StubHub HR Leader Anne Robie on Using Yoga to Help Bring All Your Joy and Engagement to Your Work
By Kara Lawton
A quiet evolution is sweeping through the business world, connecting the leaders of companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and eBay with the who’s who in personal and spiritual development. It’s transforming the definition of success and turning meditation, yoga and mindfulness into popular corporate buzzwords.
For Global Human Resources (HR) leader Anne Robie, mindfulness is the key to performance at StubHub, a rapidly growing eBay company that sells one event ticket every second. She believes it can be a differentiator for the business, whose employee base has more than doubled in the two and a half years she has been there.
“If we have a bunch of burned-out people that feel they can’t bring their whole selves to work, then we’re not getting their full creativity and innovative ability,” Robie said. “They are less joyful, which translates into less engagement.”
To help engage employees, promote innovation and keep the company ahead of its competitors, Robie is steadily encouraging more mindful practices at StubHub.
Ten years ago, Robie lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, and never would have imagined doing yoga, much less teaching it. Then she started taking classes, gradually getting deeper into the practice and enrolling in a nine-month yoga teacher training program.
“I realized I was on autopilot in so many ways in my life. Those teachings have allowed me to slow down,” said Robie, a self-described type-A personality. “It has informed a lot of what I do at StubHub and some of my belief systems around how people can be at their peak performance in their professional and personal lives.”
The path to becoming a certified yoga instructor introduced Robie to being a mindful observer. And it wasn’t long before she brought the practice into her previous work at a manufacturing company.
For example, one day during a difficult meeting with other company leaders who were exhausted from a long morning of financial discussions, Robie realized the energy in the room wouldn’t allow for as much creativity and productivity as they needed. So she asked everyone to stand up, leading them through some stretches followed by a minute of deep breathing. The result? A room full of mildly surprised executives who happened to feel a lot better.
Bring Your Whole Self to Work
After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Robie looked for a way to get paid for paying attention to diversity. She considered social work and civil rights litigation but ended up taking the advice of a guidance counselor, earning a master’s degree in HR at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her career started with eight years at IBM, then with two firms and running her own consulting company before moving to San Francisco and joining StubHub in 2011.
Robie’s concept of diversity expands the traditional focus on differences like culture, heritage, gender and age to embrace a wider range, “allowing people from all walks of life to bring their whole selves to work, to be as creative and innovative and joyful as they possibly can be at work.”
“Diversity is more of an approach, creating the kind of space for weird ideas—the ideas that we would’ve never thought about,” she said. “It is less about programs and more about ensuring that all of our employees feel welcome and we are creating an atmosphere where they can be as successful as possible.”
This is where mindfulness, which Robie defines as being in the present moment, comes in. She finds it extremely important for execution and is finding different ways to ease the practice into StubHub’s offices in the U.S., U.K. and Canada.
Wisdom 2.0 at StubHub
In 2013, the company piloted a program modeled after The Energy Project, a “manage-your-energy, not-your-time” blueprint for balancing people’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energies to create happier, healthier, more high-performing workplaces.
The London office’s first employee survey had revealed poor work-life balance scores due to keeping up with a startup environment and an eight-hour time difference from the U.S. office. Together, the 30-person team decided on what changes they wanted to implement, including converting an extra conference room into a chill-out space/meditation room, starting an after-work running club, having walking meetings when the weather allows it, and collecting cell phones at the start of every meeting.
“We were never going to bring San Francisco and London eight hours closer, but by creating different rhythms, they were able to create more opportunities to feel rejuvenated and more energized throughout their day,” Robie said. The addition of flexible work hours helped avoid greater burnout, and work-life scores improved across the company in the subsequent engagement survey.
The San Francisco office has adopted a less formal approach because Robie wants to create a space and culture that mirrors the creativity and diversity that the company values. This year managers were given the opportunity to attend Widsom 2.0, a high-profile Bay Area conference that blends business and mindfulness. Some of the attendees volunteered to help facilitate a daily “mindfulness meet-up,” which was serendipitously formed after Robie and a new manager discovered their mutual passion for yoga.
“What I’m trying to do is create the spark so that other things that are meaningful to other employees can start as well,” Robie said. “I happen to think it can be incredibly powerful, but I also realize that different people have different approaches.”
Truth-Telling, a Kiss & Teary Fans
Whether creating the ideal work environment, managing employees or interacting with senior executives, Robie wants to empower everyone to bring their whole selves to work. She even helps StubHub President Chris Tsakalakis weave some mindful minutes into his day. The two get together before the weekly senior leadership meeting so that Tsakalakis can articulate his intention: a simple step that Robie says has shifted the tenor of those meetings.
A mindful approach enables Robie to be fully present and more direct with executives. While at IBM, she learned the importance of being an organization’s moral compass and integrity from Cynthia Neff, a mentor who wouldn’t let anyone “graduate from working for her until you could tell a senior leader to f— off.”
“I think the biggest value add that an HR leader can bring to the leadership team he or she supports is the ability to be the truth-teller and the coach,” Robie said. “You need to be able to say anything to a senior executive as long as it’s with integrity and in alignment with their best interests and the best interests of the company.”
At StubHub, the best interests of the company is equivalent to the best interests of both its employees and customers—ticket buyers, referred to as “fans” by Robie and her team, fans themselves.
“On a regular basis, we get to bring happiness and joy into people’s lives,” said Robie, remembering how she went to the 2012 Giants vs. Patriots Super Bowl a month after being hired. Instead of the rock-star experience she had anticipated, Robie and the executive team worked shoulder to shoulder with employee-fans from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to set up and throw a big party for StubHub customer-fans. They handed out approximately 5,000 tickets and had the opportunity to meet their fans in person; one fan was so excited that he kissed the company’s President on the lips.
That day Robie saw a fan dressed from head to toe in Giants gear and asked him if he went to every Giants game. The man, who had driven all night to be there, said, “No, once in a while I get to go when I’m home, but I’ve been waiting my whole life to get to see the Giants play in the Super Bowl and now I get to bring my son.”
“He was so excited, he started to started to tear up,” Robie recalled. “Then his kid starts tearing up. All of a sudden, I’m crying. It is so cool that we created this opportunity for him to bring his son to see his beloved Giants, who won that year. We have such passionate people at StubHub. When I was interviewing, they kept saying, ‘We’re so fan focused, we’re so fan focused,’ and it is absolutely true. We create opportunities for a guy like that Giants fan, who, before StubHub existed, would never have had access to a Super Bowl. That is exciting to me, to be part of something that allows for these amazing experiences.”
Kara Lawton is a freelance writer based in Boston, Massachusetts.
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