Levi Strauss & Company offers a dynamic, performance-driven work environment and a corporate culture characterized by ethical conduct and a commitment to social responsibility. They value and depend upon the diverse backgrounds, experience, knowledge and talents of all their employees, and embrace and reflect the ethnic, cultural and lifestyle diversity of the communities where they live and work. Their human resource programs and corporate initiatives distinguish them from others in their industry and in business.
According to its mission statement, Levi Strauss balances profitability with product quality and service. The company focuses strategically on satisfying the customers’ needs from the stage of product design to its packaging and delivery. To accomplish this aim, large investments are being made in the latest technology, and the company is concentrating its efforts on clustering manufacturing and distribution units on a regional basis. This strategy has led to some rationalization of operations within the last few years, particularly in the United States.
The HR role is vital to Levi’s commitment to customer satisfaction. “Management understands,” said the senior vice-president in 1992, “that people issues are business issues. You can go out and buy the technology, but if you don’t have the people trained and committed to using it, and making changes, changes aren’t going to happen.” At Levi Strauss in the 1990s, the HR focus has changed from being on the cutting edge to being more client-driven. For this purpose, the HR function is relatively decentralized and conceptually divided along strategic, operational, and tactical lines.
In practice, those segments of responsibility interact and overlap so that the business partners may become fully integrated at all levels of the organization. The challenge is to balance all these requirements and determine what the priorities are. Although the HR function was reorganized in 1993, questions remain as to whether some of the functions could be outsourced – not to downsize in staff but to allow them to do different work. Contrary to what has happened in HR departments in other companies, most reorganization has not led to downsizing of the HR personnel but to an actual increase in staff.
The HR specialists are primarily strategically focused to the long term. They are developing the strategies around compensation and benefits, recruitment, policy development, organizational design, and training. While most of their time is occupied by strategic thinking, a small portion of their work is also operational and tactical, in the sense that they provide counsel and advice to other directors and managers.
In Canada, for instance, each of the five facilities –three sewing operations, a finishing plant, and a distribution center — has an HR manager on staff. A small team of three to five individuals serves as advisor to the HR manager. Members may have specific expertise and responsibilities and some of their responsibilities may also be tactical. In each of those facilities, there is probably lots of work which falls into the tactical aspect of HR, where it could be outsourced, whether it is benefits administration, new-hire orientation, etc. In addition, the personnel responsible for health and safety, management of change, or organizational development are also reporting to the HR function. The on-site HR staff ultimately reports to the facility manager, who has a dotted line of communication with the Canadian HR director. This line of accountability to the HR central office appears to be taking greater importance.
The role of the HR director is to strategically orient the HR function so that it is aligned with the business. There is a dual responsibility to direct the work of the strategic and operational staff, while keeping current and influencing best practices within the industry. The responsibility is directing the HR organization on all the different dimensions, including recruitment, terminations, skill development, compensation, benefits, organizational development, and employee well-being. In addition, the director is a member of the management team, which allows the HR representative to be a partner in running the business.