Lululemon leans on personal development of associates

Source: Lululemon
Dec 26, 2017
Tom Ryan

Lululemon recently landed as the highest-ranked retailer on Glassdoor’s “2018 Best Places to Work” survey for U.S. companies. One of its unique attributes is its investment in store associates’ personal and career goals.

The personal development focus was a passion of the chain’s founder, Chip Wilson, and has drawn some controversy.

Management encourages associates to set ten-year goals with a focus on three areas: health, personal and career, and provides worksheets to guide them in setting a vision. Once ten-year goals are set, five-year and one-year sub-goals are added to help plot a course to achieve the longer-term goal.

“Vision boards” for associates are hung in the back rooms of stores and associates are advised to check their vision and goals frequently, share them with friends and family, and continually assess whether their decisions are bringing them closer or farther from their goals.

The most controversial part is that, once associates have nine months under their belt, Lululemon will pay for them to attend self-improvement seminars run by Landmark Forum, an organization based in San Francisco.

Reports came out a few years ago that some employees felt forced to attend the seminar in order to advance within the company and to follow Landmark Forum’s guidelines, which include such advice as not having “bad days.”

Laurent Potdevin, who replaced Mr. Wilson as CEO in late 2013, has in recent years reportedly reduced the pressure to attend the retreats or follow Landmark Forum’s ideologies.

Still, many other employees cited in the articles exploring the Landmark Forum controversy appreciated the seminars. The high score in Glassdoor’s “2018 Best Places to Work” survey and positive comments on the site also show that many feel the personal development approach has been beneficial.

Among the recent comments:

  • “One of the best jobs I’ve ever had — learned so much about how to be a leader and treat other people.”
  • “Managers act as coaches: helping you focus on improving your work performance or just achieving your personal or health goals, too.”
  • “They care about you as an individual through development and growth.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How important to Lululemon’s success is the company focus on personal development? Would emphasizing associates’ goals around health, personal and career work for other retailers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"People are the one and only valued differentiation between the physical and the virtual digital world. "
"Without a great “people process” (from HR on out to ops), you might as well just lay down to the online onslaught."
"Other retailers can and should borrow a page from Chip’s playbook."

Join the Discussion!

17 Comments on "Lululemon leans on personal development of associates"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Max Goldberg

Until retailers invest in their employees’ personal development, they will be seen as temporary stepping stones on the path to other places. Emphasizing the broad categories of health, personal and career could work for other retailers, as those areas touch on the lives of every employee.

Dave Bruno

I can’t comment on the specific concerns raised about Landmark Forum, but I can say that I applaud any retailer who makes associate growth part of their culture. Invested, fulfilled and advancing associates are much more likely to deliver experiences that differentiate. And now more than ever, experiences matter to the success of the store.

Bob Amster

The profit motive and cost containment have stood in the way of personal development in retail for decades, with the possible exception of luxury retailers where training and development have been deemed critical to the success of the brands. Until more retailers realize that there is a chicken-and-egg dynamic at play here and implement and test training and personal development programs, most of retail will just become a revolving door with the exit pointed at other businesses.

Mark Price
Mark Price
Managing Partner, Smart Data Solutions, ThreeBridge
2 years 25 days ago

The focus on personal development of Lululemon’s associates is not only a strong statement in the value of associates to the organization but also is completely consistent with the brand value and positioning. That consistency of living the brand is one of the reasons that Lululemon continues to show brand growth and resilience in tough retail times.

Adrian Weidmann

People are the one and only valued differentiation between the physical and the virtual digital world. Retailers and brands that invest in people will definitely reap the rewards with their shoppers and customers. Regardless of the profession, people who are invested and passionate in what they do and stay focused on customer service always prevail and shoppers will reward their attention and behavior with their wallets.

Ian Percy

This validates the oft repeated advice from my BrainTrust colleagues to invest in associate development. One of my favorite principles is “How we are managed is how we serve.” Put another way, when you invest in your people, they invest in you. Or if you’re into the quantum stuff, this is the Law of Reciprocity.

Personally, I don’t think Landmark Forum is the ideal development partner and I was glad to read Laurent Potdevin has toned that expectation down. Landmark shares much of its core DNA with the old Erhard Seminar Training (EST) programs of the ’70s. (I remember those days well.) No doubt about it, there is a cultish vibe still though devotees adamantly deny that, which kind of makes the point. There are SO many other excellent development possibilities. Still, kudos to Lululemon!

David Livingston
2 years 24 days ago

I never realized that attending seminars was considered controversial. I certainly was required to back in the olden days when I worked in retail. Go along to get along. It’s always good to have goals in all aspects of your life. I go to the gym just about every day and see a lot of satisfied customers.

