We actually used the pandemic period to launch a whole new self-guided trading platform that we call Kendra Academy, where we wanted people to be able to do this on their time, their way. It’s short snippet learning and we have found great success in that and that people are really feeling like we’re investing in their growth and development. And at the end of the day, I think that’s what everybody wants from an organization. We also really leaned into improvements in our DEI strategy to make sure we are creating that sense of belonging across the organization.
Episode 366: Investing in Growth and Development to Succeed With Beth Ley From Kendra Scott
Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:02.31] Welcome to the Workology Podcast. We’re sponsored by the HR Benchmark Survey. You can share your HR insights at our survey. We’re collecting information and we need to hear from you. www.HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. One of the things I have been thinking a lot about is benefits and compensation. These are areas that are buzzing within HR, and I’m not seeing a lot of conversations from HR and talent leaders on this topic. So today I’m excited to bring to you one of my favorite, favorite brands in the entire world, Kendra Scott, and you’re going to hear from an amazing HR practitioner and talk about all things compensation and all things benefits, and branding, and more. Like, we cover all the things and hands down one of my favorite interviews ever. Today, I’m joined by Beth Ley. She’s the Vice President Total Rewards & Home Office HR at Kendra Scott, an omnichannel fashion and lifestyle brand based in Austin, Texas. Beth has continually enhanced Kendra Scott’s benefit program while keeping the company’s principles of family, fashion and philanthropy at the forefront of all the decision-making. Beth received her Bachelor’s in Psychology and Sociology from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and her Masters of Science in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Eastern Kentucky University. Beth, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Beth Ley: [00:02:33.96] Thank you so much, Jessica. I really appreciate it.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:37.38] Absolutely. I’m so excited. And for another time we should talk about how you came from Kentucky and ended up in Austin, Texas. But to start, I want to start with your background. How did you get into HR and how has your work evolved over time into your current role?
Beth Ley: [00:02:55.08] Yeah, so I am actually one of those rare people that is doing what I went to school for. I remember the moment in undergrad when I learned about organizational psychology, and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. I think I knew at an early age, working in my family business, you spend a lot of time at work and that work environment affects your home life, your personal relationships, even your parenting style. And so I love the ability to learn about how to influence and create great workplaces. And I’m so lucky to have been able to grow my HR career with incredibly talented people and mentors. You asked about getting to Austin, so I did move to Austin in 2008, sight unseen. I look back at my 26-year-old self and cannot believe that my mother let me move across the country with no job, no plan. I knew I’d always wanted to work for a fashion brand, and I grew up admiring her fashion magazine, magazines from the publisher Conde Nast. And when I learned about Kendra Scott and a Texas Austin-based fashion brand in 2010, I knew that I had to work here some, someday. And fast forward, five years later to 2015, I was one of the first HR people hired onto the team. When I saw the job open, I wasn’t taking no for an answer. I think I had cookies and champagne couriered over to the office with my resume, and I was so lucky to be selected as the benefits and compensation manager at the time.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:26.95] What a great story. And I love that you said champagne and cookies. This reminds me of a friend of mine who’s also Austin-based. His name is Andreas, and he relocated here to Austin, Texas, with the sole purpose of working for Whole Foods one day. So I love these kinds of stories like your dreams really can, can and do come true.
Beth Ley: [00:04:50.05] Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:52.11] Well, let’s talk a little bit about the size and structure at Kendra Scott because I’m always interested. So where does HR sit in that structure and what does that really look like?
Beth Ley: [00:05:02.34] Yeah. So as a total brand, we have about 2700 employees, about 2500 of those sit in our field organization. We have people in our distribution center and then as well as our corporate office, the HR team. I have a CHRO. Her name is Brandy, so she reports directly to our CEO and I report into her. And the total team is about 19 individuals. We have different centers of excellence, so we have a talent center of excellence, which includes learning and development as well as recruiting. We have a center of excellence that supports our field and D.C. Home Office, HR support, employee relations, total rewards, and HR operations. My team specifically are the Total Rewards Operations and Home Office HR teams.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:52.71] My next question for you is how does total rewards factor into seasonal hiring? Because I know that Kendra Scott has a number of retail locations. So let’s talk about total rewards and how does that play a role in our in your seasonal hiring strategy and planning.
