L&D Strategy

What You Can Learn from Kathmandu’s L&D Strategy


Kelly Hopkins, People Manager of Capability and Development at Kathmandu, joins Blake Proberts on the Strategic L&D Podcast to talk about utilising consultation to align business objectives with learning objectives, why you need to go out and listen to people leaders to build trust, and what to do when you have high turnover of early tenure employees. Hint: Address your onboarding training experience. Listen to the full episode above or watch below.

This article is a transcript of a podcast first published in August 2022.

Thank you so much for jumping on with me, Kelly. You’ve got a really interesting career. It’d be great to just get a bit of a rundown on what have you been up to?

What have I been up to? How long do we have? What we could do is you could be like Lord of the Rings. This is the “Lord of the Rings Learning Podcast”.

So yeah, you’re right. I’ve been really lucky in my career to have had some experience and going through learning and development and like some iconic and some of the greatest learning brands in the business or training brands, or developing brands in the in the world. I grew up in very Greymouth, which is a real small town on the west coast of New Zealand. And this may seem irrelevant at the moment, but you’ll you’ll see the relevance shortly. I actually went to Japan for the last year of my high school. They blew my mind, it changed my world. I learned a little bit of Japanese, I came back here to New Zealand. And I started working part time in a duty-free shop, you know, selling chocolates to Japanese tourists. And they were, as we were popular, so I sold lots of chocolates. Eventually over four years, I was promoted to Assistant Store Manager and the duty free shop but it was DFS and now owned by LVMH, which is a huge conglomerate around the world. Lots and lots of businesses and I’ve got a lot of exposure to some systems and processes. Decided to go to Japan on a six-month working holiday. And I ended up there for 16 or 17 years. I ended up getting the best jobs that I could ever imagine. And kind of how that happened was through a connection from the duty-free days. So LVMH, which owned DFS. Also own Sephora. And I was doing a part time job in a shopping centre in Japan. This is just a bit of a laugh. My first job in Japan, I was paid to walk around a shopping centre and smile at girls and say hello. Great job when you’re 22 years old, you know.

But one of those days I had been to smile at somebody that wasn’t a young Japanese woman. That was a man who was at that time, the president of Sephora AAP, and with him was the guy who was the president of Sephora Japan. And they were looking for locations to open up Sephora in Japan. And I happen to know and recognise them from my time at DFS because they’d been at DFS. And they recognise me and I was like, What are you doing? Oh, we’re gonna open up for store. If I open up, you know, I was like, Hey, you should come work for me. And I’m like, Well, no, I’ll go anyway, I’m just literally talking to girls. And the next day, I was on the bullet train to Tokyo for a job interview. And so my first role was store opening coordinator for Sephora, as they launched in Japan.

And that involved a lot of training. So I mean, I was sourcing paper bags from suppliers, and I was, you know, making sure the stock was coming in. But the other thing that I was responsible for was training up the teams. And particularly, we use the same SAP system or you know, the same stock management system and the same point of sale system is we’ve been using it duty free. So I spoke Japanese, I knew the systems, I started to train. And that’s actually how I started training people was through doing that kind of on the floor, retail training. Sephora, I mean, it’s history. But we opened seven stores in two years, then we closed them all in Japan, the business and succeed. Great experience that one, by the time we closed, you know, when you’re in kind of a business, you can kind of give yourself any title that you like. So my title was give us Events and Training Manager.

So I was in, I was in. I was now an expert in Japan. I got called up actually, by Estee Lauder Group. They were like, Oh, we hear you’re a trainer in the cosmetics field in Japan and I’m like it’s a stretch but I’ll come for an interview. Yeah. I was hired as a trainer for Clinique. At the time, I was the first man to wear like the Clinique white coat. And was a real interesting role, because the other trainers at Clinique were obviously, these really, really experienced women who knew a lot about skincare who worked in the Clinique counters and worked their way up into training. So I learned a lot about skincare, I learned some real in-depth Japanese, and then was installed in the centre, a group I moved to MAC Cosmetics, as a Retail Operations Manager for Japan. And then somebody reached out to me, who had worked with me at DFS and worked with me at Sephora and said, Hey, Apple Retail is opening, we need you to come along, send us your resume. So I joined Apple Retail for the opening team in Japan, with a half headcount in store operations and a half headcount in training. And then after a year, it was given the role, Regional Field Trainer for Apple Retail, flew back and forth to the US a lot. I took what training was there, brought it up, brought it over to Japan and trained the Japanese teams. That was really, really cool. And the Apple Retail training team, at that time, at least, were absolutely the best in the world. And they gave me the best training to become a trainer and understanding of learning and understanding of delivering learning that’s going to deliver outcomes through a business. And that was amazing.

And then I was offered a role at Morgan Stanley, which is an investment bank as learning and development manager. So you know, you take this shift from being a regional field trainer into learning development manager. Another the great experience, you know, you’re working in an investment bank. What does an investment bank have? A lot of money. So it has like budgets you’ve never even seen before.

But there’s challenges that come with that as well. Because you know, these are people working in an investment bank, who, if they slip away from their desk, their trading this for half an hour, that’s costing the clients 10s of 1000s, or hundreds of 1000s of dollars, and it’s costing them 1000s of dollars. So how do you convince these people to come away and do some training. (With great difficulties, is the answer there.)

