Young Elizabeth Rubino dreamed of one day becoming a music therapist or a teacher — until fate intervened. At her father’s behest, Rubino chose a business track in college and subsequently realized she had an affinity for dealing with people.
Her first few jobs after college got her thinking that HR might be the right spot for her to combine her business background with her interest in people. “It was probably my third or fourth position in my career, and I had the opportunity to be in an entry-level HR role. I fell in love with it — it was one of those game-changers for me,” she said.
Growing a Startup
Having previously worked at PECO Energy Co. in primarily training and development roles, Rubino joined QVC in a similar capacity about 17 years ago. The company was transitioning out of the startup phase and building a foundation in management training, leadership development and supervisory training.
From there, she moved to the operations side of HR with responsibility for the company’s nine U.S. sites. That role had a strong focus on training and development as well as culture. She went on to become the senior vice president for HR, and just last year moved up to a position with global responsibility: executive vice president of human resources and workplace services.
“As we began to evolve and grow, we went from silos and hierarchical leadership to a more horizontal distributed leadership model that was not just U.S.-focused but also global,” she said.
This evolution positioned the video and e-commerce retailer to better attract talent and share it across markets. “I can go to any different market, whether it is Germany, the U.K. or here in the U.S., and I will have the same sense of the talent — what it takes to succeed here and also what the values are like,” she said. “Those things transcend each of the markets and each of the cultures.”
Rubino said she feels a personal sense of accountability for the work life of the company’s approximately 17,000 worldwide employees. QVC is in five markets, including the U.S., and has set its sights on further global expansion.
“This is my new challenge. It’s really about taking what our team has built in the U.S. and in each of our markets, and [determining] how do we achieve our sweet spot, where culture [and] talent management come together to enable the business strategy,” she said.
The challenge lies in leveraging QVC’s talent, culture and core business strategies in global markets while maintaining the local flavor and optimizing the unique aspects of each market. “If we’re in new markets every two years, what do we need to be doing from a talent, enterprise and culture perspective to get ready for that new market?” she said.
Rubino and her talent management team ensure that talent review discussions are taking place at the leadership level at least biannually. During these discussions, leaders identify employees who can be transferred to other parts of the organization or even other markets — but to do so, every key position must have a minimum of two successors who are “ready now.”
To build a pipeline of these successors, QVC has instituted a program called “Walk a Mile,” which enables certain individuals to shadow business leaders as they go about their jobs — in some cases, even performing some of their tasks.
The company’s top leaders also serve as facilitators and instructors for courses at QVC University (QU) where up-and-coming leaders are built via traditional classroom training techniques, lunch and learns, book clubs and forums.
Business People First
Rubino’s mantra for herself and her team is that they are business people first and HR people second.
“Our HR team has transformed themselves from being transactional — the more traditional personnel function — to really having a seat at the table that is not only now earned but expected,” she said. “By being really good stewards of the business and respecting our business model and loving our customers, we are able to bring really relevant people, talent and culture solutions to problems.”
Rubino attends P&L meetings — including global ones — and is confident that every QVC leader has up-to-date business and talent information.
“I attend all the business meetings; I attend all the budget meetings for approval at the end of the year; I’m part of the strategy discussions with the leadership team and capital planning. I’m always thinking about it first from a business perspective … I’m thinking about it from a people, talent and culture perspective as well,” she said.
Business strategies and talent plans at QVC are so closely aligned Rubino said her team is part of the solution for any project the company undertakes because there isn’t a single project or capital plan without an accompanying talent plan.
“My team is always responsible for: Where’s the talent going to come from? What are we doing to get it ready? How do we make sure that we sustain it? What is our talent acquisition strategy? What’s going to be next on the horizon as we reinvent ourselves — skills that we don’t even think about right now but are going to be important to us in five years? What are we doing to get our team ready to receive [talent], hire them, on-board them, develop them?”
Having a seat at the table and being a strategic business partner, Rubino’s team also shapes the culture at QVC, bringing values to life such as teamwork, respect and concern for each other, ethics and integrity, and openness and trust.
