Learning in Practice Awards: CLO of the Year
December 2009 - The editors of Chief Learning Officer magazine created the Learning In Practice Awards six years ago to recognize learning leaders who have made a tangible impact on their enterprises through a combination of outstanding leadership, vision, business acumen and strategic alignment.
CLO of the Year
Cedric Coco, Vice President, Learning and Organizational Effectiveness, Lowe’s Companies Inc.
There were no small plans for Cedric Coco when he joined Lowe’s Companies in January 2008. With nearly 1,700 stores in North America, the North Carolina-based home improvement retailer had grown aggressively during the past decade. As Lowe’s began to eye international markets, executives aimed to tighten operational efficiency and increase effectiveness among the company’s 228,000 employees. The executive team determined leadership and managerial capability were the keys, and Coco’s charge was to rebuild the learning function and develop a human capital strategy to prepare Lowe’s for the next decade. With team members serving 14 million customers per week, the job would require a keen focus on the customer experience.
"I was extremely excited about the opportunity to take a very loved and admired retailer to the next iteration in its growth cycle," Coco said. "The big focal point has been on people. How do we enable our associates and our employees to build and win trust with our customers?"
In his role, Coco oversees organizational effectiveness, talent development and the learning strategies required for future growth. This involved some new challenges for Coco, whose prior positions at GE, KLA-Tencor and Microsoft primarily included leadership roles in high-tech, high-growth industries.
"Retail was a new industry for me, so first I started by spending time to understand the business," Coco said. "I had to immerse myself in the culture, understand our business model and our challenges. Secondly, I needed to develop and obtain buy-in on a business model/value proposition for human capital within our organization."
Economic conditions added additional complexity to the challenge. Faced with shrinking wallets, consumers cut back on their home improvement spending in 2009. According to company figures reported in August, sales declined from 2008 levels by 3.2 percent for the six-month period ending in July. This turbulent retail economy left smaller margin for error and required a highly precise approach — which happened to be a passion of Coco’s from his engineering days. "It just blended completely with the state of where Lowe’s is, which is how do we ensure that we are developing and growing our human capital in a way that enables us to be competitive and win trust with our customers?" Coco said.
Working with his peers in human resources, Coco rewrote the company’s human capital strategy to define the value proposition, communicated it to the business units and obtained executive buy-in. He then established a change management model that aligned human resources strategies in support of the business plan to bring the vision to fruition.