Changing a company’s narrative with small wins

Laura Hall

WHYZ Partners

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Laura Hall has spent most of her business career in the fashion industry, helping to steer brands like Burberry and Polo Ralph Lauren. She left her last corporate role as president of accessories for Polo Ralph Lauren to pursue her dedication for helping others and making a difference for companies building brands. 

Laura is a Partner at WHYZ Partners. She has worked in Asia, Europe, and the US in both retail and wholesale. With expertise in front and back of house in brand activation and operations, she has a wide range of experience thinking inside and outside the traditional retail box.  Laura has also worked within multi-cultural frameworks, delivering bottom line results regardless of external and internal business challenges. She left her last corporate role as President of Accessories for Polo Ralph Lauren in 2013 to focus on helping others in the industry grow their businesses. Laura is the author of The ABC’s of Conscious Capitalism for KIDs. She is also one of Conscious Capitalism Press’s Founding Authors.

Laura Hall has been a President or a C-suite executive three times in her career so far. As a woman in the fashion industry, she practiced business with a Conscious Capitalist mindset – always focusing on the people and their needs. She tells us, “I was always what I would call an unconscious Conscious Capitalist because I always cared about people. I was really good at the people side of business. I discovered the triple bottom line when I worked for Burberry and then at Ralph Lauren because we were really beginning to think about where we supply our product – where it came from, what were the raw materials, etc. I became a Conscious Capitalist by accident really. I saw a magazine in Whole Foods called Conscious Company Magazine and Eileen Fisher was on the cover, so that did it for me. I bought the magazine and the rest is history.”

Laura discovered Conscious Capitalism in 2015 and attended her first CEO Summit in 2017. She tells us, “I was really interested in what other C-suite business leaders and the Conscious Capitalism movement looked like – What did they do? I wanted to see how this conference would be different from other types of CEO conferences that I was used to attending. To say that it was transformative is probably correct. It didn’t transform the way I did business, but it crystallized it for me and made it clear to me that all the things that I had been thinking about as maybes – you know – why don’t we do it this way instead of this way? – became super clear. It was educational, it was informational; I was inspired. Going to the CEO Summit helped me see that if I embraced this philosophy, I was not going to be alone. I came back from my first CEO Summit and I said, ‘This is a movement. This is important. This is the future. We need to pivot.’”

Change your narrative

After learning more about Conscious Capitalism and connecting with other CEOs who were interested in and practicing Conscious Capitalism, Laura was able to take the ideas in her head and make them a reality. She tells us, “We began to change our narrative. We repositioned ourselves in terms of client base and who we wanted as clients and who we were trying to attract. We went from saying: We are three C-suite business women who can help you with profitable growth to… We believe we can help you grow profitably with purpose.”

Laura emphasizes something that all Conscious Capitalists know well: “The only way a company can help people and the planet is by being profitable.” She tells us, “We were good at the profit part – we were successful in helping our clients figure out how to navigate the bottom line, but we began to realize that we needed to make it possible for them to do it for the long-term and the only way that our clients, in this business environment, are going to survive is by thinking about their stakeholders more. This is when the principle of Stakeholder Orientation really struck me. The Friedman Doctrine that we all thought was the end-all-be-all was suddenly out. We started thinking about our clients’ employees and their customers – their two biggest stakeholders. It became crystal clear that if we don’t think about our clients’ employees and customers, we were not going to be able to create a roadmap for our clients that could enable their long-term success. Little did we know that moving in that direction would turn out to be the best thing we could have ever done.”

For Laura, Stakeholder Orientation begins with the brand and its relationship to their employees and their customers. She tells us, “Right now, especially in the past six months, we have found out how important it is to listen to our employees and to listen to our customers. If we can take care of both of them and give them what they need and ask them what they need; it makes it about the we instead of me. It’s the old adage – If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. We’re in this together and we need to create a business situation where we can make money and be accountable to the companies that we work. We still use key performance indicators, but we use a different lens than it was 20 years ago. Business does not exist solely to make profit; that is definitely the wrong way to look at it.”