Beth Ley: [00:06:10.98] Yes. So the competition for seasonal talent is very strong. We see all types of advertisements from our competitors on what they’re paying per hour or what their benefits are, and we have to remain competitive. We hire over 1000 people that start mid to late October and worked with us through the end of December. And so total rewards and the strategy to that is absolutely critical and how we attract and retain and really motivate the workforce. We see our seasonal employees as really extensions of our team. They’re great brand stewards and fans, and we want their time with us to be a really compelling and thoughtful experience. So we do things like benchmarking our base pay to make sure that it’s going to be competitive. Down to the center, we have great district managers and store managers that are feeding us information not only from state and local, but down to the center that we’re actually working in. We also give them sales incentives. We do retention incentives like shopping parties for them and their family after the season. And we provide amazing discounts so that they can buy all of their gifts with us while they’re working with us and also do things like Kendra Cash, which are our gift cards. And really, I think it’s providing an incredibly fun, supportive work environment and we want every seasonal employee to walk away feeling like they learned something from their time with us and they became an even bigger brand fan from their time working with us.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:49.02] I love that and I’m a retail HR person, I would say former retail HR, but the planning starts really early and it is more than just a discount that attracts people. I think there’s a lot of great opportunities to work for such a strong brand and be a part of a great organization like Kendra Scott during the busiest time of year, plus that great work experience that you’re able to get in a, in a short time so that you can either come back for the next holiday season, stick around. Maybe with an option to become a part-time or full-time regular employee or move on to a new opportunity. So I love that you do all these other things other than just, hey, it’s a discount that we offer in addition to pay. It’s a lot more complicated than that.
Beth Ley: [00:08:39.37] It is, and yet we have already started our seasonal planning. So we really kicked that off with our team late June, early July for that October timeframe. So yes, time is important and I find every single year I’ve been with the brand for seven years, we start planning a little bit earlier, a little bit earlier, and that has really served us well.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:58.66] I don’t think the people that are in outside of retail really understand the amount of planning, the strategy, all the research that goes into that before the October time frame when people actually start coming to work at the, at the locations for that seasonal hiring push. So it’s a nice reminder that really this is an all year round project and planning phase that continues to improve and change and evolve every single year.
Beth Ley: [00:09:29.11] Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:30.34] Talk to me about how you and your team handled and have handled the great resignation.
Beth Ley: [00:09:35.32] Yeah. So I was at an HR conference and I actually loved how they framed it rather than the great resignation. We talked about it as the great reassessment. People are taking this opportunity to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves, Is my work fulfilling? Does my organization allow me to show up, be my full self, have a sense of belonging, and do my best work? Is it providing things like psychological safety and a sense of belonging and equity? And I think we’ve really, really leaned in to this and making sure that our leadership is fully aligned, understand what’s important in our employee experience and how they are uniquely responsible for delivering that experience, making sure that there is a good information cascade and that we are leaning into growth and development as well. We actually used the pandemic period to launch a whole new self-guided trading platform that we call Kendra Academy, where we wanted people to be able to do this on their time, their way. It’s short snippet learnings and we have found great success and that in that people are really feeling like we’re investing in their growth and development. And at the end of the day I think that’s what everybody wants from an organization. We also really leaned into improvements in our DEI strategy to make sure we are creating that sense of belonging across the organization. So those are a couple of things I think we’ve been pretty resilient to the great re-assessment. We have not seen astronomical turnover increases or home office or distribution centre and I think it’s these things that have really given us a leg up in that.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:19.84] That’s really awesome, fantastic news that you haven’t been impacted as much as I think other organizations and really speaks to the ability for you to listen to employees, make changes based on, maybe, suggestions, or ideas that resonate with them. I love Microlearning, I love self-paced learning. I think it’s such a great way to, to, to help employees get access to quick resources. So surely when you’re busy in the retail sector where I feel like you’re always juggling multiple things. So awesome job.
Break: [00:11:54.67] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you’re listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by HR Benchmark Survey. Share your HR insights at www.HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. Today I’m talking with Beth Ley. She’s the Vice President of Total Rewards and Home Office HR at Kendra Scott.
Break: [00:12:14.08] Benchmarking and data is crucial to HR leaders. Workology’s HR Benchmark Survey is an always-on survey and just by taking the survey at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com, you’re signing up to get comprehensive quarterly results, white papers. And other research from the survey right to your inbox. It takes 10 minutes or less to complete. Visit HRBenchmarkSurvey.com.
Kendra Scott’s 2022 Best Place for Working Parents Business Designation
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:40.00] Kendra Scott has earned the 2022 Best Place for Working Parents business designation. I love this, and this was in recognition for their commitment to supporting working parents through family-friendly policies and practices. Can you talk to us a little bit about your three pillars of family, fashion and philanthropy as an employee value proposition?
