Setting a Course for a Personal Development Culture at West Marine

Guest Contributorby Helen Rossiter | Posted | Learning

Setting a Course for a Personal Development Culture at West Marine

This is a guest post from Helen Rossiter, Senior Talent Development Specialist at West Marine. In this post, Helen explains what strategies the organization implemented to create a culture that supports continuous learning, growth and development. In the process, they aligned the training, talent management and performance management teams to create an organization with a fantastic talent development program and a dynamic succession plan.

When we first began exploring the idea of creating personal development plans for West Marine employees, the wind was definitely not at our backs. Faced with a new and challenging retail environment and changing perceptions of retail pay, including housing and workplace demands, our senior leaders knew we had to change so the company could thrive.

Our leadership worked together to create a culture that supports continuous learning, growth and development. This journey eventually evolved into a company-wide personal development program that is employee-driven and designed to put people in the best position for success.

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Meet West Marine

We believe that each person has a unique connection to the water. From boating supplies to sailing, fishing, paddle sports and diving gear, our associates serve customers in more than 250 stores across the United States and Puerto Rico.

Laying the groundwork

Our senior leadership team knew that whatever change the company decided to make, it needed to accurately reflect the culture and people. The team concluded that Individual Development Plans (IDPs) could become the mechanism for this change. If a culture of personal development means “I’m growing,” then the management’s role is to match the company needs to that growth plan. Thus, West Marine wanted to change our narrative to “I’m growing and my company is growing.”

Our company had a large volume of training for our retail locations but we needed to increase and improve it. We decided to restructure so core groups could work better together, bringing the retail training team into the talent management team to align staffing, training, recruiting and performance management. By doing this, they saw a need to lead a march toward social collaboration and mobile tools to drive an upgrade of our technology solutions.

Our data showed customers trending towards a blended eCommerce experience, thus our organization needed new skills, and with that, a change adoption. For example, our company needed a solution for our district managers to learn new visual merchandising skills and deliver updates on process in real time.

Another area of focus we looked at was management turnover and a need for a roadmap for future hiring. In particular, we discovered a need for district manager development. With all of those needs in hand, our team began the process of looking for the right talent development platform.

Looking to the future

Human resources partnered with senior leadership and agreed on the accountable and ratifier roles for the process development. Senior leaders from key areas were included in the design of the solution, RFP process and feedback improvements. HR hosted change management committees to ensure every feature had sign-off on the benefits and they worked together to mitigate any risks. HR did external benchmarking with impacted peer groups. HR also inspired grassroots input from the field with district managers and retail associates to get feedback on their needs and wish lists.

We knew we wanted a training-first approach. We appreciated how Saba Cloud does that by linking training resources in every aspect of development. Saba’s social collaboration was integrated into the tool, and groups allowed for the sharing of resources and discussions plus the ability to learn and grow together as a team.

Saba ultimately was the best choice for West Marine because of the focus on talent development which builds both employees and teams plus the company itself. By starting with people, we focus on how they can grow in their careers by also aligning with what the company needs.

With Saba, our teams could create their own experience using the platform. Key for our company was Saba’s ability to anchor the IDPs to business performance goals.

The launch

We launched the IDP process with a video from the CEO at the time to all associates describing its purpose and how he had personally benefited from the program. After that, we rolled out the IDP in phases, first to senior staff that reported directly to the CEO so they would get the same experience. From there it was rolled to all DVPs and then to managers both in our support center and retail locations.

Regular one-on-one meetings were scheduled to review the IDP process and check-in with associates on progress. This met the business needs for change and the culture shift to development. West Marine used best practices of social learning and crowd-sourcing the change to give real-time recognition with impressions and badges as associates accomplished milestones and grew in knowledge. This resulted in expanding the IDP process and creating supporting resources for the program such as the District Manager Development Program, badges, internal job postings, social collaboration groups to develop skills such as visual merchandising and more

Example of success: District Manager Development Program

We knew for IDPs to have an impact on succession and growth the process had to be self-driven. So the senior members of the talent management team worked with our regional teams to use the IDP as a foundation for creating a pilot program to address building a bench for the district manager role. With this successful program, associates wrote business plans, submitted budgets, shot video interviews and put together a dossier on why they would make a good district manager. Then the associate’s district manager would go through applications from their district and select a key player to bring before the committee. A meeting was held where six DMs in a region along with all three regional managers would select the three prime candidates for their area. The talent management team was there as well to help provide guidance. In the end, the regional managers had six candidates from the 10 districts that then moved on with projects and mentoring. Based on their experiences, they were better prepared when a district manager positioned opened up. Five of the initial six candidates have received promotions in their roles. Some have been promoted to district manager while others have moved on to larger stores and greater responsibility.The impact

Using Saba’s analytics, we looked at completed IDPs to see who had started the process and where they were on the journey. Our team then examined those who were a part of the District Manager Development Program to track how they were doing and if they were promoted within the six to 12-month timeline. The marker of success we saw was that associates were hired into DM roles outside of their region. This had never happened before but because of this process the regional managers were able to see talent they would not have been aware of outside this process.

Platform adoption

The talent management team knew they would get high adoption in the retail locations, but the challenge was other locations that had not had something like this before. Indeed, we saw an increase with manager IDPs in the support center. Change was underfoot!

More engaged associates

In the short term, our associates are more engaged in their day-to-day development. Associates who are on the path to development now have a clearer line of sight to the things they can do to grow themselves and the company. Because this is a self-driven process, associates who take this journey are more engaged with driving the results and achieving their goals.

Successful rebranding

Looking to the long term, we have rebranded West Marine as a company with a culture that supports the continuous learning and development of our people so we can learn, work and grow together. With managers guiding the conversations, associates are supported in achieving their goals.

Succession pool success

Our succession pools of associates went from zero to six and then to 25. The six candidates for district manager development showed the success of the program. Five out of the six associates have been promoted within six to 12 months of starting the program and all six show future growth potential. We are now expanding the program to other areas of the business as well and have started our next group of associates working on their journey towards the next role.

Adoption of IDPs for DVPs and above are 100 percent

All DVPs and above are working on their plans and making progress towards milestones. Some examples include yearly awards in leadership, promotions to other departments and individual personal goals achieved. This can be seen with the coaching for individual growth and matching that growth to company needs in a variety of areas. For example, a finance manager was promoted to VP of Human Resources because of her coaching and mentoring ability as well as her potential to expand her business and interpersonal skills to other areas of the company.

Social collaboration of Visual Merchandising group with district managers is at 100 percent participation

All DMs are posting displays and signage examples for real-time advice to pass on to store managers. There has been a dramatic increase in consistent standards as well as improved customer experience data from ForeSee surveys. This provided the data we needed to expand the social collaboration concept. We are transitioning our intranet over and creating groups for our retail locations to help them drive local area marketing.

Parting thoughts

The success of West Marine’s development program for DMs has shown that if a company provides associates with coaching and real-life job examples, associates are better prepared and are set up for success. Having an 80 percent success rate for job promotion in a program combined with the positive results in the districts so far for the year show that our DMs are better suited now to hit the ground running in new roles. We are thrilled with the new personal development culture we’ve created at West Marine and look forward to growing even more by year’s end.

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