And then, so I went from there, you know, the global this, how old I am, the global financial crisis hit, and I ended up working in another company, which was FedEx Kinkos. American company, Japanese business, and was the head of L&D for them for a few years before I came back to New Zealand. And when I came back to New Zealand, my family’s in the South Island. I really wanted to be in the South Island. I wanted to be doing learning development, and I wanted to be with an iconic Kiwi brand. And I thought I’m gonna get one of those three things. Yeah, this is not that many, you know, iconic Kiwi brands based out in Christchurch that would be big enough to have a head of L&D. And I don’t know what happened and how I lucked into it, but actually lucked into the role of Learning and Development Manager at Kathmandu. It is the iconic Kiwi brand for a South Island born and bred like me, and it was my dream role. And so I have my dream role.

It’s all about how you, who you know and like you get these opportunities that get presented to you, and I think sometimes in our lives, we’re too shy to say yes. But you’ve got to take all of all of them and all of them are a growing step. And, you know, I’ve been with Kathmandu now for seven years, which is the longest I’ve ever been in any role. You know, when you’re in Japan, and you’re an expat working in Tokyo, you tend to change jobs every two to three years. Here, I’ve been seven. I love it. I have my dream job. I get now that the actual privilege of looking after not just the learning and development, but diversity as well within our business. And it’s super cool.

If you could distil down the key lessons of your career into a few points, what would they be?

Oh, my career, I think on a personal, on a career development level. I’m not one of those people who have planned a career. So I took the opportunities that came my way and things would work out for me organically. Doesn’t happen that way for everybody.

I think a great lesson that I’ve learned and this is something I carry with me in my career, because I’m a retailer at heart and the Learning and Development Manager in a retail business. And I firmly believe that retail is—it’s not just a job that you do when you’ve got nothing else to do. For some people, you know, that they do a few hours here if you’re working your way through college or whatever that is.

Retail is an art and it’s a science. And you know, it’s about looking and reading a person and understanding a person and understanding what they need and what they coming for, and providing that to them. And some people have the skill naturally and it’s fantastic and other people can develop it. So you know, that’s my big thing is I believe retail is a career. I think retail is a highly skilled and some of them—like you know, at Kathmandu we’re a technical brand, we’re not an easy brand to work for, because we’ve got this amazing range of technical product. So people that come to work for us, they want to learn, they want to know stuff, it’s not the same as standing in the front of a store, folding t-shirts that are just different colours. Nothing wrong with this, but folding t-shirts have different colours. And like, Oh, you want a t shirt? You want it in a green or a blue or large or medium? You know, okay, well, you can go and you’re gonna hike a form a four-week hike or a four-day hike and you need some thought, where you need a jacket? What’s the weather going to be like, as the middle of summer? is at the middle of winter? Is there going to be raining? Is it going to be snowing? How can we protect you? How can we make sure that you’ve got everything you need to get what you need when you’re out there? So it’s quite technical.

So I really believe that it’s a career, its skills need development in it. So that’s another thing I think, I’d say is learning from my career. And then the other thing, I think, you know, potentially, if we’re talking in terms of this podcast is that without doubt, it’s traditionally been quite hard to measure return on investment against training and business. Yeah, that’s really hard. But I think if you look at your business, and you look at cost of business and identify what it is that you’re trying to do, what are you trying to solve, where can you make an impact, and you put your focuses there. You make an impact through developing people and training people and giving people skills and knowledge and experience to go out and do their best and be their best, then, you know, it’s visible, you can see it, it becomes tangible.

“It’s traditionally been quite hard to measure return on investment against training and business. But I think if… you look at cost of business and identify what it is that you’re trying to do, what are you trying to solve… you make an impact.”

And there are of course, lots of measures. You can measure it through NPS scores, you know, your customers coming in, if it’s a retail environment. You can measure it through things like internal promotion, how many people are being promoted internally within your business, because they’ve got the skills and experience to step up into that next role. So there’s lots and lots of ways that you can deliver or demonstrate that return on investment for training learning in a business.

You’ve got a lot of stores, a lot of different products, like you said, so what do you find are the most successful measures?

All kinds. Because I’ll tell you a little bit about Kathmandu. We’re the biggest outdoor adventure retailer in the southern hemisphere. So in Australia and New Zealand, you don’t get much bigger than us. And what we do is we create gear and products and jackets, and shoes, and backpacks and sleeping bags, that really enable people to get out there into the outdoors and live their best lives.

So as a brand, our purpose is to improve the well being of the world through the outdoors. It’s to get people out there and just enjoying what the outdoors gives us. You know, it’s so nice to get outside and breathe fresh air in the sunset, or walk in the rain at sunrise or whatever it is that you want to do that makes you feel good. And our purpose is to really help people get out there, feel good about themselves, improve their wellbeing which improves the well being of the people around them and in turn improves the wellbeing of the world. So that’s what we do, you know.

And there’s lots and lots of ways that we can measure the success of this. But if I go out into our business now and I ask anybody, any Kathmanduer anywhere in our business, you know what is our core purpose, they’ll tell us to improve the wellbeing of the world through the outdoors. I’ve never worked in a business where everybody could tell you what there was. They’ll tell you what our values are. So our values for Kathmandu is we’re Kathmanduers, and we are courageous, joyful and open. Right. So they’re fantastic values to have.

