How WeightWatchers is leaning into purpose to drive talent, biz success

For WeightWatchers CPO Tiffany Stevenson, while the “P” in her title technically stands for “people,” she also considers another important definition: purpose. Helping teams find and follow their purpose has been a cornerstone of her HR career—which included HR leadership roles at content creation platform Patreon, cloud management firm Box and beauty retailer Sephora before she joined WeightWatchers in 2022.

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“I’m very purpose-led,” Stevenson says. “Every organization I’ve worked for, somewhere in my core, I had a deep belief that the purpose of that organization was something I wanted to help unlock because I could see its value in the world. And WeightWatchers is no different.”

Core to the purpose work Stevenson is leading at WeightWatchers is the alignment of its core values and culture—a transformation Stevenson will detail in her keynote at HRE’s upcoming EPIC Conference. Before EPIC, Stevenson sat down with HRE to talk about culture, community and what fuels her personal purpose.

HRE: How would you describe the organizational culture at WeightWatchers?

Tiffany Stevenson, WeightWatchers
Tiffany Stevenson, WeightWatchers

Stevenson: I would say our culture is continuing to evolve with some key focus areas. We are a 60-year-old business and I think the thing that has always united us is a deep belief in this opportunity to help our members achieve and sustain their weight health goals over a long period of time. That is something that gets us all to work every single day.

Some of the changes that have happened [in culture] have evolved as our business model has evolved—toward a place now where we’re really thinking about weight health on this broader continuum and the important role that we play in helping to engineer that reality for everyone.

Some of the most recent work that we’ve done has been to codify our values, which I think is informing our culture quite a lot. What’s been nice is using our history, and our founder’s history, to inform those values as we look ahead.

HRE: Can you share more about those values?

Stevenson: The four values are that we “take big bites,” we must always be on point, we move together and we care fiercely. Each of those has an orientation into Jean Nidetch, who founded this company in her apartment with a core belief that everyone should have access to science-backed information that helps them achieve their weight health goals in perpetuity.

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Each of those values has meaning for us in the behaviors that we should expect from each other and even how we think about how we make decisions. It’s the behaviors plus the decisions that really inform a culture.

One of my strongest beliefs is a quote that I heard once: “A culture is what it does.” I think having really strong values that are mission-oriented with clear expectations is the way that we codify our culture around them.

HRE: How do you think HR needs to be thinking about culture differently, post-pandemic?

Stevenson: When I reflect on this transformation that we’re on, I think the lesson inspiring our thinking has three major components.

The first is building from your mission out—having high fidelity to your unique reason for being, the unique problem that you’re setting out to solve and what’s required from all of us to be able to get there. Strategies can change over time and what you’re focused on can change over time, but that mission is the permanence. When you come back to that mission, not only does that make sure that you have the right strategy, but it also bridges that for teammates who are trying to understand their contribution on the change journey.

The second is inspiring hearts and minds, and a big part of that is being able to draw on relevant stories. We spend a lot of time hearing from our members and thinking about the impact that some of our decisions are having on our members. We bring members to our [employee] meetings so we can hear from them firsthand weekly. And we pulse those stories out weekly in our [email newsletter] called “The Bite” so that we always lead with inspiration.

And the third is what I call “engineering your outcomes”—when you’re making decisions, being good and crisp at thinking about who owns the decisions, what gets funded, what your goals and OKRs are, what you talk about, who gets promoted in your organization. When you think about all these things, there’s an engineering component to them. So, you have to think about, to what extent are they amplifying the change that you’re trying to get done in the organization?

HRE: As you focus on this culture and values work, what in your day-to-day HR work is challenging your team the most?

Stevenson: I think the biggest thing that’s on all of our minds as we’re making this transformation is thinking about, what does the world need from WeightWatchers going forward? Being really clear on our brand and what that brand is becoming. And then being able to deliver the growth that we expect will happen as a result of us making those changes.

The thing that keeps me up at night, keeps the CEO up at night, keeps the CMO up at night, that keeps all of us up at night, is making sure that, in the sequence of changes that we’re making, that we’re moving our humans through this together. We have to make sure that they are able to have a huge sense of clarity around what’s expected of them, and that they’re able to deliver it—and that that, in turn, delivers the long-term growth that we know we’re going to be able to achieve because we’re making the right bets.

