The Next Big Question


Episode 4
Hosted by: Drew Lazzara and Liz Ramey

Mindy Geisser

Chief People Services Officer

Savers

Prior to her leadership role at Savers, Mindy served as the CHRO at Colliers International, was a founding board member of EveryoneGives.org, and was the Vice President of Human Resources at Slalom Consulting.

How Do You Elevate Leadership Capability During Challenging Times?


AUGUST 18, 2020

The Next Big Question this week features a conversation about leadership during times of crisis with Chief People Services Officer Mindy Geisser of Savers. The discussion explores the importance of prioritization, essential skills for developing managers, and why agility is crucial to thriving during a crisis.

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Drew Lazzara (00:14):

Welcome to The Next Big Question, a weekly podcast with senior business leaders, sharing their vision for tomorrow, brought to you by Evanta, a Gartner company.

Liz Ramey (00:24):

Each episode features a conversation with C-suite executives about the future of their roles, organizations, and industries.

Drew Lazzara (00:33):

My name is Drew Lazzara.

Liz Ramey (00:35):

And I'm Liz Ramey. We're your co-hosts. So Drew, what's The Next Big Question?

Drew Lazzara (00:40):

Well, Liz, this week we're asking, how do you elevate the leadership capability of your organization during challenging times? To help us tackle this big question is Mindy Geisser, who is the Chief People Services Officer for Savers. Prior to taking on this leadership role with Savers, Mindy served as the Chief Human Resources Officer at Colliers International, was a founding board member of EveryoneGives.org, and was the Vice President of Human Resources at Slalom Consulting. Leadership is perhaps most essential during times of crisis, but as you'll hear Mindy discuss in our conversation, there is no roadmap for executives during a pandemic, especially when that pandemic overlaps with widespread social activism nationwide. 

At Savers, Mindy has sought to raise the overall leadership acumen of the organization by honing a clear set of essential priorities, empowering frontline managers to have difficult conversations, and leaning on a strong company culture of creativity and resilience. Before our conversation with Mindy, we wanted to thank you for listening to this week's episode. To make sure you don't miss out on the next Next Big Question, take a moment to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. Please rate and review the show, so we can continue to grow and improve. Thanks, again, and enjoy.

Drew Lazzara (02:07):

Mindy Geisser, thank you so much for being on The Next Big Question. Welcome to the show!

Mindy Geisser (02:12):

Thank you for having me.

Liz Ramey (02:13):

Mindy, one of the things that we like to do is, for our guests, is to really get to know them personally, as well as professionally. And it's always more fun to start with the personal side. So, I'm just going to ask you a few questions just to get to know you a little bit more. Is that okay?

Mindy Geisser (02:28):

I'm ready.

Liz Ramey (02:29):

So, what's your favorite activity to do outside of the work environment?

Mindy Geisser (02:33):

Well, I have four kids, so my favorite activity usually includes them. And what we do love -- we love to go hiking, walking, and just spend time outside with the kids.

Liz Ramey (02:46):

You're very busy.

Mindy Geisser (02:47):

Yes.

Drew Lazzara (02:49):

What is the age range of your kids?

Mindy Geisser (02:50):

Well, the age range is actually kind of interesting. So my oldest son is 21. He's a senior in college this year, and then I have triplets, who are 17.

Drew Lazzara (03:00):

Oh, wow.

Liz Ramey (03:01):

Oh, my goodness. So that's like another whole podcast, right?

Mindy Geisser (03:09):

Managing triplets and surviving.

Liz Ramey (03:11):

Exactly.

Mindy Geisser (03:12):

It's fun.

Liz Ramey (03:13):

Well, great. Well, let's say -- let's take a break from the kids, and you get to spend a day with any famous person that could be dead or alive. Who would it be, and what would you do with that person?