Beth Ley: [00:13:02.11] Absolutely. The three pillars are really what attracted me to come work for Kendra Scott, as they did for so many others in my coworkers as well, I know. What I love about the three pillars of family, fashion and philanthropy is when Kendra started this company 20 years ago, she said, These are the three things that we are going to stand behind as a brand. And that rings true today in the same way that it did when she first founded the company. We assess every single decision we make through the lens of that. Is this supportive of our pillars? Is it a transparent? And does it allow for creativity and a celebratory work environment? And that means for us that we don’t over policy or over process, those are our guiding Northstar. So they leave grey area and white space to lean into our employees in that moment, understanding their unique set of circumstances and perspective. So for example, some of the benefits that we stood up during the pandemic were meeting employees where they were in that moment. As the world emerges from COVID, we have shifted some of those, some we have sunsetted and some we have actually amped up. A good example is our Kendra Scott Family Fund. So this is a 501(c)(3) where people can ask for a grant. It is not, they do not ever have to pay the money back, but if their family is facing a financial hardship. And during the pandemic, we added child care hardships to that, the set of things that people could request the money for. So that’s just one example of a way that we could pivot really quickly and lean into people when, when and how they need us to lean into them.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:50.17] I just want to mention, like even when we talked on the prep call, I was just really impressed about how flexible Kendra Scott is being with offering different benefits and just recognition and just helping support employees. In fact, you had told me about with the baby food shortage, can you just talk real quickly about what you all were doing for that?
Beth Ley: [00:15:15.13] Yes. Yeah. So as a parent of a 12-month-old, this one really, really hit me. I was very upset when I woke up in the morning. I was reading in my, my morning news that this is what’s happening. And so, again, we pivot quickly. And I was able with one call to get approval for us to support our parents that were in search of formula, either through giving them paid time off outside of their regular PTO bank or subsidizing the cost of shipping if they if there were shipping costs where they were trying to find the formula abroad. So it’s things like that where we continue to be nimble. We lean into that white space, we meet people in the moment. And that really meant a lot to people who were, who were really stressed. That was an incredibly stressful time and thankfully we’re starting to come out of that. So again, that’s another benefit that we’ll be able to stand up and then sunset in a couple of weeks or months, hopefully.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:17.20] It’s just, just a great example for me about how benefits can change, flex and evolve. And it’s okay if things come and they go, but you are in the moment being able to make changes very quickly to support your employees. And I just think that speaks so much to, to Kendra Scott as an organization. And it’s the leadership’s ability to trust team members, heads of HR, organizational leaders like you, to be able to make recommendations and for them to run with it.
Beth Ley: [00:16:50.28] Absolutely. I truly, I have a passion for benefits and I think they can bring so much heart and care and connection to an organization.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:59.13] I want to talk a little bit more about the employee value proposition, because I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to EVPs and I have sort of made it my mission with resources about EVPs. So I will link to a list of employee value propositions by different organizations in the resources section of this Workology Podcast episode over on the Workology.com site. But I wanted to talk to you about how does your EVP factor into the brand you present to candidates and customers? How does that kind of all work together?
Beth Ley: [00:17:32.61] Yeah, so I love our brand statement around our EVP is that our employees and our customers are the heart and soul of our brand. And I just think that’s so beautifully worded and so authentic and, and really demonstrates how we lean in and see our customers and our employees. I think that means that we are providing unique and curated personal experiences both for the customer and for the employee. We’re creating genuine connection. Our philanthropic programs and givebacks are incredibly high for a company of our size, and we also lean into our local communities. So it’s not just nonprofits that we’re supporting, but we will support a family member in our community that might be undergoing a difficult circumstance. So the sense of purpose and belonging that that create is incredibly important to our team. I say all the time that we yes, we, we make, we design and sell beautiful jewelry. But that jewelry actually creates our economic engine to do good in the world. And Kendra has taught us all that giving back is the truest form of success. And so that just rings true through everything that we do and provides a really beautiful shopping as well as employment experience.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:51.75] So great. And I feel like it’s very clear employees fully understand how Kendra Scott supports them, what they’re all about and supports customers. And also really clear. It’s just sometimes hard for the EVP to come through for both the culture, company culture and for the customers. But I really, truly feel like Kendra Scott does an amazing job of making that connection, and not all organizations do a great job of that with the EVP.
Beth Ley: [00:19:20.25] Thank you. Yes, yes. I think we really tried to lean in big customer moments. We also want to feel like big moments for our employee to say we’re launching a new product to customers. We will do things like having launch parties at our office and stores and our distribution center. The Mother’s Day holiday, that, where we gave everyone the day off because Mother’s Day is a huge day to our customers. So we wanted internal people to feel that as well, are just really good examples of how we kind of we lean in to both customer and employee.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:53.79] One of the things that we talked about and you kind of mentioned it a little bit with the Mother’s Day holiday, but I want to talk about culture as currency. Can you talk us through what that means and, and maybe talk through an example?