But yeah, so if I go back, you know, maybe seven years to when I started in the business, we didn’t really have a learning development function. We were, you know, we were a retailer that was getting pretty big, but we’d started pretty small, we weren’t owned by anybody else. So you know, we didn’t have any kind of experience or platform or format or template to work from. What we did have was we had some online training—because our stores are from you know, the south of New Zealand. At that time, too, we actually had stores in Kensington in London. And you know, all across Australia we have 120 stores in Australia now. The furthest from me is in Perth in Western Australia. And they’re all Kathmanduers. 82% of our team work in our retail stores. And they are the people that base our customers every single day.

When I joined, we had this really, I would say—I don’t want to say primitive—limited online learning platform. We paid to rent a little bit of space on the internet and then the content was all created using Moodle and free plugins that were just available for free on the internet. And we didn’t have an L&D team, so there wasn’t a learning development manager before joining the business. We had a learning and development advisor who kind of admined that platform, and it took a lot of admin. It was like all day, because we were using so many free plugins that you couldn’t measure if somebody completed a course, somebody was buying the course, they might start a course but wouldn’t be able to finish it, we couldn’t report back on it.

So it was pretty rudimentary, but it was a good start, you know, we knew we needed to train our teams. And what we knew was we needed to really be able to train consistently across all of these different locations. Because as I said, we’re a really technical brand. And you’re probably familiar with, with Kathmandu’s kind of traditional model, which is a bit of a high-low model where we are always in and out of sale.

So there’s always a lot going on. There’s a VM change, or a sale change, or there’s a new season coming through, because we update our seasons three or four times a year. They’re in, then they’re going on sale, you’re going on clearance. So that’s all happening. Then there’s stock control that’s happening. And then we’re learning the technical, okay, what is the waterproof breathable rating, telling me about this jacket and how dry it’s going to keep the customer?

So there’s a lot going on, right? So, we needed to have a way of training them. We had this online platform, it wasn’t doing what we wanted to do, because I’ve been in that, and seeing how it can be in other places. So we started with that vision. And at the time, we had real high turnover in our zero to three, zero to six month employees. Because what was happening is they were coming along starting the business. And these are people who love the outdoors, and they love our product. And they’re getting plonked down in front of a computer for five days straight or 10 days straight to just complete this training. And the training’s not even great quality and the user interface isn’t really usable. So it wasn’t a great experience. It wasn’t the experience that we want Kathmanduers to have when they come onto the business.

So I kind of, like, worked with my team. And I was like, okay, what can we do? And how do we do this? And what we wanted to do, was we wanted to address that early turnover was the first thing that we wanted to do. You know, we wanted to actually be keeping kept members in the business, so they grow their knowledge, and then apply that in great customer experience. So we took our induction out of this platform, out of this seven days in front of a computer nightmare. And we created in an induction program that is three months long. And we went out to the business and I went out to store managers and I said, Learning never stops. First of all, that’s the first thing we never stop learning at Kathmandu

But our induction, there’s a lot to learn, you can’t cram that all into somebody’s head in the first few days. So we actually created what we call a trail guide. It’s a map, it’s a foldable map. It’s like when you go, you know, you go into the the service station when you’re on a road trip and you buy a foldout map. It’s literally a foldout map that says to the new Kathmanduer, hey, this is day one, this is what we’re going to do, here’s what you’re gonna do on week one, here’s what you’re gonna do on week two, week three, week four, and for three months. A red flag means you’re going to do it online, and a blue flag means that you’re going to be coached by somebody, and a green flag means that it’s another one.

“[We] brought our managers into the mindset that training’s ongoing, and it’s not all about being in front of the computer.”

But what this did was it actually showed—not just brought our managers into the mindset that yeah, training’s ongoing, and yeah, it’s not all about being in front of the computer. But if I’m a new Kathmanduer, I can look at it and I can see. Oh yeah, next, I’m going to do this and then I’m going to have some time for that to kind of sink in. And then I’m going to do this, and I’ve got this path to follow for my first three months. And as you go through, you tick them off, and you sign them off. So you can look back and say, Look what I’ve done and look what I’ve achieved in the past week and then this month, and how am I going to build on that and apply it into what I’m doing. So it was just a real tangible thing they carried in the pocket. Some of them pinned it up in the staff room.

And that was the first thing I did. And that was completely offline, just to you know, that’s so that learning is an ongoing thing. We don’t, we don’t want it all crammed into this first week, because we want people to learn and beat. We put some flexibility in it. So within that, there are probably 12 product knowledge learning checkpoints, but we didn’t, we didn’t mandate what they would be. Because if you join a store in Brisbane in the height of summer, potentially the first thing you need to learn is not puffer jackets. it might be tents, or you know, windbreakers, you know, for running outdoors, we have a whole lot of nice, really cool running here. So that might be what you want to learn first. But if you’re joining us out of New Zealand in the winter, you better believe you’ve got to know your puffer jackets and your sleeping bags right up front.

