By Margery Weinstein
For flooring manufacturer Mohawk Industries, it is not enough to teach employees how to be great. The long-time Training Top 125 contender focused last year on helping employees to blaze their own learning paths while meeting organization imperatives. That meant improving the technology that supports employee performance, as well as creating new social networking platforms to enable learners to challenge and teach one another. The result is learning and development that provides workers with the flexibility they need to grow into great, customer-focused employees; fulfilled individuals—and, sometimes, leaders.
Setting Up Self-Service
One of Mohawk’s goals is to empower employees to take greater control over their work lives, says Learning Director Amanda Arnwine. To help accomplish this, in 2011, the company launched a new Human Resources Information System (HRIS) that better facilitates employee self-service. To provide employees on the plant floor with access to the system, 108 kiosks were installed, and to give members of the sales force easier access, the company deployed Internet and smartphone-compatible versions. The company’s trainers were tasked with developing a variety of materials to help users at all levels of the organization develop the skills necessary to complete tasks on the system. “In addition to classroom instruction, traditional print materials, and modules on the learning management system,” Arnwine explains, “the training team also provided detailed ‘train-the-trainer’ instruction for designated ‘delegates’ and ‘super-delegates’—employees who became a brigade of subject matter experts who could provide fast answers to specific transactional questions.”
The impact? In 2010, if an employee needed to change his or her home address or add a beneficiary, it required a visit to Human Resources. “During each month of 2011,” says Arnwine, “an average of 1,200 transactions were completed on the plant-floor kiosks alone, a powerful metric that speaks not merely to acceptance but to application.”
Along with providing an easier route to Human Resources self-service, Mohawk made it easier for employees to understand and access their health benefits. “Health care is a major challenge to people in terms of understanding their options and to American business in terms of soaring costs,” Arnwine points out. “To provide employees with the knowledge needed to effectively utilize the company’s consumer-driven health plan with health savings account and health reimbursement account options, Mohawk’s leadership team turned to a broad-based training program to tackle the single most complex subject employees face.”
Mohawk employees learned about health-care options through face-to-face interactions that included electronic presentations and elaborately constructed staging. They also received e-mail blasts containing text and links to podcasts, along with a variety of print information. The most effective tool in the training campaign, however, proved to be “Johnny’s Diner,” a nine-part video series written and produced in house. Launched in the two months leading up to the company’s annual benefits open enrollment period, the 12- to 15-minute episodes featured seven professional actors portraying characters who work together and whose personal lives—seeking professional advancement; searching for relationships; facing economic challenges; and finding strength in friendship—are interwoven with situations that require them to discuss taking care of their health, using their benefits wisely, and choosing the right health-care plan for their needs. “Presented via the company’s intranet, online via YouTube, and in a DVD package mailed to every employee’s home,” says Arnwine, “‘Johnny’s Diner’ was a popular success in terms of the number of viewers and a business success as measured by the percentage of employees who were able to choose the correct health-care plan for themselves and their families during annual open enrollment.”
Increasing employee access to options is a theme at Mohawk. The company used technology in 2011 to make communicating training opportunities nearly as easy as updating a Facebook page. “One of the dangers of training in the 21st century is a focus on the ‘cool factor’ of new technology at the expense of quality content and measurable results,” says Arnwine. “In 2011, the company launched a significantly more robust intranet, moving from document retention to a more interactive tool.”
The myMohawk page is the default homepage for every employee in the company. This provides broad-based daily exposure to new material. For the training team, this platform became an effective means of promoting learning opportunities, using blogs as a means of encouraging informal learning, delivering training modules and videos, and capturing engagement data through polls. Acceptance of the new tool was relatively fast paced, with the user community progressing from passive readers to active participants within a few months.
Branding Employment Opportunities
“Mohawk’s primary recruitment challenge is the same as that facing all companies: attracting top talent that can develop within the organization and move the business forward,” Arnwine notes. “As a traditional manufacturer, Mohawk has had some challenges explaining its history of and commitment to innovation to the applicant pool of entry-level and emerging professionals.” As a part of an overall internal and external employment branding initiative, the company launched the print- and video-based “You Think You Know Mohawk? Think Again” campaign, which debunks the myth that manufacturing companies fail to offer challenging, creative professional opportunities. In concert with this campaign, the company’s career Website was expanded from a listing of job opportunities to a comprehensive, multi-media showcase of the organization’s people, products, and philosophies.
