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HR Strategy at Ralph Lauren

This article accompanies Maintaining Momentum.

Thursday, December 1, 2011
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Mitch Kosh, senior vice president of global human resources at Ralph Lauren Corp. in New York, offers up some insights into his organization's vision and strategy, its disciplined business processes and the role of HR leaders in an email Q&A with staff writer Michael O'Brien.

The main theme of this year's Most Admired for HR list is "sustaining performance" and Ralph Lauren has appeared on this list in years past, including at No. 18 last year. What are some of the reasons that enable Ralph Lauren to consistently be recognized as an innovative and admired leader in the business world, and what part does HR play in that?

Great companies generally operate with overarching strategic plans that provide focus and direction for business and organizational development. A well-conceived strategic plan provides a framework enabling the company to effectively navigate through uncertain and complex economic periods.

Over the last decade, our vision and strategy has been very consistent, enabling us to execute at a very high level. Further, as a design-led, creative company we pay a great deal of attention to the integration of creativity and commerce.

Our human resource teams focus their energies and skills in the art and science of bridging these two central dimensions; allowing for a fully developed creative expression within a highly disciplined operating environment.

Ralph Lauren Corp.'s global growth trajectory with increasing levels of complexity has required tremendous discipline, rigor and partnership from our HR teams.

Related to the main theme, has the HR function recently done any work in revisiting work processes in an attempt to streamline and simplify them?

The scope and rate of growth has infused greater levels of complexity in all dimensions of our business. Over the last several years, we have focused our time and energy in an effort to refine the global governance and decision-rights models.

Given the strength of our global brand vision, this work has been particularly important in clarifying central and regional decision-making in an effort to drive operating efficiencies and reduce bureaucracy.

How does employee input help Ralph Lauren to improve its own processes and work flows when business needs change or shift?

The operational discipline that permeates the organization at all levels translates into the development and utilization of sophisticated dashboard metrics. This provides us with targeted opportunities to make course corrections in a timely manner.

Further, the health of our culture is a high priority for the Ralph Lauren leadership team. As such, we conduct regular, global, structured climate surveys that provide us with invaluable feedback regarding employee engagement.

We share these results on a company-wide basis and follow up with great urgency in a very public manner.

As innovation continues to change the business landscape, how does Ralph Lauren ensure that employees' skills keep up with changing job demands?

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We are a creative company at our core; it is therefore in our nature to embrace and adapt to change regularly -- all while remaining true to our aesthetic vision and heritage.

Further, we have a history of exploiting innovation to better service the business through enhanced systems and more refined business processes. These transformational periods often result in changing position requirements.

From our well-developed change-management programs, performance-appraisal systems and targeted development and succession work, we are in a strong position to prepare our talent for the changing needs of our business.

What advice do you have for HR executives who aspire to see their companies on this Most Admired list in the future?

For many years, the "great hue and cry" within the human resource community was finding a "seat at the table" -- to be viewed by colleagues as both high-value strategic and operating partners.

HR executives were encouraged to gain an in-depth understanding of the business, to approach challenges multi-dimensionally.

For many of us, this has long ago ceased to be an issue.

The next chapter should be entitled "Don't let the seat go to your head." Simply put, my guidance to aspiring HR executives is to stay grounded, to not be seduced by strategy and models, to stay very connected to and focused on the health of the organization, to the rhythms of the business, to know where the engine room is and who is manning the controls.

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