Contributor: Sathvik Ramanan
Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).
On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Shelly Ibach, president and CEO of Select Comfort Corporation, an innovative leader in sleep products and services and creator of the Sleep Number bed. She was recently recognized as one of the Girl Scouts’ Women of Distinction. Stew spoke with Ms. Ibach on creating a corporate culture that values the employee as a whole person and how to connect employees to a company’s mission and vision.
The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.
Stew Friedman: Tell us more about the connection between your sleep products and that end goal of individualizing the sleep experience and enriching it and how this affects what you do as a CEO to shape the company’s culture and its business strategy?
Shelly Ibach: As a mission-based culture, it was always important for us to establish a vision that was really big enough for the mission. Our strategy and mission are consumer-based, and we are focused on innovation. This means we need to have deep insight into our customers and be able to translate them into innovations that will solve sleep problems.
SF: So you have to be listening very carefully.
SI: Absolutely, and pay attention to trends. When you’re an innovator, it’s not only about the invention, but it’s also about the application. So the simplicity for the consumer is critical.
SF: Simplicity so that that they can understand what it is that you’re offering and how it’s going to help them?
SI: Exactly, and in the example of SleepIQ technology, all you have to do is get in bed and sleep. You don’t have to turn anything on; there’s nothing you need to wear, and it’s a full-body algorithm about you as an individual. And that information is there for when you want it. To be able to take an invention, like the sensor technology that comes with SleepIQ, and then move that into a consumer durable so that it truly is the inner net of things – that’s the kind of work that our team passionately pursues on behalf of our customers.
SF: What do you need to do to enable your employees to come to work every day, not only well rested, but also impassioned about this mission?
SI: We have to have an environment where everyone is clear on our goals, our strategic framework, and our vision. Our vision is to become one of the world’s most beloved brands by delivering unparalleled sleep experiences. Everyone must understand how their role can specifically contribute to our strategic, long-term vision. People want to, and need to, be able to contribute and bring their whole self to work and be valued for their contributions.
SF: So How do you produce that line of sight between what I as an employeedo every day and that inspiring end goal? What are the practices that help people see that connection?
SI: A big part of it is embracing diversity and striving to unleash each individual’s greatness. We have a number of recognition programs and one of our annual and most important recognition programs is called the Bradley Erickson Award. This is an award that is voted on by peers at headquarters. We seek to recognize a person or a team that has not only led innovation or collaboration across the organization, but also embraces the whole person, so it’s personal as well as work-related.
SF: So this is about recognition – it speaks to your values – and that’s certainly what you want to do with recognition programs. But on a day-to-day basis, how is it that you help people to see the connection between who they are as individuals and what you’re trying to do as a company?
SI: Our customer is at the core of everything we do. So at any meeting that we go to in our organization, you’re going to hear about “Sarah.” “Sarah” is our target customer. That helps connect the mission and the vision and the strategy. Everyone is thinking and making decisions on behalf of “Sarah,” and that’s a common thread throughout our organization.
SF: So “Sarah” is a fictional person who embodies the central brand proposition?
SI: Absolutely, yes. We get to know “Sarah,” not just from a demographic perspective, but from a psychographic one, and we strive to understand what she values and how our innovation can contribute to her life and improve not only her life, but her family’s life. That’s what motivates us.
SF: So as you talk to other CEOs, what do you share about your company’s practices that others find intriguing or try to adopt themselves? What should people who run companies or parts of companies be focused on as they try to figure out creative ways in their lives or in their businesses to connect the individual to the core interests of the end user – the customer, consumer or client?
SI: For us, it goes back to the customer. We do everything with our customer in mind. We’re a company that has a net promoter score, so we measure from our customer’s point of view whether they’re interested in repeating and referring. That’s the most important measurement we have. We believe that as we continue to evolve and focus on our customer’s experience, it translates to financial improvement as well.
About the Author
Sathvik Ramanan is an undergraduate freshman in the Vagelos Program in the Life Sciences and Management at the University of Pennsylvania.