For this week's customer spotlight we're excited to introduce Arjen Mackaaij, SVP of People for FabFitFun. Arjen is a business leader, people geek, and strengths-based coach, with 12+ years of experience in leading HR strategy and people functions.
Tell us a little bit about FabFitFun and what your role is there.
FabFitFun is a fast-growing e-commerce company from Los Angeles. We have been in business for around 9 years now - started as a blog, and morphed into a multi-faceted lifestyle membership company. Since launching the boxes in 2013, we’ve also added other lines of business, and adjacent opportunities, but most people know us for our seasonal subscription box.
My role here is SVP of People. I manage all the different People functions including recruiting, HR, learning & organizational development, and workplace solutions.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the People space?
In college - a long time ago - I was doing business administration, and while we were all there for business, I noticed some of my friends were more drawn to products and the company’s branding. Others were more interested in companies as profit-making machines, focusing more on the financial mechanics. None of those really drew me. What really got me out of bed, especially in college, was the people topic. I would ponder about a group of people, doing something amazing, what motivates them, how they are organized, what attracts them, and that always inspired me. So I did a masters in HR in Holland, and then I started my career in HR as a Generalist, doing all kinds of HR business partner: I did Employee Relations for a small warehouse. I did learning & development including being a corporate trainer. I handled culture and change management and a bunch of other topics. Then I dabbled in management consulting for a while, but even during this time, I always got drawn back to the People topics. At some point I knew for certain, I’m the people guy, so that is what I should pursue.
What makes the company culture at FFF unique?
One: the passion. I know that sounds cliche, but everybody who seems to apply here, including myself, always comments on how energetic and passionate everyone is about what they’re doing. It’s also what drew me - when I interviewed, I sat there at the West Hollywood headquarters waiting for my meeting, and all kinds of stuff was happening: something was being filmed that day, people were having animated discussions, I noticed people were really passionate -- definitely the opposite of a library. There is definitely a passion for what we do and for growing our business.
Secondly, there is a disproportionate openness to new ideas that is more than I’ve seen at other companies. Just like “what if we tested something like this or I think this could be a good option,” and people will say “OK, let’s do it!” which feels invigorating. Anyone can also have a good idea - whether you are the CEO or an Assistant, it really doesn’t matter.
What are some ways that you encourage and maintain a positive company culture at FFF?
One: create a culture of feedback, learning, and growth. And to be completely transparent we still have room to grow here. Like many companies in the area, I noticed when I started that feedback was a scary thing, because you have to make yourself vulnerable; it’s scary for the manager as well as the employee. We’re really putting effort into building a more open feedback culture that is also centered around growth & development. If we’re getting feedback, like with a pulse survey, this is not to reprimand anybody -- the aim is to know what we need to do to grow as an organization, and what you could do to grow as a person. It is important that you change that mindset, from being scary, to a growth mindset.
How have you seen the HR space change since the #metoo movement and where do you see us going from here?
A lot. I definitely think there is a lot more willingness to speak up in this moment, which is great. Companies are also realizing this is a new dawn and a new day, and as a company you need to be far more aware and cognizant of these types of dynamics at your company. You can’t just turn a blind eye. Overall, I think it has had a positive impact; it’s made the topic more discussable and more open, and there is more accountability than there used to be. Other related topics are also making it more to the forefront, e.g. female representation on boards -- this is more in the representation realm, but I think that the MeToo movement was a catalyst for these topics as well. That being said, I think there is still a ways to go though.
What are the exciting trends you see coming up in the future of work?
I think there is already a trend towards operating virtually with teams working around the globe and some working remote or working different hours. I think this will allow companies to tap new talent pools because physical proximity doesn’t matter as much anymore. I also see an increasing interest in engagement and what drives motivation in a sustainable way.
FabFitFun has seen phenomenal growth. What challenges come with a growing team and how can founders and leaders establish a safe workplace from the get go?
Firstly, by modelling the right behaviors right from the start and managing their direct reports to do the same. If they can make themselves vulnerable, be thankful for any and all feedback, and model giving direct feedback in a quality way that will set the tone for the org.
What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
This is more a personal challenge, but realizing that a management consulting career wasn’t for me (and my family), and then making the switch back to HR. I think I tried to make it work for a while - the company I worked for was fantastic with amazing colleagues. However, the constant travel and working pressure was hard. Sometimes you have to be honest with yourself and realize that some things are not for you. In the same vain I learned a lot about my own strengths, and less talents, in the past few years. I have embraced that I won’t be good at everything - rather I want to use my strengths because I believe that will make me happier and more successful in the end.
What are some ways managers and leaders can identify and improve an unhealthy company culture?
By aligning on who you truly want to be, even if it is aspirational. Don’t try to be the perfect company or pursue things that just sound great. Rather, focus on what your ideal image is of how people will work together that will make the company successful. Align on this first with the leadership team and get everyone’s commitment (this is also possible at team level) and then figure out how to get there.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Seeing engaged employees that enjoy their work, and are using their strengths to be successful. Then seeing the company thrive.
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