Thriver Podcast Ep.18 | Authenticity is Key to Effective Communication at Mejuri

Oct 29

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In this episode, we learn how leadership at Mejuri effectively communicates their strong authentic values throughout every level of their organization. Visit thriver.com/podcast to listen to the episode.

Zahra Kara: Welcome, everyone. My name is Zahra Kara, and I’m the Director of Finance and HR here at Thriver. Joining us this week is Kate Railton, VP, People Operations at Mejuri. Today, we’ll be chatting about effective communication of one’s company culture and employer brand to local and global markets to recruit top talent. Kate, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today. I know over the last several years, you’ve been living and breathing everything people related. Throughout your career, whether it’s employee success, talent management, or company culture, you’ve done it all. So, we are super privileged to have you join us today. We will be discussing how company culture translates into its employer brand, and how that is utilized to attract both local and global talent. Before we dive in, maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself and the experiences that you’ve had throughout your career.

Kate Railton: Sure, thank you for having me. This is exciting, and certainly a topic close to my heart. I’ve been in the HR industry for quite some time. I eventually got to a stage where I stopped counting. My background was predominantly in software that helped high-growth businesses scale their HR practices. From there, I kind of got that high-growth bug, a little over a decade ago. I enjoyed the amount of impact that you can make on an organization and the people that work there. Also, how quickly you can realize that impact. I’ve been doing that for quite some time and helping businesses grow and scale, as well as helping the employees that work at these organizations grow themselves, alongside the business. Then I moved out of software. Specifically, into direct-to-consumer at Mejuri. I’ve been with them for over a year and a half. Practicing the same mantra of growing and building the HR infrastructure. But realistically now, it’s with a variety of different employees.

Zahra Kara: It’s great that you’ve been with Mejuri for some time now. You mentioned you’ve been working with so many different types of employees. How many employees does Mejuri currently have? And what type of growth have you seen since you started?

Kate Railton: We’re about 300 employees now across Canada, the US, and parts of Argentina. We have some employees in the UK. We are a mix of retail staff employees, corporate employees, and we have employees in our warehouse as well. We are globally dispersed across multiple time zones. I would say 75% – 80% of them are within North America and working within Canada or the US.

Zahra Kara: Wow, that’s amazing. You have employees scattered everywhere. How do you maintain such a strong company culture with the employees spread throughout the globe? When you hear Mejuri’s name in North America, everyone is familiar with what that culture is and who the people are. It’s such a great company. How do you maintain that?

Kate Railton: Certainly, it is the number-one focus, obviously, with the growth that the business is having. I would say, as an HR leader, the question that comes to us as individuals who are responsible or accountable for these types of things is how do you grow and scale the business while maintaining the culture? I would say that I’m very fortunate in many ways to work for our CEO and our founders. This is because they set the stage quite early in the formation of their business. Also, it’s something that they have kept their arms around quite tightly as they continued to grow the organization before my arrival. The business is six and a half years old now. So, I’m only one and a half years into their six-and-a-half-year journey. They’ve held down the fort on that. They’ve done an excellent job. I would say that when their business eventually started to scale very organically, they set values that are true and unique.

They also connect very clearly to the brand that they are emulating or living, even externally to their community base. So, when we talk about launching products, we have to be able to translate who we are as a company. We must be able to answer, why you would buy from us? What I think has been the secret sauce is the authenticity of who we are internally that very much translates to who we are externally, and then back again. We’ve tried to stay aligned, and I think that alignment has helped scale the business. This is because not only do the employees feel connected to the vision of the organization and what they’re trying to provide for the consumer but also the consumers feel like they’re getting a consistent experience with the brand that we’re saying we are. The result is because the employees also feel that way and are living it, every interaction, whether at the store, with customer service, or as they interview as candidates, all feel very connected.

when we talk about launching products, we have to be able to translate who we are as a company

Zahra Kara: Wow, that’s simply amazing. And it’s something that is not easy to do. Especially with values and making sure you have it both internally and are emulating those values externally as well. I know you mentioned that the majority of the employees are in North America. But is there a plan to go bigger? Perhaps get global talent, have more employees, and maybe even have more front-facing stores by expanding globally?