Sterling Hawkins

Chip Wilson’s focus on personal development is the defining factor in Lululemon’s success. Without it, achieving the near-impossible task of creating and popularizing a market for high-end gym wear during a recession would never have been possible. Broadly supporting associates’ lives inside and outside of their career makes a real difference. Other retailers can and should borrow a page from Chip’s playbook.

Dave Nixon

This is especially meaningful to a lifestyle brand like Lululemon! Unless you invest in people’s lives by providing them a way to achieve their personal purpose, retail will always be perceived as the “starter” job or considered to be of lower value compared to other “professional” jobs. This is a shame since many of the traits I use in consulting and sales today came from my days in retail. Why can’t retail be seen as the first step on a career path that aligns with your personal purpose? Because many retailers don’t put this level of investment into their most important aspect of their businesses.

Lee Peterson

This is still THE single best retail strategy: great people on people experiences. So obvious, yet so overlooked. Think of the emulators of the last couple of decades; Starbucks, Apple, Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods — all with one thing in common: great people. Odd to think it’s still newsworthy.

I’m not saying this in a vacuum. Walmart’s newly minted “Academies” being proof that the belle curve is coming around to what most retailers forgot with the advent of the big box. Without a great “people process” (from HR on out to ops), you might as well just lay down to the online onslaught.

Chuck Palmer

Culture is not built in a day. Nor is it applied by an outside consultant. Believe me.

Culture is built every day by leadership and when it’s successful, it allows staff to grow with the company and in turn, the company gets to grow with the staff. Especially in stores. Letting your our staff become the best manifestation of the brand will inherently deliver unique customer experiences.

Investing in your staff’s personal and professional development is a no-brainer. It’s the thing that differentiates Nordstrom from Macy’s; Macy’s now from Macy’s of 30 years ago; and Crate & Barrel from everything else.

Leadership either invests in their people and culture or not. These are the things that make a company sustainable over the ups and downs of retail.

Shep Hyken

If people love working somewhere, it shows. To be the best place to buy from, it helps to be the best place to work. What’s happening on the inside of a business is felt on the outside by the customer. With that in mind, one of the great benefits of working at the right company is personal and professional development. Lululemon is a great role model for the right way to go about this.

Jeff Hall

Kudos to Lululemon for recognizing and honoring the importance of long-term employee development. The differentiating approach is the inclusive focus on personal and health goals to complement one’s professional aspirations. Brands at the forefront of this movement include Starbucks and The Container Store, with both exhibiting values-based operating models. It is refreshing and inspiring to see Lululemon’s leadership likewise seeing inherent value in their associates.

Craig Sundstrom

While I can see this approach working well for both Lululemon and its employees, that’s mostly due to the large overlap between both attaining personal fitness and selling it. I’m less clear how successful this approach would be at a restaurant or department store or wherever. There’s a fine line between “helpful” and “officious” or worse, and I would wonder about the large number of people, often very good employees, who want their work and private lives separate.

Min-Jee Hwang

Turnover can be especially high in retail, but developing your employees beyond just basic training gives them an incentive to stick around. Sure, all employees might not want to go to a required seminar, but setting goals and achieving them is beneficial for all. Lululemon is helping employees develop skills that extend beyond their positions. If employees can see their progress, they’ll be further incentivized to keep striving to meet their next goals on the sales floor.

Yoav Vilner
2 years 24 days ago

I personally think Lululemon has done a great thing for its employees. Helping employees’ personal growth is something that each company should do, not just retailers. Surveys have shown how employees’ main concern is to not have enough time for their personal growth and for their families. Lululemon may not solve this issue completely, but it at least shows interest in its employees’ concerns. Well done.

Jeff Miller

The only way that brick and mortar retail will win in the long run is to focus on in-store employees. It needs to be a mix of high quality hiring, effective onboarding, incentives both paid and career-wise, ongoing and consistent training and inspiring employees to do the things that machines and online retail can’t do. I applaud Lululemon for offering this as an option and as a frequent shopper — it shows in how helpful their associates are, how much knowledge they have of the products, how they communicate, and how they are a part of the community.

If I worked there, I would prefer to have a few different options outside of Landmark for self improvement (yoga retreats, a Tony Robbins seminar, etc.). However, I think that other retailers should follow suit if they want to attract and retain high quality employees which will be the number one factor over time in attracting and retaining customers when price, value, selection and convenience is dominated by online retail.

"People are the one and only valued differentiation between the physical and the virtual digital world. "
"Without a great “people process” (from HR on out to ops), you might as well just lay down to the online onslaught."
"Other retailers can and should borrow a page from Chip’s playbook."

Take Our Instant Poll

How important to Lululemon’s success is the company focus on personal development?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...