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Business in learning: How Kohler turned its dealer meet into a learning programme
Lipi Agrawal | HRKatha | New Delhi | Friday, 21 July 2017

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Kohler organised a 5-day campus residential programme at IIM Bangalore for its key dealers and channel partners.

Organising the annual sales meet in Bangkok or Dubai is a passé. Kohler, the luxury bathroom accessories company, changed its dealer meet into management development programme.

In June this year, it launched a unique programme called ‘Back to School’ for which it partnered with the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. The learning intervention was designed as a five-day on campus, residential, management development programme that brought together 15 top dealers of the company to learn more about enhancing their business strategies.

The programme that was held from June 5–9, helped the channel partners or distributors gain more knowledge, enabling overall development across personal and outlet space. It offered them value addition beyond their sales targets, as they learnt about advancing their family business better.

The programme that was held from June 5–9, helped the channel partners or distributors gain more knowledge, enabling overall development across personal and outlet space. It offered them value addition beyond their sales targets, as they learnt about advancing their family business better.

The company believes that such programmes will help its business partners run their family business better in a luxury environment. It’s also a way to reward their work by offering certification from a Top B-School brand.

The learning programme included managing and executing a luxury brand- store design, customer service, understanding potential of profit in luxury business, working capital management for family business, managing success through professionalising governance, sustaining business growth and taxes & legal implications.

The HR function at Kohler India partnered with the business team and created a unique learning retention initiative for the sales staff across its 300 stores in the country, and an executive course for its distributors.

Indraneel Das, head-sales capability development at Kohler, shares, “Those who attended the programme actually bonded together as batchmates in a school or college and it was interesting to observe them share their business experiences with each other after the regular sessions. There was a lot more learning involved in those informal discussions as well.”

Indraneel Das & Pankaj Rai

While HR— in organisations of all sectors, scales and sizes— talks about creating a business impact, only a few are really able to do so. In addition to an in-depth understanding of the complexities involved in a particular business, it takes a strong realisation on the part of HR to be able to reach out to the core of what really matters to business.

A real business impact through HR is only possible when HR knows and agrees that its role cannot be simply confined to managing and developing the internal workforce, but goes beyond, to help nurture even the frontline staff. Especially in retail, where the frontline sales staff represents the brand, it is extremely important to ensure they are well trained.

“We design our interventions in a way that is relevant to the recipients and impacts business performance. ‘Back to School’ is an industry first initiative to reward our trade partners in a way that it gives them meaningful business returns overtime and not just provides vacation and engagement opportunities,” says Pankaj Rai, Director HR - India & Sub-Saharan Africa, Kohler K&B.

Those who attended the programme actually bonded together as batchmates in a school or college and it was interesting to observe them share their business experiences with each other after the regular sessions. There was a lot more learning involved in those informal discussions as well.

Das believes that learning should not be restricted to levels or domains. “Learning is meant for all,” he says. In that, it is crucial to simplify learning delivery such that it is easy to consume and apply when required. He says, “Innovation in learning means how it can be simplified to make it easy to grasp, and such that it sticks.” As an effective solution to allowing learning recall and retention for the frontline sales staff, Kohler introduced the concept of QR codes for learning.

Das shares that for its more than 1000 store associates spread across 300 stores and selling over 100 stock keeping units (SKUs), enabling learning and knowledge retention was a challenge. Traditional methods of training, such as OJTs (On Job Trainings) are essential, yet expensive and time consuming, and don’t necessarily guarantee retention of knowledge and subsequent dissemination to consumers. Now, although the store associates are not a part of Kohler’s internal workforce, they are an important entity to the business and the brand. Hence, it was vital for HR to nurture that arm.

Moreover, knowing that learning degrades with the passing of time, and that after the training has been delivered, understood and before it’s retrieved to be passed on to the consumers, information is rapidly forgotten, Kohler conceived the concept of ‘Cued Recall’ insight at Kohler stores. That led to the creation of simple technology-led hints about product information through learning bar codes.

To reinforce the learning offered through JLTs and empower the store staff to further utilise that knowledge when required, Kohler created a QR code for each SKU, with its detailed information embedded in the code in a simple uncluttered format. These QR codes were then printed as attractive stickers (Know what makes Kohler different?) and put on the SKUs for easy access to information. This, in turn, helped the store associates to present the products better to the walk-in customers as they could at any moment scan and refer the USPs if they forgot any talking point about that SKU.

Das shares that over 92 per cent store associates agreed that learning QR Codes gave them an easy to use ‘take-a-hint’ platform, while more than 95 per cent of them felt that it gave them a ready reckoner to pitch products better.

“What started as a pilot, has now expanded to the entire network of stores and the following impact has been lauded by the global Kohler team for simple and effective use of technology towards offering bite-sized learning and retention, where it matters the most! It’s been branded KODE—Knowledge of Displayed Elements,” Das says. Well, actually that is where learning efforts can convert into a direct business impact.

Similarly, all organisations, which depend on their retailers’ and distributors’ network, provide perks and benefits to them to keep them motivated to enhance sales. For most other organisations that comes under the purview of the marketing teams, and HR has nothing to do with the performance of external stakeholders such as the distributors. At Kohler, however, the HR team decided to make a difference there as well.

Das, who has been the brainchild behind these initiatives, believes that it is through such programmes that HR can create an impact in the hearts and minds of people who matter the most to business, irrespective of whether they are their direct employees or not. Das shares that he observed strong peer to peer learning during the ‘Back to School’ programme.

This certainly sets a new benchmark in how HR can partner with business in its true sense and work towards bringing about a difference, and what better way than to have a strong learning approach for all those who matter to business!

© 2016 HR Katha
Last modified on Friday, 21 July 2017

2 comments

  • Comment Link Indresh Saluja Friday, 21 July 2017 posted by Indresh Saluja

    Every dealer meet is an opportunity to showcase new products, new technology and also make customer facing parties (sales people and dealer representatives) aware of aspects of products which have triggered generation of sales or rejection by customer (data collected by company through various surveys, analytics etc).
    Most companies especially those into products take this as an opportunity to have dealers meet as learning platform also. It's good engagement initiative as well.

  • Comment Link Tushar Chauhan Friday, 21 July 2017 posted by Tushar Chauhan

    Good initiative

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