Case Study

Avon’s latest people innovation

Over the last year, Avon has taken its remote working model up a notch with a mentoring app and new tech. We find out how the firm achieved this…

Words by Jade Burke

Avon’s latest people innovation

Over the last year, Avon has taken its remote working model up a notch with a mentoring app and new tech. We find out how the firm achieved this…

Words by Jade Burke

Words by Jade Burke

Remote working was an alien concept for many businesses just 12 months ago. This led to some unusual and intense working practices: some employers rolled out spyware to keep tabs on their staff at home, while others forced employees to work despite being placed on the Government’s furlough scheme. It was a dramatic year to say the least.

Avon

Now, things have settled down, many will be thinking about how their work changed. For one firm – who literally knocked on doors and entered living rooms around the country as their business model – it meant a massive pivot. Avon, a globally recognised leader in beauty, had to turn its strategy on its head in order to support its people as best it could during this uncertain time, with a particular reliance on tech to do so.

Avon has largely worked remotely since it was founded in the USA by David McConnell in 1886. Initially named California Perfume Company, it was later renamed Avon in 1939, when representatives were able to go from door to door selling Avon products. These beauty products now consist of Skin Reset Plumping Shots, a menopause skincare range called Adapt, as well as perfume and make-up items such as foundation and eyeliner.

But what’s important to note is this business model has allowed sales representatives to achieve a flexible working schedule for many years before the pandemic, something which many businesses are now only recognising as an important option.

The ‘Avon Way’

It is the ‘Avon Way’ could be just what businesses now need – with many studies indicating that more staff want a healthy work-life balance and more autonomy over their work schedule. In fact, a study by Investors in People in 2020 found that two in three employees are looking for a better work-life balance in new roles so it’s clear that offering this way of working is crucial to attract and retain staff.

Whilst flexibility has worked well for Avon, Michelle Parczuk, VP People, Culture & Organisation at Avon, notes that tech was an important factor in making this work. She tells myGrapevine Magazine: “We’ve been embracing digital tools for a long time now, but it was accelerated during the pandemic when technology played a very important role in connecting people.”

In an exclusive myGrapevine magazine interview, Parczuk reveals how the business has used tech to support its sales representatives to truly achieve a healthy balance between life and work and how this truly enhanced Avon’s workforce.

Keeping connections

The last 12 months have torn teams apart, literally, as employees have had to work separately from their homes where possible. This has meant that the face-to-face interaction and collaboration which once took place in a physical work setting has been halted altogether, which likely will have had a marked effect on communication.

With this in mind, research carried out by Clutch last year discovered that 26% of companies have given their employees more access to communication tech during the crisis, suggesting the importance of team communication within a business. And, Avon’s VP for People has similar notions as she pointed out: “People needed to be able to collaborate day to day, but we also needed to stay in touch with how our people are feeling about their careers.”

To make this possible, the usual in-person focus groups were scrapped for virtual ones, which Parczuk shares was a positive change, as it allowed the business to reach more people than it normally would allow them to in person. But that’s not all, the business is also using Glint technology to allow senior leaders and line managers to explore the detail of what its people are telling them. In addition, a communication, learning and collaboration platform known as Fuse has also helped Avon’s people to “stay connected, upload their own content and ask questions in real time, which has been highly successful”.

All of these initiatives combined have helped to boost employee engagement, build natural communication between leaders and their people and increase empowerment among team members, all helping to demonstrate how tech has allowed Avon to enhance its workforce.

"We’ve been embracing digital tools for a long time now, but it was accelerated during the pandemic"

How Avon went digital

Avon’s Parczuk shares that since the pandemic, where the business has experienced a seismic shift to working patterns, employment and culture, Avon has transformed itself “from ‘Ding Dong’ direct selling – going door to door – to a digitally led beauty company”. In particular the pace of Avon’s digital makeover has been upped, and online sales doubled in the UK throughout 2020.

Parczuk adds: “Reps were able to move their businesses online and the number of active representatives sharing content and e-brochures nearly tripled in Q4 of 2020 compared to the previous year.”