We have to help our team stay focused on that—even as there’s external noise happening around us that sometimes is very focused on what’s happening on March 13, 2024—we have to be thinking about what’s going to be happening March 13, 2027.

So, we’re focused on a design that’s really helping us to enable that. It’s about helping our team stay super clear, super focused—and then making sure that we have all of the things in place to measure that and stay on track.

HRE: Recruiting and retention are certainly key to that growth plan. How has your team been most innovative in these areas?

Stevenson: I believe very strongly that your best recruiting doesn’t come from your recruiting function. It comes from all of the people that you bring into the organization itself. So, giving our teams the opportunity to storytell is what we’ve really focused on this year. We’ve made sure that they have the license and the agency to tell their story—whether that’s something that they do on LinkedIn, something that they share with others, something that they’re amplifying that people can be a part of.

Making sure we’re opening up the kitchen as best we can has been the best recruiting tool that we’ve had. And I’ve been really excited to see, for every role that we open, the hundreds of people who are applying. And if you think about that relative to the growth story that we’re on, I think what people are saying in the interviews is that they’re clear on what they’re signing up for; I like to say, “It’s all in the brochure.” People are excited about how they might be able to contribute to [WeightWatchers’ transformation], and they’re sober-eyed that this is a change that’s not for the faint of heart. It’s going to take a lift, but they’re excited to contribute to the lift.

HRE: Given that your customer base is predominantly women, where is your focus when it comes to recruiting and retaining women today?

Stevenson: I think this is something that, if I had to draw on one of our values, it would be around how we take big bites—we don’t go for the incremental. We really want to do something that differentiates us. Having a founder who’s a woman—who, 60 years ago when she wanted to file her business license, her husband had to sign it—the experience and journey of women is something that we want to honor in our organization. We’re very proud that we have a large number of women who are a part of our workforce; we are the majority. That has helped us think differently about some of the design choices that we’ve made.

Work-from-wherever is a big one. We don’t have fixed days in the office. We recognize that, in order for us to do our best work, it means that we have to manage everything else around us. Sometimes that means supporting our children, supporting our parents, supporting ourselves, making sure we’re getting to that doctor’s appointment—I have a dentist appointment today. You have to be able to manage your life to manage your work. That’s a core part of how we operate.

We’ve also invested in benefits that I think really amplify the different choices that we make. For those of us who decide that we want to become parents, we not only support that process with fertility benefits, but we provide a very generous six months of leave—irrespective of gender or how people are having children, including through adoption. We’ve also been investing heavily in menopause care.

[Our employees] span a pretty broad demographic in terms of age, so we want to make sure that, no matter what season people are in, they’re supported. We want to take the friction out of being able to be present and do their work.

HRE: In your Twitter bio, you describe yourself first as a “good human” and then as a chief people officer. How do those two descriptors work together in your life?

Stevenson: I think if you had asked me five years ago what I wanted to be when I grew up, chief people officer wasn’t the role that would have come to mind. Now that I’m sitting in this role, I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity because I think it unites the things that I care about the most.

When people ask what “CPO” stands for, of course, the “P” is for people, but for me, I also think it’s “purpose.” The thing that resonates for me most about this work is making sure that the purpose of an organization always shines through. When you get the purpose right, everything else comes around it—the performance, the people you select, the culture you nurture, your ability to drive results. It all comes from that clear sense of purpose. Being able to unlock purpose is something that I always put before my role—because my role is the conduit, the way of reaching that purpose.

HRE: Outside of that work, what personally gives you purpose?

Stevenson: Community is everything. I’m involved in several community-based organizations where I volunteer. I volunteer in the arts for a museum on their board of directors. I volunteer in two service organizations, and I’m also very active in church. All of those are purpose-led organizations that unite people from all different backgrounds and experiences. You get to craft something you feel you’re a part of and then you make others feel like they’re a part of it as well.

That has always been important for me. You can go back to high school; I was senior class president and was always that person who was like, “Let’s bring people together!” It’s very hard-wired in my DNA. I’m very grateful for every opportunity that I have where I get to do that—where I can work with other people to build and achieve something that makes us really, really proud.

Hear more from Stevenson about WeightWatchers’ culture journey at HRE‘s EPIC Conference, April 24-26, in Las Vegas. Click here to register.

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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].