Mindy Geisser (03:26):

You know, this is a good question. So many great choices. I think I've always been inspired by Oprah Winfrey. And I think it's because I think she's navigated her own way. I think she's a trailblazer, for sure. And she's become a huge inspiration across the world. She's made a big difference. She asks tough questions, and she's talked about issues that are challenging and or controversial in a respectful way. And I think she's really been groundbreaking in creating a platform for the world. So the truth is, if I could spend a day with her, I would probably just soak up her energy and her mojo 'cause I think she's cool. And I think she's a global success story of someone that's self-made and just super interesting and making an impact in the world.

Liz Ramey (04:09):

I would totally hang out with you guys, if that would be okay.

Mindy Geisser (04:13):

She would be cool. You would be welcome. And she has some cool dogs, too.

Liz Ramey (04:17):

Well, perfect. Well, if you had a hashtag, what would that hashtag be? We could always find Mindy through this hashtag.

Mindy Geisser (04:25):

Well, I guess not surprisingly, like I just said, I have four kids. I have an HR job with 20,000 team members and managing a household. I've got a lot of energy, so probably my hashtag would be hashtag, never stop moving. My motto is just keep moving.

Liz Ramey (04:40):

Just keep moving, that's great. So how would your friends describe you?

Mindy Geisser (04:44):

You know, I think, I've asked a girlfriend about this. I think I've heard people say before many times -- one, high energy. When you have four kids and a job, I think high energy is probably the first thing that most people say. I think people would say I'm generous, I'm caring, I'm very committed to my family, and they'd say I'm always willing to help. And then, I'm very focused on continuous improvement in my life.

Liz Ramey (05:09):

That's fantastic. Well, thank you. Thank you for letting us get to know you a little bit personally, and I think we're going to move into just learning about you as a leader and what you're thinking about the future.

Mindy Geisser (05:20):

Awesome. Thank you for asking.

Drew Lazzara (05:22):

Well, Mindy, we are here to talk about how you elevate leadership capability during challenging times. And 2020 is like the platonic ideal of challenging times. And there are so many unforeseeable demands that have been placed on executives. But before we dive deeper into how you're approaching leadership development right now at Savers, I was hoping you could give us a broader perspective on the moment from an HR point of view. I know that CHROs are in an even brighter spotlight now than ever before, and with so much that needs your attention, what are you doing to ensure that you're prioritizing the right things to meet this moment head on?

Mindy Geisser (05:59):

Oh my gosh. That's an interesting question. And I do think this is an interesting time. I think 2020 is unprecedented. I think that HR, and really any leadership for that matter, is facing challenges that we've just never seen before. And how you navigate those is a challenge for all of us. So, I'd say a couple of things have kind of driven our thoughts on prioritization that are maybe not totally new and different, but in this situation have kind of helped us navigate the course. And so first and foremost, I would say people and safety are at the top of our priority list, and they drive every other decision that we're making. We're constantly thinking about our team members and safety for both our team members and our customers, and then literally everything else falls from there. 

Number two, I would say that so many of the tasks that we would have thought were essential, or at least very important in the past, have just been dropped from the agenda. I mean, I think you quickly go to, wow, I cannot do all those things, which ones are truly the essential tasks and all the rest fall away. And it's amazing how quickly you are able to make those decisions in these times. And I think related to that, number three, I'd say is agility and speed. I think agility is the word of the day. I truly think that as we look toward the future, if you asked me, what's the one thing that companies are going to need to navigate this crisis and whatever crisis is coming next, my goodness, and just to survive and flourish in these times, it's agility. And so I think the ability to have agility and speed in how we make decisions is had been paramount and more so than ever before. I think we've, in fact, been able to make decisions so much faster than we ever thought we could. Things that would have taken six months, we're doing in three days. Things that are, you know, that would have been massive projects over the course of long periods of time are becoming almost instantaneous. Both our decision-making and our execution on those things. 

So, agility and speed, they're kind of driving a lot. And then finally, I would say that this crisis has created an opportunistic approach for us as an organization. I've been on so many calls where people have said 'never let a good crisis go to waste.' And, I say that a little bit tongue in cheek, but the truth is it has caused us to look at everything in the world differently -- to really peel back the onion and to leave no stone unturned. So things that were kind of as they were before might be completely different today or non-existent, or completely existing in a different form because it's caused us to rethink almost everything that we do.