Kate Railton: Yes. And even the scale overall. Predominantly, we’re in North America. Our employees are here. Our customers are here. And our revenues here. All of which is fantastic and will continue to be a large, and possibly the major aspect of our business. We have started to expand our marketing efforts into other geographic regions. Trying to establish your brand and connect to consumers in those markets is something that you need to dig into. You need to understand the market that you’re looking to grow into and finding ways to connect with the consumers. You need to find out what their buying patterns are and how they connect with the jewelry and fashion industry. This has caused us to look at our employer brand and ask the same questions. Up until recently, we’ve had the same corporate brand of who we are as a company, which is the same as our employer brand. This is because that is who candidates are resonating with. We haven’t had any issues.

That is to say, we have a steady influx of candidates across most of Canada and the US. They are excited to work for our brand, and they connect with our mission. So, on the hiring side, we’ve been fortunate that way. We recognize, as we continue to grow and expand into other areas, that may not necessarily be the case. Be it in new geographical areas, or requiring new skill sets that we’re looking to add to the organization. We want to find a way to say, here we are as an employer, and this is how we choose to employ you, grow you, all while being connected to the brand. Finding a way to express to candidates what you’ll get to come to fruition with yourself as a professional when you work here. That’s not something that we’ve detailed out, so it’s been a huge focus for us over the past six months so far. Trying to figure out who we are as an employer and who we want to be. 

Zahra Kara: Definitely. Are there any specific markets that Mejuri plans to target globally?

Kate Railton: That’s a great question. Yes, we’re going to continue to expand in Europe. We launched in Australia and the UK last year. Essentially, we launch, we try, and we see how it goes. And when I say launch, it’s e-commerce based. If all goes well, then we look to see what the appetite would be to add retail locations. We’re in the stage of exploring those markets. We are also continuing to pick geographic areas across Europe that we can also launch into. It’s a large task, as I mentioned because it involves understanding the local market and local languages. We are also making sure that we are complementary to the locality and provide something consistent with their experience as local consumers. But yes, a lot of expansion plans, even within the market in the US and Canada. There are so many different geographic areas that we could have stores in, or areas that we’re looking to build out our consumer base in.

Zahra Kara: That’s no easy feat, for sure. Expanding into so many different markets and trying to test the waters to see what works there. Are there any specific partnerships that you’ll have to build or create to develop these relationships which will allow you to go into these markets and attract the top talent while you potentially expand into having stores and your foot on the ground?

Kate Railton: Absolutely. I would say some of the best things about Mejuri and one of the main reasons why we’ve been quite successful, is that we own everything in-house. Our model is not to outsource our distribution. We handle the shipping and have full control over our customers. It allows us to have a tight view of how that’s going. It also allows us to customize as necessary to make sure it’s driving impact. We can control if there are going to be any issues because we have our full creative team in-house. While we outsource pieces of work here and there, the creative direction and the brand is owned in-house.

It’s not given to an agency. So, as we continue to expand, those teams need to continue to consult and partner with different local providers or individuals who may know the landscape a little bit better. This enables us to impact and expand the way we would like to. And in some cases, for us, that’s hiring talent or partnering with businesses. So, while we have a really strong brand message of who we are, again, that employer brand piece is really important. This way we can connect with people who may be great experts on the ground, and who we’d want to bring on as an employee, on a contractual basis, or a full-time basis. So yes, lots of different partnerships to help us as we grow and continue to keep us informed.

Zahra Kara: How do you keep track of all this? I can imagine it’s not easy. There’s probably so much going on at once.

