Caleres CEO Diane Sullivan Talks Refining Company Culture at FN CEO Summit 2022

Since last year, Caleres has worked to evolve its company culture that aligns driving results with caring about individuals.

At the 2022 FN CEO Summit, Caleres CEO Diane Sullivan, who recently announced she would transition to the executive chairman role next year, spoke about how and why the company wanted to address its culture.

“First of all, I think culture has always been important,” Sullivan said, during a summit conversation with FN Editorial Director Michael Atmore and leadership consultant Jeremiah Lee.  “And if it hasn’t been important to you, then you probably haven’t been paying attention to all the things that you automate. But, coming out of the tougher times of COVID, everything was completely different. From the way we live, to the way we communicate and the way we work. We felt it was important not to ignore the changing world and adjust how we operate internally.”

While Sullivan reiterated that she felt Caleres had a “pretty good” culture already, she wanted to make sure the company had the best culture possible. That’s when she came upon an article in the Harvard Business Review written by Lee, a leadership advisory services consultant at Spencer Stuart, where he explored how employee attitudes can make or break a business and some advice on how to course correct.

With the help of Lee, Sullivan and Caleres collected large amounts of employee data through surveys on what they thought about the company culture. “Diane and I talked a lot about the research we gained from this data,” Lee said. “We wanted to understand the culture of Caleres and know where it was headed, while also discerning the best parts of it.”

Lee’s core model involves the intersection and combination of four strategic pillars: independence, interdependence, flexibility and stability. Each involve attributes like caring, purpose, learning, enjoyment, results, authorly, safety and order.

“What we found from our research is our employees gravitated to two things across the board, results and caring,” Sullivan said. “I found this really interesting given we are a multi-brand business with an array of teams.”

But ultimately for Sullivan, who has spent more than a decade dramatically evolving Caleres Inc., these learnings have helped the company shift how it will do business internally going forward, even though there is still work to be done.

“At the end of the day this culture shift is fundamentally all about growth,” Sullivan said. “Growth in more consumers and growth and engagement within the company.”

The 2022 FN CEO Summit is sponsored by FDRA,NuOrder and Aetrex. 

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