Kohl’s ‘Winning Teams’ Strategy—Q&A with Ryan Festerling, Head of HR

Kohl’s, a leading specialty department store with nearly 1,200 stores in 49 states, recently selected Workday to help support the company’s commitment to building winning teams of engaged, talented, and results-oriented people.

Ryan Festerling, Kohl’s executive vice president of human resources, oversees HR for the national retailer. We met with Festerling to get more perspective on Kohl’s business goals, its focus on winning teams and employee engagement, and why Workday is a strategic partner.

Can you provide some background on Kohl’s business goals and how HR fits into the picture?

We call the company’s three-year strategic plan the Greatness Agenda. This strategy is structured around five pillars that are core to our business: amazing products, easy experience, personalized connections, incredible savings, and winning teams. Prior to this, Kohl’s was focused on three main things: brands, value, and convenience. While these are still at the forefront of what we do, our associates have always been our greatest asset and it was clear they needed to be included in our overarching business strategy. Thus the winning teams pillar of the Greatness Agenda was created.

Ryan Festerling
Ryan Festerling

The top-level goal we’ve set for Kohl’s—to be the most engaging retailer in America—relies on building winning teams. Associate engagement is one of three things we have to hold ourselves accountable to, along with sales and customer engagement. Within HR, we’re focused on increasing associate excellence at every touch point. Having the right technology in place plays a big role in how we will accomplish this through the resources and tools available to our 140,000 associates.

Can you talk a bit more about winning teams and how you approach associate engagement?

There are three key areas we are focused on: transparency, creating a culture of appreciation, and everyday career opportunities. We’re committed to transparency and more specifically, communicating openly. We’ve made a lot of strides in this area, from making our intranet platform easier to navigate to holding town hall meetings where associates can ask our CEO the questions that are on their minds. We think that as an enterprise-wide system, Workday will help us communicate even more transparently with our associates.

Adapting and innovating around the employee experience is essential to having a competitive edge, especially in our fast-moving retail industry.

How about elaborating a bit on the connection between employee engagement and business success?

Kohl’s is known for its incredible customer service. You can’t have great customer experience without great talent and when we take care of our associates, our associates take care of our customers. Engaged associates deliver better customer service, stay with us longer, and drive better sales.

We measure engagement each year to benchmark our associates’ perceptions. In the first year of the Greatness Agenda, we achieved engagement scores in the 90th percentile for three out of four business areas and have seen significant increases in all categories throughout the company. This is incredible progress in just one year. Our ongoing efforts will continue to raise the bar and bring greater consistency across our business areas including stores, credit facilities, corporate offices, and logistics centers.

Technology innovation has been a hallmark for Kohl’s. What are some of the focus areas for HR?

We’re constantly looking to use best-in-class technologies to create an easy, seamless shopping experience for our customers—and need to make sure that our teams are also technologically empowered. For associates, it’s about getting the right data in the hands of the right people at the right time, to help make better decisions, advance their own careers, develop their teams, and move us closer toward our broader business goals.

Currently, we’re seeking to give all associates more self-service tools to find data to take appropriate action, as well as access information for career development. We also need to provide managers with insights that give them flexibility, autonomy, and accountability to better lead and develop their teams. Lastly, our executive team needs visibility into the broader workforce to make highly informed decisions that move the entire company forward.

In retail, associates are always on the move, so mobile was non-negotiable. We needed a partner that understood and embraced this model. With Workday, our associates can take care of many tasks on mobile. Plus, everyone is on the same version of the system, looking at the same data, which helps streamline processes and creates more self-service, allowing HR to focus on strategic projects.

Bigger picture—why do you think workforce-related insights are so critical for retailers?

Adapting and innovating around the employee experience is essential to having a competitive edge, especially in our fast-moving retail industry. Competition is fierce so we’re focused on continually strengthening the employee experience and having the systems and insights to more quickly adapt to change, market dynamics, and workforce expectations.

Attracting and retaining the best teams year after year, and keeping the best people coming back—especially for the holiday shopping season that is our “Super Bowl”—requires powerful tools with flexibility to fit our needs today and in the future. We want to be famous for engaging, developing, and recognizing winning teams. Workday is a great partner to help us move toward that goal.