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Changing Workplace Cultures: From Planning To Execution With Marissa Andrada

When is cultural transformation crucial for teams and organizations? What can leaders do to empower people in times of change? 

In Episode 124, Marissa Andrada, Culture Master & Kindness Catalyst, joins Melinda in a solution-focused discussion on transforming workplace cultures. Marissa draws from her experience in planning and executing culture change across different industries. She shares insights on how we can harness the transformative power of kindness through transparency, empowerment, collaboration, and co-creation. She also explores the importance of building leadership capability and developing incentive programs to encourage people across organizations to meet their goals for transformation.

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Should we be in-person or hybrid?’ The bigger question is, ‘Do we have leaders, people, managers, who are capable of actually aligning on expectations, setting good outcomes and measurable outcomes, and giving good feedback along the way?’ That should exist, no matter how you’re working.
Guest Speaker

Marissa Andrada

Culture Master & Kindness Catalyst at www.marissaandrada.com

Marissa Andrada is a master of activating organizational hyper-growth and turnaround through the transformation and creation of dynamic, diverse and inclusive cultures. With over 25 years of experience of integrating people and leadership capability into the foundation of business strategies, she has energized brands to codify their purpose and values while accelerating company growth and industry-wide change, inspiring a movement for employee well-being and opportunity.

Marissa is passionate about leading with authenticity and helping people and organizations unleash human potential to lift personal and overall company performance. She has been the key catalyst in transforming cultures and driving performance at a multitude of consumer brands, most recently as the first chief people officer at Chipotle Mexican Grill. As the former chief diversity, inclusion and people officer, Marissa activated a culture strategy that was co-created with the workforce – including the launch of a debt free college degree and education program and access to mental healthcare. Prior to Chipotle, Marissa led human resources at Kate Spade & Company and partner resources at Starbucks Coffee Company. Earlier, she served as senior vice president and head of human resources at GameStop Corporation and at Red Bull North America. She is currently serving as an independent board director at Krispy Kreme, Inc. where she is also the chair of the Remuneration and Nomination Committee. She also serves as the chair of the Dean’s Advisory Board at the College of Business and executive in residence at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona.

Marissa hosts live weekly conversations with leaders from various industries on how they are creating inclusive cultures and what advice they can share to lead through transformation on her CultureCast with Marissa podcast.

Marissa holds an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University and an undergraduate degree from California State Polytechnic University at Pomona. She is a founding member of the Society for Human Resources Executive Council, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Workplace Dignity Council and the CNBC Workforce Executive Council and a 2020 American Business Award Gold Stevie winner.

Learn more about the host and creator of Leading With Empathy & Allyship, Melinda Briana Epler.


MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & AllyShip. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Empovia, formally Change Catalyst. I’m also the author of How to Be an Ally, and your host for this show. 


What is allyship? Allyship is empathy in action. We learn what people are uniquely experiencing, we show empathy for their experience, and we take action. As a part of that process, we learn and unlearn and relearn. We work to avoid unintentionally harming people with our words and actions. We advocate for people, and we lead the change on our teams, in our organizations, and across our communities. 


In this episode, you’ll learn tangible actionable steps that you can take to lead the change to be a more inclusive leader, no matter what your role is. Want to learn more? Visit Empovia.co to check out more of my work. 


All right, let’s get started. 


Our guest today is Marissa Andrada, who is Culture Master and Kindness Catalyst. She’s had an incredible career as a Chief People Officer with 25 years of experience at Chipotle, Kate Spade, Starbucks GameStop, Red Bull, and Krispy Kreme. Amazing! 


So welcome, Marissa.


MARISSA: Thanks for having me. I’m super-excited to be here, Melinda.


MELINDA: Yeah. So Marissa and I will be talking today about how to change a culture, and why do we need to change cultures? I was thinking about this, and right now, thinking about all of our clients, we have one client who’s going through an acquisition, we have a couple of clients who are going through rolling layoffs, one who’s working to change a toxic non-inclusive culture. Several people are working to create more values around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, of course, in an increasingly polarized world. And then most of them are grappling with back-to-work or finding hybrid or remote work culture and figuring out what that looks like, what does that look like to redefine that culture? So we’re going to talk about all of those things. There are many different reasons for changing your workplace culture, these and many more. and in this episode, we’ll discuss where to start, how to create a plan, how to create leadership capability, and what you might think about along the way. I’m excited about the conversation.


MARISSA: It should be a lot of fun, and super-relevant too, for what you just described.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Well, let’s dive into your story. Can you share a bit about who you are, where you grew up, and how you ended up where you are today? 