Liz Ramey (08:35):

I'd like to kind of step back. I think it would be so interesting to hear a little bit more about those four kind of shifts in prioritization. So I'm going to kind of go back up to the top around people and safety. Can you talk to us a little bit about what you've had to do to operationalize this kind of safety for your people? Do you have employees back in stores? Like you said earlier, you had 20,000 employees, so how have you done that, and what success have you seen?

Mindy Geisser (09:05):

Yeah, so, honestly, I think we've had to consider that in every decision we've made and sort of every discussion we're in. We start by talking about -- what does that mean to the people? Everything from when the crisis initially started to deciding which stores to shut down and how are we going to do that? And how do we treat our employees with the most amount of respect and support that we can? And then, too, having to shut down all of the stores in this pandemic, which nearly all, I should say. Our Australian stores remained open throughout this pandemic, but all of our stores in North America were closed. And we had to make that decision very quickly, and shut down those stores very quickly, and figure out what can we do to support our employees during this time. 

And then again, to come back around to, okay, now that we want to reopen the stores, and most of our stores now have been reopened, how do you do that in a way that supports the team members? And then how do we create the right, safe environment in our stores, both for team members and for customers, of course? And, a lot of the same challenges and questions that so many other businesses are facing around PPE, around social distancing, around even how do we make it safe to be in that environment, and then ongoing the things that can occur and how do we ensure that people are working safely and having what they need to remain safe. And then, in your corporate setting also, how do you… We of course sent people immediately to go work from home and actually haven't brought them in back into the corporate environment yet and are still talking about and evolving how that could look in the future. And when is the right time to do that, and what factors need to be considered. So, it is really an overarching discussion that we're having every single day about every move we make. And thinking about safety of our team members, safety of our customers, safety of the general environment when we take these decisions and how to do that.

Liz Ramey (10:57):

How about the emotional well-being or the mental well-being as well? You know, there's safety as we're kind of talking about in the sense of a physical space and making sure that people are not contracting or giving COVID to others and spreading that. So, what have you done from an enterprise level as far as supporting and looking at the mental well-being of your employees, as well?

Mindy Geisser (11:25):

I think that's a great question. I think it's the question of the day, in fact. It is the hot topic of lots of discussions around -- when you talk about benefits and health and welfare of our team members, the topic that is sort of most prevalent right now is wellness. Because this whole concept of being remote and working remotely and being a bit disconnected from physical contact with other people, and just the emotional toll that the pandemic has taken on people, as well. Of course, the physical health of people that have been infected by COVID. And then just the concern, the sheer nature of the concern, and then social unrest and other things that are going on in the environment. I mean, it's just sort of piling on the level of emotional toll that can be taken on people. 

And I think we, as employers, are all looking for ways every day that we can continue to enhance the offerings and the benefits and the tools and the learning for people around taking care of themselves. And even as it relates to just working from home and staying, feeling connected, making sure that you're managing your personal life and balancing that with your work, and how does that look like when you're coming out of the -- when you're in the living room for your work, and then the end of the day, you walk into the kitchen to make dinner. And, how does that, what kind of toll does that take emotionally? So, I do think this is a very big, meaty topic. And I don't know that we -- I think we can always keep doing more. 

We're trying, we're looking for new resources and tools all the time and continuing to offer the dialogue and offering resources to our team members. But this is not a topic that's going to go away quickly. I think it's one that we are going to be talking about well into the future because I think the world of COVID is not going to be over in the next six weeks. I think it's going to be -- I think this is a long-term -- it's a marathon, not a sprint. And so I think that our journey around health and wellness and well-being of our team members is also a long journey.

Drew Lazzara (13:29):

You know, you touched on the fact that this moment is not just about a health crisis. There's also this moment of major social activism that also has an impact on people and their personal lives. And also, you know, unfortunately, if you're even just looking at the health-related issues themselves, some of them have been politicized in certain corners, too. So, I'm curious about how you think about the obligation of an enterprise organization and of senior leaders within that organization to address that intersection of the personal and the professional? How do you approach that conceptually, and what responsibility do you feel like an organization has on that level?

