton, an accomplished talent and leadership development executive at Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA), has a journey that embodies the pursuit of excellence in the world of human capital and skills development.

Born and raised in Gqeberha, Leola’s educational background includes an honours degree in psychology , a master’s in sociology specialising in group dynamics both from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and she is currently pursuing a doctorate in business administration with Unisa.

She’s also a registered psychometrist and coach. “I have a passion for all things related to people and believe that we are always learning to become a better version of ourselves as we strive to make this world a better place.”

Boasting a career path in various fields, Leola has worked in both global and local sectors including FMCG, manufacturing, government, legal services and insurance.

Weaving through the ups and down of HR

Leola says a standout point in her career has been her entry into the Coca-Cola system. “I was part of a management development programme at CCBSA. This experience provided me with a holistic understanding of the business, making it a pivotal foundation for my future endeavours. It remains a career highlight for me – who would not want to work for one of the most well-loved brands in the world? I was given the business tools to add value not only within the Coca-Cola system but elsewhere as well,” she explains.

Another standout moment was her transition from organisational design to talent management and leadership development. She designed a comprehensive leadership development strategy, nurturing future leaders and watching them achieve remarkable career success. “It still gives me great pleasure to see people that I helped to identify and develop achieve their career aspirations beyond their wildest dreams, because I know the journey that it took to get to where they are today,” she says.

While Leola’s career has seen numerous highs, she has faced her share of challenges, one of the most profound being a massive restructuring exercise involving employee retrenchments.

“I love to see people thrive and to assist them to find their own purpose preferably within the organisation. With the retrenchment exercise, it was very important to me to not only help people process the changes that would happen, but also to assist them redefine their career goals aligned to the changes that were taking place,” she says.

Despite the difficulty, it provided her with an opportunity to help individuals discover new paths aligned with their aspirations, highlighting the resilience of the human spirit.

In her current role, Leola says she plays a vital role in driving strategic people initiatives. Her responsibilities, she adds, include women in leadership targets, employment equity reporting, talent and succession planning, employee wellbeing, leadership development, and fostering a culture of inclusivity and engagement.

She further emphasises the importance of creating a psychologically safe space for all employees, ensuring they can bring their authentic selves to work and thrive. “We have a particular focus on people with disabilities and the LGBTQIA+ community from an inclusion perspective. We would like all employees to feel like CCBSA is home and they can bring their full and authentic selves to work every day where they can thrive.”

Challenges and opportunities in HR

Leola says the ongoing challenge is HR professionals striving to secure a seat at the boardroom table. “We must be seen as not only a partner to the business in terms of support, but be seen as a strategic enabler to the overarching success of the business, including long-term longevity and sustainability.”

She adds that, contrary to misconceptions, Africa is not backwards, but rather a land of opportunity. “I think that Africa is alive with possibility and has at its core a wealth of resources, including our people. By our very nature, we are innovative, resilient, friendly and able to cope with change. These are all competencies that are required to lead in a changing world.

“As Africans, we need to find ways to harness our natural and people resources for the betterment of the continent and the world in general. The skills, competencies and resources do exist, and Africa could become the next leader in the global world.”

Living a life of inspiration

Leola is inspired by the resilience and determination of the people she works with. Her life mantra is to believe in the impossible and look beyond the stars, echoing Muhammad Ali’s famous words, “Impossible is nothing.”

In her downtime, Leola enjoys reading, spending time with loved ones, and engaging in physical activities like running and hiking.

Her reading list includes Talent Wins, by Dominic Barton, Ram Charan, and Dennis Carey, as well as classics like The 7 Habits by Stephen Covey, “I use it extensively in both my personal and work life. I am also enjoying Clayton Christenson’s thinking on disruptive theory – he has a new book coming out in September which I cannot wait to get my hands on. And I would rather not comment on the books that I read in my downtime – suffice to say that these are for entertainment purposes only – I lean towards chick lit and modern fiction aimed at women.”

Her advice to young professionals? “Chart your own course in life and remember that the hustle is real and be prepared to put your best foot forward – every day. Know what your purpose and value is and remain true to this always. Your life and career are a journey and not a sprint – enjoy both the highs and the lows. Learn from the lows and celebrate the highs.”

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