Sheryl O’Loughlin Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
If you’re looking for Sheryl O’Loughlin right after lunch, don’t go to her office. Odds are, O’Loughlin, Clif Bar Inc.’s CEO is sharing time with employees at the gym. She’s not working up an appetite for one of the company’s energy bars or drinks; it’s part of an open schedule at the company. To motivate people, O’Loughlin gives them options to energize themselves. From the climbing wall in the office to allowing employees to do charity work on company time, O’Loughlin wants people to have freedom in their daily schedules. That commitment to people has motivated the bottom line, too, as the 180-employee company has passed $150 million in revenue. Smart Business spoke with O’Loughlin about how giving employees a cause can keep a company energized and healthy.

Give employees flexibility. I go around the company all the time and see what makes people feel excited to come to work, and a lot of people use the word freedom. What they mean by freedom is, ‘I am free to go workout whenever I want during the day. You trust me. I am free to go do my charity hours on a day that might be in the middle of the week when there’s a bunch of meetings going on because it’s part of the bottom line for our company.’

They live the life that they want to live, and that gives you so much more energy and you feel like you have more of a purpose. That’s part of the reason our turnover is so low. It’s not like people are here searching for the next thing; they can fulfill their life goals here.

Live your philosophies. We make ourselves a different kind of company. We use the word ‘sustainability’ to talk about our business, brand, community, people and planet, and we promote that this sustainability is our bottom line. Those are the five bottom lines, and we measure those, and people’s bonuses are based on those.

Part of it in the real big picture is that people here feel real connected to what we’re doing in terms of our sustainability, and we promote that. People are so immersed in their work, they’re so excited about it, and they feel a sense of ownership to it. And that’s catchy; it’s contagious.

We get together every Thursday in a company meeting and let the employees actually run the meeting — and people get up and talk about the things they’re doing here and what they’re excited about. That energy is easy to catch and it resonates around the company.

Help employees with their passion. It’s important to support the community, and we do things like have employees participate in our volunteer program on company time and let people contribute to causes in the community that they’re passionate about. They choose which programs to participate in, and our employees own that program.

It’s very cool, and people are very proud of it. And people come to work every day to be connected to that. What we do in the community helps people to feel more connected to our brand, but it also fits in when we talk about sustaining our people.

One of the things we really focus on is the question of what really helps people to feel energized when they come to work. That’s where you get the energy; people are doing it because they’re passionate about it. It’s more than just a job, and you can start to feel that energy throughout the company.

Verbalize your culture, and find the right people. We hired 51 new people this year, and we were real nervous about it because we wondered if the culture was going to change and we were going to lose what we had.

It actually got better, and the energy level got higher, and that starts with the company’s aspirations acting like some kind a filter, because people are attracted to this company because they are attracted to our aspirations.

There was a time when we weren’t as articulate in what we believed in; it was more in our gut than vocalized, and the result of that was we weren’t necessarily making the right choices with bringing people on. But that was a great learning experience because it gave us a chance to realize we have to better articulate who we are and that’s important to send out a magnet to the right people.

By spending time with people, having a dialogue and figuring out what points connect them to our company and what points don’t, it’s helped me to better verbalize things in a way people understand. Now we’re to that point where we can verbalize our company dream and our vision.

Humanize management. As a company with a lot of dialogue, it’s important to be very clear on how a decision is going to be made.

We try to be clear on who is going to make the decision and what role the input is going to play in that. We want people to see that their input is heard and they’re a part of that.

We may decide, for example, to not introduce a product someone has been working very hard on. It’s so important for that person to understand why that decision is made. With a lot of companies, there’s a black hole that things sometimes fall into.

Having grown up as a smaller company, we want to keep that human connection alive because it’s so crucial for people to feel important. People need to understand. So we work on being transparent and letting people know what our decisions are and why they are that way.

And that also means telling them what decisions they can just absolutely take and run with in their job. People will bring their passion and energy if they are excited about what you’re doing. If people don’t understand that passion, then they’re not going to be excited about their job.

HOW TO REACH: Clif Bar Inc., or (800) 254-3227