MARISSA: Sure. So I am always proud to say that I’m a first-generation American. So I was born and raised in East LA, Southern California. My Mom and Dad were immigrants from the Philippines. They met here, and then decided to get married, and while they had no family, they decided to create a family. So really, I think about my life as trying to pursue this American dream, that my parents thought America was full of opportunity and the land of opportunity. So I share that with you because it was fun growing up in East LA, highly diverse. But then one thing we learned, being part of the public school system, was that our education wasn’t great. I think with English being a second language, for me growing up, although I remember leaving the house, we had different variations of family members who eventually ended up living with us, and there were four languages that were spoken in our house, it was Tagalog and Ilocano, so two different dialects that are Filipino. Spanish, because we had relatives who spoke Spanish, and then English. But my parents would say, only speak English when you leave the house, because we want people to actually pay attention to you, and we want them to take you seriously, which I think is maybe something your immigrant parents might say to you. 


But I share that story because growing up, when we were in public school, we would always get pulled aside to get tested into our grades. It would be things like, in reading lab, they would hold up a picture, and they would say, tell us what this is. I would say it’s a tree, it’s a bird. They’d ask us what color it is. Just based on that English as a Second Language Test, they would kind of put us into a class. So my parents, who were both working, decided to move to the suburbs. So East, I’ll call it upland, that’s where I grew up. I think what was interesting about that was that we were probably one of two brown families, I’ll just say that, in our neighborhood. And what that caused was, before I got into high school, in junior high, I was just very different. I think about being reminded about how different I was because kids would make fun of what I was wearing. So we weren’t always wearing the most trendy thing, it’s just we wore whatever we could afford. Or there was a big shopper inside my parents’ closet, and I would create outfits out of stuff that I would find at home. Also was made fun of because my skin was dark. I was telling the story the other day to someone, I had a nickname because my lips were really big, they called me Bubbles. Then my best friend who was blonde and blue-eyed, they would call her boat driver because they thought I was fresh off the boat. 


So I think it’s really important to share that because I feel like my entire life, although I was raised to be a doctor, and my parents really wanted me to become a physician, that I have been observing human behavior for as long as I can recall being a human. I think it’s all those differences: growing up in a multicultural family, first-gen American, also trying to be raised traditionally being the only female. So there’s a lot of double standards in how I grew up, and I was always very curious and very observant. But I think it’s important to say that because while I did pursue a degree, and changed it midway, in biology, somehow I ended up in business, and then somehow business led me to Human Resources accidentally. I was a resident advisor in my last year, third year in college, and one of the RAs said, you should get an internship. So I ended up getting an internship, which then turned into a full-time job offer. I really thought, “Ah, I’m not going to do Human Resources, I don’t think I want to be this administrative person for my career.” Went back and got my MBA. My parents said, “That’s great, maybe do something in finance, because you love math.” I ended up getting a job, which back then was heralded as, “Okay, if you want to be a professional, and someday, Chief HR officer, you’re either going to work at General Electric, GE, or one of the PepsiCo companies.” So I ended up interviewing with all the PepsiCo companies, beverage, restaurants, Frito-Lay, ended up getting a job at Pizza Hut, which back then was majority owned by PepsiCo. It’s gone through a lot of change since then. 


So how I fell into this career of Human Resources was, that was a place where I learned a lot. It was about opening restaurants. and in order to open restaurants, you need to have leaders who are ready, and what are you doing to make sure the leaders are ready, how are you developing them? So there’s always a map of who’s ready now, what are we doing to get them ready, so that when we open up a new area or a new unit, we can promote people up. Then, that was the whole game. Like, how do you get talent ready? I think that was really fascinating to me. 


I think early in my career experience, too, was, I was still reminded that I was different, and I’ll share this with you. In that, part of the planning process for talent, we would identify high-potential leaders or high-potential people, and then they would get an accelerated level of development. So probably six months into my job, my manager comes to me and says, in one of my one-on-ones. He says, “Hey, I got some awesome news for you. You’re on my potential minority.” I kind of went, “Okay, how is that different from what we’ve been running with our teams, which is high-potential?” Ultimately, I ended up going to a class, which was titled: Efficacy for Minority Professionals. I won’t get into the detail of that. But I think what I learned from that class was how to assimilate. So here’s our corporate culture, here are the rules of success, here is the success profile, etc. It was a lot of coaching on how to act, what to say. I am being very specific, but like, “Here’s the culture, and here’s what makes you successful.” 


What I realized from that was, wow, I am now working in a Fortune 50 organization, huge organization. I thought, if this is what it means to be inside a large corporate culture, I don’t know that I’m going to last for a very long time. I was always raised with, get a career, my parents were boomers, and be in that career forever at the same company. I thought, I’m going to give it two years, because I have a lot to learn as an early in career, Human Resources professional, and I can play the game. I don’t even want to say that, but I’ll figure out how to be authentically me, and still play by the rules, I guess? 


