The research is undeniable: Gallup estimates disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy as much as $350 billion a year; the United Kingdom,

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1 From Employed Regardless of whether you sell home improvement supplies or compete for customers in another industry, the benefits that come from an engaged workforce are a competitive differentiator and should be a critical objective. The research is undeniable: Gallup estimates disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy as much as $350 billion a year; the United Kingdom, $64.8 billion a year; and in Japan, $232 billion yearly. Research finds that between 15 percent and 20 percent of employees in the workforce today are actively disengaged, and are dragging down key performance indicators with their poor customer interactions, increased sick days, and lower productivity. Gallup research shows that at average companies, about 30 percent of employees are engaged. Lowe s is not an average company. At Lowe s, more than half of our employees are classified not only as engaged, but also as fans of the company. This is a source of pride and a strategic objective that we diligently work to maintain. To Engaged Lowe s harnesses employee engagement to drive business results and customer satisfaction. By Cedric T. Coco Establishing the link between employees and customers Our mantra sounds like the mantra of so many successful corporations: employees are the lifeblood pulsing through our operations. Yet according to the research figures above, Lowe s has successfully tapped a level of employee engagement that seems to have eluded many others. For Lowe s, employee engagement is key for a number of reasons. The holistic combination of employee engagement and customer satisfaction has a predictive effect on financial performance. Our research shows us that in stores where employee engagement levels increased, overall sales for those stores jumped proportionally. Stores where employees report higher levels of engagement have improved performance. Even in very busy stores where higher-than-average sales per employee would normally pull down customer satisfaction scores, our research found that having highly engaged employees slows or halts this effect. Of course, when engagement falls, the opposite occurs. 40 T+D NOVEMBER 2009 Photo by Patrick Schneider Photography

2 The holistic combination of employee engagement and customer satisfaction has a predictive effect on financial performance. Cedric T. Coco Vice President of Learning and Organizational Effectiveness, Lowe s LISTEN TO THIS FEATURE at NOVEMBER 2009 T+D 41

3 Measuring engagement is one of the ways we gauge the commitment of our workforce. Admittedly, our workforce hasn t always been so engaged. And now that the majority is, we face the new challenge of maintaining employee engagement in the long term. The retail environment today is constantly changing. Customer expectations and their priorities of what s important seem to shift almost weekly. While price and value drive decisions one week, customer service and product offerings may shape choices the next. Being able to anticipate and react to such shifts drives sales and customer satisfaction. But true business success doesn t stop with customer satisfaction. We also must understand today s workforce dynamics and figure out what values, needs, and desires drive our employees. After all, our 220,000 employees not only have the power to influence shopper experiences and purchases, they also are consumers. At Lowe s, fully visualizing and understanding our workforce is more challenging than at any other time in history. Today, members of multiple generations work side by side in our stores. Not only does each generation have its own expectations from Lowe s as an employer, but within each generation exists a wide range of opinions and desires shaped by culture, upbringing, geography, socioeconomic status, and more. On top of that, the psychological contract employees have with employers has evolved as well. Employees no longer think about joining a company for life. Rather, they move between employers in search of the values they hold highest at the moment, such as more money, career opportunities, job flexibility, and work-life balance. Applying advanced analytics for employee research Building a culture of engaged employees begins with our executive team. As Lowe s Chairman and CEO Robert Niblock has aptly said, To be successful, we must win trust with our customers, and that means enabling and empowering our employees to earn that trust. To make that happen, we must ensure that our management team has everything it needs to earn the trust of employees. We build employee-employer trust by listening to what employees say and making improvements where we can. Robust analytics help make this possible. The benefits of applying a disciplined, systematic approach to analyzing and managing the employee-employer relationship are just as significant as the benefits you can obtain from analyzing and managing the customer relationship. We believe our relationship with employees deserves the same focus we give to customers, if not more. Several years ago, Lowe s started a journey using advanced analytics to calculate the impact that employees, employee engagement, and leadership may have on key financial and operational performance measures. That first modeling effort was truly a challenge. Building a thorough, credible, and accurate human capital model requires participation from all areas of the business, with finance and research serving as critical partners in the process. Forging this unlikely collaboration can test your resolve and patience, and requires an ability to communicate and collaborate across multiple functions within your organization. Our first 24-month effort gave us a solid understanding of Lowe s employee ecosystem and how leadership and employee engagement can affect our bottom line. We discovered the revenue opportunities employee engagement provides and were able to balance this against the operational costs and employee costs of pursuing engagement. Anyone whose had to justify a training program or HR initiative to the executive team can see the value of this new insight. Engaging through a cycle of trust From our own annual employee engagement survey, we know one of our top drivers of engagement is the relationship Lowe s employees have with their managers. In fact, managers play an essential role in both employee retention and employee engagement. Carrying this further, the manageremployee relationship has a direct effect on our bottom-line performance. It s only natural we developed tools and training to support our managers in building strong relationships with their employees, and also to build that strong relationship between the entire workforce and Lowe s as a whole. Of course, we included tools to strengthen the trust of our customers. We often refer to this as the cycle of trust. Every component of the business and employer-employee relationship must support this premise. The overarching message heard by our workforce is simple and consistent: we value you and want you to be engaged with the company and with our customers. In the current economic climate, this philosophy is more important than ever. Downturns such as the one we appear to be exiting today, increase our collective focus on expenses and costs. This in turn can potentially have a negative effect on employee engagement. After all, because of the economic slowdown, voluntary turnover rates have been sliding. The average tenure of a Lowe s store manager is up eight months, and the average tenure of other Lowe s employees has jumped by nine months. We recognize that as the economy recovers, voluntary turnover is likely to increase. We want to keep our best talent. We believe our continuous focus on employee engagement will entice our most highly skilled and top-performing 42 T+D NOVEMBER 2009

