After a period of phenomenal growth more than doubled the company's employees and increased its retail locations five-fold, the need for internal leadership candidates became dire.
"The rapid growth created a frenzy of about 2,000 promotions from our flagship brand, emptying our bench to fill key leadership spots in other brands. The pipeline was dry," says Mary Pater, director of talent management and learning strategy at Luxottica Retail. The known talent pool was down to about 30 people when the training and development organization became involved.
After partnering with a consultant for needs analysis and research, the training and development team participated in strategic planning exercises and collaborated with leadership to develop a key talent process. "It was a real departure for us, as we attempted to reach all associates at the store manager level and above with accelerated development," says Pater. "Our previous approach had been a blanket one, defined by role."
Now directed by performance and potential, the training and development team targets a pool of 5 to 10 percent of associates with highly focused career development plans, cross-functional training sessions, simulations and action learning, mentoring, coaching, and follow-up in a seven-week "Leadership Challenge" program that enjoys exceptional executive involvement and support. "The program may not be innovative for the workplace learning and development industry, but it is certainly innovative for us," says Pater.
The results speak for themselves: Field managers who have participated in the program demonstrate a 40 percent improvement in knowledge, 12 percent improvement in overall behavior, and 3.2 percent improvement in business results. To date, 29 percent of participants have been promoted.
Although Luxottica Retail evaluates programs such as these through Level 4, Pater is equally proud of the anecdotal evidence: "Associates who have been through the program describe it as 'life-changing,'" she says. "They say that it exceeded their expectations - pushing them out of their comfort zones yet supporting them so that they can be successful. They feel that the program prepares them for their future with this company."
Luxottica now owns such recognizable retail brands as Oakley, Sears Optical, Pearle Vision, LensCrafters, Target Optical, Sunglass Hut, and ILORI. Sean Dineen was named vice president for training and development (the company's first) in March 2009. He brought a background in the retail space and experience at The Limited, PepsiCo, and Hallmark, among other companies.
"The focus of the organization domestically and globally is now on talent development," he says. "I was given the mandate to look at our offerings and find ways to optimize them, measure them, and prepare our company's future leadership. We must ensure that we have the right people to get us to the next level when the economy improves."
Luxottica's corporate vision is to be the "Retailer of the Century." The training and development organization plays a key role in achieving that vision by ensuring that the company is a great place to work, has optimized talent management processes, and hires employees who are educated and empowered to drive the business. Training and development directors hold annual planning sessions with all high-level company brand executives, working an iterative strategic plan that is updated at least quarterly.
The training and development organization employs 60 professionals who are mostly field-based. They are aligned by function into three segments: plan, build, and run. The "plan" segment leverages strategic learning partners (SLPs), who are immersed in a particular brand to learn the business, perform organizational assessments, and work with brand executives to understand their priorities and to recommend organizational solutions.
The "build" segment focuses on design and development - working around technological considerations and coordinating with subject matter experts. The "run" team delivers the program or product to the intended audience.
The brand-centric structure drives increased brand accountability and has improved overall results. Even so, budgets are centralized, explains Annette Brown, a professional development specialist who has been with the company for 22 years.
"Prior to our brand-centric reorganization in 2008, our budgets had been decentralized, and each cost center had a line item for associate development," Brown says. "After the acquisitions, the budgets were centralized as we shifted our focus from functional training to leadership."
Even so, functional training is still critically important for a company that employs more than 35,000 customer-facing retail associates. In late 2007, the need for updated (if not totally reinvented) optics training, which provides a crucial skill foundation for those frontline associates, became clear. The legacy training modules (housed on CD-ROMs) required more than 30 hours of seat time and were four to six years old.
By leveraging web-based delivery and reusable learning objects, time to deploy the new initiative was cut from the five to nine months per module to eight months for the entire program of 12 basic and five intermediate modules. Required seat time is now about 10 hours, and can be completed in sessions of 15 to 45 minutes.
"We are still experimenting with web-based delivery from our LMS and are still in our infancy," Brown explains. Even so, the department anticipates huge gains in efficiency and business lift that should result in millions in incremental sales. An added advantage is the consistency of the training and mobility across brands.
Speaking of mobility, Luxottica is also experimenting with the delivery of learning via mobile devices and social networking tools. As a retail organization, the company employs many young workers, most of whom are already comfortable with these devices and tools. The average age of a store employee is 25 years; managers tend to be 30 to 32 years old. Pilot testing has been conducted within the Sunglass Hut brand using iPods, blogs, and online gathering spaces. Pater describes employees as "extremely responsive" to the efforts.
"We're trying to get more intelligence around this, but the general feeling here is that people are already plugged in, so we might as well take advantage of it," she says.
"Luxottica is already doing many things right," says Dineen. "The company leverages experience-based learning, embraces e-learning, benchmarks best practices, and maintains a consistent level of investment in employee training and development." That investment averages $533 per employee annually, or approximately 1.3 percent of payroll. Each employee pursues an average of eight hours of learning activities annually.
"There is no bigger award in the workplace learning and performance industry than a BEST award, and we are aware that very few retail companies have won," says Dineen. "We plan to only get better." T+D