Mindy Geisser (14:05):

You know, that's a great question. I think, first of all, it depends on what sort of organization you are. I think we happen to be privately-owned, equity-backed organization. That said, we have over 20,000 team members, and there's a lot of stuff going on in the world right now that is so substantial from a societal level that we do feel compelled to have a voice and express an opinion on these things. And I think our team members, or the expectation of our workforce is they want to know what we think about these things. 

But I have to be honest, when I think about the word obligation, I think it's a choice. I do think it's a choice that we're making. I can only speak to us as a company at Savers. I think it's a choice we're making to express an opinion. It's less of an obligation, and we see it more as a choice because it's a topic that we know is important to our team members. We know they want to hear more about, and we feel is so substantial that we want to express a voice and an opinion about. Also I think about -- there's something called the Trust Barometer. I don't know if people have heard of this before, but we work with Edelman. They're our PR firm, a public relations firm, and they publish something called the Trust Barometer. And it's a super interesting report that comes out every year that talks about sort of the level of trust that happens in companies. 

And what we're seeing is more than ever, that team members, employees are looking to their company, their employers, for information about what's going on in the world and for guidance. And the trust that they're putting in their employer to kind of feed them knowledge and information is higher than it's been in the past. And so that's also compelling us to feel, again, a choice, a desire to express an opinion and a voice on some of these topics that are so challenging across the world in these times. And so, I think there's lots of compelling reasons why we want to sort of express our opinions and then also invest our time and our energies in figuring out how we can make a difference.

Drew Lazzara (16:21):

Yeah, viewing it that way, as a conscious choice you make, is really an interesting way to approach it. But I was just thinking, as you were walking through that, it also sounds like a tremendous amount of responsibility to decide to be that source of information about such a wide range of really important things in people's lives. And I'm not sure that's how businesses are always set up to operate, or that collectively we've taken a lot of care to build that into the structure of organizations. And I'm sure as you're making that decision, a lot of that falls on you as an HR leader. So, as the organization has embraced that role, where have you seen some of the gaps in leadership capability in that context versus what you were perhaps set up to tackle previously?

Mindy Geisser (17:03):

Well, that's also a good question. I think that, in crisis, I do think it often exposes your outstanding traits as an organization and your skills and abilities and superpowers, if you will, but it also exposes the gaps. And I would say for us as an organization, for the past several years, we've been working on management capability across the organization, to continue to enhance management capability because so much of our workforce is in the stores. And we grow a lot of our talent from within. So, like over 80% of our store managers are hired from within. So, in a lot of cases, they come to us, and they start as a cashier, and then they might become a supervisor and a manager, et cetera, and grow through the ranks and ultimately become a store manager. 

And as a store manager, you could be managing anywhere from 50 to a hundred plus team members. That's a lot of responsibility. And in some cases, if they totally grew up with the organization, they may not have brought a lot of those managerial skills with them. So there's a lot of opportunity for us to continue to enhance management capability. Then, on top of that, even more specifically, I would say that this pandemic and as well as the current social movement is challenging all of us, regardless of our level of management capability initially, to enhance our own levels of knowledge and skills and information around how to manage best through these challenging situations. And in particular, I think it's inspiring us to learn more and to enhance our commitment to equity and inclusion for sure. And to figuring out, again, how we can make a difference in that, given this whole societal topic. So, I think it's multi-layered.

Liz Ramey (18:51):

So, with that, I'll kind of move back to the four points that you made around prioritization. And the second topic that you brought up was just maintaining our focus on essential things. But those essential things, because of the different, I would say, all of them are crises or pandemics, right? Those essential things have probably shifted from what you considered essential in January.

Mindy Geisser (19:14):

For sure.

Liz Ramey (19:15):

Right, and so can you talk a little bit about how those things have shifted, maybe even give us some examples of things that have shifted to being essential now?