I get really detailed with you about that early experience, because I think that’s what really shaped my thinking and really inspired me to pursue a career in people and culture and Human Resources. Because I tell Human Resources professionals these secrets all the time. I learned these three things about being an HR strategic partner, which is, one is, PepsiCo taught me how to understand and define a strategy, so long-term strategic plan. You distill that into a one-year operating plan, and then how, from a people standpoint, you partner with finance, marketing, sales, real estate, all those different functions, to bring that plan to life. So I thought that was really important learning. I think the second thing too, is in order to accomplish those goals, whether they were long-term or short-term, organizations needed to have the following in place. First of all, did you have the right leaders in place, do they have the right capability? Then the second thing is, was there a culture that inspired and motivated people to go and do what you’re asking them to do? So I boil it down to those three things that really have been kind of a navigation or a framework for helping companies grow, by making sure you had those things solidly in place. 


What it also inspired me to do was, I am never going to work for a large company again, is kind of what I told people. I went out to go work in entertainment, which is where I learned how to forge relationships, where I learned how to speak plain English and meet people where they’re at. But I think that was an early defining point in my career. I’ll just fast-forward. The last decade or so of my career, 12 to 15 years, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to lead in Human Resources. So oftentimes, going to brands like Red Bull and GameStop, Starbucks is a little different, Kate Spade, and then Chipotle, I was the first professional Human Resources leader they would hire into the organization, as well as one of the first females on the leadership team, maybe one of the first person of color on the leadership team. I have joined all of these consumer-facing, founder-led or founder transitioned organizations, at a time of an inflection, which was, they’ve built up so much, and now, do you plateau, do you maintain, or do you grow? I think the unlock to growth has always been people. So one thing I always talk about is, you can’t grow companies unless you grow people. I mean, that has to happen. 


So that really is kind of my career, and I really pride myself in how do you cultivate environments that are inclusive, that are diverse. Because when you do that, it creates a culture of innovation, and performance, and accountability. So those two have to go together to create success for an organization. So I’ve been really fortunate to work in companies like that, oftentimes, actually every time, at time of transformation, and I’ve enjoyed it. 


Then most recently, last summer, I decided, well, I’ve been inside these large companies. Yes, I went to go work at large companies. But they felt like I can be a part of them because of the culture that I became a part of, and that other people had the chance to shape. But I thought I’ve been inside these large companies, and I feel like there’s so much more of an impact that I can be making as a Culture Master. People would be like, well, how did you come up with that? Well, if you think about the definition of mastery, it’s at least 10,000 hours of hard work and practice and experience. I’m not going to add up all the years, but for sure, it’s more than 10,000 hours of shaping cultures for organizations. I also use the word Kindness Catalyst, just as a reminder that when all else fails, and you forget anything, start off with kindness. I think in terms of creating connections with people, having grace for others goes a really long way.


MELINDA: Awesome! Maybe we’ll circle back to that a bit too, as we talk about this, and how does kindness help catalyze change too? Let’s start. Let’s talk a bit about how you lead that transformation through culture. You mentioned that in each of these places, that you came during a time of transformation and really helped be that change. Maybe you could share a couple of examples of what you did at these companies to give a sense of that transformation, what that looks like, and then we can go into the details of how you did it.


MARISSA: Sure. So I can talk about Red Bull. I mean, one of the first early examples, being a Human Resources leader and reporting to the CEO of the company, I joined at a time when the brand had come to the US. It was a very first energy drink. It was a category creator. It was also part of a privately-owned company, it still is, that’s based in Austria. It was a small part of the company. I think the problem to solve there was, the CEO wanted to hire a new head of Human Resources, a professional to help really professionalize and build capability of the leaders. So think about Red Bull. The origin is this hardcore, hard-charging, surfing, skate, motocross, motorcycle brand. All these athletes at some point became salespeople and marketing people in the organization. The brand used to be so exclusive, in that it was really sports-oriented, and now the brand was coming becoming more diverse. So it was about energizing, not only body, but also spirit and mind. It was reaching everybody; students, teachers, you name it. So it became more diverse. 


So the challenge there was twofold. One is, how do you bring more professional capability so the organization can grow quickly? But then secondly, how do you create a culture that supports this diversity with the customers? Because that was also changing. So the work to be done there was helping go through this change, and how do you continue to up-level people, like, really celebrate who they are, where they come so far, and put in a framework to help them grow? Then layer in a level of expertise, so that you had a capable organization to deliver the results that you wanted. Then I think in terms of culture, and starting off with culture, it was really about identifying where are the different customers, and we called them themes or pillars, that we’re going to expand. But then how did that look internally? So internally, were we doing the same thing in terms of did we look as diverse as the customer set that we’re going after? So I think that was interesting joining, and that was kind of a starting point, and a calling card for my team that I inherited, to kind of go out there and help create change, all in the name of growth for the company. 