How Avon went digital

Avon’s Parczuk shares that since the pandemic, where the business has experienced a seismic shift to working patterns, employment and culture, Avon has transformed itself “from ‘Ding Dong’ direct selling – going door to door – to a digitally led beauty company”. In particular the pace of Avon’s digital makeover has been upped, and online sales doubled in the UK throughout 2020.

Parczuk adds: “Reps were able to move their businesses online and the number of active representatives sharing content and e-brochures nearly tripled in Q4 of 2020 compared to the previous year.”

Centricity is key

While increasing communication has been vital, Avon’s VP of People notes that technology has been able to transform the business in that it now has an increased focus on employee centricity. This was also achieved through the firm’s digital focus groups that were held via Teams, while surveys and locally run Covid-safe sessions helped make this happen. Parczuk shares that this was concentrated on to ensure that the firm’s beauty advisors were placed at the heart of the business, as she explains: “To really put employees at the heart of an organisation and build a sense of trust and safety, you need to genuinely listen to your people.”

As a result of this effort to listen, Parczuk cites that Avon was able to find out exactly what was important to each team member. “What was important came through loud and clear: feeling empowered, feeling confident and safe to really be themselves at work,” she tells myGrapevine Magazine.

There is research to backup the Avon way of doing things. Salesforce data found that when an employee feels they are heard, that individual is 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of their abilities – a win-win for all involved.

‘The Beauty of Doing Good’

Adapting to new technologies can sometimes cause challenges, partly because human beings are creatures of habit and often do not welcome change. Some may not understand how to use a new piece of tech and therefore become disengaged with it, while others may simply prefer the original method of doing something and will disregard a new idea altogether. However, these challenges can be overcome by a shared sense of purpose, and Avon has shown how this is possible.

The firm’s drive to truly listen to its sales representatives is indicative of its company purpose, which is “to transform women’s lives for the better.” Therefore, inviting team members to share their feelings openly and honestly has allowed the organisation to tap into what its people need and want. However, with the pandemic causing colleagues to work separately, Parczuk notes that “purpose is even more important when we can’t all be together – it’s our constant reminder of ‘why’ we do what we do”.

With this in mind, the company used its purpose as well as insights from its teams to create a new Employee Value Proposition known as ‘The Beauty of Doing Good’. Commenting on the initiative, Parczuk enthuses: “It spells out what people can expect from working at Avon and how purpose is part of our everyday life here. Creating this with our people – as a direct reflection of their feedback – means it’s resonated well.”

But to get to this point, tech has played a fundamental role, from the digital focus groups, employee surveys, online communications and internal app (more on that later) – it has all been key to Avon’s HR strategy.

"To really put employees at the heart of an organisation, you need to genuinely listen to your people"

A flexible employer

The past 12 months have shone a light on flexible work, particularly as working parents had to juggle work life alongside looking after children while schools have been closed. But for Avon, this way of working is deep-rooted into the company’s DNA, as Parczuk shares that “Avon has proudly been a flexible employer for a long time with our army of self-employed beauty advisors earning on their own terms”.

However, she points out that this has been accelerated by the pandemic. To tap into the wants and needs of their beauty advisors as a result of this new way of working, she explains: “We created a ‘staying connected’ digital community with live events, learning opportunities, discussion and wellbeing activities. It was crucial that we created a digital-first culture, inspiring new mindsets in our teams and this community has driven more adoption of digital learning and communication tools than we have ever seen before.”

A flexible employer

The past 12 months have shone a light on flexible work, particularly as working parents had to juggle work life alongside looking after children while schools have been closed. But for Avon, this way of working is deep-rooted into the company’s DNA, as Parczuk shares that “Avon has proudly been a flexible employer for a long time with our army of self-employed beauty advisors earning on their own terms”.

