Reskilling Your Workforce for the Changing World of Retail

The retail experience has drastically changed in the last few years, largely due to technology. Consumers have much higher expectations when it comes to speed, convenience, and personalization, which has caused retailers to rethink their business models. And through this transformation, retailers are empowering their employees to learn new skills and hiring talent for positions that didn’t exist before, all with the goal of delivering a better customer experience. This ability to redefine and upskill the retail workforce is what separates retailers who will succeed from the ones who will eventually become a distant memory. 

We recently chatted with Polly Foote, head of HR operational excellence at Ferguson Enterprises, the largest plumbing distributor in the United States. In addition to plumbing parts and supplies, Ferguson also sells faucets, sinks, and accessories, has nine retail brands, and sells its products at showrooms across the country. Foote shares insight into the company’s approach to training and retaining their employees during a time of disruptive change. Read on to learn how Ferguson is partnering with Workday to create a new learning strategy for its associates—further developing their skill sets and careers.

One of Ferguson’s core values is investing in its employees. Can you tell us a bit more about how you’re doing that from a training and development perspective? 

Ferguson stands by the saying, “If we make our associates happy, they’ll make our customers happy.” This philosophy is aligned to our approach of doing business, which is to focus on associate and customer relationships. That’s why we’re continuing to invest time and extensive training in our associates to ensure they perform to the best of their abilities.

We had been using the same learning management system (LMS) for many years, which unknowingly got us into some ruts from a training and development perspective. So, we knew we needed a new learning system. At the same time, we were also evaluating a new HR system. We had a separate applicant tracking system, learning management system, and a few other internal systems that we could never cleanly report across. Having one system and one security model is huge and saves a lot of time, and led to us selecting Workday Human Capital Management (HCM) and Workday Learning. We were the first company to deploy both products at the same time.

What are some of the benefits you’ve seen from having HR and learning management in one system?

The biggest benefit is we now have real-time access to other HCM touchpoints. We no longer have to pre-plan all of the touchpoints that we’re interested in because they are already available in the same system. This allows us to incorporate learning into our day-to-day business transactions. 

For example, if one of our employees changes jobs, Workday can automatically detect that the job change may require additional training. We don’t have to send a message to another system to trigger the learning. It also makes it easier for our employees to complete their training since they’re already familiar with the Workday system from an HR perspective and understand how to navigate its various features. It’s a huge benefit when they can focus on understanding the learning versus having to learn a new system as a whole.  

How has your approach to employee learning and development changed since deploying Workday?

The first thing that comes to mind is the way we think about courses. When setting up a new course in our previous LMS, we’d first think about the course name, communication skills, and then the delivery method (instructor led versus web based). Workday has this approach flipped—it has you decide your delivery method first, then the topic and title come after that. That really shows you that Workday has the user experience in mind first.

This approach caused us to think about our learning functionality strategy as a whole, and we recommend others do the same. It’s important to have a strategy in place first so you can leverage the functionality as quickly as possible. You also want to make sure you have established processes to quickly develop and execute on some of the quick wins, as well as processes for the larger, more involved functionality you may have to set up. That’s essential because you don’t want to just launch a new learning program and then stay stagnant. 

How are you continuing to mature and evolve employee learning and development?

Our internal conversations have shifted from course buildout to a comprehensive learning strategy. Workday has taken our learning and development programs to new levels. This year, we’re really focused on developing integrated modes of learning, which include self-study, virtual instructor-led, and in-person sessions all in one. We’ve also begun using Skills Cloud in our performance management process. We plan to integrate skills into our learning and job profiles so that we can be more prescriptive with the type of learning programs that we offer our associates.

We’re also excited for what’s further on the horizon. We are looking forward to adding course surveys and building learning pathways, which are already available but haven’t been rolled out at our company just yet. Analytics will also play a key role in ensuring that we’re providing relevant content and identifying and addressing any gaps we may have in our programs. We are also thrilled to begin our journey into user-generated content, allowing crowd-sourcing to capture the wisdom and experience from our field associates.

Check out a recent webcast that we hosted with Ferguson Enterprises to learn more about their learning transformation.