Friday, 03 February 2017 10:37

Express: Fashioned for Millennials

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By 2025, 46 percent of the workforce will be Millennials.

According to a report from the National Chamber Foundation, Millennials expect close relationships and frequent feedback from management, viewing their managers as coaches or mentors. Their managers — rather than the corporations themselves — can earn the loyalty of Millennial employees by keeping their word. Management can reduce the risk of Millennial employees leaving a company by maintaining a positive relationship with them. Findings indicate that the main reason that this age group leaves a company is directly related to a superior.

At Express, the future is about those Millennials. “We structure our learning and development for them,” says Adam Zaller, Vice President of Organizational Development, Express. “The average age at Express is 27, and at the retail stores it is middle to low 20s.”

Realizing this, Express identified an opportunity to evolve its talent management strategy for its primarily Millennial-aged employees while becoming a fashion authority for both men and women.

According to Zaller, “[Millennials] are always connected, multi-taskers who are very socially aware. They have more friends ... two-and-a-half times more than Boomers. Because of this, they are influenced by their peers; they seek status among the peer group; they tend to ‘crave experiences.’ In our development programs, we focus more on the experiences and activity and less on the classroom or the course.”

To support this culture, Express’s organizational development team created an intuitive, irresistible, social and mobile learning experience for its more than 22,000 mostly-Millennial employees. The program has pushed limits and established an engaged employee population that’s driven customer experience scores and internal engagement scores to their highest levels while decreasing turnover to its lowest rate ever during the three years that it’s been implemented.

“It’s Uber personalization and individualization,” continues Zaller. “It’s not one size fits all. Simplicity is king, and experience and activities are paramount to actual courses. And most importantly, it’s all about smartphones.”

How does this translate into learning and development? Millennials wants more communication. “Everyone has that one thing they are phenomenal at … provide them a talent management framework so they can socialize that,” suggests Zaller.

THE EXPRESS TALENT DEVELOPMENT PLAN

At Express, all training programs are designed to organizational competencies. “Over time, people can use the competencies to measure against and grow their career at Express,” shares Zaller. “It’s by [job] layer and area of focus. You can see at the contributor, manager or director level, what’s appropriate at that role, the manager above you, so you can formulate a career development program just from our competencies.”

PERSONALIZING LEARNING

Express’s talent program starts with an individual’s personal aspirational vision of what he or she wants to do with his or her career. They look at courses and classes, articles and books to gain some knowledge from; then the experiences follow. “It really starts at how we create a meaningful experience for you, so you can grow your career,” says Zaller. “It’s really important to provide Millennials the space to share what they are really great at in these collaborative spaces. They can connect and see what everyone else is doing, or share ideas that they have.”

Communication is key to the Millennials and Express took “a riff ” off of what millennials use to communicate today. Millennials use a range of social mediums and the learning experience needs to reflect this; Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and Periscope. “

What we love most is that our environment looks like Facebook meets Twitter meets learning site,” adds Zaller. “You can’t tell where there are classes or courses, or where there’s an activity stream where someone is saying this is a great article, or have you considered this idea. It all molds together to create a curated experience for somebody.”

The learning platform, supplied by Saba, enables team members to find their own online development in bite-sized chunks that appeal to them. By switching to a user-driven learning platform, Express supports blended learning at a personalized level: providing each employee with personal, relevant recommendations of classes, content and expert connections that help each succeed at his or her job.

The new learning ecosystem enables individuals to opt-in and access learning in areas of interest, resisting a one-sizefits-all approach. The system provides real-time recommendations, builds personal networks, promotes social collaboration, and provides direction for each of the more than 22,000 associates at Express. Prescriptive analytics provide each employee with personal, relevant recommendations of classes, content and expert connections that help them succeed at their job.

“Whether you are walking down the hall, at your desk or in a store, you’ll have the same experience with learning,” reports Zaller. “You have bits and bytes of learning and communications based on your courses, articles, or activities of interest … over 20,000 people adding to the site on a daily basis.”

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT AT EXPRESS

The Express Essentials for organizational competencies describe the leadership skill set needed at a specific level in the company. They are cataloged to focus on key behaviors. Outlined as a map, the competencies are shown at each level and how they build upon each other in each area of focus. The maps help employees create individualized development plans and evaluate the competencies needed to further grow in each level of the company. The competencies keep employees on track with their goals every day, and management integrates them into the mid-year and annual review process.

In order to develop the best leaders in the retail industry who create an engaging environment consistent with the brand’s values, Express focuses on a few core programs at each level that drive leadership behaviors. As part of its talent management strategy, Express wants to drive employee self-development through the creation of a personalized and meaningful experience. Using data and analytics is an essential asset to shape the talent management experiences and to provide the best results for evaluation.

There are five key talent priorities that support Express’ leadership initiatives:

>> Increase the importance of engagement through communication.

>> Encourage employees to socialize their native genius to grow the company’s overall knowledge.

>> Encourage personalization and individualization.

>> Leverage knowledge nuggets instead of large traditional courses.

>> Implement a modern, easy-to-use talent management platform which leverages experiences and activities to drive knowledge.

BUSINESS IMPACT

The program is doing well, based on the results the organizational development team tracks. Since the program’s implementation in 2013, Express has been able to spend less on development while experiencing the following positive results:

>> Reducing employee turnover by 14 percent year-over-year.

>> A 100 percent improvement in associate engagement scores.

>> An increased Net Promoter Score by more than 80 percent.

>> The ability to spot potential employees with high potential. (Half of all field district managers are alumni of Express’s high-potential program.)

WHAT’S NEXT

With its loyalty program being titled ExpressNext, the company is always looking toward the future. Zaller shares they are planning to invite people to post their own videos, create quick knowledge nuggets and expand their leadership programs.

—Sources: “The Millennial Generation: Research Review,” National Chamber Foundation, https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/sites/default/files/article/foundation/MillennialGeneration.pdf

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