Foot Locker CHRO: Why we need to expand ‘sneaker culture’ for our 45K workers

Helming the people function for a global retailer with more than 45,000 employees would be a monumental feat no matter the environment—but especially so for an organization in the midst of a growth-oriented rebrand and transformation of company culture.

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That’s the reality Cindy Carlisle stepped into when she became executive vice president and CHRO of Foot Locker this spring—and it’s a challenge she’s eager to accept.

“I am deeply honored to join Foot Locker at this critical moment of transformation and growth,” Carlisle said in a press statement earlier this year, noting she’s eager to tap into the “incredible” talent Foot Locker employs across 26 countries and to help them “expand sneaker culture globally.” That work is being accelerated through Foot Locker’s Lace Up Plan, a strategy unveiled in 2023 that is refocusing the company on becoming more consumer-led and infusing technology into its experiences, among other goals. By strategically simplifying, investing and growing, Foot Locker aims to increase its annual revenue from $8.5 billion to $10 billion—with Foot Locker’s talent a key driver in meeting that objective.

It’s work that Carlisle’s previous roles have prepared her for—including her HR leadership at Stryker, Roche, Johnson & Johnson and General Electric. Carlisle recently spoke with HRE about what it’s been like stepping into this new role and how she envisions company culture will help the Lace Up plan reach the finish line.

HRE: What was the most impactful moment of your first day with Foot Locker?

Cindy Carlisle, Foot Locker
Cindy Carlisle, Foot Locker

Carlisle: On my first day, one of the most memorable experiences was stepping into the New York office and being greeted with such warmth and enthusiasm by the Foot Locker team members and immersing myself in the dynamic sneaker culture through learning the progress we have made on the Lace Up Plan.

HRE: Although you’re new to the role, what are you considering as the organization’s most pressing people priority at the moment?

Carlisle: I’m thrilled to join Foot Locker Inc. as executive vice president and chief human resource officer to partner with the talented individuals who move sneaker culture forward. My appointment to this incredible role and great responsibility starts with discovering the right methods to unlock the power of our people and spark a sense of discovery within them—in the same way we aspire for our team members to spark discovery within our customers.

My approach to nurturing the growth of team members involves creating avenues for learning and development, delivering constructive feedback and mentorship, and empowering individuals to embrace new challenges. By investing in both individual and collective growth, I’m confident we can unlock the full potential of our team while driving the company forward for the next 50 years of growth.

HRE: In what ways has Foot Locker been most innovative in recruiting, and how do you intend to take that success even further?

Carlise: I’m impressed by the strength of our recruitment program, which places a large emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion to ensure our workforce reflects the communities we serve.

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To ensure we attract and retain the brightest talent globally, we also activate a combination of high-potential employee programs, leadership roundtables led by executives and customized onboarding and learning tools.

With the help of these activations, we’re equipped to identify team members with the potential to assume leadership positions, improve current roles and our job design process, discover new ways to work cross-functionally and provide employees with resources to help with career pathing.

Click here to read more Insights from a CHRO.

HRE: More organizations are prioritizing skills over degrees and experience. Is this shift influencing Foot Locker’s recruiting and retention strategies?

Carlisle: With more than 45,000 team members worldwide, our workforce is diverse and comprised of team members with varying levels of education and experience. The value we place on diversity of thought, across all levels of the business, is immeasurable and allows us to challenge conventional ways of thinking and push boundaries as we become a best-in-class omni-retailer.

We continue to prioritize candidates with various skill sets to ensure our organization remains agile, competitive and the first choice for the sneaker passionate. This includes talent across our corporate offices, distribution centers and more than 2,500 retail stores.

HRE: As Foot Locker leans into its growth plan, what is the company culture work that HR will focus on to make that effort successful from an employee perspective?

Carlisle: As the driving force for our organizational success, it’s critical that our team members feel empowered and inspired to do the great work that propels our business forward.

Our business leaders, in partnership with HR, are actively analyzing key themes we received through our recent global initiative, the Voice of Our Team Member survey. This survey gave team members the opportunity to share valuable insights and feedback on their employee experience across each of our global regions. Equipped with these insights, we’re able to implement fresh strategies and tactics to increase both employee engagement and satisfaction.

We also have a variety of employee resource groups, including an ERG focused specifically on wellness. The wellness ERG, Global Wellness Champions, includes a robust set of programs and platforms to support team members and achieve “work/life effectiveness”—encouraging employees to prioritize work/life balance.

GWC also offers a series of mental health webinars and a financial wellness platform that provides tips, articles and resources on financial planning. By providing team members with a blend of strategic tools and programming, we’re able to maintain a culture that is collaborative, inclusive and mission-focused.

HRE: From your experience, what is the most effective way for HR leaders to ensure the people function is a strategic partner to the business?

Carlisle: HR leaders support all functions of the organization to progress against business goals. We stay connected to all leaders and team members cross-functionally to understand the business dynamics—strengths, challenges, opportunities and external pressures—and partner closely with business leaders to address any needs, pain points and implement timely changes to improve both efficiency and effectiveness of the workforce.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned as an HR leader is that company culture and talent strategies cannot be designed in a vacuum. For ultimate success, it is imperative that we encourage team members to share their feedback through appropriate avenues so we can deliver changes that benefit our employees and add value to the organization.

HRE: Looking back on your career, was there a defining moment that emphasized to you that HR was the right path?

Carlisle: I recognized that my diverse functional experience would enable me to effectively partner as an HR leader with senior leaders by offering strategic insights and crafting thoughtful, people-centric solutions to tackle intricate challenges. Ultimately, human resources presented me with opportunities to learn and grow while supporting others. There was not a single defining moment that made me realize HR was the ideal fit for me. Instead, it was a series of reaffirming experiences that strengthened my belief in being a trusted partner and coach to leaders, knowing that my contributions were positively impacting the people and organization.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].