When I was young, I thought “vulnerability” was a bad word. It wasn’t until recently – with all of the work that Brené Brown has shared with us about the power of vulnerability – that I realized there are lessons to learn as well as lessons to share when it comes to being vulnerable.  

Colleen Reilly, VP Wellbeing Services, ThrivePass

So at a conference last month, I shared our ThrivePass story. It’s one similar to “the cobbler whose children had no shoes” tale, and it goes like this:

Ten years ago two MBA students studying in Spain bonded over their conversation about the notion that Europeans tend to favor experiences over material goods and money. They spoke of how their European friends routinely buy experiences for their spouses, children and friends; notably, those same friends purchase similar experiences for their colleagues in the workplace.

Moreover, they conversed about how the culture takes time out of a busy day to share with family. Their European friends and colleagues would lunch in the afternoon and thoroughly enjoy the human experience in ways not routinely done in North America.

They very much wanted to bring some of that way of living and working back to the U.S., so they returned and launched Wishlist Rewards, a B2C business that offered adventure, relaxation and getaway experience gifts.

Quickly they realized that most of those buying these experiences were HR leaders who gave these experiences to staff instead of corporate awards and money. Wishlist Rewards transitioned to a B2B model and shortly thereafter the same HR leaders started using these experiences for wellbeing incentives, and the sister wellbeing company ThrivePass was born. 

Initially, ThrivePass was a Wellness Savings Account (WSA), allowing employees to earn or be granted a stipend to spend on wellbeing items or activities that were meaningful to them. This was a welcomed relief to what had long been a sort of “burpees and broccoli program” of corporate rewarding that offered little incentive. 

What the ThrivePass founders sensed and ultimately came to discover was that employee wellbeing means something different to the individual. For some the focus is financial freedom. For others, it is about emotional wellbeing, mental clarity or physical (nutrition, exercise and sleep). When I joined the company, wellbeing meant to me being less stressed so I used my WSA for pet care so I wasn’t worried and distracted about my dog while I worked a long day. 

Sounds like a love story, but a lot of struggle ensued. We were so focused on the business and helping our clients create a stellar employee experience we forgot about our own employees. As a company, everyone had a shared understanding that the employee experience was defined as everything the employee encounters, observes and feels during their journey with the organization. 

Four years in, we sent out a cultural needs and interest audit to employees and the the results were surprising. Staff was encountering challenges with technology, observing bad behavior and feeling disconnected to the company’s purpose. At the time, ThrivePass was not deploying the consulting, the technology tools and the rewards and recognitions internally as the company did externally. 

ThrivePass, though the “best cobbler on the block” had children with no shoes – people felt neglected.

We identified we weren’t living our 10 core values. Collaboratively we narrowed 10 to four core values and created regular rituals that help all of us live these four core values daily:

  • Be Courageous – have the confidence to think differently, innovate and act.
  • Be Authentic – embrace vulnerability; be open, honest and true with yourself and others.
  • Be Resourceful – go above and beyond to create opportunities and solutions.
  • Be excellent – hold yourself accountable and always deliver your best.

We developed a new ritual during our weekly huddle where an employee in each office recognizes a colleague that has lived one of our core values that week. In addition to this public peer recognition, the employee also gets a cool retro Care Bear. 

Corny? Not for our people; they love it! That employee will then pay it forward to another colleague during the next week’s huddle. During our quarterly meeting, our leadership team recognizes an employee who has lived the core values and provides them with a Wishlist Reward Experience. This is done in all locations and this small but meaningful ritual has resulted in employees feeling valued and responsible, and our productivity and innovation has improved.    

The second biggest epiphany happened when we came to understand that our company’s time was often spent listening to human resources, mining them for their pain. We came to realize that we never took the time to really reflect and realize that we are all our own human resources department.  We all contribute to the culture of a company and whether we show up and truly live our values, we all play a role in retaining top talent by treating colleagues with respect, friendship and empathy when needed. 

Culture and employee experience cannot be the responsibility of one person in HR. To build a healthy, happy, thriving culture requires fusion across all human resources: leadership, middle management and operations. This spurred talking openly and honestly with each other and discussions on how each of us plays within the culture.

There is now an increase in referrals for top talent (as we all want to work with our smartest friends and colleagues), and leadership owned that they had to role-model the way and empower managers to make time to care for their people, not control them. We even realized the oxymoronic process of not having our own internal comprehensive wellbeing program, even though we preached that to our clients, friends and family.    

Being honest, is not always easy and not always fun. We acquired two companies with very different demographics, cultures, locations and industries. The ugly truth is that not everyone made it; we moved too fast forcing change. The good news is that we realized that these three offices can be siblings, and do not have to be twins.

To truly care for your clients and provide stellar service, you must take care of your employees. Challenge yourself and your company. Do you treat your employees like family? Do you want them to succeed or just get stuff done? Are you doing everything you can to help and support them personally and professionally? 

Any weak link in this chain breaks the purpose, passion, productivity and ultimately, the profits.