Mindy Geisser (19:25):

Sure. So I would say there's actually some things that we thought were essential, like a program we were going to implement or a new -- like we were going to update a tool that we were using for performance management. And that is absolutely important, but is it essential during the middle of a pandemic when all of our stores are closed? No, it isn't. You know, obviously that's something that's going to get pushed down the road, but I'll give you an example on the other side of that. Inclusion, particularly diversity, equity, and inclusion, and particularly inclusion was already on our radar. It was already on our agenda, and now has just been escalated, which I'm actually happy about -- as an organization that we're going to put even more focus and even maybe accelerate even further our plans to escalate or elevate the level of education across the organization. So, we were already working on it. 

We had started down the path, and now even more than ever really committed to making sure that we're cascading that learning and education as quickly as we can through the organization. And then even more committing and stretching ourselves and community even more to figuring out how we can do more and listen more and better understand how our employees are feeling so that we can figure out how to make the environment even more inclusive, even more of a pleasant and desirable workplace for all different team members. And, also of course, for our customers when they come into our stores. So, I think that in some cases, the situation that we're now finding ourselves in has caused things to fall off the agenda. And in other cases, it's actually just elevated their importance, which is great.

Drew Lazzara (21:06):

You mentioned the development of your frontline managers that are in the stores as kind of the transmission point for your culture, your values. Has this moment changed at all what you see as the most important management skills for those people to have?

Mindy Geisser (21:21):

That's a good question. I think that we have had a really good North Star, if you will, or guiding light around our purpose and values. And looking for the leadership capabilities that enable us to continue to drive those and to live those things, not to put them as wallpaper and posters on the wall, but to actually really be living those and embodying those in the decisions we make day in and day out. So, I think we were doing that, but that's an evolutionary thing. You're always striving to be better at that. I don't think you ever actually arrived there. I think it's a journey, but I do think that boy, this crisis, I think certainly the concept of inclusion and creating inclusive environments has always been on our radar. 

And like I said, we've been working on the concept of inclusion for a while now. We have some metrics and measures that we use to look at the work environment and respect in the workplace and have linked that to inclusion. And we talk a lot about that, but I think that skill set, ensuring that people are able to foster an inclusive work environment is one that we will have to work even more on as we move forward. And then, again, I'll go back to this concept that I made at the beginning, that the word of the day is agility. I just think the world is changing so rapidly. The world that we knew, the work world we knew, the employer-employee relationship that we knew, the dynamic of the workplace -- it's all changing. And I don't think it's going back. I don't think this is a sort of fly by night, flavor of the month thing that is going to be reversed in six weeks. I really do think that the world is shifting in some really wonderful ways, actually. But I think agility is going to be paramount to success in flourishing in this new environment. And so, I do think that our ability both as a company, and as individual leaders to embrace agility and get better at demonstrating agility is going to be more and more important.

Liz Ramey (23:26):

Yeah, and I like that point that you made about getting better at agility because with agility, especially in the current circumstance, also comes at a little bit of a loss of risk consideration, I would say. And so, you know, your risk tolerance is higher because you need that speed, but you also have to be prepared as a leader to trust yourself and your own decisions in those heated moments that you have to make quick decisions, right?

Mindy Geisser (24:05):

Absolutely. And I think that's right, the level of risk aversion -- we have to be willing to go and take decisions and get, assemble the best information that we can at the time and make the best decisions that we can at the time. And, I think from there, I think it is about speed, and I think it's about taking calculated risks. And then, we will make mistakes along the way. We -- there's no doubt that in this pandemic, we have made so many decisions so quickly to close our stores, to reopen our stores, to change and shift the dynamic in our stores in order to ensure safety for all, that were all of them exactly right? I'm sure not, but we have to not be afraid of taking those decisions, and then moving through and managing and being agile to the consequences of those decisions.