So there was flexibility in it to do that. And we created that. So we’ve got this mindset. And then what we started doing was—we’re a small team, so myself and one another person. Now we’ve grown the L&D team this year to three. But we service not just two countries anymore, but Kathmandu is global, everywhere now, and 1800 employees and they’re very different. So while I say you know, 82% of our employees are in our retail stores, we have a huge group of employees who—or Kathmanduers—who are in our distribution centres, and who have a different bunch of skills, you know, and they need to be safe while they are using the equipment and the technology that’s available to them to service our stores and service our customers.

And then in our support offices, we have a whole bunch of functions. And you know, I don’t know if many people know this, but we design and develop all of our products in house. So sitting upstairs from me right now in this building is a product development and design team who design tents and design backpacks. And within those teams, there are people whose job it is to make a fair bit more stretchable, or more waterproof. So we have a bunch of, you know, retail professionals. And we also have a whole bunch of people within our business who are like, technical experts at what they do. And in some cases, they’re the only one doing it in Christchurch, at least, and maybe even in New Zealand. So we have a lot of people that we need to deliver a lot, a lot of learning to. And we’re now a team of three, who do all of that.

“In order for us to have effective and consistent learning across the business, everybody needs to be learning from each other.”

So what we decided, and we learned, what we decided quite quickly was that, okay—in order for us to have effective and consistent learning across the business, everybody needs to be learning from each other. So, in addition to bringing that kind of three-month induction program on, what we started on was a journey of bringing our store management teams along the journey to understand that they are coaches. So to move from, you know, I’m a manager, of course, I’m a manager, I’ve got to open the door in the morning, I’ve got to make sure the money’s all there, I’ve got to make sure it’s all there at the end of the day as well, I have to make sure the stocks coming in and it’s getting processed. But I’m also a coach, I’m responsible for giving my team the motivation and the experience and the knowledge and the skills that they can go out there and represent us really well.

So we started on this journey, we found a really great tool to help us with this. And started training all of our store management teams to be coaches. And that took us a while. What we had to do was work first with our regional management teams. Because ultimately, we have a process where we—a Kathmanduer will go through some coaching, training and learn to be a coach, but they’ll be coached through that coaching training by a coach. So your coach is, generally speaking, your manager. So we started with the regional managers, because they’re then going to coach their store managers. And then the store managers are going to coach their assistant store managers. You see how it flows down and we use the system, we have a platform that helps us to do that. But it’s a long process, it took us a good couple of years to get that all unbidden through. But now without doubt, all of our store management teams are coaching and are coaches. And it’s, it’s due to that process that we we put in.

And what we’ve seen is incredible outcomes. So if I, if I refer back to that first outcome that I was talking about—which was you know, that turnover that we have, or the attrition that we have in those first three to six months—we brought that right down from where it was sometimes 70%. Right down to 15 in some cases. Incredible.

You know, we have a philosophy here—and we’ve talked about this a lot lately—but our role as the learning and development team is to develop Kathmanduers to be not just the best, but their best. And then we call it Kathmanduers for life. We want Kathmanduers to come and get skills from us. And eventually, they may go on to other places, because we don’t have millions and millions of leadership roles or development roles or the roles that everybody wants. But what we want to be is the business that prepares them to go on and be successful in other businesses, and then come back and bring that knowledge and experience back to us when we have a role for them.

But we managed to, you know, really bring that high turnover rate right down, and at the same time lift our customer NPS scores right up. So we set really high—and we use a true rating system. And our results are really, really great around customer service and around product knowledge. They exceed the targets that we set and they’ve grown, that, you know, they’ve increased and increased and increased.

“It’s about engaging the teams, making them feel included, making them feel passionate, giving them a purpose that they can feel aligned to.”

So that’s a way that we see it as well. Obviously, there’s lots of things that go into that. So across the whole business, it’s about engaging the teams, making them feel included, making them feel passionate, giving them a purpose that they can feel aligned to. But then also, a really big part of it is giving them the skills and the knowledge to really facilitate excellent and outstanding experiences for our customers. So we see those results coming through. We see them coming through and the number of internal promotions that we have from sales advisors, or sales assistants being promoted into a 3IC role, being promoted into a sales assistant—assistant store manager role, being promoted into a store manager. So something like 65% of our roles are filled internally now, which is a pretty good result in a retail business.

I guess that almost becomes an EVP, where you’re sort of saying to them, “Look, we want you to be the best that you can be and maybe that is here and maybe that’s not here, but you know, one day hopefully you’re going to come back to us.”

But you’ve nailed it because I think we do position this as part of our EVP. Because there are, there are retailers out there that pay more than we pay. And there are retailers out there better and easier to work for than we are. We’re quite demanding and complex and things are changing a lot right now.

But what we do is—what we say, what we mean when we say Kathmandu is for life is that we also have another principle that fits under there. And that’s that we’re going to be that bridge, that retailer that doesn’t just teach you how to be a retailer. We’re going to give you all kinds of skills.

So everybody that’s in our business, every year has an individual development plan. And we ask them to think of three things. One of them is, you know, what can I develop, to become even better at the job I currently have? That’s your first goal. What can I develop to get ready for the job that I have next, whether that’s in a year or two years or five years, you know? And then what can I develop to become closer to the person that I want to be? This is stuff that’s internal. It’s nothing to do with the skills that you need for your job or what you’ve been measured on. But it’s, we’re going to support you and provide you with opportunities to develop yourself in the way that you want to be developed.

