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Diversity In Action

Lowe's employees: interconnected by technology

Collaboration and networking are as much a part of this home improvement giant as the tools and products on its shelves. Diversity of thought is important


Hammers and nails may be the first thing you think of when you hear the name Lowe's. But cutting-edge IT and a drive to customer satisfaction make this a workplace that goes far deeper than its toolbox basics.

Same goes for Lowe's approach to workplace diversity, which incorporates a high-tech social business platform to bring its quarter-of-a-million employees closer together, says Clarissa Felts, VP, collaboration, diversity and inclusion.

"It's been successful. We have more than 7,000 communities within the network," Felts says. "This program makes us much more nimble, and allows us to encourage employees to think in revolutionary ways and offer unique perspectives."

Lowe's operates more than 1,700 home improvement stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico and serves about 15 million customers every week. The stores stock products ranging from appliances and tools, to paint, lumber and nursery products. It's the world's second-largest home improvement retailer.

Surprisingly, IT is "the largest functional support group across the business," Felts says. IT jobs at Lowe's include program and project management, database administrators and "all types of systems engineers," she says. The company needs pros experienced with Unix, IBM, Oracle and Java. "The Lowes.com team uses Agile project management, and we have some technology initiatives using Agile approaches," adds Felts. Lowe's hires at all experience levels, from new college graduates to seasoned professionals.

Lowe's intern program has been a good source of new IT hires. The company "works with a variety of colleges," Felts says. "We have a number of college recruitment efforts in place and also military recruitment efforts. We reach out to the Hispanic IT Executive Council, National Black MBA, Network of Executive Women, Hispanic Latino Professional Association, and the national Black Data Processing Associates."

Lowe's has a diversity advisory council chaired by the CEO that meets quarterly. It includes executive leadership and a select group representing different business areas. Three leadership teams cover talent and workplace, supplier diversity, and community hometowns across North America. "They meet on a regular basis, and report on their progress to the advisory council," Felts says. Lowe's has held two Women's Leadership Summits.

A high-tech diversity-focused leadership development program includes an interactive mapping program. "It has a learning map that is game-like, walking employee teams through role playing and scenarios. It teaches about diversity, then teams sit down together in small groups to discuss what they've learned," Felts says.

Lowe's launched its social business platform in January 2011. "We believe diversity of thought and talent in this inclusive environment will drive best-in-class performance," Felts says. Employees access the platform through a portal and participate in communities, write blogs and chat in forums. "It's very open in terms of how they want to use it. They come together and focus on an area of their own interest," she says.

"It's beneficial, particularly in encouraging diversity of thought. Every employee has access to the platform at work and at home and can access and participate and share events. A delivery driver recognizes an issue with a washer installation and posts on a forum, 'Is anyone else having an issue with a particular item number?' and employees may raise their voices. We're able to quickly identify an issue, address it with a vendor and get a solution in place."

Company leaders are evaluated to determine their understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion, Felts says. "It's important to how we manage and lead in our business areas," she says.

To increase learning and collaboration among different areas, employees can connect with a mentor in any business area. "Oftentimes, individuals work with a manager to select a mentor in another business area. It gives them good exposure to other parts of the business."

The company also has succession planning programs and is "encouraging the growth of leadership within the ranks. We're constantly managing or developing programs to help grow leadership," Felts says.

To reach out to communities, Lowe's Heroes, which underwrites selected volunteer efforts, is popular with employees. Employees select local community projects, Felts says, ranging from K-12 public education to community improvement projects such as Habitat for Humanity. Lowe's reconstructed a playground in an area where a tornado had hit, and provided canned food for a school's cafeteria. "Heroes projects are replicated at our individual store locations and then at regional district centers and corporate centers throughout the United States," she says.

Lowe's work-life integration programs include flexible schedules, job-sharing programs and domestic partner benefits.

D/C




www.lowes.com

Headquarters: Mooresville, NC
Employees: 248,000
Revenues: $50.2 billion
Business: Retail home-improvement products and services

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