When I first began working for Williams-Sonoma in 2005, I knew I had found an amazing company with a strong culture. On the second day as Assistant Sales Manager I had a corporate visit. Brand new to the company, I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed when the Regional Manager and VP of Pottery Barn Kids asked what was important to me as a manager. That set the tone for Williams-Sonoma’s culture in my mind; there was always clear understanding, care, and support from every level of management for all team members. Over the years I was promoted several times as I learned from the company, and was even nominated and recognized by one of my District Managers for a Howard Lester Award of Excellence.
The passion to work for a company with strong cultural values that also cares about its people brought me to SGEi. At SGEi, we assist service-focused brands understand how important internal culture is to the success of a company. Reflecting on my time with Williams-Sonoma, I realize I learned many lessons that I still utilize in my role as VP of Operations for SGEi, and which I believe others could learn from. Here are a few of my lessons learned at Williams-Sonoma.
Live & Breathe the Values
The first lesson is understanding, supporting, and engaging a team in the company’s values. The first value of William-Sonoma’s culture is People First. This is about your team; not the customer. Your team deserves to know how much you care through you investing in their personal growth and development, and through honest coaching. When I was promoted to another location at one point in my Williams-Sonoma career, I knew I had taught my team how important our culture was when I received a keychain as a gift that reads, “You inspire, motivate, accept, challenge, include, engage, celebrate, and achieve.”
At SGEi we develop programs and learning experiences that help executives and managers engage their teams so their mindsets and behaviors support the company culture and provide excellent experiences for guests. Others can utilize this lesson by engaging their teams in their company culture through the values, mission, and vision.
Building a strong internal culture begins with the onboarding process. The experience I had with the General Manager during my onboarding at Williams-Sonoma had a strong impact on me. She had a passionate belief in the values of Williams-Sonoma, which I adopted and utilized on everyone I hired. During every onboarding session I ensured new team members watched an interview with Chuck Williams, who is the heart of Williams-Sonoma. Each time I watched it there was a sense of pride for what I did and whom I worked for. This pride came across every time I spoke about why I worked for Pottery Barn Kids.
In The Path to Productivity, Mollie Lombardi states that brands with a standard onboarding process experience 50% greater new hire retention and two times the amount of new hire engagement. Through SGEi’s assessment process, we conduct interviews to help establish values. After establishing values, we create an onboarding orientation program that builds brand loyalty for new team members, just as I learned to do in my experience onboarding teams for Williams-Sonoma. Others can enact this lesson by utilizing their company values to create a standard onboarding process.
The next lesson learned was the importance of ongoing training. Williams-Sonoma puts a lot of effort into creating monthly trainings about products and processes for every brand to ensure that team members are consistently delivering on the brand’s customer experience promise. It was the responsibility of the management team to ensure that training was completed each month. The manager in charge of training would update team member records, give feedback in bi-weekly meetings, and use our daily agenda to communicate who had opportunities for growth and where our challenges were in team development. We worked as a team to be sure our time spent with each team member was effective. These trainings were integrated into the development of the managers so they could grow as leaders beyond our four walls.
At SGEi we provide training programs that are ongoing and sustainable. We help companies to understand the importance of daily reinforcement, training that managers can rely on to build product knowledge, and the know-how to deliver the ultimate customer experience. Others can utilize this lesson by creating daily learning opportunities for their teams.
As important as every team member is to the group, the leadership is the most valued asset because it is an extension of the owner or board, and of the values that should be upheld by the team. As a result, one-on-one coaching is crucial to the development of your managers; it upholds the behaviors and mindsets you want the team to deliver. The lesson instilled in me at Williams-Sonoma was to always provide open, honest, timely feedback. During bi-monthly one-on-one sessions I worked with each manager to work on his or her opportunities for improvement.
In 2014’s “Building a Coaching Culture” report it was found that 60% of respondents from organizations with strong coaching cultures report their 2013 revenue to be above average compared to peer groups. SGEi understands that culture starts from the top. We provide workshops and coaching modules to help leaders engage teams and project the values that uphold the culture of the company so that team members consistently deliver on the customer experience promise. Others can utilize this lesson by scheduling crucial one-on-one coaching sessions with leaders to ensure the culture is aligned from the top to the bottom.
My time with Williams-Sonoma was meaningful and enriching to my professional life: I am so grateful to have worked for a company that made huge investments in my personal growth. As someone who benefited from a great company’s culture, I wholeheartedly believe that a company’s culture drives team engagement to deliver on the brand promise through compelling customer experiences. By utilizing the lessons I have shared in this post, you can improve your company culture and turn your team members into raving fans, just as Williams-Sonoma has done to me. For those companies that need extra help, SGEi is available for your consultation and training needs.