One Chief Executive Officer recently learned that if you sign up for an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit, then you should be prepared to answer some tough questions.
Jerry Stritzke is the CEO of the outdoor retailer co-op company REI. He went on Reddit on Tuesday night, hoping to speak about why the chain had chosen to close its stores on Black Friday. But while Strizke did get to tell the members of the community that he was paying his 12,000 employees to take the day off, the discussion quickly turned sour, Adweek reports.
Stritzke began the discussion by saying: “I have my team here helping me answer questions, so go easy on me.”
But the Reddit members did not go easy on him.
The AMA’s most popular comment came from a former employee at REI. The person posting the comment asked why there was such an emphasis on selling memberships. They wrote: “I had my hours cut from 30 hours a week to less than ten because I did not sell enough memberships. Additionally, I was not allowed to pick up shifts from people that didn’t want to work because I did not sell enough memberships.”
The person also said that he or she thought it was weird that the retailer said that it wanted to provide “exceptional service” to its customers, while the emphasis seemed to be on converting new members. The comment got over 5,500 upvotes.
They continued: “I fully understand the need to hold employees to a high standard, but why is the approach so unbalanced? How is it in the best interest of the co-op to focus so exclusively on a performance metric that has no direct benefit for customers who are already members?”
Stritzke responded: “I have to admit the emphasis on membership sales was a surprise to me when I joined the co-op two years ago. Given that I was new, I wanted to have a better understanding of the co-op structure and some of the [reasons] behind our actions.
“There is no doubt that the co-op structure is focused on the concept of membership, and there is long institutional memory reinforcing the idea that we should encourage as many people to join the co-op as possible – we believe in the mission and the purpose of the co-op.
“Having said that, we may have lost sight of the bigger picture. The truth is that we should have been doing a better job sharing what makes the co-op special. We should have a ‘pull’ model (people want to join because they believe in our mission and they love the experience), not a ‘push’ model, when it comes to the co-op.
“And the most important thing is that our employees in our stores know that their skill, deep outdoor knowledge, and customer service are the things that matter above everything. To be clear, that is how our people should be measured.”
The CEO continued to say that the commentator’s story “represents a measure of individual performance taken to the extreme, and I am committed to understanding what happened.”
Other employees asked hard questions too. A part-time worker asked why the company’s 401K investment plan was only open to people who work 20 hours or more per week. In contrast, a full-time employee asked why REI used so many part-time workers. The worker said that all the part-timers made it difficult to maintain full-time status and benefits, Adweek reports.
Several employees asked for a living wage, to which the CEO replied that REI will be rolling out hourly wages of $15 (£9.90) in some markets in 2016.
Strizke is not the only CEO who has been faced by a wave of criticism by the Reddit members. Ellen Pao announced that she was leaving her role as CEO of Reddit after over 210,000 members of the online community signed a petition for her removal.