“It’s, ‘We’re going to support you and provide you with opportunities to develop yourself in the way that you want to be developed.'”

And really great example here of somebody that works in our Christchurch Support Office just recently has started to run yoga classes during the lunchtimes as a yoga teacher. She works for us, they’re a Kathmanduer, they are courageous, joyful, and open. They are interested in the wellbeing of people. And we talked a lot about, okay, what direction can you go into? And she said, Look, I really love my job, I want to golf and I want to get my, my yoga teaching licence. Okay, well, we’re happy for you to do that and support that how we can. And now she comes back, and she teaches yoga here, you know, here and there in the office a couple of lunchtimes a week. And we love that.

You know, and if that person comes in, walks into the HR room and says, Hey, guys, look, I’m gonna go and teach yoga at a yoga studio full time. That’s a celebration, you know. So we love that.

You know, what we do is we offer qualification pathways to all of our retail team members in New Zealand is really easy because the New Zealand government fully supports and subsidises a lot of these things. And it doesn’t really cost a lot because we don’t have huge L&D budgets. But we’re able to offer our New Zealand retail Kathmanduers a pathway through an NZ QA qualification in retail certificate three, retail certificate four, business certificate three and business certificate four. So if they want to complete the whole pathway, they end up with four different qualifications and they’re not just a retail but their business qualifications.

In Australia, it’s a little bit trickier to do that across the whole country. So what we’ve established a really wonderful partnership with Torrens University. So Torrens University, they have, obviously, they have physical campuses, but they have this great online learning package and this curriculum and their digital badges are world-leading. And, you know, Torrens positions themselves as the university that prepares you to go into industry and go into work, and they partner a lot with industry. So they have a suite of digital badges. They’re called Smart Skills, and we endorse one of their digital badges as an industry endorser. So Kathmandu endorses the leadership essentials badge within Torrens. They have other badges that are endorsed by in Bolo and B Corp, and lots of other—Canva endorses a brand new one of the badges.

And what we are able to do through our partnership is offer all of those badges to every Kathmanduer. So there’s a badge, which is digital marketing essentials. If you are a part-timer in one of our stores, and you’re looking to get into marketing, and you want to see what it’s like and you’re wondering, is this going to be a career path for me, you can jump on them and you can complete that digital agency—digital marketing skills, you know. And that’s something I don’t think you’d see retailers offering.

And then if you complete all of those, or all six of the digital marketing smart skills badges, then you can do an academic assessment through Torrens, that we pay for and support, that gives you a microcredential at the end. So it’s a Kathmandu Smart Skills Torrens University microcredential, which is the equivalent of one optional subject in a university degree. So if they wanted to go on to do the study, they can bring this with them as the prior study and actually have it credited towards a degree in whatever it is that they want to do.

So we offer this to you know, all of our teams and this is what we mean by Kathmanduers this for life. You know, we don’t just want to teach you how to open a tell and fold a t-shirt and it’s not what these colours. But you know what I mean? We can give you the opportunity to learn some stuff about yourself and to learn some stuff about multiple different things. And that’s going to make you—help you to become your best and we want everybody in this community to be their best.

I love the tying of learning to that EVP. There are clear statistics that show if you invest in staff and they have clear career progression pathways, they’re much, much more likely to stay and it sounds like you guys are well and truly there.

Well, I think, like anywhere at the moment, it’s a strange, strange world. And you know, we’re not immune to the Great Resignation. But I’m also you know—we’re, we have great engagement results across our business. We have great engagement across our business, we have great passion and loyalty from our teams. But we also have a lot of people within our teams who are fatigued, who have kind of reconsidered what they want to do with their lives. It’s been a time, I guess, in the world where lots of people want to go from a customer-facing job that’s been pretty awful to do for a couple of years and have the opportunity to go into a role that’s not customer facing that’s maybe not Monday to Friday, nine to five—at least we’ve given them some support to get there and some skills that they can take with them and take over with them and hopefully come back to us in a couple of years because a lot of people do come back to Kathmandu.

So you know, we see, we do—we are hiring! And we have great learning and development programs. And it’s not because you know, people can’t wait to leave Kathmandu. It’s because it’s a time of change in people’s lives. And we like to think that we’re giving people the skills to be able to make those decisions. And if they need to make a change, they’ve got something behind them to go and do it.

I wanted to quickly touch on something that you mentioned during your intro: You said at Morgan Stanley, you had the opportunity to learn about aligning L&D to business objectives. How have you done this in your experience at Kathmandu?

Well, what I think is that all of that learning that I did, placed me well to come into Kathmandu, and you know, from my experience and bring my experience in. But I’m not ever the person that’s just going to do something for the sake of doing it. Oh, yeah, we should do this. Let’s just roll it out. No, that’s not what happens. It’s always a consultation. And you consult with the people who, who it’s important to.

