The fast growing Shark Tank-funded maker of sports bras focuses on the connection between culture, mission, customers and employees.
- A New Mindset
- The Shefit Way
- Innovation and Talent
- Connecting Culture to Behaviors, Actions and Results
- What it Takes for Success
Has the concept of managing the connection between customer and employee engagement at the executive level begun to take hold? Last month, ESM featured an article on Donna Morris, Adobe’s Executive Vice President of Customer and Employee Experience, whose senior management responsibilities include addressing the fundamental principle of Enterprise Engagement—connecting the dots between customer and employee engagement (see: “Adobe Paves the Way for Leadership of HR in Enterprise Engagement Management.”).
Adobe isn’t alone. We recently learned that the fast-growing Shark Tank-funded sports bra firm Shefit has also named an executive to oversee both the customer and employee experience.
Unlike Adobe, which created Morris’s position several years ago, Shefit filled this position only about two months ago, and that wasn’t the original job description Shefit founder Sara Moylan had in mind. Shauna LaFave, Executive Director, Employee and Customer Experience, who joined Shefit after a five-year stint at Baudeville, a Grand Rapids-based recognition products company, explains that the original job description called for a customer experience executive. “As we discussed the position, it evolved into a conversation about corporate culture and the importance of addressing the ‘why,’ the organizational purpose, and how that affects our employees, customers and even suppliers.” Out of that conversation, she says, came the decision to put both customer and employee experience in her job description. “Culture isn’t about a shout-out wall or giving out cookies,” LaFave asserts, “it’s about connecting our values to behaviors.”
LaFave continues: “I recognize that this is a big shift in mindset, because in the end if we’re not recruiting, supporting and recognizing employees based on our core values, we won’t be able to make the things happen in our company and for our customers that are necessary to achieve our goals.”
Founded by fitness enthusiast Sara Moylan in 2015 using her own money at first, the company was based on a bra Moylan designed and glued together herself and shared with friends to get feedback. Based on the positive response, she held a Kickstarter campaign and later appeared on Shark Tank in 2016, where Moylan and her husband landed a $250,000 investment and invaluable exposure. Today the company has 30 employees and expects to double that shortly. Selling solely online for now, Shefit does business in Canada, Europe and “all over the globe,” says LaFave. “In the two months since I’ve been here, we’ve grown out of our space. We’re adding teammates left and right. Customer service, distribution center, are crazy busy. If we don’t take and execute this opportunity properly and have the strategy in place to make sure the employee and customer experience is top notch, we will not be able to execute successfully.”
LaFave says Shefit is currently experiencing rapid growth worldwide in part because of the momentum from the Shark Tank appearance and subsequent funding, but mostly due to its commitment to designing a sports bra adjustable for women of all physiques and by creating a community that supports each woman’s individual path to fitness, no matter her shape, size, or age. In the highly competitive, $3 billion-plus sports bra market, LaFave notes the company’s success will be based on its ability to create a customer experience and to build and energize a community true to its values of supporting each and every woman’s individual fitness efforts regardless of her proportions. And that, she says, has to begin with the company’s employees.
Because the concept of putting both the employee and customer experience in one job position is so new, LaFave admits it’s a work in progress. She started working with the owners to define the organization’s mission, values and goals, and to roll out the process from there. Core values, she says, are critical to defining the behaviors and skills necessary to create an inspiring customer experience. To keep things simple, the company uses its name for an acronym: S for support; H for honesty; E for Excel, F for Focus, I for Innovation and T for Talent. LaFave’s challenge, she says, is to identify the recruiting, leadership coaching, communications, learning, community, rewards and other tactics necessary to inspire these values and specific behaviors and actions in every employee in a way that enhances the customer experience.
Success starts with support, says LaFave: “We explain to new hires who want to join our family that we encourage and inspire each other and our customers. We’re part of a sisterhood. To help each of our customers, we have to be able to talk candidly with them and with each other. We’re direct: ‘No bounce, no bull***.’ If we’re not being transparent with our customers and our colleagues, the company will not grow.”
Honesty is critical. “We have to treat each other with integrity and live it internally and externally,” LaFave continues. “The only way to help our customers is to ask honest questions. We’re talking about women’s bodies. If we’re not asking the right questions, getting honest information and giving honest answers, if we are off, that person will not get the perfect fit. Our mission is to help each woman find the right fit so she can go out there and do what she wants to do…whether it’s yoga or horseback riding or whether she’s a new mom who wants to get fit.”
True to its athletic origins, performance is built into the Shefit mission. “To excel is a key value because we thrive on having bold goals and striving to excel in whatever we do,” LaFave says. “If we’re not going above and beyond in excelling at the customer experience, we cannot be what we want to be.”
