How Target puts the practice of caring into action

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NRF 2023: CEO Brian Cornell joins company leaders to discuss growth, inclusivity and community

By Fiona Soltes, NRF Contributor

Care, grow, win together: A handful of leaders from Target say it’s more than just an aspirational phrase to describe the company culture. It’s a daily way of life.

At NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show, Brian Cornell, Target board chairman and CEO and NRF’s 2022 The Visionary honoree, gathered a group of colleagues to talk about that culture. Joining him were Kiera Fernandez, senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer; Alexis Sheppert, group vice president of stores, Virginia/North Carolina; Cara Sylvester, executive vice president and chief guest experience officer; and Christina Hennington, executive vice president and chief growth officer.

Cornell kicked things off by noting that the “amazing” women on stage were far from alone. “This is really our culture in action,” he said, as one-third of the company’s board of directors and half of its leadership team are female. In addition, almost half of Target’s more than 2,000 stores are led by women.

Naturally, diversity, inclusivity and caring for others goes beyond gender — and beyond Target’s more than 400,000 team members. The conversation touched on culture related to the communities Target serves and the customers that shop its stores, as well as in its collaboration with partners.

“Our culture really fuels us,” Sylvester said during the discussion. “And because it fuels us, it’s a deep part of our brand. And that absolutely shows up to our guests. When you interact with the Target brand … we want you to feel something. Those feelings that are evoked are because we think about designing our guest experience around a deep emotional connection with our guests, not a transactional, linear one.”

Sylvester shared the story of a Black mom, based in the United Kingdom but visiting the United States for work, who reached out about ballerina Christmas ornaments she had found at the store. The ornaments had a skin tone the woman’s daughters could see themselves in, Sylvester said, and it made all the difference.

“These moments don’t just happen by chance,” she said. “They happen because our culture of care and our core value of inclusivity run deep in all of us. And by all of us, I mean all 400,000 team members. It absolutely shows up authentically to our guests. When our guests feel seen, when they feel heard, when they feel cared for, that all adds up to more joy in their lives, which is what we’re all here to do.”

Sheppert spoke about a store leader in Buffalo, N.Y., who stepped up for the community during the recent severe snowstorm in the area. The store director quickly decided to open the doors for those who needed shelter. But it went beyond offering safety and warmth; the store also offered coffee, hot chocolate, coloring activities for the kids and more, infusing a bit of joy and sense of family into what could have been a “really, really stressful” time.

“It might be my favorite story of the holiday season,” Cornell said. That store director didn’t turn to a playbook to decide what to do. He simply cared for the team and the guests. “That’s going to be a story that people will talk about for years and years to come,” he said.

Hennington noted that culture isn’t something that’s built in a day, and the strength of Target’s relationships with partners, vendors and others — and its investments made in connecting and building strategies together — had a dramatic impact during the recent season. Despite factory shutdowns, supply issues and COVID-19, Target added about $30 billion in topline sales over the last couple of years, including launching a variety of new brands.

Cornell said he couldn’t think of a single day in recent years that there hadn’t been conversation about caring, growing and winning together. Culture must continue to be embraced, owned and lived out.

Fernandez agreed. “It’s genuine and it’s real and you can feel it,” she said. “And it makes a difference.”

Hennington was of like mind; she spoke about culture providing a guidepost and set of filters in influencing strategy. “And that’s all in pursuit of our purpose, which is to help all families discover the joy of everyday life.”

This story was first published on NRF.com.

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