Advice on How to Apply Conscious Capitalism

As much as Conscious Capitalism has grown as a movement, there are still business leaders who struggle with understanding how to apply Conscious Capitalism principles into the workplace. Stakeholder Orientation is a particularly challenging concept for many business leaders. Laura shares some advice, “It helps to think about customers personally, instead of as a group. In fashion, we used to tell customers what to buy. The big fashion magazines were the oracles sitting up there saying, ‘You’re going to buy pink this year, because it’s the color of the season.’ Those days are gone. The customer tells us what they want, when they want it, and what they want to buy. Any company that hasn’t figured that out is not going to be successful. It can be challenge to get started. We work with mid-market brands and companies who have already figured their minimum viable product, they’ve got proof of concept, they’re already creating a product or service that’s driving some kind of growth. With our clients we focus on the following things, and these are the same advice I would give to anyone.”

You have to start somewhere.  “We help our clients figure out where they’re going to focus, but they have to start. Starting – wherever you are – is the first step to success.”

Just make progress. “We all think that we have to be perfect or we have to have this big grand business plan put together before we launch a new project, before we add this, or before we make this decision in the company. Not so. Right now, you just need to move forward; it’s progress not perfection. Perfection doesn’t exist and we have put ourselves into a very self-limiting situation by thinking we can’t move on until it’s perfect. That’s not the way the world works.”

Create momentum through small wins. “One of the things we’re good at is helping our clients build a timing and action strategy roadmap that ensures that within the first 90 to 120 days you get something done. It’s designed to help you establish some goals that are attainable for you and/or your team to help create momentum. Momentum is a powerful thing. The other thing you need if you’re an aspiring or practicing Conscious Capitalist is success. These don’t need to be huge successes; small wins turn into big ones. Try to find and create ways to recognize and celebrate those successes. Some clients utilize meetings, show and tell, and others have tried a formal recognition process. Whatever it is, you need to find a way to recognize and celebrate small successes with your team early on so that everybody feels that there’s momentum and there’s a future.”

Build bridges whenever possible. “I love this story that Trudy Bourgeois shared with me. Trudy is a great Conscious Capitalist, she spoke a few years ago at the 2018 CEO Summit. She and I had this conversation where she shared a great story about connecting with people. She’d been having problems with a client so she went to meet with him at his office. The climate was tense, when she noticed that he had pictures of children on his desk. She asked, ‘Are those your grandchildren?’, and then he started talking about how proud he was of them and the climate just changed, and they were able to connect and make progress together. The point is, it’s not hard to connect to the humanity inside of another person – no matter where you begin. If you are able to make that relationship personal, in a good way, things can change for the better. Right now, we’ve got to find ways to connect more personally to one another – to build bridges – because this is a moment where if we don’t, we won’t succeed as an economy and Conscious Capitalism needs to succeed so that we can all create a better economy.”

Ways to Use this Article

Reflection Questions

The following reflection questions are designed to help you think more deeply about Laura’s story and potentially apply some of the insights revealed to your own life and practice of Conscious Capitalism. It may help to answer these questions in a journal, or simply find a quiet space to reflect for a few minutes.

  • When did you first discover Conscious Capitalism? What resonated most with you?
  • In what ways – if any – have you incorporated that part of Conscious Capitalism into your company?
  • Using the advice Laura provides, think about how you can build Conscious Capitalism into your company right now by 1) just get started, 2) making progress not perfection, and 3) celebrating small wins to build momentum with your team.

Team Questions

Now that you’ve reflected on Laura’s story as well as your own story, you may want to bring some of these questions to other members of your team.

  • Do you feel like a valued member of this team? What are some company practices that make you feel valued? What are some company practices that make you feel undervalued?
  • Do you feel there is a personal connection between members of this team? How can we improve that relationship?
  • Conscious Capitalists believe that a business needs to create value with and for its various stakeholders (e.g. customers, employees, vendors, investors, communities, etc.). Like the life forms in an ecosystem, healthy stakeholders lead to a healthy business system. Who are our key stakeholders? How successful are we at providing value for our stakeholders? How well do we understand and connect personally with our stakeholders? What can we do better?