I recently sat down with Rick Schepp, Chief Administrative Officer for Kohl’s to talk about the importance of proactively engaging employees and how the Kohl’s leadership team seized the opportunity to make touching their people a strategic priority.     

Michael Woodward: Why is employee engagement so important to Kohl’s?

Rick Schepp: Kohl’s has always been focused on our teams and our people. For years we did an annual survey along with a pulse survey every six months. So, we weren’t bad at engagement, but we weren’t moving the needle for a lot of years.

In the summer of 2013 our CEO called our senior team together to create a new strategic framework to reestablish our purpose. We had experienced rapid growth throughout the 90’s, but after going public our growth had flattened. He called us together because he felt we had lost something. So, we set out on a very long project to recreate what we were as a company. We called this strategic framework The Greatness Agenda.  

What’s important for this conversation is that we knew we had to reengage our people. As part of this agenda one of our three year goals was for associate engagement to be in the 90th percentile. A very high number. We wanted this to be a reach for our leaders and inspirational to 140,000 people. Our goal was to be famous for great teams.

MW: Why did the leadership team feel it was important to touch everyone?

RS: I believe that people want to feel like they are part of something bigger. No matter what your job is you want to connect to the greater purpose of your organization. If you are a clerk pushing reports all day long you want to understand how the work you are doing ultimately connects to the company mission.

To reach everyone we knew communication and repetition would be critical and it had to start with our leaders. Every communication every single day from our leaders had to start with the greatness agenda. We challenged out leaders to make sure that everyone on their team truly understand how their job supports the greatness agenda.

MW: How does Kohl’s define engagement and what is the engagement part of The Greatness Agenda?

RS: There are a lot of factors that go into defining engagement but for us the three main questions we like to ask are 1) Am I proud to work at Kohl’s, 2) would I recommend Kohl’s to a friend, and 3) do I ever think about looking for another job.    

When it comes to defining how we engage our people as part of The Greatness Agenda there are three main factors: Transparency, appreciation, and opportunity. By transparency we mean being open and honest. So we need to call the good, good, the bad, bad and the ugly, ugly. With respect to appreciation, a lot of people talk about recognition, but recognition can be fleeting. We really wanted to focus more on work-life balance because we understand that your work-life doesn’t start and stop here at Kohl’s. We wanted to show appreciation by giving people more time with their families. The third is opportunity. At Koh’s you own your career and we view your growth as a personal opportunity. Our responsibility is to let you know what the opportunities are available and to give you the support to pursue them.

MW: How do employees find opportunities at Kohl’s?  

RS: Twenty five percent of our jobs at corporate did not exist three years ago. Think about the opportunity there. That said, we believe it’s your job to speak up and say hey, I’d like to get into this new area. We believe that you must take your growth into your own hands. At Kohl’s instead of the word development we use the word opportunity. We tell people right out of the box, starting with interns, that at Kohl’s you are responsible for your career.  

That doesn’t mean the we wash our hands of any responsibility for your career. From a leadership perspective we have to make sure that opportunities are visible and that you have the training and tools to take advantage of them. We also owe it to you to tell you where your blind spots are. We certainly aren’t doing you a favor by sending you in the wrong direction. Our goal is to help you find the right fit so you can find success here.

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