Then a second one that I’ll share really quickly is, actually the next job after that was joining GameStop. GameStop is this video game box retailer. I know it’s changed today because of digital. But at the time, the founders almost got purchased by their biggest competitor EB Games. Overnight, they turned the table and said, we’re going to buy you instead, since you gave us a price. Overnight, they doubled in size to afford a billion-dollar company with 4,000 stores, pretty huge company. Then they said, how do we actually bring the best of both together? Because we distinctly have a GameStop culture and a way of doing things, but distinctly have an EB Games culture and a way of doing things, and they were looking for a professional HR person to help them bring the best of both together. So that was really to charge, and at the same time, making sure you have the right leader capability in place, to then enact the kind of change and development that needed to happen. So those are two examples of walking in, to literally hit the ground running. These are the kinds of culture changes that need to happen.


MELINDA: Yeah. I think sometimes that happens when you were hired to, in your role, sometimes that happens when suddenly you’re confronted with something very different in the world that you have to change. There are lots of different reasons why suddenly we’re confronted with change, a need for change and a need to deal with it immediately.


MARISSA: That’s right, absolutely.


MELINDA: So when you’re there, when you know that change needs to happen, where do you start?


MARISSA: Oh my gosh, I think I start with get real clarity and alignment on the problem or the opportunity. I call it the problem statement, and it’s getting clarity starting at the top with the CEO and the C-suite around you or the leadership team, on what are we solving for? Then, we had to really distill, what does it mean to bring the best of both together, what does this really look like? The way they defined it was, well, it’s this aligned culture, we want the same shared values, all of those things. I think a way to do that is, to not just go away and go work by yourself in a room or go to your team in a room, that there’s a magic in getting alignment. I was such a nerd back then. I know it’s different today. But I was huge on PowerPoint, and I would create these three or four-page PowerPoints, and the start that I would have is, I went and really understood and learned the business as it is today. There were two companies that came together. So I spent time in stores on both sides, and talked to the employees to understand their experience; what they were excited about, what they were worried about, all of that. But doing that at every level, and actually working with my team to do all that listening, to then gather, and imagine summing all that up in like, “Hey, here’s the state of what’s going on today, here’s how people experience this coming together in this culture.” Then based on that, try and identify, alright, here’s the opportunity and the problem that we need to solve. 


I think what I loved about doing that, and leaders weren’t used to it, I had this rare four-page deck that was pretty powerful, that had “All right, here’s the hypothesis problem to solve based on all the information that we got.” They loved the fact that they can get in there, and either agree or disagree, shape it, add in, all of that. So that by the end of it all, it took like a few months just to get all the input and the data, that as a leadership team, when we sat down, it’s like, “All right, now we’re going to go and champion this.” So get a real alignment on opportunity or the problem to solve, and use real feeling and data inside the company to understand that. I always tell people, know the business that you’re in, understand it. Not only understand the product or service that you’re creating or delivering, but also know how it gets done, and why people will go in there and do it. 


So I think that was kind of the first step. Then from there, what we did is we aligned on, let’s get some feedback from the leadership team on what our purpose will be. Like, what is our new mission statement as a company? I remember back then, I became really aggressive about bringing power to the players. So how do we together bring power to the players? It’s kind of a saying. Then internally, we flipped it and said, well, then how else to bring power to our people, that these companies are coming together? So I’m giving a very top line, bringing that to life, power to the players, there was a lot of close working with marketing. But then power to the people, really working with every department, especially in the stores, what does that look and feel like when we say those things? 


Then we were able to really get it crisp into two or three, “Here’s what it means to bring power to the players.” One was to create stability for our associates inside the stores. The more stable they were, the more consistent they would be in terms of being available to support their customers coming in those stores. That’s one example. So going back and saying, here’s an aligned mission, and then bringing that mission to life through, I’ll say, aligned three or four key behaviors, which then became the backdrop to really everything that we did. And what I mean by that is, from a people standpoint, how was that integrated into how you hire people into the company, how do you promote people based on these values? Even in decision-making for the company, as we made investments in people or just investments in the business in general, when you roll that through the lens of purpose and these value statements, are we aligned? 


So that was a way, I don’t want to say it was quick, but a very high-level way of bringing this company together, and bringing the best of both together, because it was about, and I use the word both sides. But also, as a global company, you had to reach out to Canada, to Australia, and to Europe, and just also get that sentiment. So going back to that three or four-page deck that I walked around with everybody, or that my team walked around with everybody, the first couple of pages were golden, in that they represented the collective of what the organization was feeling and thinking at different levels. You’ve got to be able to do that, especially working with leaders, in a very simple way. Absolutely, less is more. You can have all the backup you want, but bring the key messages forward, and really represent the feeling of the people in the organization. 


