When Helping Staff Define Their Dreams can Mean they Might Leave Your Company


Because you should be helping them to create a life, not just a job.


Picture this: it’s day one of your new job and, before you’ve so much as sussed out the stationery cupboard, your employer sits you down and asks, “What do you want in life, and how can I help you get there?”

“It seems too good to be true,” says Trevor Holland, national training manager at lululemon Australia and New Zealand. But this is exactly what happens when you sign on with the athletic apparel giant. “I might say, ‘’I want to open my own business in three years,’” continues Trevor, “then someone is helping me map out what roles within the company are going to give me the skill set to go and do that.”

It’s likely this is the very thing Trevor said on his first day, as he’s now also the founder of a coaching business.

Fellow colleagues PR and Communications Manager Erin Hochstein and Regional Training Manager Kate Page have also seen their own life goals come to fruition. Vancouver native Erin wanted to relocate to Australia – a goal the company made happen in three years – and Kate tells the story of another employee who saw her 10-year vision realised in a mere 12 months, opening a wholefoods cafe after stumbling across the perfect venue in Hobart where she was managing a lululemon store.

Here’s how retail giant lululemon zeros in on staff goals (and how that strategy keeps their workforce motivated):

Turn an ‘or’ into an ‘and’

“Something that lululemon is great at is helping you turn an ‘or’ into an ‘and’,” says Trevor. “It’s not, ‘I can have my job at lululemon or start my own business,’ it’s, ‘How do I have both?’” For the better part of two decades, the Canadian-born company has turned its vision and goals training program into something of a corporate signature. Spurred by founder Chip Wilson’s belief that “goals are one of the most critical things that a person can do in life,” everyone from the CEO to retail floor staff (or, rather, ‘educators’) have been professing their personal and professional ambitions – and displaying them on the walls of their stores – since the company’s 1998 launch.

Make your goals fodder for conversation

“One of the most important elements to success is having goals out there so that they become fodder for conversation,” says Erin, who initially found this undertaking confronting. “There’s a fear a lot of people have in declaring what they want, because [what] if they fail at it? But we recontextualise those kinds of things so that it becomes part of the process. You’re not actually achieving your full potential if you’re not taking risks and saying really big things about what it is that you want for your life.”

This mindset is instilled from that very first day. Newbies are given a vision and goals worksheet (purely as a guide – those who are more visual are encouraged to get moodboarding) before being told to “expect you’re going to fail 50 per cent of the time,” and encouraged to turn a blind eye to perceived limitations such as time and money. “Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to dig in, because someone truly believes that a constraint is real,” says Trevor. “Like, ‘I don’t have time.’ Well, we’ll never get any more time, but you can prioritise differently, you can look at different time frames.”

Fullrez-LU1D2018Start with your 10-year vision

Kate adds that asking people to envisage their big, dreamy 10-year vision (aka big, hairy audacious goal) first makes it easier to break things up into smaller five-year and one-year goals. “If they start there and work back, it takes them out of the present, where the constraints are really loud and clear.”

“It’s a constant exercise to put something out there in the universe that’s not a certainty, and declare that to people that you love and you respect,” says Erin. “Those are the people who are actually going to help you get to where you want to go.”

Personal goals can be the foundation of your rewards program

At lululemon, many of those people are store managers, who are allocated a staff rewards budget to do with as they wish. “It might be, ‘Okay, I’m going to pay for you to go and get surfing lessons,’” says Trevor. “Or it might be working around schedules, they can really do whatever they want. And someone’s goals are the best place – when we’re looking at staff rewards – to find what is actually going to mean something to them.”

Employee perks, subsequently, go above and beyond a staff discount on stretchy activewear. “One of our previous store managers, his goal is to be a CEO,” says Erin. “So we paired him up with our VP to shadow him for a day, so he could really get hands-on experience and visibility to what it’s like to run a business.”


Make it loud, make it proud

The visions and goals of that VP, along with those of lululemon CEO Laurent Potdevin and the board of directors, can be found posted around the company’s global head office in Vancouver on the ‘People and Culture’ wall. Locally, each store posts the 10-year vision worksheets of each staff member, which also helps create a level of trust and openness between employees. “Starting from the top and leading by example is really key,” says Erin. “Then it’s not just lip service.”

“And rewarding not necessarily the achievement of a goal, but progressing a goal or a failure is just as important,” says Trevor, who included “run a marathon” on his first goal worksheet. “It sat there and every time I got close, I’d just move the date. [Then] I heard the concept of a rolling goal or a filler goal. A filler goal is just something you put in there to fill the gap and a rolling goal is where that date keeps rolling over and over, which is an indication that it’s not the right goal for you.

Drill down, drill deep

“It really is a practice of coming back in and looking at a few different things with goals, like, was it really your goal? Was it a goal that sounded good at the time? Or was it someone else’s goal?” The team drills down into the practical outworking of their employees’ goals.

“We recommend that everyone reviews their goals every six months, minimum, so that it keeps the conversation alive,” says Kate. Trevor adds that anyone on the team can be a goal coach. So what does the company get out of all of this? “We have energised, excited people in every pocket of the business because they feel like they’re being invested in,” says Trevor, adding that people leaving lululemon to pursue personal goals is their highest driver of turnover. “And we celebrate that. Our purpose as a company is to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness, so if we can do it within the walls of the business and then generate it out, that’s how we’re going to elevate the world.”

How to set big goals:
Trevor suggests making sure your goals are s-m-a-r-t…

Specific. “Be really specific in the language, so there’s no fluffiness. Make it a short, punchy statement.”

Measurable. “Ditch, ‘Save money for uni.’ Instead, try ‘Save $10,000 for my MBA
by December 2017.’”

Achievable. “This is where constraints can come in – but what if it was possible?”

Realistic. “We really encourage people to only achieve 50 per cent of their goals.”

Timely. “If it doesn’t have a timeline on it, then it’s a wish or a hope.”


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