So I have a close relationship with all of the executive team here. And, you know, I’ll be talking to an exec and what’s happening in your team. Within those teams, quite often, it’s role specific and technical support that we’re providing. And we might go and find a course from the Australian Retailer Association with the Australian Merchandising Association for our buyers and merchandisers. You know, we have the product team going through some fabric and textile development, online trainings as well.

“I’ve got the trust of the business, because I’ve gone out and I’ve found them some things that they needed. So when I go and say, ‘Hey, look, I think your team could benefit from this.’ They’ll listen and they’re open to it, and they understand it.”

It’s about going out and listening and finding, okay, there are some things that a certain number of people in the business are going to need. Let’s go and find those. And let’s prove that we can bring them a solution. Because then when I look wider across the business, I think you know what, we need critical thinking within our business, we need people to be able to sit down and look at some information and make some decisions and make some good decisions based on that. And now I’ve got the trust of the business, because then I’ve gone out and I’ve found them some, some things that they needed. So when I go and say, hey, look, I think your team could benefit from this. They’ll listen and they’re open to it, and they understand it. And I can make a demonstration for why, you know, we’re moving through this huge change in our business, we don’t have a lot of hierarchy. And we need everybody to be making the best decisions that they can make.

And we want them to have the skills to do that. Because we’re courageous and part of being courageous at Kathmandu, giving stuff a go, giving things that go, not being afraid of the unknown, by diving into it. But in order to be able to just to give things a go, you need to be confident that what you’re doing is the right thing.

So being able to come out and say, look, as a business, this is what we’re doing. We’ve got—we’re going global and we’re trying to go global, so a lot of members in our business now are speaking to international audiences. And they’re trying to convince people to buy our product but don’t even know Kathmandu because they’re not in Australia or New Zealand, and they are having to sleep outside of their comfort zones.

You know, I’m a product manager or a product developer or product designer, I’d love to get in and I love to design things, even love to talk about it. But it’s really hard for me to talk about it to, you know, some executives in Europe who, you know, are talking to hundreds of people like me every week. So giving them the confidence and the skills to go and do that.

And it’s looking around and it’s just looking around, okay, what’s the business doing? What does the business need to do? What do I know that can already fit into that and provide a solution? And if I don’t know, who can I talk to about, okay, will I find that solution? And it’s also not having any ego. I don’t know all the answers. So if I think somebody’s going to know something better than I do—like, I don’t know, we would, we would find the best textile development training. I leave it to the experts, but I help them make it happen.

When you talk to different people, do you then put together a budget or some form of impact statement to say, “Hey, this is what we want to do and this is why we should do it at Kathmandu”?

So it kind of can be, but what we what, we have a Kathmandu is interesting.

So yes, in some cases, and a good example of that is when we, when we migrated from our previous online learning platform to the one that we migrated to and currently use. And it was a big step up in terms of capability and cost. And of course, I made a big business case, I went in to business, I said, “Look, if we want to be the business we want to be, this is not going to cut it for us. Here are some options. Here’s a recommendation and it’s a big investment. But we’re gonna go and do it.” And we did it. So I do that.

But we don’t have a centralised learning and development budget here at Kathmandu. Each department has their own budget annually, that is managed by the executive in charge of that department. So a lot of my role is influencing how they want to spend that.

“Each department has their own budget annually… you have to be able to go and make a case to each of them. My job is to kind of understand what’s in each bucket, and what the priorities of that team is.”

So you can’t just go out and unilaterally say, we’re going to do this—you have to actually be able to go and make a case to each of them. And some departments are going to buy in and you know, we might have a whole bunch of people from one area of the business who are going through something that’s not as relevant or pressing or is higher priority to another part, and they’re doing something else.

But that’s my job, is to go out and find what all of these are and go and influence how they spend their money. And my job really is to kind of understand what’s in each bucket, and what the priorities of that team is. And then how I can put a package to give a bit response to the priorities of the business, but also allows everybody to have access to training and development. So you know, an example of—we pay an annual subscription to Torrens University, that means that then we can offer out everything there without any kind of budget sign off, or any kind of manager sign off.

That’s for everybody. So everybody has this offering of learning and development. And there’s lots of options in there. And we work with different partners to be able to offer this kind of thing. And it differs by department within the business. And in some departments, we go and we offer a menu.

But we do have a curriculum that we roll out every year—it’s called our Gear Up curriculum. And it’s a bunch of courses. This is for our support office and DC team. It’s a bunch of courses that we believe are the core skills to set anyone up for business. There’s time management, there’s critical thinking, there’s change leadership. There’s a couple that we’ve developed in response to the pandemic with our partners, and I can offer them out. And the idea behind it is that we’re going to run this. If your person, if your team member has the skills, they don’t need to come along. But if you’ve got somebody who can benefit from this, then it’s available to them. And so that’s kind of how we operate here. We have a curriculum.

Ultimately, it comes down to the individuals and each individual has a discussion for their individual development plan with their manager and they identify, okay, what are we going to focus on this year? What are some things that we can do? Let’s see what’s in the curriculum, what let’s see what’s available on the menu. Let’s see what you know, let’s go talk to Kelly and see if he’s got any other ideas. And we do work quite consultatively, with teams and with individuals.