Kate Railton: True. We pride ourselves, at least at the executive level, and certainly across the business, to keep a tight tab on everything while setting lofty goals and objectives. What continues to surprise me about this organization is that we set these lofty targets, and they get blown out of the water. There’s such a wonderful sense of camaraderie and consistency. With the planning, we make sure that we know what we are trying to shoot for. There’s an underlying organic approach where employees are passionate about where they work and who they work with. We see that in our engagement surveys and our performance reviews. We see it across the board. The camaraderie of we’re all in it to dominate as a fashion brand and we can feel connected to the mission that it’s on. But it is busy. There’s never a feeling that you may be a little bored this week. No one feels that way at Mejuri ever. There are constantly things that we’re working on, trying to improve, or go back and change. So, keeping track of it all, I would say, the secret is to have a pretty solid project plan for everything that you’re working on. We’ve all had to become little mini PMPs. But, it’s all the fun stuff, so you’re excited about most of the work that you’re working on.

What continues to surprise me about this organization is that we set these lofty targets, and they get blown out of the water. There’s such a wonderful sense of camaraderie and consistency.

Zahra Kara: That’s amazing. Any specific learnings that have coming out of this such as challenges that you might have faced?

Kate Railton: Yes, planning for scale. When you talk about scaling, it’s about deciding what is the next step? There are so many intricate pieces for planning your organization properly. Making sure that you have the right functions. It’s not just adding people in just because teams are busy. Understanding that okay. However, “busy” isn’t a business plan. Busy is, you know, busy. And so are you busy, because we don’t have the right system in place, or we haven’t optimized on a process. Or in fact, we had optimized that process, but we’ve outgrown it with our new approach. So, we’re trying to help leaders figure out how they can go back into their businesses and plan for capacity. They need to know when they need people. It’s hard. I find it hard, even for my team. To make sure that we’ve got the right amount of people in and that everyone feels supported. I would say that it’s not necessarily a lesson because we still don’t have it right.

We don’t have the perfect secret sauce at this stage. It’s just something that we’re recognizing, as we continue to scale up the way we’re going. That is integral. We don’t want to burn team members out. We want to keep them engaged and happy and feeling like they’re growing their careers. But when you grow at the rate that we’re growing, it requires constant assessment. It’s not something we can say that once a year we’re going to check and see where our organization is. We are checking to see if we have the right capacity. We’re looking at it quarterly, almost. Because we have to.

Zahra Kara: Definitely. I honestly think that you could probably write a playbook at this point. With all the experience that you’ve had just thinking about scale, recruiting talent globally, and expanding the employer brand. It’s something that a lot of companies are working towards, as well. Because, in this type of climate where COVID has happened, and we’re all working from home, we’ve all realized that our businesses can be global, and it doesn’t need to be limited. Employees don’t need to be limited to a specific space or any of that. So yes, for the future Kate, if you ever wanted to write a playbook on this, I will read it.

Kate Railton: It’s so funny because you’re in it every day just solving. I think some of the coolest pieces about being part of a high-growth business is that you’re just constantly solving. How you approach problems is really how you work with your teammates. You’re not always going to get those right. We all know that we’ve tried to do something that didn’t quite work out. But that’s cool. And now we’ll try a different way. If I could advise other businesses that are doing the same thing, focus on scale. Focus on who you need to round out your teams. Ask, what’s that skill set that’s going to add a tremendous value. Try not to hire for today. Because you’ve already surpassed the problems of today. When you’re in a growing business, you need to hire for what we might assume to be next year. Then you can build out that team. It ensures that you’ve got the individuals that can run with you through the marathon versus the sprint.

Zahra Kara: Yes, definitely. I think it’s hard to realize that in the moment. Because at the moment, you’re just thinking about, what do I need at this time? And how can I push my business forward at this time? So, I think it’s great to take that step back and realize what you’ll need in the future as well.

Kate Railton: On that topic, I’m 100% guilty of doing the same thing. And I don’t necessarily know that there is a solution. So, I’m going to bring up something, and I’m not certain it’s going to be helpful for anybody. But when you’re in a high-growth business, especially if you’re venture-backed, you’re trying to be mindful of bringing in the right people. So, staffing appropriately, but planning on hitting the objectives. These are the people we’re going to need. Do we need them? Let’s be certain, because you’re not going to want to bring in more people than you need, and then miss objectives or vice versa. There’s a lot of hedging your bets to see where this is going to net out for you.

