NRF Nexus is where retail marketing, technology and digital innovators connect to develop intersecting ideas that advance the future of retail. Learn more about the event, to be held July 26-28 at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., here.
In today’s competitive job market, it can be easy for employers to choose skills and experience over a candidate’s alignment to a company’s core values. But holding true to a “culture-first” approach has helped global athletic apparel company Lululemon Athletica Inc. tap into world-class talent and technologists that are essential to the company’s global growth strategy.
Since joining Lululemon in 2017, Chief Technology Officer Julie Averill has played a critical role in leveraging advanced technology to transform the company’s retail business and enhance guest experiences. In an NRF Nexus session called “Scaling tech in new markets with a culture-first approach,” Averill will discuss how technology underpins the company’s “Power of Three” growth strategy, which focuses on product innovation, omni-guest experiences and international expansion.
Read on for Averill’s thoughts on culture, talent and technology.
What’s the most surprising thing about your job?
Very little of my days are spent making technical decisions. Almost all my time is focused on people and culture. The technology, our initiatives and all the tactical ways to accomplish our goals are solved by having a great team with an amazing culture, so that is the focus of my job.
What is a “culture-first” approach when it comes to scaling technology and why is it important?
At Lululemon, our values are “courage, connection, inclusion, personal responsibility and fun.” These form the foundation of our culture and are what we stand for as a team. It’s critical that we hold true to these, even in moments of pressure.
For example, in today’s competitive job market it can be easy to choose skills and experience over a candidate’s alignment to our values. But holding strong to our values means that we are patient until we find the candidate that is both an expert in the skills we need and is a great culture-add for our team.
What retail technology are you most excited about right now?
The opportunity to leverage data throughout our entire organization, and across the globe, through insights and unleashed through artificial intelligence/machine learning is transformational.
We can delight our guests with extremely customized and relevant experiences, reduce time-to-market, increase sell-through and better position our stores with the right inventory just by having better data and knowing how to use it. We can predict trends and help our business partners be more confident in their decisions.
The opportunities are endless, and I believe that most retail organizations have only seen silos of their data. I’m most excited about fully harnessing the power of AI/ML with the ability to fully harness the power of enterprise data.
What’s the biggest technological challenge facing retailers over the next two to five years and how can they prepare?
Whereas the “IT team” used to be a back-office function, today technology organizations are the critical enablers of their companies’ strategies. This requires all of us to have top talent, of which there is a limited supply. We need to grow leaders and find talent in places we haven’t looked before. A diverse team that embodies equity and equality is magnetic and creates a culture where others want to work. The team will spread the word and become its own flywheel. It’s a different environment that is inviting and welcoming.
I believe diversity is key, and every organization needs to make sure it is using the broadest lens possible to consider diverse candidates and are continually investing in the development of its people. We should all focus as much on the environment that people are coming into as we do on recruiting people in.
What is your approach to attracting top talent and how do you measure success?
Top talent to us includes experience/expertise and values alignment. I don’t want to hire someone who has an incredible pedigree but will not share knowledge and want to be part of a team. This does narrow down the talent pool even further.
But once we get the story out of the great culture that we have at Lululemon, the talented people who share values with us — those who want to build great technology in an environment of equity and inclusion, where we all are working to build a better planet — they are drawn to us.
Many times, we hear people tell us that this is an environment that they have never experienced before, a place where the whole person is truly supported. It’s not for everyone — it’s only for those people who care about values and culture, and those are the people we want to work with.
So, for me, our success is measured by the people we have been able to both attract and retain. Hearing their stories and how proud they are to work for Lululemon — that’s when I know we are doing something right.