How Arvind Lifestyle’s new-age people initiatives created business impact

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Its recently-launched SMILEs app has helped the Company connect better with its workforce.

The retail industry, like many others, is evolving at an unprecedented pace with the advent of technology and automation, as well as the evolved customer who wants choice, convenience, control and a personalised experience. The one big truth that still applies to this industry is that employees are, and will, always remain at the core of the business model.

Arvind Lifestyle Brands is a lifestyle company that offers the widest array of fashion brands. Its portfolio of international and home-grown brands includes Gap, Gant, Nautica, Arrow, US Polo Association, Aeropostale, Flying Machine, The Children’s Place and much more.

“Our HR strategy is built around three pillars— building capability, enhancing engagement and improving productivity, even while ensuring a strong foundation of HR service delivery. All key initiatives we have taken in the last two years have been linked to these three pillars,” says Shilpa Vaid, CHRO, Arvind Lifestyle.

Using technology for engagement & productivity
The Company operates through a network of over 1,300 exclusive brand stores. A large presence of its employees is seen in department stores, such as Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle & Central. Given the scale and geographic spread, it was critical for the Company to share important information across the workforce and ensure that a strong connect and engagement is established with the employees.

To address this need, the Company launched an app for its retail workforce in December, called SMILEs. It gives employees access to their salary details and the incentives earned; establishes transparency by communicating key result areas/targets as well as eligibility guidelines for Arvind Express (the retail career progression programme); provides ‘on the go’ learning, specific to different brands/ business units. What is equally important is that the app provides a query- resolution platform to employees. From a Company’s perspective, the app is used to share key updates and also drive awareness on policies, such as code of conduct, POSH, and so on. Interestingly, the app has recently introduced a feature that asks the employees to rate their mood! With time, this data will be correlated with store performance. Given all the features provided on the app; it touched 9,600 retail employees in six months.

“SMILEs has helped us connect better with our workforce; cascade information faster and improve productivity. We are removing layers of communication and helping the employees connect directly to the process holder to resolve queries, and thereby, also helping the regional HR teams save time on manual query resolution,” says Vaid.

Anytime learning
Given that the way people learn has changed significantly, the Company introduced iLearn, a digital learning platform that allows employees to learn on their own terms—what they want, when they want and how they want. iLearn, launched in association with Cross Knowledge, is available both on desktops & the mobile.

Shilpa Vaid

SMILEs has helped us connect better with our workforce; cascade information faster and improve productivity. We are removing layers of communication and helping the employees connect directly to the process holder to resolve queries, and thereby, also helping the regional HR teams save time on manual query resolution.

With this platform, the employees have access to an expansive catalogue of over 20,000 blended learning modules across areas of leadership and management skills, business skills and personal development. The offerings include byte-sized learning, such as videos offering two-minute compelling stories and lessons learned from engaging leaders and experts, as well as curated online courses on a variety of topics delivered in a highly engaging and interactive format. This platform also gives access to Ted Talks, HBR, MOOCS, webinars, and so on.

To drive engagement, the Company has recently added business and function-specific channels (e.g. footwear, sourcing, digital) to share customised content and create communities of practice on the platform. The learners get a ‘Leader board/ Point System/ Badges’ which help engage, recognise and motivate top learners.

“We recently completed a year of using iLearn and the results couldn’t be better. We have 95 per cent adoption and 67 per cent active users. Our employees have completed more than 9000 learning hours—so technically, we provided three years of digital learning man-days in a year,” adds Vaid.

Gamifying experience into business results
As part of building organisational capability for the future, the Company has prioritised certain functions and roles for differentiated developmental investments. The role of the cluster manager is one of the most pivotal ones in retail hierarchy. It is this role that translates the strategy from the corporate office into execution at the front-end retail.

The Company, in partnership with enParadigm, launched the Arvind Cluster Manager Development Programme in FY17. The nine-month programme journey includes classroom simulations, gamification and post-workshop learning support to ensure that skills learned are applied in real life. The classroom training leverages business simulations—a methodology that helps participants understand and apply skills related to the business levers they impact—top-line, opex control, inventory, people management, and so on.

After the workshop, each participant takes a live project for six months, in consultation with their managers and HR to ensure that the learning gets translated into business impact at the ground level. Further, four post-workshop retention modules are delivered through a mobile app. While the rigour is maintained through regular follow-up calls, the best projects are also recognised via an opportunity to present to the CEO & MD of the Company.

The entire initiative had a business impact, where the opex was reduced by Rs 1.75 crore, revenue increased by Rs 7.5 crore and inventory holding was optimised, reducing cost to company. In fact, 11 employees were promoted to higher roles within six months of the intervention.

“This programme has helped us set a new benchmark for the cluster manager role across all our business units. They now understand the areas they can influence and how they can make a visible impact on their profit and loss,” added Vaid.

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