UNIQLO Singapore's employees are walking advocates of style — whether in-store or in the corporate office. In this interview with Kenniese Wang, Director of FRMIC, UNIQLO, Arina Sofiah and Priya Sunil learn:
- How the brand's new StyleHint app doubles up as an internal tool to engage and empower employees;
- The role of open communication and leadership development in the employee experience, and
- What exciting plans are in store for UNIQLO Singapore employees in 2022.
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UNIQLO Singapore is tailoring the way to better employee engagement with its new StyleHint application — a styling platform made by the people, for the people.
StyleHint is a platform capturing real, unique outfits styled by UNIQLO fans, allowing them the avenue to express their individuality and inspire ways of styling UNIQLO products. The app enables UNIQLO LifeWear fans to upload their OOTDs, swap styling suggestions, and shop curated looks posted by fellow fashionistas of a global digital community. Users can seamlessly browse and shop for selected UNIQLO items that have caught their eyes.
Driven by a goal to move away from promotional flyers and to effectively leverage the mobile-first digital wave, the StyleHint app aims to harness the power of 130,000 staff worldwide and its global customer base. It is currently available in Japan, the UK, and the US, and will be rolled out to ASEAN markets in mid-2022.
All that aside, StyleHint also doubles up as an internal tool to engage and empower employees to be UNIQLO LifeWear style ambassadors, Kenniese Wang, Director of FRMIC (Fast Retailing Management & Innovation Centre), UNIQLO (pictured above), shares.
"We wanted to find ways to revolutionise the way we work," she explains.
What does this really mean for employees?
For one, employees have the unique opportunity to learn more about UNIQLO products, experiment with ways to style them, and undergo training workshops, which aim to advance their standards of styling in their day-to-day work.
UNIQLO acknowledges that its staff are the ones engaging with customers on a daily basis and are at the forefront of exemplifying its LifeWear philosophy. As such, by showcasing its internal talents as the very faces behind the first phase of the StyleHint launch, it gives them a platform to learn and enhance their skills, while showcasing their personal styles as LifeWear ambassadors, Wang notes. "This will in turn lead to higher engagements with our customers and create an even more meaningful shopping experience.
The idea to have employees style with the app was piloted starting with UNIQLO's headquarters in Japan, providing brand and styling guidelines and best practices when it comes to taking a quality OOTD. As it moved into training sessions with the staff, it now includes a photography workshop with tips on how to pose and self-direct, and ways to style UNIQLO LifeWear. This helps to develop content creation skills and grow their confidence in styling counsel, so that they will feel proud of the content they generate, instilling a strong sense of ownership amongst employees.
Such an initiative extends to both in-store and backend/corporate employees, involving employees at all levels as UNIQLO encourages staff to style and share on the StyleHint App.
Bringing to life Zen-in Keiei
With such a diverse set of employees, Wang recognises that there may not always be a one-size-fits-all solution to approach employee engagement. Therefore, to best cater to all levels, UNIQLO makes an effort by consulting team leads or doing surveys to get a general sense of preferences.
Wang adds: "It helps that our company is quite flat in terms of hierarchical organisation, so employees can also get direct access to management and have the opportunity to voice their feedback. By giving them a voice, employees are observed to be more forthcoming and invested in their day-to-day work."
Beyond the StyleHint app, UNIQLO aims to create opportunities for employees from all walks of life as a whole, with regular training and development reviews to track career progression. It recognises the importance of investing in its employees and empowering them to be part of the decision-making process. Such transparency in information sharing and open communication encourages an environment that enables the staff to feel more involved and engaged with the business, Wang points out.
"In addition, UNIQLO holds a convention every six months, for all staff from our headquarters and stores to gather for a day to learn from case studies from other countries, participate in discussions, and align on the business strategy. This enables our staff to recognise that they are valued stakeholders in our planning," she adds.
Apart from that, every staff member is encouraged to "think like a leader regardless of their role and equip employees with the knowledge and skills to become values-driven leaders." The brand also builds leadership through classroom training, coaching, and mentoring programmes that support leadership development and competencies, as part of the UNIQLO Manager Candidate programme. Given the COVID-19 restrictions, it has moved these programmes online to continue engaging and developing staff virtually.
With its initiatives in place, the leadership team does make it a point to track the efficacy of its employee engagement initiatives, through quarterly staff engagement surveys to understand employees’ sentiments and hear from them on areas of improvement.
"To us, meaningful employee engagement means that every employee is empowered to be part of the decision-making process and is equipped with the necessary information and skills to consider the best actions for the company," Wang highlights. The same management principles and values are shared by employees and senior executives globally.
UNIQLO attributes this success to its Zen-in Keiei philosophy — which loosely translates to “everyone manages". In line with that, the company makes sure it provides the environment and culture to enable everyone to be a values-driven leader through its efforts.
What else is in store for employees in 2022?
Looking ahead, while StyleHint is one of the highlights for 2022, UNIQLO has a wide range of initiatives prepared as a whole. One such example, Wang highlights, would be the UNIQLO Live Station, a series of curated live streams hosted and modeled by its very own staff, which was kickstarted in October 2021.
From April, apart from UNIQLO's usual soft skills and cultural training, it will also conduct in-store training on new digital tools for all corporate employees to increase productivity.
Sustainability is also an area that as a company, UNIQLO endeavours to fully integrate into its day-to-day work. As part of this, employees are encouraged to engage in community activities such as coastal beach clean-ups every quarter, and play an active role in giving back to the less fortunate through ongoing campaigns, such as the recent ‘Gifts for All!’ campaign in partnership with Community Chest. Through this campaign, employees helped to personally packed gift packs for 2,021 vulnerable children, Wang proudly shares.
In catering to employee wellbeing, the company has just revamped its head office this January to provide a more welcoming and productive space for employees to work – this includes a brand-new pantry area for staff to gather over their lunch break, new meeting rooms and phone booths, and a quiet self-care room for nursing mums or employees who wish to take a shut-eye in the middle of a hectic day.
Images / Provided by UNIQLO Singapore