How would HR pros fix the disaster at Thinx? We found out.
The “feminist utopia” promised by the period underwear company Thinx didn’t exactly extend to its employees, Racked reported last month.
Six current and former employees described below-market salaries, bare-minimum benefits, and non-existent perks at the company. And the alleged behavior of cofounder and former CEO Miki Agrawal could best be described as unusual, though more commonly described as wildly inappropriate and bullying.
“…[M]any current and former employees paint a picture of dysfunction and hypocrisy,” Racked reported, “with clashes between Agrawal and key members of her team, employment policies that seem to fly in the face of the company’s women-first messaging, and an increasingly volatile work environment…”
Part of the blame for the dysfunction at Thinx lies squarely in the fact that the company lacked a designated human resources manager.
As Rebecca Greenfield and Kim Bhasin wrote at Bloomberg, “As the startup expanded and pulled in tens of millions in revenue, then-Chief Executive Officer Miki Agrawal never developed HR policies or hired an HR manager… without HR baked into its culture, a company can end up with deeper issues.”
We surveyed 11 HR pros at startups across the country to answer one big question – if you were hired by Thinx today, what is the first thing you would do to set the company right? These are their responses.
Rochelle DiRe, Managed by Q
Initiate a full listening tour – with a commitment to do a full cultural read out to the board and then the company; publish a zero tolerance policy for harassment behavior with two people designated to a ‘hotline’ for issues; tell the team we will be conducting a comp and benefit study to be in line with companies at similar stage and revenue.
I would run.
Nadine Selim, NBC Universal
Staff a team that includes at least one employer law expert, then conduct internal research of culture and issues (perhaps through an external vendor). I’d need to know what the issues are and how they’ve impacted the culture. From there, we’d need to begin employee engagement campaigns that would hopefully externalize and help minimize the negative PR.
Ash Hogan, Emplyd
Establish boundaries. Implement clear and defined HR policies. Build trust and rapport with a clear path for reporting future violations without fear of reprisal. Training and compliance on sexual harassment for all employees. Employee handbook to outline expectations of employee behavior in the workplace. Lead by example, hold yourself and your peers accountable to the same standards. Act quickly and communicate openly on any future violations, zero tolerance.
What’s most apparent to me is that these employees want to be heard. It takes something really bad to drive someone to write a review like that on Glassdoor. My first action item would be to focus on the current team and status of the company to uncover the issues. I would be interested in polling the current teams (Executive team included) in an anonymous survey to cover all aspects of employee satisfaction and uncover the current issues instead of focusing on the past he said/she said in the news. Employees leave for their own reasons but there needs to be a heavy focus on retaining the talent that’s currently in the door and branding to attract future teammates.
Brannon Skillern, IEX Group
a. Sit with every single individual employee to hear why they chose to work at Thinx in the first place, what is working in the org/culture environment, and what needs to change.
b. Send engagement/culture survey to get measurable benchmarks for where we’re at.
c. If possible, also reach out to the many who have left to ask the same questions and/or send the survey.
2) Review feedback.
a. Aggregate insights, looking at data benchmarks from the survey as well as overall organic feedback received from the individuals on the team.
b. Present aggregated findings back to the leadership as well as the entire team with a focus on areas that need to be addressed.
3) Take action.
a. Build a task force for each area that needs to be addressed, made up of employees who are interested in helping make change.
b. Meet regularly with each task force to discuss and deploy initiatives intended to move the needle.
4) Measure again.
a. Send a pulse survey to measure whether the areas needing improvement have actually improved.
b. Also meet with a cross-section of individuals for organic feedback on the changes made and whether they’ve helped.
Emma Leeds, Boxed
To meet with every person in the company to understand what they love about Thinx and their grievances. Then my approach would be twofold (1) to address the policies/processes that are discriminatory, i.e. address comp issues, parental leave, career ladders, etc. and (2) to address the cultural issues through a combination of training, coaching, and org structure and management changes. Concurrently I would run an engagement survey to get an idea of where people are now (at the low point), and track how various projects would affect people’s engagement levels.
Listening tour! I would take the time to meet everyone and ask about the issues, what actions they would like the company/HR should take to solve them and what they think my priorities should be. Staff need to feel respected, heard and valued in order to stay with your company. I would want to ensure they understood that they would be a part of the solution when it comes to fixing our issues and that I would NOT be putting “rigid” HR practices in place but flexible ones that followed HR law but aligned with the spirit and mission of Thinx.
Alexis Kavazanjian, PatientPop, Inc.
I think the most important thing is to understand and collect feedback directly from the employees. Not only what the issues and problems are, but what employees like about the company, the culture and their role within the organization. Once armed with that information I would establish a benchmark, create OKRs and focus on doing more of what is working and fix what isn’t.
Meet with each employee (either in small groups or individually) to discuss transparency and create a culture of trust and honesty. (Expecting salary to be a big topic, I would introduce a performance evaluation system to help justify salaries.)
Meet with Agrawal and set new boundaries/expectations which would lead to her addressing the team and acknowledging issues, the need for change and an apology. I’d meet with each team member to get a rich understanding of their concerns, assuring them change is on the way and that I want them involved in the journey. I’d put a plan in place to develop new values, improve compensation/benefits, employer brand, engagement/retention and other issues identified through one on ones.
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