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Growth Never Goes Out of Fashion at PVH

The company behind many familiar prestige apparel brands is growing its business—and its people.
Growth Never Goes Out of Fashion at PVH

The name PVH may not ring a bell, but you likely know its impressive stable of apparel brands: Van Heusen, Calvin Klein, Izod, Bass, Arrow, and, as of last year, Tommy Hilfiger.

The Tommy Hilfiger acquisition was huge for New York City-based PVH, as it added yet another prestige fashion brand to the company’s portfolio and transformed it into a company with global operations. It also was symbolic, reinforcing in a major way PVH’s continued commitment to growth through acquisition.

When Bruce Morbit, group vice president of organizational development, and his team reflect on the past several months for PVH, their focus isn’t on new seasonal apparel lines or even on the enormousness of more than doubling the size of the company’s workforce to 22,000 employees since adding Tommy Hilfiger. It’s on what they have been doing to build the company an asset, a competitive advantage that never goes out of style—effective leaders.

“We’re trying to evolve the management culture of collaboration, respect and open communication,” Morbit says. “We’re emphasizing that it’s not only important that leaders get their business results, it’s important how they get those results—how they’re treating their employees, whether they’re communicating, coaching, or paying attention to morale on the team.”

The talent champions at PVH aren’t leaving the evolution of that culture to chance. They are driving it through a leadership development program that is unique to the apparel industry. “We consider this to be one of the most important investments we can make in our company—investing in our people to grow their capabilities and further promote their careers,” says Dave Kozel, senior vice president, human resources. “Development is a high priority for our CEO, Manny Chirico, and we have made it an important part of every leader’s responsibility.”

Wanted: Top-Flight Leaders

PVH’s need for a revamped leadership development program was apparent even before the May 2010 purchase of Tommy Hilfiger. The company’s rapid-growth strategy calls for an abundant supply of top-flight leaders at all levels—from front-line supervisors on up. “As we open more stores and grow, we have to fill new positions—and we need to make sure we have the talent,” says Morbit.

The importance of leadership development throughout PVH was underscored by a 2009 employee engagement survey. That survey showed some strong positives, such as PVH’s leaders being rated high in trust, a result that helps to explain the organization’s high level of overall employee satisfaction and its low employee turnover. But areas for improvement also came to light, including a need for leaders to get better in communication and coaching.

In addition, PVH drew on its ongoing information-gathering to identify specific areas where leaders needed to develop. “We really seek out feedback and input from our leaders and associates on their training needs, what they struggle with, and how we can best support them,” says Kamuela Singleton, manager of organizational development.

“A lot of our leaders told us they were not comfortable in coaching situations,” says Michael Costalas, manager of training. “They were not sure what to do or what to say.”

In the spring of 2010, PVH reached out to DDI to help build a comprehensive leadership development program —one that would develop specific, practical leadership behaviors that would transfer back to on-the-job situations. In a sign of PVH’s commitment to leadership development, the company made the program mandatory for all of its more than 600 frontline and mid-level leaders.

The PVH organizational development team and DDI partnered to create a curriculum of courses from the Interaction Management®: Exceptional Leaders. . . Extraordinary Results® leadership development system. The curriculum included three courses: Essentials of Leadership, Coaching for Success and Improvement, and Leading High-Performance Teams. DDI facilitators delivered all the courses.

A fourth course, Leading Change, was added after the Tommy Hilfiger acquisition. “The leadership development program helped provide a common language for leaders to deal with all of the change,” says Singleton. “There needed to be a common thread. We needed to be speaking the same language. DDI really made that happen through the leadership courses.”

Participant response to the program was extremely positive as indicated by course evaluations (see “Seeing Value—and Job Relevance—in Training” on page 8). “Leaders really left the classes feeling armed to deal with what they found in their departments,” Morbit says. “With the rapid change we’re going through, and with Tommy Hilfiger being acquired, there’s a real importance in communicating, and listening when people have questions. These are the very skills that leaders practice in the classes—holding discussions, and using listening skills to ask how people are doing and what they’re feeling.”

More Confidence and Better Conversations

The knowledge and new skills the leaders have gained are already bearing fruit. In the past, Costalas says, “Managers would often come to the HR department and say, ‘I don’t know how to deal with this associate— you’ve got to help me.’”

Now, he says, that’s far less common. “We’re finding that managers are more willing to engage with their associates directly, without having to go to HR and ask, ‘How do I do that?’”

In addition, Morbit says that since the program began, leaders have been much more proactive in building lines of communication with direct reports.

“We’ve started to see a lot of leaders instituting meetings with their teams to talk about what’s going on in order to get feedback,” he says.

Brian Paich, assistant treasurer and corporate group vice president, says he’s noticed the biggest changes in the newer leaders who have gone through the program.

“I see more confidence,” says Paich. “The newer leaders are doing more problem solving, such as conflict resolution, on their own now rather than taking those issues to department heads.”

Paich, who went through the program along with his team, says even seasoned leaders like himself learned a great deal. “It was a good look in the mirror,” he says. “The way it was taught made us not sympathetic but empathetic—the interplay made us see it from the other side of the desk.”

The sessions on coaching, for example, “made clear you need to understand the person you are coaching—what works and what doesn’t—and that the first stab and maybe the second stab should come across as collaborative, not declarative. The basic tenet is that the manager gets things done through others. But the classes reminded us that the ‘others’ are people who have wants, needs, and perceptions.”

Paich says the program essentially provided a tool kit for managers. “Here are the basic tools—here is your hammer, your screwdriver, your saw. You need a foundation, and this was the foundation. Even if you’ve been a manager for a long time, it never hurts to go back to it.”

Another reason the program was so effective, he says, is that “these classes were not lectures—they were truly laboratories. I thought the instructors did an incredible job of engaging everyone. I watched as they assessed the group and then adapted their style to the group very quickly.”

Marc Schneider, president for dress furnishings, also went through the program with his team. He says it was particularly valuable that, even though the program was targeted to frontline and mid-level leaders, a wide cross section of leaders took part in the program, including managers, directors, vice presidents, senior vice presidents, and presidents.

“Engaging with all these folks gave us a good understanding of what is happening at different levels,” he says. One example of that was the session on leading change, which Schneider believes could help managers at all levels adapt to the Tommy Hilfiger acquisition.

“People fear change; they fear the unknown,” he says. “And this session showed how critical it is that there is a clear strategy for communications, and that working collaboratively is incredibly important—so that people are not just running off in different directions.”

Both Schneider and Paich praised the company’s decision to launch the leadership development program.

“I think the fact that our senior management made the commitment is important,” says Paich. “It’s one of the things I admire about this company. It’s an investment in our people.”

PVH’s commitment to leadership development will continue as the company’s partnership with DDI moves forward. The program will expand to include developmental assessment tools—such as 360° feedback—that will better enable participants to identify their development strengths and needs.

“What we’re doing,” Morbit says, “is building a development culture, in which everyone works together to upgrade their skills, get better at what they’re doing, and be effective with people and relationships."

A strong development culture is important, says Costalas, “not because it sounds good, but because it drives the business. We need our leaders to be adaptable, which means we need leaders who are willing to develop themselves and to think of themselves in changing ways.”

“Leaders are seeing that training is an important part of continuous improvement,” says Morbit, who insists that the skills PVH’s leaders are developing are tied to the long-term success of the company. “And DDI is helping us bring more formal development into their lives.”

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