However, she points out that this has been accelerated by the pandemic. To tap into the wants and needs of their beauty advisors as a result of this new way of working, she explains: “We created a ‘staying connected’ digital community with live events, learning opportunities, discussion and wellbeing activities. It was crucial that we created a digital-first culture, inspiring new mindsets in our teams and this community has driven more adoption of digital learning and communication tools than we have ever seen before.”

Avon’s mentoring app

According to G2 Crowd, 80% of HR employees stated that using HR technologies improved employee attitude toward the company. Elsewhere, PwC’s HR Technology Survey 2020 discovered that 74% see spend for HR tech increasing. These figures indicate that tech plays a key role in any HR strategy, as Parczuk agrees: “Technology has fast become the heart of HR strategy and the employee experience.”

She continues: “It allows organisations to get feedback on a more regular basis than we might usually get with traditional employee surveys, ensuring impact can consistently be monitored. It also enables people across the business to connect, share ideas, collaborate and feel part of virtual communities.”

And Avon is following suit, as the HR leader shares that Avon has recently launched a mentoring app which has already proven to be a success within the business. Comparing the new platform to a dating app, Parczuk says that it aims to match associates who would like to become mentors and those that would like to receive mentorship across the firm. She continued: “It allows people to connect with others and takes the formal, HR-driven processes out of the picture, giving employees the chance to take control of their own learning and development.”

During a time where people may feel they aren’t getting the development they need to expand their skills and careers due to remote working life and being cut off from more senior members of staff, finding ways to enhance this has been extremely critical for businesses. And Avon’s mentoring app taps into this, as it has allowed its people to upskill and connect with their peers despite working remotely.

"Technology has fast become the heart of HR strategy and the employee experience"

Avon fact file

Since it was founded 135 years ago, Avon has worked to create positive change for women, and has been calling for economic empowerment and freedom to earn.

Avon follows a set of values called Birth, which stands for Belief, Integrity, Respect, Trust and Humility.

The firm is part of the Natura &Co Group and is committed to tackling urgent issues facing people and the planet.

With the support of the Avon Foundation, the business has committed to a multi-year pledge educating and promoting awareness about breast health: the Breast Cancer Promise.

Through the Avon Foundation, Avon has also spoken out about gender violence, through the End Violence Against Women programme.

Avon fact file

Since it was founded 135 years ago, Avon has worked to create positive change for women, and has been calling for economic empowerment and freedom to earn.

Avon follows a set of values called Birth, which stands for Belief, Integrity, Respect, Trust and Humility.

The firm is part of the Natura &Co Group and is committed to tackling urgent issues facing people and the planet.

With the support of the Avon Foundation, the business has committed to a multi-year pledge educating and promoting awareness about breast health: the Breast Cancer Promise.

Through the Avon Foundation, Avon has also spoken out about gender violence, through the End Violence Against Women programme.

"Empathetic leaders and smart tech work hand in hand"

Tech cannot replace the ‘heart’

While it is clear that tech plays a key part within an HR strategy, Avon’s Parczuk notes that HR should be mindful not to rely on it entirely to enhance the lives of its staff, as she shares that “it cannot replace the ‘heart’ and emotional connection that is needed from leaders to create a sense of belonging”.

The past 12 months have highlighted this in particular, as employees have been forced to work in isolation away from their teams, which has resulted in many struggling with loneliness, a lack of productivity and increased anxiety, something many studies have also pointed to. But this has allowed Avon in particular to understand how the external world impacts its people.

Parczuk tells myGrapevine Magazine that Avon is tackling this: “In particular, we’ve been looking at psychological safety, ensuring senior leaders are compassionate and treat employees as individuals. This creates a safe space and inspires people to speak up, share their ideas and ultimately become truly empowered.”

But with the introduction of its mentoring app, a clear company purpose, initiatives to boost communication and encouraging more employee centricity, it seems that Avon is indeed using tech to the best of its ability to support its team members. While all of these elements are critical to enhance a workforce, Parczuk enthuses that for ultimate success “empathetic leaders and smart technology work hand in hand to create a balanced, positive experience for people within an organisation”.