The balance can be challenging when you’re trying to figure out how to staff appropriately. You might have set lofty goals and hit them or even exceeded them, so now it’s time to reassess the teams’ capacity for the near and distant future. It’s challenging as well because you’re unsure of how the market is going to respond to your sales approach and other tools. Being able to give your team members elasticity is interesting. You have to know that you’ve got that financial acumen to do that. You have to have the team acumen to do it. You have to have some team structures to do that. But that’s a lot of the things that we’re learning now, too. How do we set our goals and set the team to be able to hit the goals while keeping them healthy, happy, and engaged. We also need to know that if we blow the target out of the water we need to have some elasticity. This way the team can feel comfortable and again, healthy, happy, engaged, and taken care of. 

Zahra Kara: That’s great advice. In your opinion, what are some best things that you can do to continue to maintain a great company culture when everyone is working so hard towards a common goal? Or working on different things at the same time yet coming together to work on something like a project of expansion together?

Kate Railton: To me, the most important thing is that you have to listen. You have to have a culture of listening. It’s important to be able to hear what your people are saying and be on the ground with your teams. You need to have their feedback and let them know their feedback is valuable. As businesses grow, the culture is going to evolve. That’s why it is important to use multiple ways of listening. We, HR pros, love a good survey. At Mejuri, we survey quarterly. We use trending questions that go out every quarter. We also use in-the-moment questions such as, “Hey, we’re just opening up back-to-office. How do you feel about that?” We also make sure there are consistent questions for tracking data. This way we have a solid process in place to best support our teams. The outcome is a culture of trust because your people feel they have input which makes them willing to share within their teams and with the executives too. These are some tools for communication that help build consistent company philosophies. That’s why we survey across corporate, warehouse, and retail. You could be a part-time staff member or full-time employee, it doesn’t matter. Your feedback is taken seriously.

Zahra Kara: That’s great to know. And super important. Because, in this day and age, every employee wants to be heard and should be heard. Again, in this climate that we’re in, we need to make sure that everyone feels connected. Especially in this Zoom life that we’ve been living in for the past 18 months. It sometimes feels hard for employees to feel like they’re engaged and being heard. But everything that Mejuri is doing sounds great to keep everyone connected and together. It is something that I, who’s not an HR professional but learning from individuals like you, can take and implement at our company. So, is there any other advice that you have before we wrap up?

Kate Railton: It has to do with communications and connecting with your brand. Authenticity is key. It’s what matters. Employees want to understand, and authenticity is what can drive passion. Being a part of a growing business with its constant ebbs and flows can be exciting. Even more so when you’re a part of lofty goals with a well-communicated vision and mission. That is why it is important to decide how you want to support employees on their journey with you. Getting started on what that looks like early sets the stage for what kind of business you want to be. It develops your values and sets the intention for who you want to be as an employer. 

Authenticity is key. It’s what matters. Employees want to understand, and authenticity is what can drive passion.

Zahra Kara: That is amazing advice. I resonate with that. And I’m sure whoever’s listening to this will also resonate with everything that you just said because it is extremely important for all of us to consider these things. So, Kate, honestly, it feels like you were born to do this. So, I have one final question for you. Did you always see yourself going into this profession, even as a child? Or can you find a connection between your childhood aspirations and what you’re doing now?

Kate Railton: That’s a great question. No, I did not want to be in HR, because I didn’t know it was a profession to be clear. You know, when you’re a little kid, your parents are talking to you, but what you want to be is something visible that you see. That’s how I even think about it with my kids. Like when the kids are really into the garbage truck, I’ll let them know, you could be a garbage professional truck driver. You could do that anytime you want. It could be a really exciting opportunity. Same when you go to the doctor’s office, you could be a nurse practitioner, you could be a doctor. Your parents talk about those things with you because they’re visual in front of you. They try to help you connect with and have those things in life. So, you can start to visualize yourself there. I didn’t walk past and see an HR professional. Nobody said you could be an HR professional. So, I would say when I was little, I wanted to be a teacher. I went on the teacher route up through high school and then started my degree. I did a double degree in psychology and sociology. I still wanted to do the teacher thing. But after I was a teacher’s assistant for a few months, I realized that I couldn’t be a teacher even if I wanted to be.