Beth Ley: [00:20:10.22] Yeah. So I think, you know, when you think of the currency of work, clearly base compensation, bonus benefits and perks come up. But really we’ve learned more. There’s so much more than that. Developmental opportunities is a currency. Culture is a currency. Your relationship with your managers and your coworkers is the currency. And we like to make bold statements at Kendra Scott and we like to make sure that we are really enabling a culture where people feel like that is investing in them. As I mentioned before, it’s those big brand moments, bringing them internal, bringing them external. The Mother’s Day is just one good example of that, but there are things that happen constantly at the brand. We just launched engagement rings and we actually had a party at the Home Office where someone was proposed to. Her, her, her now fiancee chose our engagement launch to mirror his engagement to her. I set up a wedding band. It was just such a fun experience and those cultural things are huge for us, and our, Halloween is a thing of legend. Every single year, Halloween parties get bigger and bigger, and we really lean into the fashion pillar for that one. But it really is just creating this fun environment where there’s respect, there’s recognition for strength, there’s camaraderie and rapport with each other.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:21:41.66] I love it. And I love that somebody proposed at the launch of your of, of your new product. I mean that and that happened and what an amazing just experience and I mean, gosh, I just wish I was there. I bet it was just electric.
Beth Ley: [00:22:01.89] It was fun. It was a very fun day.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:04.50] I also want to talk a little bit about, you know, we’re talking about culture. One of the things that we chatted about on the prep call was just like employee engagement surveys. I feel like everyone is doing this these days. It’s somewhat of an easy activity that is pretty standard in HR. So I wanted to ask your opinion about this. How are you and your team approaching these employee surveys, engagement surveys, or other methods of gathering employee feedback so that you can better understand your workforce population? What does that look like for you?
Beth Ley: [00:22:38.48] Yeah. So we’ve definitely moved away from that monster, 50, 60 question survey that you do once a year that kind of what used to be the old guard, old SOP and HR. So really looking more at how we get quick, timely feedback. It’s easy for the employee to complete, it’s easy for them to engage with and we can action on really quickly. So we know the most important things for surveys is how quickly can you give feedback, how quickly can they feel the action? The Net Promoter Score is really important to us, leaning into that family pillar. We want to assure that everyone on our teams would recommend us as a great place to work to one of their family members or a friend. And I think for HR, it really is about developing the relationships, having a really strong HR business partner support, feeling integrated into the teams you’re supporting and having your ears and eyes open at all times. We do HRVP listening sessions, but really creating that open door environment and I love getting in there and surprising some of my client groups with the things I know that are going on in their team. They’re like, Oh, you know about that? I’m like, I do know about that. It’s all about being in there with the business, understanding what are some of the things they’re celebrating and what are some of the things that they’re struggling with and providing that support and getting feedback all along the way in the moment.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:01.79] So when you are talking about Net Promoter Scores, are you just asking team members a single question like in the traditional session?
Beth Ley: [00:24:12.95] Single questions, yes. Correct. Correct. It is just, would you recommend Kendra Scott as a place to work to a friend or family member?
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:19.52] Wow. I feel like it’s so simple, but also it’s so complicated at the same time when you go that route. But I love it because then, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty much there in black and white. It’s either good or it’s bad. And then now you know. And then now you have to work to uncover. What the, what was meant and then how you can move forward to improve the experience.
Beth Ley: [00:24:48.27] Exactly.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:50.28] Well, Beth, I have really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Where can people go to connect more to learn about Kendra Scott and also you?
Beth Ley: [00:25:03.39] Yes. It’s KendraScott.com. We have our, our careers link is right down there at the bottom and it’s constantly refreshed with open roles both in our field distribution center and our home office groups. So definitely engaging there. We have a great Facets blog. We talk about our philanthropy, kind of what Kendra is up to. It’s a really cool way to follow the brand as well as on Instagram. I hear we have a Tik Tok. I am not sophisticated enough to follow our Tik Tok, but we have that as well. And then I please add me to LinkedIn. It’s just Beth Ley at Kendra Scott and you’ll be able to find me there.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:39.90] Amazing. Well, we’ll link to the career site. The article that kind of first inspired me, reaching out to you and asking you to be on the podcast, the Mother’s Day post and announcement, and then also your LinkedIn. So I really appreciate you taking the time and it was so great to learn about everything that you and the team at Kendra Scott and HR are working on.
Beth Ley: [00:26:01.95] Thank you so much, Jessica. I really appreciate the time.
Closing: [00:26:05.04] Total Rewards is such an important factor in our employer branding and employee value proposition and the ability to attract and retain talent, especially seasonal talent. And it might not be something that you have thought of, but those of us who have worked in retail like myself, know how important compensation and benefits and just total rewards are in bringing in that seasonal talent into our organizations. I appreciate Beth for taking the time to share her experience with us today. Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast sponsored by HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. Participate and share your story in HR by visiting HRBenchmarkSurvey.com.
Closing: [00:26:45.21] This podcast, the Workology Podcast, is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes of the Workology Podcast. I’ll see you soon.
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