4 employees to enthusiastically remain on the Lowe s team. Interestingly, in 2008, when the U.S. economy faced significant pressures, our employee engagement increased, and our customers gave Lowe s some of our highest scores for being customer focused. This improvement is relevant because stores with higher customer satisfaction have an average ticket amount that is significantly higher than stores with low customer satisfaction scores. Listening to our employees At the heart of our cycle of trust with employees is Lowe s annual employee opinion survey an opportunity for employees to confidentially voice how they feel about their work experience at Lowe s. This helps us identify opportunities for improvement, uncover leadership strengths and weaknesses, and gain firsthand feedback from every employee who participates. We meticulously analyze survey results and then take action where appropriate, which can range from leading conversations about concerns and issues to introducing new development programs and benefit offerings. After learning in 2007 that a majority of our employees felt there could be a stronger focus on leadership and managerial capability, Lowe s embarked on an enterprise-wide leadership development initiative. Measuring engagement and trust For Lowe s, engagement is a predictive indicator of how well we are enabling, building, and fostering trust among the members of our workforce. It is also a measure of trust between our workforce and our customers, and between Lowe s leadership and our employees. We measure both positive and negative drivers of engagement because understanding negative drivers helps us identify and address potential problems quickly and ensure we re putting in place the right products, programs, and policies to achieve success. Of course even a disengaged employee can close a transaction now and then, but Lowe s customers expect more. Customers walk through our doors expecting to find the right products at the right price. They expect to be able to ask questions and get relevant and helpful answers. Our research shows that positive customer experiences extend beyond any single transaction or interaction between an employee and customer. Positive customer experiences resonate to become our culture and our brand. Highly engaged employees are more apt to do the right thing for the customer. Fundamentally, Lowe s is only as great as the employees working for us. We would not be as successful as we have been if we had a task-driven workforce focused solely on putting products on shelves. The answer Lowe s answer is maintaining work environments where the workforce is heard and understood, and encouraged to speak. It s helping employees talk with customers so they can offer solutions that meet customers needs and wants, and help shape the home improvement dreams of our customers. It s providing tools that create the customer-employee bonds that attract customers back to Lowe s again and again. Applying a successful human capital strategy requires providing a good management structure, a comprehensive benefits program, adequate training, a pleasant and safe place to work and other carefully crafted features that combine to create a great work experience within Lowe s. Our journey the past two years encompassed examining our culture fully; scrutinizing our data (customer data, employee data, financial, and operational performance data); and testing our theories. Continuing the journey Our journey the past two years encompassed examining our culture fully, scrutinizing our data (customer data, employee data, financial, and operational performance data); and testing our theories. Today this knowledge influences our decisions and enhances the effect our human capital strategy has on the performance of our organization. Identify your value proposition, and make sure it s bolstered by your HR business plans and strategies. Collaborate with knowledge keepers across the company and build a business case that brings company leadership aboard. For Lowe s, implementing our engagement model has brought new clarity to the strategic value of HR as workforce stewards. It also demonstrates the impact of HR strategy on the company s success. Going forward, Lowe s focus is two-fold. First, we will continue to make sure all of our HR offerings (learning, leadership development, etc.) are aligned to drive engagement. Second, we will apply what we learn to other aspects of the business, including a robust analytical modeling effort to explore our leadership capabilities and the impact of our leadership development program. By understanding what engages our leaders and the ways our leaders can stimulate engagement companywide, we can push our human capital strategies to new heights and continue building a culture within our own ecosystem that will enable success. At the end of the day, business success is not about the number of people you ve trained or the breadth of the benefit programs you provide. Success comes from blending those programs and others to drive workforce engagement and measurable financial achievements. T+D Cedric T. Coco is vice president of learning and organizational effectiveness for Lowe s Companies Inc. He was named 2009 Chief Learning Officer of the Year by CLO Magazine; INTERESTED IN ORDERING E-PRINTS? Would a digital version of this article be a great fit for your next course, presentation, or event? Are you interested in e-prints of several T+D articles on a specific topic? Visit astd.og/td/eprints for more information. NOVEMBER 2009 T+D 43

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