Liz Ramey (25:00):

Absolutely. And, in those decisions at the same time, like you said, you're balancing this need for your employees to trust you. And so, when you do make a wrong decision as a leader, how do you communicate that? I've heard several leaders these days say, you know, it's 'guess what guys, it's time to start telling your employees that you may not have the answer, right?' That's something different.

Mindy Geisser (25:25):

I think that a great sign of leaders is the ability to be transparent and to be authentic and genuine that we don't have all the answers. We don't know all the answers. And this is such an unprecedented time. Nobody has a playbook for COVID. Nobody has a playbook for how do you run your business when COVID happens. I mean, it's crazy, right? So, I think that is right. 

I'll give you an example, too, where I think that the most important thing is to say what you're going to do and do what you say. And what we have said, time and time again, is we're going to put employees and safety at the forefront of all of our decision making. So I'll give you an example. We started out when we reopened our stores first, that we had face masks. And then we also had a shield that our team members had to wear in the stores at the cash register. And in some cases it was required that they wear both, and so we decided everyone's going to wear both. And we decided that we were not going to have the plexiglass shield between the cashier and the customer as a result because the team member was wearing the face mask and the shield. 

And then what happened is in like the first couple of weeks, we got a lot of feedback in some of our hot climates that it was very uncomfortable for the team member to be wearing both, and it was very difficult. And yet -- and then we also were dealing with in certain jurisdictions, it was required that they have both. So, what we ended up doing was removing the face shields, and then putting the plexiglass between the customer and the cashier at the cash register, so that they didn't need the shield. They could wear the face mask. They would have the plexiglass that was providing the barricade between them and the customer to ensure that everyone was being safe and properly social distance. And yet, we could create more comfort for our team member. 

And we heard them, we listened to them, we made a decision. We went out with these safety protocols, and then we listened to our team members. And they told us what we needed. And we realized we were wrong. This is not comfortable. It's not going to be sustainable. We've got to follow the guidelines in local jurisdictions, but we also need our team members to be comfortable so that they can go to work and be effective. And so, we didn't have it right. We were trying, we had the right intentions, and we continued to make decisions with their safety as our first priority, but we just didn't have it quite right. And then we adjusted.

Drew Lazzara (27:42):

I'm thinking about this need to be transparent and adaptable playing out over a large, diffuse global organization like yours, and that chain of communication, implementing a new concept, getting feedback, and then pivoting can be a prolonged process at that scale. How have you been able to kind of shorten that loop between you at the senior level and those on the frontline?

Mindy Geisser (28:05):

Well, I'm not sure that we have. We're trying. I think that's a good question because it's important that you can get to people quickly – particularly, for example, when the pandemic first started, we were following each local government jurisdiction all over the world, and it was a bit of a game of whack-a-mole. How do you know what's going to happen next where? And how do you pay attention to the right thing? It was really difficult. We had a lot of people watching them all. And then you have to move quickly. Like there would be an announcement at three o'clock that all businesses in this particular county needed to be closed by midnight. And we would have to notify all these people. And we are not – we're a thrift retailer, so we don't have all the highest tech, fanciest tools for communicating across the organization, so it can be very challenging. 

That said, because we are a thrift retailer, we're super scrappy and just super creative at figuring out even the most manual ways to get to people, whether it's a phone chain or whether it's like – people make it happen in this business. I am so impressed with the people that work here. First of all, they have such heart for the purpose and vision of the organization and for making a difference in the world, and keeping things out of the landfills and taking care of people, and all of that, that's around champion and reuse. But also because we're a thrift retailer, we have to be scrappy all the time. We are thrifty in the way we think. And so it has been a lot of creativity and hard work and willing to roll up your sleeves and a lot of phone calling and a lot of large conference calls and regular communication to get to people because we don't have the latest, greatest technology to do it. So, it can be a heavy lift, but nonetheless, nobody's letting grass grow. We are moving quickly, very quickly, even without the technology to support it in some cases. It's pretty impressive.