So yeah, there are some things that we roll out across business. But we don’t have this huge budget, and we don’t have a huge infrastructure to be able to do so. So some of those things can take time. And we do them a piece at a time and we’re quite good at that. We’ll identify we’ll start with the group, we’ll work from this scope. So that’s really how we approach those matters.

So you take those business priorities from the different areas and then look for training opportunities to address those?

Yeah, and we do have, you know, we’ve recently created a three-year strategy going forward for what we want to do. And we’ve kind of budgeted that out. And we’re in a great position at the moment because we’ve you know, we’ve worked really hard with our partners, we worked really hard with the New Zealand Government who really support training in New Zealand.

And so we’re in a really, really good position to be able to go and say, well, these are the projects that we think are priorities, you know, for the next year, a couple of years, three years, and here’s where that money is going to come from, and how we’re going to reinvest what the, what the government invests in us for development and today’s only the beginning. You know, obviously the business—the budget that the business gives us.

So we work strategically. We have a long-term strategy. We you know, we’re just finishing this process at the moment because is our financial year ends on July 31. So we’re budgeting for next year, getting that locked in so that we know what we’re going to be able to work on, what our big projects are. But also within that, we always have the ability to respond to individual needs or respond to a need that might exist for the business or pop up—because who knows what’s going to happen! It could be a global pandemic, and then everybody needs to learn how to work from home or remote manage, or take care of themselves and build the resilience.

These are things we hadn’t predicted, and we’re looking looking for development. I’m really lucky as well, that my, the L&D team here, I’m really experienced and really capable. So we’re not a team that has to go external and spend a lot of money for many of these solutions. A lot of them, we can come up with ourselves and deliver ourselves. So that’s a fantastic advantage that we have as well.

What learning activities have you seen work and have a big impact?

Let me focus on coaching. Coaching for us is humongous. It’s huge. We actually recently, this year, Kathmandu, has been named the number one best place to work in retail, hospitality, tourism and entertainment in Australia and New Zealand for 2022.

There are lots and lots and lots of reasons, I think, for that. But one of them was, and where we were really strong was growth, and you know, the growth category and purpose. So it’s based on a 10-factor framework of, you know, future workplaces, that is owned by Inventium, but is the Boss—AFR Best Boss Places to Work. And they looked at a lot of factors. And we scored really highly in growth and in development and really highly in purpose.

And there are lots of reasons for that. But some of the other things is coaching, I think for us, is key across our business. And we did a lot of work to bring our store management teams along their journey that they’re coaching. And what made it successful for us was we had a technology platform that facilitated it and had a coaching loop built into the training. And then we also backed that up with some actual offline analogue resources. So we’re not scared to create a PDF and print it out, either.

So what we did was we drove that coaching and facilitated it by creating coaching cue cards that sit in the stores by the point of sale. And a store manager, if they’ve got five minutes to walk out into the store, they can walk out, they can pick up a coaching cue card can observe one of the team members giving customer service, make some notes and then give some quick coaching afterwards. So that’s something that worked really well for us.

“My belief is that you don’t need to learn everything sitting in front of a computer. Because you can have this online course; here’s a coaching course, be trained to be a coach. And of course… you stand up, you walk away, you’ve forgotten it. So we’ve worked really hard to make sure that, actually, coaching is available and facilitated.”

Another one is what we call product ropes. And product ropes are a little bit bigger. So my belief is that you don’t need to learn everything sitting in front of a computer. And most of the things that you could learn sitting in front of the computer, you could do them somewhere else, if that’s not your vibe, you know. Try the product or read the swing tags, listen to someone who’s been in the store longer, work through a problem with your customer and learn. So we have product ropes, which are a longer document, they include some long form questions, you know, and they’re always category based. So if we’re coming up to summer, we know we’re going to be selling tents and sleeping bags. So the product ropes is going to be around tents and sleeping bags. Okay, what are the tents that are in your store? How does the tent keep people dry? What does this team do that this team doesn’t do? What’s our lightest tent, and why is that important? And it’s like a quiz.

And then there might be three or four customer scenarios. This customer’s that come in and they’re doing this, this and this. What what do you tell them? What do you give them? And then there’s a role play that you have to perform with your manager. So you’ve managed your coach through all of these steps, and they’re able to do so because we’ve trained them to be coaches and we’ve given them that skill and experience and confidence in coaching. But now we’ve given them a platform to coach as well.

Because you can have this online course; here’s a coaching course, be trained to be a coach. And of course, it’s like many things, you stand up, you walk away, you’ve forgotten it. So we’ve worked really hard to make sure that, actually, coaching is available and facilitated. And our teams have just they love it. Kathmanduers are learners and they love to learn from each other and they love to help each other learn, so they’ve just taken it and made this huge coaching culture. And that’s the biggest success for us.

74% of our, our retail team, when asked, would say yes, I have a mentor or coach at work. And when we asked them recently, okay, what is your favourite way to learn? Their favourite way to learn was from—be coached by another Kathmanduer. And their second favourite way was to learn on the shop floor.

So we listened to that. And we create resources that enable them to do that. And that’s what’s been really successful, because I think our team are incredible. They’re so knowledgeable, they’re so passionate, but they’re also great at providing customer experience. And that’s because they learn from each other, and they watch each other and they coach each other. And they’ve created this kind of culture of learning and coaching within our retail stores that you—because I’m sat here in Christchurch, I can’t get to every store. I don’t have an army of trainers that’s gonna go out and go into every store every week and train everybody. But we don’t need it.