So that’s kind of how we got started on all of that. Now, from there, there were other specific things that we did around aligning leadership capabilities, and how we select very senior leaders in the organization, and how we redesign incentive programs. I mean, it really did become the basis, so I’m starting with that. For anyone who is tuning into your podcast, who I have had the chance to work with in other organizations, they’ll probably say, “Wow, that sounds really familiar. That sounds like that’s something Marissa and her team would do, and have done, coming into the organization.”


MELINDA: Yeah. I want to highlight a couple of things there. One is power, I think that is a really key piece of that. Because when you’re going through a merger or acquisition, when you’re going through rolling layoffs as well, there’s a vulnerability and a feeling of a lack of power, a lack of empowerment, a lack of being able to impact what’s happening in that moment. So I think that power is a really important piece of that, and part of that is you’re listening and really understanding where people are, and using that to drive where you’re going next to, and looking for those ways that people can be a part of that and empowered to be a part of that.


MARISSA: I totally agree with you. I think it is about empowering people. I think in change, and especially change now that’s happening, and you know this, I think it’s tough when people feel like things are happening to them and not for them, and that they’re not a part of it in any way. I mean, sometimes change happens, leaders make decisions. But what I mean by making it empowering people, is bring them in. Even if they don’t have the chance to weigh in on whatever the final decision is, be really transparent around why we are doing this. As leaders, we have made this decision to X, and here’s why we’re doing X, and here’s what that might mean for you. I think people will feel more empowered, although it may not feel great, especially in situations where things feel like It’s happening to them. But it’s like, there’s power in giving people information, and treating them as human beings and as adults. That, like, “I’m going to let you in and share information with you.” 


I think, and in this case, in that merger, the merger that was happening, it was empowering for them because it was about “We want to hear from you. Here’s what we’re trying to do. Here’s kind of like what my goal is to go talk to these leaders. But I need to hear from you, and what words I should be saying, what we should be representing.” I love using this word co-creation, when people feel like they’re part of that, there’s power in the sustainability of that. So it’s not just this wild idea that, “Hey, it feels really trendy, let’s do this.” No, I mean, this is really a reflection of where the organization is sitting today. Then I also think about the hopes and dreams that they do have on where it can go. So there’s power in doing that when you let people in.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Can you talk a little bit about the behaviors, you said you had three behaviors that you wanted people? Can you talk a little bit about that? How Did you decide what those behaviors were, and how did you start to implement that?


MARISSA: So it’s kind of playbook for me. So rolling up all that information, gathering that, and then going back with the leadership team, and saying, alright, now based on all of the pre-work you’ve done. So it’s not only did we do all of this socializing ahead of time, I think it’s really important too for organizations to look at everything that already exists, all the artefacts. 


So there were two companies that had everything that they were utilizing to communicate with employees. Reviewed all of that, and then based on that, we just really brainstormed a couple of things. One is, if this is what our organization is saying up and down the organization, then how do we as leaders work together? What do we expect from each other? So it can be as simple as setting ground rules for how we work together. But then teasing out what we expect from each other, and then talking about the behaviors. So we came up with, I want to say it was like five or six statements. Then again, going back to the organization and saying, “All right, as a leadership team, we’ve come up with these five strawman statements. What do these mean to you, and does this resonate for you, in your day-to-day life working at this company?” Then, that took shape. Then the way that I love doing this is you go to the frontline, and whoever your frontline is, start there, and make sure that there’s a good representation of that, and then move up to that next level. You’re not going to get everybody. But what I say is, like, a sampling, a representation of. Let them touch it, massage that as well, and then get to the next levels. Then by the time you’re back, it comes back. It’s not the game of telephone where it comes back super different. But what comes back is real authentic language and feeling of like, “Hey, here’s how we would do this every day and how we work together.” And use your marketing people as your best brands, because they’re great at wordsmithing, in how you make this language, these three statements that people can think about off the top of their heads. 


So that’s how you do that. You go and create those statements, and then from there, to get really nerdy about it. Those statements could then turn into very specific behaviors that you could be interviewing for. So these three statements then turn into behaviors, that when we hire people, this is what we’re looking for, this work statement. I mean, that’s the process of how you go and do that.


MELINDA: Awesome, awesome. Then you also touched on leadership capability as being a key piece of that transformation, ultimately the movement that brings about the change. 


