Culture Framework Part 1: Communications | Hitting the Mark at Target
The foundation of building company culture begins with communication. Not one way communications from the company to the employees, but a two-way flow of information and ideas. Communications set expectations and memorialize shared goals. They lay the foundation to resolve problems and announce strategies, actions and achievements.
The voice of a company comes alive in day-to-day communications, but more importantly, it sets the tone for a conversation. For Target, that voice has to speak to 347,000+ pairs of ears in 1,900+ stores across 49 U.S. states. For communications to work, there needs to be a channel to let employees talk back, and employees need to know that they are being heard.
This discussion and dialogue mentality must be embedded in the culture, and that requires a bit more than a weekly email newsletter with a comments section.
Right from the Start
Former Target CEO George Steinhafel joined Target 1979 and assumed the top job in 2008. Steinhafel did everything he could to maintain that sense of conversation. Collaboration is a buzzword at best in many cases, but for Steinhafel, it was a paramount imperative that remains embedded in the culture to this day.
As Steinhafel asserted, at Target, nothing happens without a collaborative effort. And communication and dialogue are the keys to just how impactful collaboration is in the company.
Target integrates a large-scale collaborative mindset into everything they do as a company — both internally and externally. It is not a hollow battle cry for teamwork or a companywide app that claims to be a collaboration space when it just sits on the shelf. At Target, connection, communication and collaboration happen continuously every day at every level.
And it begins on day one. To start the conversation with employees, Target invests a great deal in its mentorship program that pairs new hires with upper level veterans for a one-on-one program guidance through their first weeks on the job.
As this program has continued, at some point nearly everyone at Target has been a part of the program as a mentor or mentee. This ensures that from the beginning, communication is clear, upfront and, perhaps most importantly, seen as a two-way street. One solid, personal relationship within the company helps new hires feel engaged and heard. But it doesn’t stop there.
Employee Input and Company Improvement
Communication is a unique aspect of the Culture Framework because it is constantly in motion. Day-to-day communications must be dynamic and adaptable to respond to triumphs and crises, but they also need to be dependable and maintain the a consistent voice of both the company and employees.
A company’s internal communication, in many ways, are a harbinger of the company’s future. Employees experience a far different side of the organization on the front lines than executives experience back at corporate offices. The store, showroom or factory floor, sees signs of change or improvement well before HQ, and if there is no channel for employees to speak up, problems can fester and innovations can stall, stifling progress.
In the mid-1990’s, Target’s communication strategy was put to the test when the store first started stocking food. On paper, the idea looked great. They were improving the shopper’s experience and giving people more choices, but as it turned out, employees in the stores were seeing something the head office didn’t expect — after perusing the food aisles, shoppers weren’t willing to invest the extra time to shop for higher margin apparel or other goods.
With help from employee feedback, Target was able to improve the store layout and optimize the shopping experience in order to balance their sales. It was an expensive fix at the time, but in-store employees saw major changes based directly on their feedback. Not only is that powerful for an employee to see, but the process itself also ended up saving the company again when they decided to sell grocery items. That employee knowledge and feedback again proved priceless to ensure a more successful rollout in the even trickier endeavor of stocking perishable products.
A Perpetual Dialogue
Keeping a vigilant finger on the pulse requires constant investment, but it remains critical to employee engagement, and it requires follow through from leadership and the organization as a whole. When Target takes action based on direct employee communication, employees see the real impact of their voices being heard. When the time comes to give feedback, they know it’s worth their time and effort to do so thoughtfully rather than mail it in.
In a typical year, Target receives over 300,000 responses to its annual employee survey with useful, constructive criticisms and insights. The HR team reads each and every response and culls the feedback for larger themes and ideas to present to the executive team. They see it as a responsibility to support employees, and employees feel responsible for supporting the business as a whole.
Communication between the organization and employees is at the core of this symbiosis, and arguably the reason that Target enjoys much of the success it achieves today. No matter what a company ultimately sells, all organizations consist of a collective group of people who have come together to accomplish shared objectives. Communicating, listening, and creating an ongoing dialogue ensures alignment with the strategy… and operational execution to the satisfied end customer.
Culture Framework, Part 1: Communications