Time & Attendance
By Nidhi Madhavan
Jan. 6, 2017
H2O+ Beauty had quite the 2016. The 27-year-old skin care company closed the last of its brick-and-mortar stores, moved the corporate headquarters from Chicago to San Francisco and scrapped its old business model.
For a company of just under 50 employees, these are large changes to see through, but CEO Joy Chen led this overhaul by investing in the company culture. Chen, who has been with H2O+ Beauty since February 2015, knew that the entire team would need to feel empowered and motivated to deliver the new strategy, which is based on product innovation and marketing.
“Our culture is the platform to any kind of successful business change,” said Chen, who also led the natural skin care company YesTo Inc. for more than five years.
This mindset paid off. In just a year, the H2O+ Beauty team relaunched the brand website and social media channels, reworked product formulas and moved to a fully online distribution model. The company also won a handful of awards for its beauty products and its revamped business model and employment practices.
Chen discusses the culture changes and hiring decisions that supported the rebranding efforts with Workforce intern Nidhi Madhavan.
Workforce: What were the key elements of your company culture that have changed in the past year?
Joy Chen: When I first joined H2O+ Beauty, it was very hierarchal. There were at least four levels, which is a lot for a small company. It made communication a lot harder. We now have an organization structure that’s a lot flatter than what it used to be. There are just two levels — leadership and the people who report to them.
The purpose of this is to empower the people we hire to make decisions and move quicker.
We’ve also taken steps to increase transparency within the company. People used to be afraid to speak up about any bad news, so they often just agreed to do what was told, even if it simply wasn’t going to happen.
We have improved on our ability to communicate both good and bad news. It’s hard to fix something if you don’t know what the issues are, and it’s important to know what can and can’t be done so we can all work toward a solution.
On the other hand, people also need to know that they’re making progress and that what they’re doing is headed in the right direction. Celebrating success both small and large is a part of communication with our team. We like to celebrate individuals as well: Our monthly recognition program is chosen by our team and started in 2016. It’s been around for about a year. It’s exciting for both the winners and the people voting.
WF: How did you get employees onboard with both the rebranding and shift in culture? Was it a challenge?
Chen: People were pretty supportive. They had never had anything like this. Most of our employees are fairly new, and it was exciting for them to see these elements of transparency and recognition.
It does take time to gain continued support. They want to make sure the change is lasting, so It’s important for us to do these things consistently and maintain the commitment from leadership. But over time, the culture is sustained by the team, so it’s important to have both leadership commitment and team support in place.
Nothing like this is easy, but if leadership shows an authentic commitment, the team will come to support it as well.
WF: Did the company’s new strategy require new skills in your workforce? If so, did you achieve this through hiring or by strengthening skills in existing employees?
Chen: We like employees with a can-do, winning attitude. We want people who don’t give up when things get tough and instead find the best way to work around a problem. Our ultimate goal is to have a team with that type of positivity.
I also truly believe in diversity in recruiting. The team we have now at H2O+ Beauty is diverse in their gender, ethnicity and professional backgrounds. Some have small business backgrounds and others come from large companies, and they’ve all worked in different industries. Having a team with those types of diverse backgrounds benefits the company, because they’ve seen and experienced a lot that they can bring to us.
This is a sizable company, but we still want the elements of entrepreneurial spirit, which you can’t always find in large public companies. Of course, it’s as much a mental attitude as it is what they’ve experienced.
WF: If you had to choose, what was the single most impactful change to your corporate culture that you made in 2016?
Chen: I think the biggest change we’ve made is fostering transparency — allowing people to tell us when they can’t do something and making sure they know that it’s OK. That’s a big change that existing employees have seen. We don’t always get things right the first time, so we need to be able to tell when we’re going the wrong way and fix it.
For example, we are restaging some of our amenity products, and I remember a team member who came back and said that he didn’t think we could meet a ship date our clients wanted. Once that was communicated, we said, “Help us figure out how we can make it work.” The key is knowing what isn’t possible, working to see what is doable and planning how to make it happen. The solution becomes very collaborative.
WF: That being said, is collaboration always productive, or are there times when it’s better for employees to act independently?
Chen: There needs to be a balance between collaboration and independence. Not everyone loves to collaborate, and there are times people need to be able to work by themselves for efficiency. We can’t continue to work on everything on a consensus basis or else we don’t get anything done, and I’ve seen that. There’s a balance: People need to know when they have enough feedback to move ahead, even if there’s not complete consensus.
WF: What are your goals for the H2O+ Beauty workforce in 2017?
Chen: For us, a lot of the hard work in rebranding is behind us, so now we’re focusing on growth from our new products and a strong marketing plan. We have the team we need in place already, but it’s going to be important to communicate our wins no matter how small or large.
Nidhi Madhavan is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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