Hear from Karalyn Smith, Chief People Officer at Sephora, about how they’re inspiring fearlessness, making ordinary moments count, adopting inclusive mindsets, and more.

Over to Karalyn!

On how she got into HR:

HR is not just about compliance; it’s about shaping an experience for people.

I was a business consultant, and my now-mentor asked me to be her HR business partner. I said, I love working with you, but I’m not interested. I had more of a transactional view of HR at that point. But she helped me see that HR is not just about compliance; it’s about shaping an experience for people.

On choosing to work at Sephora:

It’s a purpose-driven organization – Sephora inspires fearlessness from the inside out. It was the intersection of a purpose I could believe in, and a culture and people I felt I could not only identify with but also help shape and advance at the same time.

On her advice for someone coming into HR today:

Have the confidence and conviction in your viewpoint, and assert it in service of making your people experience better.

Understand the drivers of your business. Then figure out the employee experience you need to be in service of business outcomes.

Also, have the courage and confidence to share your point of view. When you’re in a room with business leaders, you’re not just representing HR activities; you have a valuable point of view on the business to offer. It just happens to be through the lens of employees. Have the confidence and conviction in your viewpoint, and assert it in service of making your people experience better.

On reverse engineering the employee experience:

Our job is to find those moments that matter in the employee experience journey and make them special.

We’re turning HR on its head and thinking from the employee backward. If we believe that people make the difference in our company, then shouldn’t we start with the employee and engineer everything from there?

We listen first. To current employees, potential employees, and employees who’ve left us. What do they need? What do they want? Our job is to find those moments that matter in the employee experience journey and make them special.

On one of our employee experience breakthroughs:

We [as HR practitioners] tend to focus on the big moments — the pivotal things like promotions — we usually get those right, because we focus on them. Often times it’s the ordinary moments that make the difference. My best example comes from when we audited our onboarding process.

Our new hire orientation got great feedback. But, when people arrived at their new workspace after orientation, it was kind of lackluster. We’d hear things like, “I got back to my desk and everyone was at a meeting”. We were missing a chance to create a moment of celebration and make that ordinary situation significant. Now we make an effort to remind new employees – in that moment – of why they chose to come to Sephora in the first place.

On Sephora’s inclusion efforts:

We train all of our people leaders on inclusive mindset. The idea is, when we catch ourselves judging or assuming, how do we adopt a mindset that is more curious and welcoming?

Externally, our employees lead classes on confidence. We have one for people who are on a cancer journey; we have a bold beauty class for the transgender community; we have one for people who are entering or reentering the workforce. The message is, “All are welcome here. We want to help you walk out feeling fearless and confident.” I think it’s beneficial for our employees as well, to operate in that atmosphere of inclusivity and belonging.

On her book recommendations:

The Art of Possibility” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander is something I live by — the notion of “taking a front row seat in life,” and also “everybody starts with an A, don’t make them work their way up to it.” And “Your Brain at Work” by David Rock has been fundamental to me. I’ve been certified with the NeuroLeadership Institute here in New York City, and David Rock has made the neuroscience of leadership really attainable for people.

 On making people feel heard:

The employee engagement survey is a super valuable tool. It makes people feel heard and it also gives us insight. We follow up with focus groups, and we do store visits. We ask questions like, “If you were talking to the big boss what’s one thing you would ask to change as a company?”

 On “co-creating” solutions with employees:

We try to be transparent about actions we’re taking, and keep people involved. We invite them to be part of task groups versus the message being “it’s HR’s job to fix all this.” It’s more like “it’s all of our jobs to create a great environment and culture.” Not that we’re shirking responsibility; we own the actions and implementations. But we invite the voices in to tell us the real deal, and we invite employees to co-create the solutions.

This year we started an “Ask Me Anything” forum. Nothing is off the table. And when we get a question about something we haven’t solved yet we say, “That’s a great question. We don’t have it quite figured out yet. Would you like to be part of helping figure that out?”

On Qualtrics:

Qualtrics is helping companies gain insights around the entire employee experience

Qualtrics is helping companies gain insights around the entire employee experience. There’s also the connection to customer experience — Qualtrics knows experience. The expertise that comes from building solutions in an ecosystem all about experience and focused on both clients and employees is really valuable.

Also, Qualtrics tools make your data and insights actionable. You can slice data in different ways, dig in to it, dissect it so that it’s understandable. We can answer questions like, “Is that true for this population?” You’re able to take the data and say, “Well, let me show you.”

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