It sounds like you know what’s effective and what they need to learn, but then you’re listening to them on how they want to learn. So simple, but so effective.

The implementation is where the hard work is, right? It’s actually getting it out there and making it happen. Because after that happens, it just rolls, it takes care of itself. If you’ve got a bunch of store managers that are coaches, when a new store manager comes in, they get coached, and they learn and they see it and they become a coach, and then the next person that comes in to coach. And everybody that comes in as being coached.

But it’s not just their managers that are coaches, everybody that’s in our store is able to provide some kind of support to the development and coaching of a new person in the store. So it’s just fantastic.

How important would you say the technology that you’re using is to deliver those outcomes?

Absolutely key! So we, we partner with a business that has an an amazing platform. So they host LMSs, they also create a lot of content, but what they have built into their system is a coaching loop within their system that I’ve never seen on any other platform. And what that is, is instead of just sitting down and reading some text and watching a video and answering an ABC quiz—let’s say I’m sitting down to learn how to be a coach. I’m going to watch a video; an introduction to coaching and then it’s going to ask me some long-form questions. Why is coaching important? How is coaching going to change your team? How is coaching going to help you be a better leader? And you answer these long-form questions. And that gets fed up to your manager or coach, and they answer you with some long-form responses, and they coach you on it. These are great answers. That’s exactly right. Let’s talk about it.

And then once you’ve done that, you move on and you watch a video, well, here’s the first super coat check. And then it’s gonna ask you some long-form questions again, but then before you can move on, it’s actually gonna say, Okay, now go and practice this with your coach. And you’ll go to your coach, who is usually your store manager, or might be a regional manager of your store, or could be somebody else. And you will complete a coaching activity that’s assigned within the system, and your manager is going to give you feedback on this one and coach, you then fill that in in the system and mark that off. So you can move to the next step of the course.

And you know, for example, for the coaching course, it is over nine weeks. So it’s deliberately structured so that you’re not doing it on the first day that you do it, you get some responses from your coach, you do some coaching with your coach, and then you move on, and you put into practice what you’ve just learned then, and then you get coached on that. And this has been a game-changer for us.

The other thing—and there’s another piece of technology that we use, and I know the technology doesn’t really matter, but we have a social media platform within our business as well that we use, that’s really brought us to the next level, particularly within the pandemic, we everybody’s connected to everybody, and we can get out there. And we utilise that for some of our training and coaching as well. But we might owe everybody a task or challenge or sometimes it might be you know, pop a video of yourself doing this up here and show us, show us how you do it.

And so we utilise the technology that’s available to us. We’ve started to call it omni-channel learning. You know, you use it, you use an online LMS, you use Zoom. You use coach, in-person coaching, we’d love to be back to using in-classroom coaching or training. And you use the social media networks that everybody’s on, and you use each of them for the piece that their work right for. So you not going to post some, you know, five-minute training video into the social media platform but A: a nobody watches five minutes worth of stuff in the feed, but B: it gets lost. It goes down the feed. How do you know it’s there? If you log in, you know, you’ve been off for a day you log in, it’s gone way down the feed, you don’t even know it’s there. How do I know you’ve watched it? So what we would do is we will use that platform. And we, we do what’s called a three and 30. And that’s three really cool facts about something in 30 seconds.

Hey, we’ve got this new bio, bio-down jacket coming out. Three and 30. Well, it biodegrades in landfill, how cool is that? Number two, it’s all recycled materials. Number three, it looks amazing. That’s my three and 30 about bio-down. If you want to learn more, head over to campus—which is what we call our learning platform—and do, the do the training module. And we use this platform to build hype and get everybody excited to move over to the training where they can get an in-depth training experience. And we can see they’ve done and we can follow it up and measure it.

Where can people apply for one of your jobs or find out more about Kathmandu?

Yes, please! If you are keen to come and work for the number one best place to work in retail, hospitality, tourism and entertainment in New Zealand and Australia 2022, then you can find our job ads on Seek, Indeed, most of the regular places you’ll find them. Another great way is to head on over to www.kathmandu.co.nz/careers or www.kathmandu.com.au/careers. And you’ll find the careers on there. You’ll also find lots of interesting information.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the other part of my job, which is diversity and inclusion. We are, I want to say the most diverse brand that you could come and work for we embrace and celebrate everybody. We want everybody to come and be their best selves and then become their even better selves through the learning and development opportunities that we offer.

I love talking about it. And but there are tonnes of people everywhere doing really cool stuff. And we just do what we can do. We take inspiration a lot from other places. But like I said, I’m really lucky that I’ve had this great experience. My team has got some great experience in between us. We just able to come up with some great ideas, but many of the things that we do are ideas that our team have given us, Kathmanduers have given us, you know, and they often drive it.

This is a transcript from the Strategic L&D Podcast, where we venture through what key L&D opinion leaders are doing today to ensure they’re delivering a strategically impactful L&D function. If you want to stay up to date with our latest releases, subscribe to our podcast. We’re on most common podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple. You’ll also find us in video form on our YouTube channel.

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