I just genuinely didn’t have the patience, or my brain didn’t work that way. They are such talented individuals. And I was not wired that way. And then I graduated from university and thought I was going to go into social work. I applied for my Master’s in social work, and then had this hunch that I should wait and not go through with it. I looked for a job instead first. And so, I was at a job fair and met up with a bunch of recruiters while I was trying to figure out what job I wanted to do. Afterward, I came home and spoke with a family friend. We talked about how cool it would be to be the person on the other side of the desk offering jobs to people. Interestingly, she had a staffing agency at the time. She said you can recruit for me anytime. From there, everything lined up with the skills and passions I had already developed. I think we need to, as HR professionals, get a bit of a coalition together. We could start to go into schools the way the technology companies go in and talk to students about becoming an engineer. We, HR pros, could get in there and say, here’s a cool profession, it’s called human resources. Because I don’t feel like enough people know about it early on in life. Most HR professionals always tell you they fell into it somehow.

Zahra Kara: I agree with that. It’s just that people don’t necessarily know what jobs are when they’re applying to certain things in school. I remember growing up and the choices seemed to be, doctor, engineer, teacher, accountant, just pick one, right? So, it’s a lot more tangible.

Kate Railton: If you had parents who were in business, you just knew that they went and worked in this big, tall tower somewhere.

Zahra Kara: Exactly.

Kate Railton: That’s all I knew. It’s really interesting now looking back on it because I think there are lots of connections, but not necessarily ones that I knew about as a kid.

Zahra Kara: I think what intrigues me most is this is something we’re seeing a lot of. There is someone dedicated in companies that are specifically working on culture, which I think is so great to see everywhere. Everything that you’ve said today just echoes the need to have someone like that just helping the business and keeping that pride alive.

Kate Railton: Totally. I think culture for me is an interesting one. Because it grows, it evolves. We all know this now, it’s not your office. Which is great. I think that was the push the pandemic gave us. The push that we needed. It’s how you work together. It’s how you have meetings. It’s how you share information. That is the culture. What the employees can expect from the behavior in your organization is the culture. And that culture either aligns with how they want to work, or it doesn’t. And so hopefully, you can set the expectations in your interview process, even in your marketing, to hiring new candidates. But then all those things translate into what they experience when they join. As you grow, the culture, how you do things, and the expectations grow with the business. And people come along for that ride, because you’ve again, followed your cultural approach and showed them that you are transparent while keeping those things flowing. It’s really interesting. It’s people who own that job. It’s a big lift when everybody owns it. Maybe there is one person who is helping orchestrate but everybody, every leader, every employee is connected to it. And to know when they’re not connected to it anymore. It’s all part of the ecosystem of how you grow the business and/or just exist within the business.

Zahra Kara: 100%. Kate, I want to thank you so, so much for being with us today and giving us all this wonderful experience, advice, and everything that you’ve learned. Unfortunately, this is all the time that we have for today. But before we end off, I wanted to ask that if people want to follow you or reach you, where can they do so?

Kate Railton: Fantastic. LinkedIn is a great one. Kate Railton, at Mejuri. You can reach me directly just by requesting to connect. Send me a little note. It’s usually easier for me than the blind connections. Where I’m not sure if I might have met you before or not. That’s my biggest one for sure. I would say that’s the best place to spend time and to connect. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. I’m not as active on Twitter and all those other things. I maybe need to do some work there with our brand team.

Zahra Kara: Okay, awesome. So again, I want to thank you for spending the time with us today. And I also want to thank everyone who is listening. Thank you for joining us on this wonderful discussion. We’re looking forward to more thriver episodes coming soon. So, stay tuned and we’ll see you all soon.

You’ve been reading Thriver Podcast Episode 18. Subscribe now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Share your thoughts on this episode by tweeting us @ThriverCompany or get to know more about us by visiting Thriver.com

Thriver Podcast is the leading company culture podcast, where each unique episode brings you engaging topics that new hosts and guests will connect on. Learn what drives a strong workplace culture through leadership, diverse experiences, personal stories, and much more.

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