MARISSA: Yeah. I think what’s interesting is that for the companies that I shared with you, where I’ve had the chance to lead people in Human Resources, is that these organizations grew up pretty quickly, with the founders, and then people who were there at the very beginning. Then all of a sudden now, and imagine, again, GameStop, a $4 billion company overnight, and now you’re looking at leadership capability. I think what our founders really wanted was a couple of things. One was, “Hey, at some point, we want to retire. So when we retire, who is going to succeed us?” What they realized was, in order to then double their size, is anyone ready today? They realized not. So they’re like, go out, and find the right leader who then can grow up in this organization for the next couple of years, so that they really understand it. But then in assessing leadership capability, it is about, alright, if we aspire to grow, I’m just going to say doubled in size, do our leaders today have the runway to do that? 


I think the good news is we had leaders who grew up with the organization and were excellent at what they did. However, they didn’t have that, now we’re a large public company, there are certain professional skills that you can’t just grow immediately overnight. So when you talk about leadership capability, do you bring in new leaders, do you augment it with other experts who can help support that senior leader in the organization? So that’s what I mean. It’s almost like, well, if this is our strategy for growth, then here’s what we’re going to accomplish. That means we need a specific capability in customer insights and marketing architecture, I’m just going to make that up, but not really. Because like, we didn’t have that. So do we have a marketing leader, who actually was a VP of Marketing, and then over time, we ended up bringing in a Chief Marketing Officer who actually had all that experience. So that’s what I mean. It’s not always about replacing. We had a Chief Accounting Officer who had grown up in the organization, and it was just about bringing in some experts underneath him, to make sure that he was ready for a public company. 


So that’s what I mean, about having the right leadership capability. But then below that, I think what’s really important inside organizations, is when you set goals for yourselves, you really have to ask, do we have the skills and the abilities to really get this done? Take a hard look at the organization. And are you aligned, organized in the right way, and do you have the right people and skills to deliver on that? So when I think about leadership capability, it is not only at the top, but really questioning yourself as an organization, are we ready to be successful at doing this, and do we have the right skills in place to do that? That’s why I always say you cannot grow companies unless you grow people, and there’s two ways you can do it: bring people in, and develop people. So both need to happen. 


MELINDA: I love that, that leadership capability is assessing where you are now. Kind of assessing where you are now, what do you have, and what are the skills that you have? Where can you build the skills or learn the skills, and where do you need to augment and bring in skills from the outside? 


Yeah, that’s fantastic. So then, the other thing you talked about is incentive programs, and I assume. Well, why don’t I not assume and allow you to say, can you tell me a little bit about those incentive programs?


MARISSA: Yeah, sure. So I’ll stick with GameStop. One part about bringing power to the people was about, I think I shared this earlier, is that we create consistency and stability for our people, an environment where people feel safe. So one way to do that, how do you actually measure that inside a company, early days back then, we were actually measuring employee engagement. That was an early business back then. So we had partnered with a company to measure engagement, as well calculate turnover at certain levels in the organization. So it’s not only this is a nice thing to do, here’s what actual measures look like in the company, and then how do you correlate that to business results? So we were able to find a way, and again, that MBA really came in handy, with myself, but also people who were smarter than me on my team, to figure out that turnover engagement really does correlate to profitability and to top-line sales. 


So for incentives, how do we ensure we have great engagement? How do we ensure we have great retention, which is the opposite of turnover? So from an incentive plan, we started with a certain level and above, it was pretty hardcore, 20% of your bonus, so it’s going to hit your wallet. 20% of your bonus will be based on progress that you’re making on your engagement and your retention scores. So when you think about stability, at the center of that is, we don’t want managers turning over. I remember the president saying, when I first got there, we were at a conference. and it was all of the unit managers, there were like 4,000 people in the room. He said, “If you look to your right and you look to your left, and we meet every year, half of you are new. We can’t continue to do that, in order for us to continue to grow.” So that’s why we chose turnover and engagement, retention and engagement, as a measure for incentive. So it’s not only: Hey, it’s a nice thing to do. We literally are going to hold you accountable for that. From a people standpoint, that was one of the first measures that we used, the first couple of years as we were defining all of this, and then eventually took it down to the unit or the store level. Because once we had stability at that store manager level, then they would create that stability inside the stores. 


MELINDA: Yeah. I’m thinking about all of the companies that are working to get more, well, they’re working on what to do and how to. I think a lot of companies first wanted everybody to go back to the office after things change, and then now a lot of companies are like, “That didn’t work, so now we’ll do a hybrid.” Then I think there’s a lot of companies, and I know a lot of companies are still working through, “Okay, well, that’s not working very well either.” Are there incentives? Are there things that you have seen or would suggest that people might do as they’re working to change those cultures?


