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Supporting organizations going through change

niagara bottling

Niagara Bottling

Learning and Development Team Transformation: L&D Center of Excellence 

"The level of support we received was by far more than we expected or ever experienced.

Like all rapidly expanding teams, we felt growing pains. However, with the assistance of Harbinger’s knowledgeable team, it was kept at a minimum, and we now have a sustainable structure.

We look forward to working with Harbinger again in the near future."

Michael Coleson, Senior Manager of Technical Training

Who is Niagara Bottling?

Since 1963, Niagara Bottling has been producing high-quality, low-cost bottled water. With a mission of “delivering an unbeatable combination of quality, price, and service through hard work and innovation”, the organization has grown to be the largest family-owned and operated bottled water company in the U.S. and a key driver of innovative bottle design and high-speed manufacturing. Their work has helped create the global bottled water industry as it is today. 

With an eye on continued excellence, Niagara Bottling now plans to increase its global footprint by opening facilities and markets in Australia and Mexico.

What was the challenge?

Siloed Knowledge and Growing Pains


Niagara Bottling was on the cusp of launching an ambitious global growth agenda, planning an expansion from 1000 people in two countries to employing 5000 in four. The organization had done an exceptional job of empowering individuals to find better ways of working; however, they recognized that their planned growth would be unsustainable with knowledge being siloed within teams and individuals. Additionally, a lack of clear processes ingrained valuable knowledge for the whole organization.


The L&D organization consisted of individual teams, under the umbrella of Technical Learning and Development, which were providing technical training as required in the plants. The current set-up:

  • Did not have an overall oversight of the ongoing training within the L&D Team

  • Suffered a lack of clarity between the L&D Team and the HR group over training ownership

  • Consisted of team members were travelling 90%-100% of the time and unaware of what the other teams were doing.


This resulted in siloed teams providing different learning experiences. Learners were unsure of how to acquire training and were often left to use their own resources to find the required technical training for their jobs.


Niagara Bottling proactively engaged Harbinger to preserve their focus on innovation and improve further as they grew. To effectively support Niagara’s growth strategy, the L&D Team recognized that they needed help in streamlining the L&D practice—standardizing and ensuring that everyone was working as one team, towards one goal.

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What did we do?

In partnership with Philip Consulting LLC, Harbinger was engaged by Niagara Bottling to assist with an organizational design and an OCM (organizational change management) initiative to transform their Technical Learning and Development (L&D) team to meet the challenges of their planned growth.

Stakeholder Engagement and Analysis

To deeply understand the reality of the stakeholders on the ground, the Harbinger team undertook a comprehensive fact-finding tour of all of Niagara Bottling’s plants. We engaged employees in every area of the business through interviews and discussions, to better understand the strengths of each team, along with the commonalities and gaps between them. This included sitting down with each member of the leadership team to understand their perspectives on the challenges, and how they could best support this change initiative. 

Team Building and Alignment

We used the StrengthsFinder assessment to develop ideas on how leaders could help enable their team members to "lead without title” and create a clear vision for reaching their potential. This tool also helped define strategies on how to keep people better informed and provide a strategic view of day-to-day work. This approach to change focused on what was working well, building on the team’s core strengths, and enabling their people to lead their own development journeys.

Capitalizing on a Culture of Innovation

What became clear over the course of the fact-finding tour was that Niagara Bottling’s strength was in the quality of its people. As an organization, they had created a culture defined by innovation. Everyone was able to ask themselves how to work more effectively and had the license to try new things, without fear that failure would cost them their job. However, the real value of this individual empowerment was constrained as team members lacked the necessary processes to spread success to others. 

Additional opportunities:

  • Enhancing overall communication and knowledge sharing on the use of best practices between the L&D teams 

  • Identification of team members fit within their current roles

  • Enhancing integration between different lines of business, Human Resources and the Learning and Development Team

  • Institutionalizing development and career growth for team members

Organizational Design: Learning Centre of Excellence

The core of the transformation was to restructure and align teams to be focused as “one team” to achieve one common goal —supporting Niagara’s growth strategy and providing standardized technical training. Based on leading practices and Niagara’s long-term requirements, Harbinger defined a target operating structure for the team. This was then aligned to existing staff based on the best fit of their skills, interests, and abilities, while also providing them with appropriate professional growth opportunities.

An overall Operational Technical Learning Leadership team was developed to directly support the L&D team in their growth strategy. This included the creation of an Integration Manager role within the team, overseeing all technical L&D training development. 

The change management approach to deploying the new organization included a series of workshops involving all the team members. Leadership workshops focused on Gallup’s StrengthFinders assessments, and sessions between the Integration team and individual technical L&D teams encouraged knowledge share around best practices. These sessions also identified the mutual benefits for the L&D and HR team working cohesively. 


Process Design

To support the reorganization and ensure that best practices were accessible by all L&D staff, common processes were centralized and standardized. Training material creation, development, maintenance, and publishing processes were standardized under the Integration Manager's purview. Harbinger then worked with Niagara to quantify their current catalogue of courseware, identify the various types of materials, analyze the required templates on a go-forward basis, and develop standard templates for each L&D person to use. All materials are now centralized within their current Learning Management System (LMS), an essential part of developing a “one team” strategy for growth. 


Partnership with the Business

The Integration Manager also focused on developing a partnership with HR to ensure that all Niagara employees receive holistic and consistent professional development, being true stewards of standardization within the company.

What was the outcome?

Our work led to the creation of a best-in-class Learning Centre of Excellence, which was to be managed by the organization’s Integration team. The center brought together 125 subject-matter experts across the business to standardize their practices, creating well-rounded training courses and guides packed with valuable information on cutting-edge work practices.


This enabled Niagara Bottling to embrace change while staying true to all the elements that made them a success in the first place. By creating standardized procedures and individual and departmental accountability, we elevated their institutional knowledge share, transforming their siloed business into a unified entity ready for growth.

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Key Deliverables and Activities

  • L&D Target Operating Model Design

    • Organizational Structure

    • Business Process

    • Standards design and development (curriculum, style guides, material templates)

    • Learning Strategy Alignment to Corporate Organizational Development

    • Learning Technology Evaluation and Solution Proposal

    • L&D Team Learning and Development Curriculum

  • Communications Plan, Development and Execution Support

  • Stakeholder Analysis and Management

  • Change Management Strategy and Approach

  • Steering Committee and Executive Leadership meeting Participation

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