Drew Lazzara (30:00):

Yeah, it's been amazing to see that kind of rapid response in so many organizations. It feels as though some companies, especially if they've been really successful, seem like they can get a little bit set in their ways, in terms of the way they operate. So when this hit, it was a shock to the system, but people kind of got shaken out of some of that fog of routine and realized, oh, I guess we have to be creative, we have to be scrappy, and we don't have any choice. And now they're getting a lot of energy and momentum from the fact that they can flex some of those old, creative muscles again. Clearly, you're embracing that in your role, but are you also noticing this kind of innovative energy bubbling up from the frontline as well?

Mindy Geisser (30:42):

For sure. I think we were, to be honest, I think we're a creative organization anyway, and we're a very agile organization to begin with. Now, the speed with which we've been able to execute is way faster than it had been in the past. But I would say that we've been agile about reinventing ourselves. One of the things that I was most impressed about when I first came to the company almost five years ago is how flexible and agile the organization was even though we have a lot of tenure. We have a lot of people that have been here a long time on my own team. All of my directors are 10 plus years. We've got a lot of tenure on the team, and I remember thinking, Oh my gosh, it could be hard to make change happen. And I couldn't have been more wrong about that. This team is very willing to reinvent and rethink, and this business is very resilient as a result of that. And so I think that served us well in the pandemic. Like I said, you find where the superpowers are. You find people's superpowers, and you also find their gaps. And for us, one of the superpowers is being so agile and so scrappy at getting things done and making things happen with so much heart and passion for this business. People genuinely care about this business, like it's their own. So it's not just a job. And I don't just punch in. It's a true passion for people, a calling almost. And so I think as a result, we were well-served by our own scrappiness.

Liz Ramey (32:10):

I do have a question about the, I guess, sustainability of that scrappiness, right? This is a marathon, like you said before, and people are going to get lethargic at some point or slow down a little bit. When you look out a year from now, what are you and the other C-level executives talking about to ensure that there is the same sort of loyalty to the company and scrappiness and just drive it to keep being creative?

Mindy Geisser (32:45):

So, okay, that is the question of the day, I think – honestly, what's next? Where do we go from here? It's just been such a dramatic period of time with COVID and with social unrest and injustice and all the things going on. I think, first of all, I do think we are a scrappy organization. I think all organizations get tired. And I do think people are tired. Look, we've been working so hard here for the last several months, and it is tiring. That said, we've been around for 60 plus years as a business. So, I don't think we're going away. 

I think there's a real resilience in this business, but that doesn't mean in the short term that people aren't tired, and how do you keep them motivated and energized and engaged and all of that -- is the question of the day. And I think the CEO and I have talked about it several times. I think that the way we work, the where, when, and how, has dramatically changed. And I think even the employer-employee relationship has dramatically changed. I think this whole dynamic of where – you could be working on a beach, you can be working in your car, you could be working at your desk, you could be working in your kitchen. You could be working anywhere in the world. And the way that we collaborate, the way that we measure, the way that we incentivize, the way that we create culture and engagement is all changing. I think the world in regards to the employer-employee relationship is forever changed. I do. I think that it's just a real shift that's taking place. 

And so, I think that is the question that we have to ask is -- in this new world, then, how do you continue to create one, to continue to embrace and foster the culture, which for us has been a really big, bright spot for us. It's how we win. We win with culture because people are so connected to the purpose and the vision of the organization and with the type of company -- that scrappiness and that kind of family feel to the company. And how do you continue to maintain that with such a different dynamic taking place? I do not think we have all the answers to that yet. I think we're figuring it out. I would think it would be really presumptuous of me to say that we have it all figured out yet. We don't. We're talking about it daily, and we're trying to evolve the way that we think and communicate with our teams, with our team members, and then how we engage with them. And it's a continued dialogue and discussion and very big priority for us as an organization.

Liz Ramey (35:19):

That's very empathetic of you as a leader, which is such a great quality to be able to make sure that their wellness and their state of mind is kind of at the forefront of all of your decisions.