Turning Around Turnover
Mohawk’s overall turnover dropped significantly during
the economic downturn, but, more importantly, the company’s voluntary turnover has dropped, as well, says Arnwine. “Our focus is less on reducing turnover—preventing employees from leaving—and more on engagement—giving them a reason to stay.” To do this, the company initiated programs such as on-site Healthy Life Centers, where employees and their spouses who participate in Mohawk’s health-care plan can receive care at no cost, mobile dental units, and in-person and telephone healthy life coaching. The company also increased the level of communication to employees on the plant floor, in administrative and professional roles, and in the sales force through a more robust and interactive intranet (myMohawk), a more user-friendly careers Website, and a digital signage network. “By providing employees with greater knowledge about organizational activities and goals,” says Arnwine, “we help them better understand expectations and opportunities, whether that’s giving sales professionals more tools to better serve customers or helping line employees understand and affect the quality and productivity of their departments.”
Informal Learning Culture
In addition to its many structured training modalities, Mohawk offers employees an environment that is conductive to informal learning. “Mohawk’s culture is driven by relationships and is informal in nature,” says Arnwine. “There is no resistance to learning on a peer-to-peer basis. In fact, learning is ingrained in the culture because of this comfortable exchange of knowledge and perspective.” On the plant floor and in the sales field, experienced employees share institutional knowledge, as well as offer guidance on refining skill sets. “As a supplement to formal training, these engaging and nurturing relationships transmit policy, practice, and procedure across generations,” emphasizes Arnwine. “The openness to learning and the willingness to change when a new and better practice is introduced allows Mohawk to maintain an atmosphere where innovation can thrive, which benefits our employees, our customers and ultimately our consumers.”
Mohawk’s culture naturally fosters informal learning. Arnwine says this may take place organically on the plant floor when two colleagues exchange tips for improving performance during a break or in the field when a veteran sales professional helps a newcomer learn how to better understand the evolving needs of retail customers. “The challenge for an organization of Mohawk’s size and complexity is how to stimulate that same level of interaction with people thousands of miles apart,” she says. To provide a platform for this, the company’s intranet site, myMohawk, includes blogs where employees can begin to exchange ideas online. The introduction of a new “Colleagues” social media tool within myMohawk makes it easier for individuals to identify subject matter experts and reach out to them for information. Through the years, the company has found that informal mentoring relationships are more successful than assigned pairings in which no real connection is achieved. Mohawk has found, though, that technical mentorships where the focus is on the sharing of specific skill sets or knowledge can be fruitful for both parties. “In these technical mentorships, the interaction is short term and clearly defined around the measurable objective of skill transference,” says Arnwine.
Molding Mohawk’s Next Generation
Mohawk relies on the leadership academy concept to support its comprehensive succession plan, Arnwine explains. The goal is to build better-prepared candidate pools at all levels of management and to focus on the skill sets essential for candidates to succeed at the next level of management. “Developing bench strength in all areas of the organization is a key strategic goal,” says Arnwine. “To ensure the organization’s succession planning is on target, the company has adopted formal semi-annual review sessions, ongoing performance development feedback, and targeted training to address skill gaps.”
As Mohawk continues to expand its international footprint, future-oriented leadership challenges include addressing a large employee population with many native languages and cultural differences spread across a broad geographic footprint with varying levels of accessibility to classroom and online learning. “We’re addressing it through a new, more robust learning management system in 2012,” says Arnwine. “With language packs and a more user-friendly platform, we can maximize the reach of our online modules and deliver training with greater efficiency.” The company also created a Learning Council in 2011, which has added a formal structure around communication between the corporate learning function and leaders in the Learning, Organizational Effectiveness, and Human Resources departments in each business unit. “The council has found creative ways to leverage resources across business units and to share and implement best practices,” Arnwine points out.
To ensure your learning team is successful at keeping pace with your company’s needs, Arnwine stresses the importance of linking training to business objectives. “It adds focus to your offerings and brings value to the business. Don’t fall into the trap of training for the sake of training,” she says. Arnwine also advises monitoring the efficacy of your programs. “Measure, measure, measure. If you don’t know the result your training programs have on the business, why should the business fund them?” she says, “It also is essential to know the business. The more you understand your organization’s needs, the more successfully you can contribute to meeting them.”