At Shefit, LaFave emphasizes, the mission is to focus on quality in every respect, “including how we behave with the customer and with one another; on how we will be accountable and flexible at the same time. We want to go beyond understanding, not just what the customer called in for, but the fundamental need or desire underlying that call. It’s our job to figure out why there is a problem and how to get the right fit. To do that, we need to focus on what is the purpose of the bra for that person? What is it being used for? How can we go beyond selecting the right bra to supporting them in those activities, by providing information on social media or by handing out water at a local event our customers are passionate about? We believe that to stand out in a society with so much advertising you have to be authentic with each person. Our customers want to be their authentic selves, whatever their fitness, shape, or activity. We love women of all shapes and sizes: that’s what this company stands for.”
Innovation is essential, LaFave notes, because the company was founded on it. The company seeks to “provide innovative solutions that offer women of every athletic level the support they need to accomplish their goals,” per its website. “A bra finally exists that transcends the confines of the traditional sports bra. The Shefit Ultimate high-impact sports bra has revolutionized the way support functions and feels, for any size, age or athletic level.” Company Founder Moylan is a working mom with three children. Says LaFave, “She built the bra out of necessity. She couldn’t find a sports bra because of her proportions. The company was built on innovation, and that will continue to be necessary as we broaden our line.”
She explains that talent is core to creating a great customer experience and achieving organizational goals. “One of the things Shefit looks for with team-members in the hiring process: are they coachable and adaptable? We hire people for their unique talents and explain to them our core values so people understand they’re part of something long-term. This is your job description today, but we’re growing so fast, so boldly, we’re so tenacious, we might crinkle up this job description and grow or expand on it. We want people to stay and grow with us, and we’re starting with a great intern program.”
Having the Shefit core values, LaFave says, is essential to developing the strategy and tactics to support them. “Without core values, you can’t identify the specific actions and behaviors you want to encourage and support and to instill into your employees.” So now that the organization has nailed down its brand, values, mission and objectives, it has to build them into its multiple engagement and enablement processes.
The company’s values, she says, affect everything—branding, onboarding, talent management, learning, rewards and recognition, etc., and the company scorecard. “There are big challenges. A lot of organizations are thinking about how to make a better connection between customers and employees, while employee turnover has been an issue for years. You have to look at employee recruitment as a customer experience initiative, because employees who aren’t true to the culture with our customers and their colleagues can’t be true to the brand. All of it is connected. You have to have consistency and authenticity at every customer touchpoint. You’re not going to succeed without it.”
The next step is connecting the dots between all the organization’s activities. “We just started a company newsletter to make sure we’re communicating properly,”says LaFave. “We’re calling it the ‘Pulse’ because our employees are the pulse of our company. We want to continually reinforce what it means to be a game-changer in the fitness world and in the community, to remind people of our core values and what they really mean. How do we support our customers, our team-members and be authentic to our mission?”
The company has an events team that supports horse shows, charity runs and other fitness-related activities “sharing the vision of radical support for women’s fitness goals with their communities, wherever that is around the globe.” Rewards and recognition, training and other engagement tactics are also part of LaFave’s overall responsibility, although she adds that as the organization grows there will be more people supporting specific tactical areas.
As the company develops its customer and employee experience processes, data and analytics are critical, she says, and that means having highly engaged vendors as well. “I am accountable for the results of our customer and employee engagement efforts, and they can be measured by data and analytics,” LaFave explains. “Our vendor partners are critical to our success too. We need to have the right partners to manage our business, whether it be in our customer relationship management system or in our manufacturing. I can tell you that when we talk about our culture with vendors and how they can contribute, they get excited. They want to know how they can help, and being involved in their customers’ culture is not something they often hear about. It’s like the lightbulb going on. If you want to be a company that is the product of choice, you have to work with your suppliers to support that.”
So what’s required of the new executive in charge of customer and employee experience? “I would say emotional intelligence is a key requirement,” LaFave says. “As a culture person, you’re the eyes and ears and trusted person that employees can talk with about workplace issues and celebrations. You have to know how to make sure the communications are consistent and have the right message while delegating many day-to-day activities. My role will be overseeing a lot of touchpoints and relationships, and it will only grow more complicated as our company expands and our product line grows beyond sports bras into leggings and other products…we’re continually evolving.”
Right now, at least, company silos are not an issue, LaFave says. “This is a company-wide effort. We’re working together through team meetings to make sure we’re asking the right questions, addressing the ‘why’ and continuing the process of self-discovery. The more people who believe in something, the greater the potential. I grew up in industries what were widget- and numbers-focused. Our scorecard includes people. In the end, we will be measured on how well we inspire people to be an enthusiastic part of our family.”
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