Mindy Geisser (35:34):

You know, I think we don't have any choice, but to be that. Our asset is our team members. We sell used clothing and used items in our stores, but the real intellectual property is the people and the dynamic and the culture that makes you want to come into our stores and want to donate to the non-profit partners that are associated with our stores and to come and shop in the stores. So it's really all about the people. So at the end of the day, that is what matters. I've known that -- that's not a COVID observation. That's definitely pre-COVID, pre-everything else, but I think it becomes even more obvious and even more substantial in the conversation. Because when you strip away all the other stuff, you realize what really matters -- people. It's the people and the safety and the security of those people and in keeping those people motivated and engaged.

Liz Ramey (36:30):

And, you know what, that kind of brings us all the way back to the beginning, that fourth point that you said of having that opportunistic approach. So I guess my only question to that is -- how do you as a CHRO, the other executives in the C-suite are looking to you so much more right now. So how do you make sure that they also maintain that opportunistic approach throughout this time?

Mindy Geisser (36:54):

I think that's fair. I think, look for any C-suite executive, this has been a challenging time. I do think that HR has had a front row in these conversations because it's so people-driven, so people-oriented what's happened here. Different crises bring different needs and different skillsets, and ours has been particularly salient in these times. And so I do think it's right. There's a lot of focus on HR and what the team brings to the table. I think it's a combination of, I think all of the executives are -- we are really clearly focused and aligned on the couple priorities we have as an organization. 

When you think of kind of my Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we know exactly where we are and what needs to happen. I think we're really doing a great job of communicating and staying aligned on what are we trying to accomplish. There's a couple of key things that we have to accomplish. And then on top of that, I think, my role has been to make sure that during those discussions, I am pushing the envelope where it's necessary to be pushed, to make sure that these business priorities, these few clear business drivers are also aligned with our purpose and values and are taking into account our people needs. 

And so, I think at the end of the day, we are responsible for just making sure that is always on the agenda and always at the top of the priority list, along with those business objectives. Every day I'm thinking about these top couple of business drivers that we have -- and am I using our resources appropriately to help drive those things. And then I'm also thinking, okay, but what have we not talked about? What have we not considered in those two or three things that is super important that maybe if we forget to ask that question later, we're going to really be sorry we did that? And so, I think it's my job to make sure that the people side of the equation is always being considered with those business priorities.

Drew Lazzara (38:51):

Well, Mindy, before we let you go today, we always like to end by asking -- what would be your next big question for executives and business leaders?

Mindy Geisser (39:00):

I think the Next Big Question is what we were talking about, which is, I think the world, the employer-employee relationship has changed dramatically. And I think for the future, I don't know if it's forever, but I think for the foreseeable future, it's a new day. And so many different pieces of that -- how we think about the traditional work. How we pay people, how we incentivize people, how we employ people, where they work, where they do their work, how they're measured, how we communicate with them -- almost every aspect of that relationship has now changed. And so it is going to be super interesting to watch businesses adapt and what people do creatively. I think that it's going to become a super interesting, creative dynamic in the world. I've sat on a couple of different calls and a couple of different meetings, and they really are challenging everything that we know to be normal about the working relationship and the work engagement. And so I think that's where a lot of people will be focusing their energy and figuring out, how do you do that? It really is looking way out of the box. It's a completely different box. It's just a new box. And with no sides. And so that's going to be fun. It's going to be interesting. It's very challenging. And I think very compelling to figure out how to do things differently.

Drew Lazzara (40:31):

Well, Mindy, I'm very excited that someone like you is out there helping to re-imagine the box because you've got such a clear and people-focused perspective on that challenge. So I'm glad it's you leading the way. Thank you so much for being on the show and helping us think a little more clearly about elevating leadership during times of crisis.

Mindy Geisser (40:50):

Well, thank you so much for inviting me. I'm honored to have been invited and asked, and I do think this is a compelling conversation. So I enjoyed being a part of it.

Liz Ramey (40:59):

Thank you, again, for listening to The Next Big Question. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. Rate and review the show so that we can continue to grow and improve. You can also visit Evanta.com to learn more about our C-level communities. Network, share, learn with Evanta, a Gartner company.

 


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