MARISSA: Yeah, I think it’s interesting. Because a lot of what I shared really does apply to the change that’s happening right now. The question is super popular of like, how do we become a hybrid culture, how do we come back to the office culture? I think at the end of the day, leaders and people inside the companies just really need to define who do we want to be. Like, what is our culture, and align on those values? Like, what does it mean to work here? In defining that, I think that’s going to really drive, are you successful hybrid, or are you successful all in the office, and why? 


But beyond physically where you’re working, I think there’s something that rings true, which is maybe why you asked a question around incentives. I think when people give real clarity, so when managers give real clarity around: “Here’s the goals and the expectations that I have for you, in your job. Here’s, first of all, the job that I hired you into or promoted you into, and that you were realistic in the job and realistic in the skills that you put in the job. Then, here’s what I expect of you.” Getting real clarity in that. But not only what I expect of you in terms of deliverables, but also, how do you measure that? So it’s like, how do we measure these deliverables? 


I’m just going to say this, maybe it’s just my point of view. I think when leaders do that really well, and along the way, check in. So it’s not like, “Hey, I’m going to just let you go and do that, and then at the end of the year, we’re going to have a conversation about how you did.” Maybe that was more of a way of working when we were all together in the office. I think it’s harder now if you don’t do that. So what I saw happening during the pandemic was, everyone was working from home, sheltering at home, and we thought it was two weeks. It ended up being two months, lasted two years or three years. I think the hardest thing having been in people, and my team being business partners, is that there were leaders who absolutely had to practice and be super intentional about, “All right, here’s what I expect from you, and then here’s what success looks like. Here’s how we measure that.” 


You needed to check in with them more intentionally as well, because it’s not like you could throw something over the cubicle wall, or pop up and go, “Hey, what are you working on, what are you doing?” It really required a new kind of leadership skill that was very accountability-driven. I think that’s one thing I’m saying. So I always put aside, should we be in-person or hybrid? I think the bigger question is, do we have leaders, people, managers, who are capable of actually aligning on expectations, setting good outcomes and measurable outcomes, and giving good feedback along the way? That should exist, no matter how you’re working. I think I just turned the whole question, but I think that’s what I see in terms of culture today, in this year of efficiency that a leader has coined. Yeah, just because you changed the organization, doesn’t mean that you’ve set these new behaviors of accountability. I think that’s really important.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s less about the incentive. Well, maybe incentives and accountability kind of go hand in hand.


MARISSA: Yeah. I think the incentive needs to be for people who are responsible for people. I really believe, and again, organizations are very different, how do you incent them, how do you hold them accountable for people in this way? So is there a part of their bonus, that short-term bonus for the year, that does measure their ability to guide and support their people? I think that should be, look, regardless of how you end up working, in-person, in the office, hybrid, that also should be a way to incent people, and hire leaders who actually want to do that.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. That goes back to the alignment. Do we have we need to go to this next stage in our culture and our business? The other thing you said at the beginning, too, I think is really important. I just want to highlight that before we move on, is that it’s not necessarily about remote or hybrid culture. It’s about your culture overall, and how you’re defining it. I think that is a really important piece that a lot of folks aren’t thinking about right now. 


MARISSA: That’s right. I’m glad we were able to talk about that. 


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. So behavior change takes time; culture change takes time. How long did it take to transform these organizations that you were working with?


MARISSA: Well, I think what was unique about these organizations is that I did come in at an inflection point. So I think about GameStop, EB Games and GameStop coming together to become the new GameStop was an inflection point. So when there’s a disrupter like that, I think change can happen very quickly. At my most recent organization, I used to work at Chipotle, I joined at the time when the board brought on a new CEO, and it was post this food safety crisis, and the company had no choice but to change. So they did a great job in creating an amazing council with food safety experts and food safety protocols. But that wasn’t enough. It was all about, “Hey, do we have the right culture, the right leadership, again, to get us out of this dip that we were experiencing, and take us into the future?” 


So back to your question of, did culture change happen pretty quickly? We had to, because these were disruptive events. So GameStop, these two companies came together, and how they quickly hit the ground running without missing a beat on the culture. So I think within the first year, you can really see everything coming together. Then even at Chipotle, that was super drastic. I say super drastic, in that, I’ve always said it was like a hard culture reset. I say that because after 25 years of that company Being based in Denver, now the leadership team said, “Hey, we’re all over the place in terms of locations, and part of the culture that we want to preserve is this collaboration and being together.” Part of it was, once you had all these offices, you have leaders sitting in different places if they weren’t sitting in the restaurants. So we decided to shut down Denver, and relocate to Newport Beach, as well as build out capability and functions in Ohio where we already had an Accounting Service Centre. So I say that was a hard reset, because in the first year, we had to hire 85% to 90% new headquarter people, and very quickly, that exercise that I walked you through, very quickly, we went in and codified our purpose and values, and used that as a way to really identify new people and leaders into the organization, and a way of rallying people together when this new leader, CEO and his leadership team are coming on board. After all that work of co-creation with the organization, really bringing that forward and saying, “Hey, this is who we are, this is where we’re going, and this is how we are.” I think doing that in the first year really created amazing traction. 


