The Future of Work at Kohler: Flexible, Inclusive, and Human-Centered

By Laura Kohler, SVP – HR, Stewardship & Sustainability
Jul 18, 2022 4:20 PM ET
Article

Companies around the world are trading in “the way we’ve always done it” for a new approach to the optimal workplace experience.

So, what does it look like for Kohler Co.? We sat down with Laura Kohler, SVP – HR, Stewardship & Sustainability, to talk about Kohler’s approach—the how, the why, the future, and everything in between.

Tell us about the Future of Work at Kohler.
The Future of Work is all about how we collaborate and innovate within a more flexible, inclusive, and human-centered workplace environment. At the core, human-centered means looking holistically at what helps our associates “show up at their best to do their best.” And that’s more than creating career opportunities for people to grow in their career; it’s also about how we help our associates live a better life.

We must foster a culture that helps associates contribute their best thinking, their best ideas, and their whole, integrated self. And that’s where we really focus on culture: caring for associate well-being, providing mental health resources, building connection and belonging, and career growth and development.

How does collaboration look different in Kohler’s Future of Work model?
What we really desire is for our associates to feel connected and to have the capacity to boldly innovate and collaborate at greater levels whether they work for us on-site, in a hybrid capacity, or fully remote (more on that here). It’s all about segmenting our workday around opportunities to collaborate as a team or for associates to have the time and space to think deeply about a business challenge and then solve it. And for this to happen, we need to begin to master how we use our time in a more effective and purposeful way. As an example, our Kitchen & Bath North Americas team implemented what they called “Balancing Boldly” across their organization, where leaders are encouraged to do regular check-ins with their team and implement “You Do You” Fridays—encouraging associates to block their calendar on Friday afternoons to catch up on email, plan for the week ahead, focus on a project, or spend time on development.​ We haven’t mastered the perfect formula yet, but we’re learning, listening to feedback, taking action, and evolving together.

​How do you think this evolved workplace achieves greater outcomes for associates, the company, or even the broader world?
With an enhanced view of how we best collaborate, innovate, and deliver value for our customers, we can also consider the value drivers that help associates show up at their best. There was a fascinating article in The Atlantic that described the concept of “multi-potentiality”—or the idea of being good at more than one thing. For example, your chosen trade (marketing, social media, engineering) plus rock climbing, yoga, volunteerism, and baking. Each are distinct, yet all can complement and add richness and joy to other areas of your life and work, thus making you more valuable in the modern economy. This illustrates the idea that our work feeds our life enrichment, and our life enrichment feeds our work, making us much more engaged in both. As an example, we encourage our associates to participate in Business Resource Groups to enable members to lead projects, plan events, invent products (yes, check this out), and do things they may not normally do in their everyday work, thus developing them for greater levels of leadership AND enriching their personal fulfillment. In this context, I believe we achieve our full human potential when our work and life fuse together.

What is the role of leaders in the Future of Work at Kohler?
Without a doubt, it’s our role as leader to make sure we create the connected experiences that help our associates thrive. And while we’ve been discussing collaboration and intentionally designing productivity and enrichment within our teams, it doesn’t fully work unless we’ve prioritized the work that matters most. Or as Franklin Covey put it, “Rather than always focusing on what’s urgent, learn to focus on what is really important.” Going a step further, what is most significant, lasting, impactful? These are questions we should be asking ourselves.

Bottom line, when we prioritize well, we are better able to sustain and grow our people and our business.

Anything else you’d like to share with our audience?
I truly believe the workplace we’ve always wanted is closer now than ever before. We must create a new sense of belonging for our associates, provide flexibility (yes, even in manufacturing or hospitality with respectful scheduling), and strengthen leadership at all levels. And while we’re on a journey that’s still evolving, with continued focus, we will get better and better each day. Join us!