The new people teams: How Bonobos is creating a learning & development-focused company

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6 mins, 6 secs read time

HR is undergoing a shift. We’re now seeing more and more People Teams emerge in organizations as a response to the need to re-focus on people and the programs and practices that drive their development, like structured hiring, onboarding, management, and culture.

We’re excited to highlight a handful of these forward-thinking People Teams and their companies in this blog series, “The New People Teams.” (Click here to read a previous post showcasing Rapid7 and here for a previous post showcasing Flatiron Health).

Greenhouse customer Bonobos also exemplifies today’s new People Team. Besides being a trailblazer in the fashion industry, it’s also one of several modern companies leading the way in this new People revolution through its internal initiatives and efforts.

We recently sat down with Bonobos’ Recruitment & People Relations Manager Kelsey Garske to learn how the team is growing its People function and finding its place in the organization. Here’s what she had to say:

1. When was Bonobos established? How many employees does the company have, and how many are on the People Team?

Bonobos was established in 2007. We have over 350 employees between HQ in NYC and our 22 guideshops (retail locations) across the country. Our People Team—or “POps” (People Operations) as we call it—is comprised of 12 people which includes HR, Recruitment, Total Rewards, and Office Ninjas!

2. Did Bonobos always have a People Team, or did it morph from an original HR Department? If the former, how did your founders know that a People Team is what they wanted?

Bonobos always had a form of a People Team, although there were three separate teams that handled traditional HR functions. The team was made up of Recruitment and Employee Experience and then there was a small team that managed benefits and HR Operations that all reported up through our General Counsel. We had the basics and all the "fun and exciting" aspects of HR, but our People functions weren’t streamlined and we didn’t have an actual People strategy. The people strategy formed after we hired Sara Patterson, our Chief People Officer. Prior to Sara joining, we were all working on separate projects/initiatives that were great, but they weren’t necessarily unified towards a common goal. Sara helped streamline our processes. She also gave the POps team a voice and really helped propel a lot of the initiatives we wanted but didn’t have the bandwidth to execute prior to her arrival.

3. How is the People Team constructed?

We go by POps (People Operations). The team consists of: our Chief People Officer, Total Rewards, People Relations, Recruitment, and Employee Experience. Essentially, the POps Team supports every phase of the employee lifecycle and employees’ day-to-day needs at Bonobos.

4. What has the Bonobos People Team achieved so far?

We’ve carried out quite a few initiatives, including learning and development programs, including:

  • WTF program: In our "Wellness Thoughtfulness Fitness" program, we focus on the health & well-being of our employees. It all started with Wellness Thoughtfulness Fitness Day or "WTF Day", where we offered in-office massages, free SoulCycle classes, and delicious smoothies. From that point on we have incorporated WTF into monthly initiatives focused on health and wellness. We've had a company-wide Fitness Challenge for Physical Fitness Month, went to a NY Yankees game for Great Outdoors Month, and gave out free sunscreen for UV Protection Month.

  • Managing for success: This program equips employees with the key skills required to manage both themselves and their teams. It takes a deep-dive into such topics as delivering feedback, delegating, and using the GROW model to enhance performance.

  • Fit For Success: Fit For Success is our performance management program that is comprised of two components. First is Suiting Up which is our goal setting platform and the first and most critical step in establishing an epic year for each employee. The second part is Tailor Your Fit which is a quarterly recap conversation with your manager to assess progress against your goals. These sessions help managers and employees keep the conversation around goals and performance consistent and ongoing throughout the year so every employee understands where they stand and how they can continue to improve.

  • How to manage up well: This training session is aimed at employees at the Associate level and walks them through the art of navigating their relationships with senior members of the team. Employees learn how to build their personal brand, how to give and receive feedback, and how to identify and nurture a relationship with a mentor.

  • Learn.Know.Bos: This was a (very well received!) week-long learning & development initiative where we had internal and external speakers who ran various sessions in a classroom-style training environment (TED-like!). Some of the presentations included Hiring & Emotional Intelligence, Public Speaking, Retail Math, and Fireside Chats with industry leaders. The goal of Learn.Know.Bos was to increase cross-functional awareness, build internal trust, and promote transparency throughout the organization by offering employees the opportunity to share their knowledge, sharpen their skills, and gain insight into industry trends.

5. What does the People Team still want to achieve?

As a People Team, we want to continue to understand what resonates most with our employees and from that, continue delivering programs that keep our team motivated and happy and performing at a high level.

Bonobos is a real human place to work. People genuinely and passionately care about what we’re building, and they also care and respect one another. We’re all working together and hold one another accountable. We take what we’re doing seriously, but ourselves—not so much. We work hard but we also have fun together, which has built unbelievable trust throughout the organization because you know that the person sitting next to you cares just as much as you do and there is tremendous camaraderie in that.

The People Team wants to ensure this core force is sustainable as we grow and attract people to it; the moment you feel it, you don't want to let it go. We don’t want to lose the excitement and drive in employees that we see from candidates who want to work here. Once someone joins our team we want to make sure as a People Team that we can keep them excited, engaged, and always on an endless path of learning and growth.

6. How does the People Team view its role in the overall organization, and how is the Team viewed by executives and other departments?

One of our company-wide goals is to implement a best-in-class HR organization and deliver programs, initiatives, and experiences that employees of all levels will respond to and be able to take with them in any role. We play a huge part in the business and are a business function that is treated as such by all levels of the company. That said, most decisions at Bonobos are typically made with the input of someone from the POps team. We’re lucky to have a CEO and executive team that cares about people, as this type of support can be hard to come by at other companies. They see the value that the POps team can add and how happy employees means higher performing employees. So, we’ve been lucky to have their support as we pursue our goals!

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