I’ll use parallels too, between the GameStop and the Chipotle experience. In GameStop, we grew that company to a $10 billion company in four years. I really believe had we not done that hard work in the first year, there’s no way that would have happened. I think the same thing with Chipotle. We didn’t know it then, and now it’s all hindsight. But you think about the hard work on really getting clarity on purpose, values, and culture. It was 2018. 2019, we hit our stride and either the company was just performing the best it’s ever had. Then the pandemic happens in 2020. Here’s the deal, we had already gone through this crazy change, aside from working from home, for the people that were in the office and now having to work from home. I think that created resilience and stability, of having gone through that and using that as, alright, we’re going to make these values a lens through how we’re going to make decisions, especially during these hard times. Then I think, at GameStop, same thing. 


Then Chipotle, aside from culture, which I think was the foundation for transformation, all sorts of other things, like digital and marketing and developing people, etc., really increased the trajectory of the company’s growth. I think our market cap, at the time when I joined, the stock price was $320 something, $8 billion. When I left, the stock was $1,900. It hit $2,000 last week. But again, so you also see how culture I think plays a big part in transformation. If you do that and get real clarity around that, it helps you kind of weather through these times that are tumultuous or new to you. I think getting clarity on that really helps you through the hard times and times of uncertainty.


MELINDA: Yeah. I want to circle back quickly on being a Kindness Catalyst. I think what I’m hearing is, part of that kindness is that transparency, that empowerment, that collaboration, co-creation, and everybody working in a transparent way toward change together? 


MARISSA: Yeah. I think when people hear kind, they’re saying, “Oh, you’re a nice person.” Yeah, if you are really nice, and you want to pay a compliment to someone because you really mean it, great. That’s kind. But you are spot on, Melinda, in terms of kindness. To be kind is to be clear and to be transparent with people, because it is about helping people get on that right path. Because you’re clear about your intentions. 


I think there’s another piece, too, around kindness, which I always love talking about too. Especially in times of stress and times of change, sometimes, and I notice about me, that stress can fall onto your family, or fall on to the people around you, if you’re working with your colleagues and they’re online or you’re in-person. I don’t intend to be stressed out around you. But I think when people give each other grace sometimes, that goes a long way. It’s when you start from a place of good intentions, I guess that’s what I’m saying, then you get much further faster when you’re engaging in something new. Especially for strangers. This goes back to, I shared a little bit about my childhood. Look, I don’t know how some of these kids were raised that I grew up around. I’m like, wow! My parents always said be respectful to people. So to experience that as a child can impact who you are and how you show up at work. So that’s what I mean by kindness. I think there’s a capability of doing that, that anyone could be capable at least taking a beat. I’m like, alright, I’m going to experience you the way I’m experiencing you, and you might be having an off day, and maybe it has nothing to do with me. So that’s what I mean by kindness. Sometimes people take on what other people are bringing to them, and it’s not even about that. Like, let them be and have that empathy, figure that out. Anyway.


MELINDA: Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. I love it. I have two quick questions. The first is about learning and then taking action. So what action would you like people to take coming away from our conversation?


MARISSA: Oh my goodness, I think the action that I would personally take, in terms of you creating your own culture, is get really clear about who you are. Who are you, and what are your key values? And when you think about that, are you living that today in the organizations or the companies that you’re a part of? If you are, great! Talk about it. If you’re not great! Identify it, and then work with your manager or someone around you to then close that gap. I think it’s really important. I mean, it starts with getting real clarity about who you are and what you stand for, and then mapping that against the current situation. If it’s aligned, right on, what did you learn from that, and how do you help others do that? If it’s not, then solve for that. 


MELINDA: I love that. Where can people learn more about you and your work? 


MARISSA: Well, it’s super easy. My name is Marissa Andrada. MarissaAndrada.com. I have a website, and you’ll see all of my blog posts, you’ll see a link to my conversations. So that’s probably the best place. And LinkedIn, you can follow me on Instagram or Twitter as well. Same thing, just my first and last name.


MELINDA: Awesome. Marissa, thank you. Thank you for sharing all of your wisdom, and for all of the work that you do.


MARISSA: Oh my gosh, thank you for having me. This was so much fun. 


MELINDA: Yeah, thank you everyone for watching and listening. Please do take action, and we will see you next time. 


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Allyship is empathy in action. So what action will you take today?