For the Good of the HR Tribe

Aine Cryts Human Resources, Issue 16 - March/April 2015 1 Comment

A strong emphasis on company culture has been instrumental in rebuilding Sears Holding Corp., according to CHRO Dean Carter

Dean Carter Pic - LargeWhen it comes to managing teams, Dean Carter’s philosophy is simple: People like to feel special.

“People feel special when they’re around people who can relate to them,” said Carter, Chief Human Resources (HR) Officer at Sears Holdings Corp. in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Over the course of his career—at companies including Procter & Gamble, Pearl Vision, Fossil and today Sears Holdings—Carter focuses first on the company’s cultural beliefs, which are unique to each.

In building what Carter calls his “tribe,” he says it’s just smart business. “People will work harder for a tribe than or for a company or even for a leader,” he noted. “They’ll lean in; they’ll collaborate for the success of another tribe member, much more than they will just for a company.”

Harnessing Cultural Queues

After first picking up on the company’s cultural queues, Carter then selects or pulls out those cultural beliefs in the people on his HR team. At Fossil, he sought out staffers who could appreciate and understand creativity, while at Pearl Vision, he pursued those candidates who were excited about the challenge of managing to their store’s profit-and-loss statement.

Communicating clearly about the company’s cultural beliefs lets employees know what’s special about their team and sets expectations for how everyone behaves toward one another, according to Carter. He has observed that you start to see a tipping point when team members are interviewing a job candidate and select future colleagues based on the company’s cultural norms and values.

Today at Sears Holdings, a company that’s undergoing a period of extensive rebuilding, current and potential employees who are highly innovative and analytical will attract his attention.

“We are known as an HR Department that’s highly analytical, innovative and disruptive with the things we’re doing,” he said.

Dean Town Hall 08-27-14_3

ABCs, Then Beyond

Shortly after joining Sears Holdings four years ago, Carter noticed that many of the basic HR functions, such as completing I-9 tax forms, cost structures and visas, weren’t being handled effectively. These, as such, were the tasks that he focused on first.

His rationale is this: “We don’t have permission to do the big, cool, strategic things until we do the things that are boring and day-to-day with excellence. Today, we’ve created a culture of excellence on blocking and tackling, so we can now focus on the strategic parts.”

Under Carter’s mindful direction, Sears Holdings has eliminated annual performance review ratings and is instead using a social tool to get more robust feedback about employees, going beyond solely the perspective of their manager. Another example of his team’s creativity and forward-thinking nature is a tool to measure happiness, or “mood,” daily. The company uses it to understand and drive employee engagement dynamically and daily, as opposed to from just an annual survey.


Incorporating the Intangibles

Historically, companies have considered themselves a collection of tangible assets, including technology and inventory. Carter is excited about the possibilities as Sears Holdings focuses increasingly on its intangible assets, namely their people.

“What we do every single day, and what we should be doing, is looking at people’s talent—the really extraordinary assets—and connecting it with the business in the best, most efficient way possible,” Carter said. He’s also excited about the near future’s promise of neuroscience and technology in the workplace.

“I can see a time now where people will have wearable devices and they can see the impact of diet and sleep and movement on performance at work. Then we can really begin to take a more holistic view of human capital,” he acknowledged.

Rebuilding a Beloved Brand

Carter speaks of customers who have an emotional attachment to the Sears brand, which took 120 years to build. “They have this great love of the catalog, and people talk about the smell of popcorn or tires or candy when they went into Sears. They have this affinity for the brand, and growing up with Toughskins jeans.”

The reality today is that while brick retail is important, the big-box stores aren’t as relevant in a digitally connected world. For example, a member who goes into a Sears store to check out a washer may then go home and purchase it on for delivery the same day.

“We are reassembling Sears for a future, and we need people who like to rebuild and innovate. People who like that chaos,” Carter said. “That challenge is one I like.” ♦

Dean Carter Craftsman

Don’t Poke a Hole in the Raft

Carter’s analogy of his team being a “giant rubber life raft” resonates far and wide at Sears. In fact, he often sees the verbiage on meeting agendas. Here’s how he describes it: A hiring manager at the company asks the HR Generalist why a position hasn’t been filled. The HR Generalist’s response is that they’re waiting on the Recruiter to source the candidate and the compensation team to do a market analysis.

“Anytime you poke a hole in the raft, the whole raft goes down—not just their side of the boat,” Carter said. “What you should be doing every single day is looking for ways to help the team patch their holes and make sure the raft is full. Take care of the situation, and do what you need to do.”

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Aine Cryts

Writer at Forefront Magazine
Aine (“ONya”) Cryts is a freelance writer for Forefront Magazine. A political scientist by education, she’s a marketing consultant and freelance writer/editor by trade. Aine has served as a marketing director at a number of software companies in the Greater Boston area. A former volunteer tour guide and a current long-distance runner, she loves Boston and is an enduring fan of all of its sports teams.

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Comments 1

  1. katyknock

    Sears Holdings has a long way to go in creating a great culture. First you need to nip the nepotismn and the CEO micromanaging in the bud. Its easy for the leaders to make their “chosen” ones to feel special. What about the hard working ones that are not necessarily kissing butt, giving gifts to the leaders or their parents are friends of the leaders (that’s how they got their positions)? Sears needs to refocus on the working crew not just the selected few.

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