This is the first in our “Best Practices in Employee Relations” series, where we interview executives at companies and brands you know and love, to find out how they handle this critical topic. On this episode of ProjectHR, we are joined by Stephanie Miller, the Director of Employee Relations (US) for Lowe's Home Improvement, and she explains:
- The benefits of a good employee relations policy
- Lowe's wholistic approach to their labor relations policy
- How employee relations strategy is shaped by company culture; and
- How the arrival of their new CEO gave Lowe's an opportunity to reflect on the company.
“There's some basic tenets of what constitutes a healthy, positive workplace. And if your employees don't get these principles from their management, they're going to go outside the organization for help with them.”
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The Importance of Employee Relations
- Employee Relations refers to the manner in which management addresses and interacts with their employees.
- Good Employee Relations promotes good morale, reduces conflict, and increases productivity.
- “Our employees are the most important part of any business.”
- If employees feel like they're being treated fairly and feel important, they’ll be happier and work harder, and thus will create more profit. And if they work harder and are happier, then they’ll make their customers happier and more satisfied.
- “There's some basic tenets of what constitutes a healthy, positive workplace. And that list includes things like: promoting open dialogue and communication, focusing on your company, mission and values, making sure that your employees are feeling that they're giving value to the organization, inspiring your employees, of course rewarding them, offering career development, and then lastly being sure that we promote a healthy work and personal life balance. And if your employees don't get these principles from their management, they're going to go outside the organization for help with them.”
Positive Employee Relations: a Critical Part of any Labor Relations Strategy
- What constitutes a healthy and positive workplace?
- Promoting open communication.
- Focusing on company mission and values.
- Ensuring that your employees feel like they’re creating value.
- Inspiring and rewarding employees.
- Career development.
- Promoting a healthy work and personal life balance.
- If employees don’t get these principles in the workplace, they’ll seek them elsewhere, such as from an administrative agency, a state department of human rights, an attorney, or even a labor union, all of which can have negative consequences for the company.
The Role of Culture in Your Employee Relations Philosophy
- A company’s shared culture, passion, and engagement have much more impact on its success than any plans or strategies that they implement.
- Company culture has a profound impact on employees and their productivity.
- Everyone wants to feel like they’re a part of the company culture and mission, so management has to communicate that to the employees. This communication and this building of a shared culture will help employees feel valued and encourage them to work harder and more effectively.
- Lowe’s is continually building their culture, and they keep it aligned with their Employee Relations philosophy.
Lowe’s Employee Relations Philosophy
- Lowe’s takes a wholistic approach to their philosophy, which is built on a foundation of maintaining a healthy workplace.
- Lowe’s makes sure they have clear policies, procedures, and expectations.
- They also make sure that their leaders help associates understand those policies.
- Risk mitigation: Lowe’s documents, investigates and resolves workplace concerns, allowing them to identify trends and fix them.
- Lowe’s also works to develop positive relationships between their leaders and their associates. One way they do this is by conducting morning, afternoon, and evening huddles with their associates to foster communication. Unfortunately, this has become hard to do with the pandemic and social distancing.
- With the pandemic in effect, Lowe’s has re-imagined their traditional “town hall” meetings for the associates, turning them into “walking town halls”, where store managers go on walks with two or three of their employees and have one-on-two or one-on three discussions as they tour the store.
The Importance of Associate Opinion Surveys
- Lowe’s engages an annual associate opinion survey.
- These surveys are especially valuable because they’re anonymous. This anonymity allows associates to express concerns that they may not be comfortable raising in person, so they receive honest feedback - feedback they might not otherwise receive.
- The data they collect from these surveys helps them identify what’s working and what isn’t within the organization.
- The arrival of their new CEO, Marvin Ellison, has given them an opportunity to step back and figure out what they want Lowe’s to be.
- Lowe’s has 5 core leadership behaviors:
- Delivering results
- Focusing on customers
- Taking action
- Continuous learning
- Showing courage
- Their Employee Relations team implements their Employee Relations strategies within these core leadership behaviors.
When Should Employee Relations Efforts Begin?
- Lowe’s begins their Employee Relations efforts during the employee selection process.
- Ideally, they try to bring in associates who are already on board with their core values.
- Once an associate has been hired, Lowe’s engages the new hires in orientation programs designed to help them understand how Lowe’s approaches accountability, expectations, and values.
- After onboarding a new associate, Lowe’s continues to promote a positive workplace and encourage dialogues between their associates and leaders. It’s important for leaders, especially in HR, to know what’s going on with their associates.
The Role of Performance Management
- Lowe’s promotes an informal coaching model that allows managers to provide performance management as soon as a problem surfaces. This is really focused on nurturing and supporting associates so that they can learn to do the best job they possibly can.
- More formal steps follow, and a performance improvement plan is engaged to make sure that a struggling associate knows exactly what needs to be done to be successful.
The Role of Employee Recognition
- Just as it’s important to alert associates when there are performance concerns, it’s also important to recognize associates who perform well.
- Lowe’s aims at striking a balance between delivering positive and constructive feedback, so associates know when they’re doing well, and when they need to fix something in their performance.
- When Lowe’s realized they needed to give more positive feedback to their cashiers, they declared November as Cashier Appreciation Month. This included:
- Posting a bulletin board in stores to showcase the cashiers, along with quotes from customers that were acquired from their “Likely to recommend” surveys.
- They initiated a Service Star Award System, where cashiers receive stars from their district leaders to commend their performance.
- CEO Marvin Ellison hosts a weekly podcast where he talks directly to associates.
Lowe’s’ Approach to Employee Relations
- Ms. Miller doesn't see Lowe’s’ approach as particularly unique compared to other companies, but Lowe’s has been engaging in new initiatives:
- They’ve transitioned to dealing with Employee Relations issues on a case by case basis, as opposed to trying to force a one-size-fits-all system.
- Their leaders have also become better listeners and more creative problem solvers.
- The days of relying on “This is how we’ve always done it” are gone.
- Especially in the last few months, with the pandemic and calls for social justice, Lowe’s has had to figure out a lot about how they want to respond to what’s going on in the world and in their own company.
Lowe’s Restructuring Challenge
- When Ms. Miller joined Lowe’s in 2018, their team only had 15 people. HR matters were typically handled by local teams.
- In 2019, Lowe’s initiated a massive restructuring where they centralized and modernized their HR and Employee Relations practices. This included bringing all investigation resolution and corrective action resources into one central location in Mooresville. Today, her team numbers almost 120 people.
Listening to Feedback and Moving Forward
- Lowe’s is always listening to their employees and customers, and they’ve received great feedback on their changes.
- It’s important to keep in mind that Employee Relations practices are always evolving and improving.
Stephanie Miller Backstory
- BA in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
- JD from Hamline University School of Law.
- MBA in Management from the University of St. Thomas - Opus College of Business.
- She’s been working in human resources since 2004, when she served as the Interim Director of Human Resources at the Minnesota State University Moorhead.
- Since then, she’s worked at other universities, as well as for companies such as Accenture, Best Buy, and Walgreens.
- Ms. Miller currently serves as the Director of Employee Relations for Lowe’s.
- Stephanie Miller: email@example.com
- Stephanie Miller on LinkedIn.
- Get Creative With Your Employee Recognition Program and Watch Employee Engagement Soar - HR Tech Outlook article by Ms. Miller.
- Lowe’s Home Improvement website
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