Changing Culture Fast


Any manager charged with improving performance fast should look at Kohl’s — an established company that, while doing just fine, saw significant opportunity if it could inject more fashion and design into its product mix. The executive management team realized they’d need to invest in order to get there.

While in Los Angeles for the Breakthrough Performance Workshop with Marcus Buckingham, I had the pleasure to meet Judi Langley, SVP of Trend & Design/Product Development for Kohl’s. With experience at Ann Taylor, Gap, and Banana Republic, Langley was recruited about 18 months ago to be part of the team charged with revitalizing Kohl’s private brands in apparel and home furnishings.

Kohl’s is an established retailer, but it wasn’t well known outside of the Midwest until its expansion into California in 2003. The company plans to continue to expand its store base as part of its growth goal of 1,200 stores and $24 billion in sales by 2010. Kohl’s was a low-cost competitor that had done well selling great basics at value prices. “But the leadership team had a vision and knew they had tremendous opportunity to create more powerful head-to-toe lifestyle brands,” says Langley.

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Her charge at the Menomonee Falls, Wisc.-based retailer: have an immediate impact on the bottom line. She had to quickly build a team that would infuse the company’s products with design excitement.

The results: in 2006, the first year the product development team had full (or enhanced) staffing, private brands added more than $1 billion in sales.

What made this possible? Kohl’s management understood that this was not about imposing a new culture, but rather about catalyzing its evolution. When recruiting the new talent for this task, Kohl’s looked for people who were innovative and driven, but who could respect a deeply-rooted culture that many veterans treasured. The company prizes teams and collective success — and that can present challenges when recruiting from the often diva-driven fashion world.

“You can’t build a powerful team if you disenfranchise the veterans who know the customer and what makes Kohl’s what it is,” Langley said. “The newcomers brought fresh perspectives, needed expertise, and new ideas from other businesses. But the way the established teams embraced these new team members and allowed them to have an impact on the brand so quickly is the real success story.”

Among other things Langley found essential:

– Build relationships across the company. “Every function in the company is critical to its ultimate success, so we need to understand each other and work together.”

– Get in and work with the teams. Langley is a hands-on manager. She gets involved with the work that is going on so that she can see how her teams are working together. This gives her an understanding of where the teams are and what they need as they manage through the changes.

Read more via Changing Culture Fast – Eric J. McNulty – Harvard Business Review.

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Jim Woods is a leader workplace learning, productivity, performance, and leadership training solutions. We help companies and individuals improve their performance, productivity, and bottom-line results. See a partial list of Jim’s clients. Hire Jim Woods to Speak  | Follow us: Facebook | Follow us: Twitter | Skype ID – jim.woods79

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Jim Woods is president of The Jim Woods Group. A management consulting firm. Go here to see his work He advises and speaks to organizations large and small on how to increase top line growth in times of uncertainty and complexity. Some of his speaking and consulting clients include: U.S. Army, MITRE Corporation, Pitney Bowes, Whirlpool, and 3M. See more at his website

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Posted in Authentic Leadership, Culture

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