“A lot of companies have values, but what I’m really proud about is we really live them here,” she said. “From the moment you come to QVC, there’s a certain esprit de corps — a sense of people who are genuine and down-to-earth and will do anything they can for the customer and anything they can for each other.”
Establishing a workplace culture where values such as teamwork and open, honest communication are reinforced enhances employee engagement, said Mike George, president and CEO of QVC.
“QVC’s values are an integral part of our entire global organization. It’s important for senior leadership to live these values so we are setting an example for all, and to illustrate that our values are genuine — they’re not just words on paper,” he said.
Companies typically create a set of values to demonstrate how the workforce should behave and what the company should stand for, said Andria Corso, president and CEO of C3 Coaching and Consulting and former director of talent management and development at Lockheed Martin.
“Values structure the culture because they’re going to guide the behaviors of all of the people who work there; they’re going to demonstrate to customers and anybody who works with the organization [what they can] expect from the employees and just the organization as a whole,” she said.
QVC’s values are so ingrained in the company’s culture they are part of the hiring profile, and it doesn’t end there. On-boarding coaches work with new hires to ensure they make decisions and form relationships that are in line with the company’s values. Leaders are also mindful of values when conducting performance appraisals.
“People get evaluated on not just what they accomplish, but how they did it and did they use the values,” Rubino said. “We [also] make business strategy decisions and talent and culture decisions based on our values. We have walked away from really good deals — from a retailer’s perspective — because it wasn’t a good representation of our values and our brand.”
Corso said if a company is committed to living and operating by its values, they should come into play in all decisions — hiring decisions, business deals, the way an organization deals with employee relations, employee development. “The values are the foundation, and it demonstrates that the company’s not going to compromise their values for a deal or for any reason because that will have a significant impact on the culture,” she said.
A crucial caveat is that leaders need to be closely aligned with the values because setting the tone of the culture starts from the top. If a senior leader does violate a value or act in an unethical way, that sends a message to the rest of the organization that it’s OK to exhibit that behavior. “You certainly don’t want to have that permeate or infect the organization because it goes contradictory to the behaviors you’re trying to promote and create,” Corso said.
QVC understands this. Rubino said the organization hires and evaluates employees based on those values. For example, if the 360 feedback review process reveals that a leader didn’t display teamwork or isn’t respectful of his or her subordinates, the offender may be asked to leave the organization.
Further, when the organization makes a hiring mistake, Rubino said “it’s really obvious, and the person usually doesn’t last very long. When we have a leader that does something that’s against our values, they get asked to leave. So it really is a part of our culture; it’s part of the glue that helps to hold the company together.”
Teamwork is another value woven into the fabric of the company’s culture. Once a year before performance appraisals, top leaders have a talent review session where leaders offer their top talent to other teams that need them — within their department, across departments or even across markets.
“As a team member, you can be vulnerable and say, ‘I’ve got a hole here; I need some talent here,’ and people from other teams will give their talent to you,” Rubino said.
Values are so ingrained in QVC’s culture they’re engraved in the cement of their atrium.
Making a Difference
Rubino said she would like to leave behind a legacy at QVC, one that illustrates how she made a difference in the lives of the team members she collaborated with, in ways that extend beyond the workplace.
“I want to be their trusted partner and adviser; I want them to always know I did what was best for the business and for them; I want them to think of my team as having provided them fair rewards and a phenomenal health care plan that lets them and their families be at their best,” she said.
Rubino said it’s important that people experience the difference that HR can make — a desire that has personal roots for her. Her father passed away last year, but she has vivid memories of him and her mother sitting at the kitchen table discussing his job as a general manager.
“He used to complain about HR a lot — that HR was always in the way, always saying no, [didn’t help] him to get things done,” she said.
His skepticism of the profession changed after frequent conversations with his daughter during the past decade on how she worked to make employees’ lives better through HR. “If he were here now, he would say that if he knew HR people like that, it maybe would have made a difference for him, too.”
For her part, Rubino said she couldn’t be happier she listened to her father’s advice all those years ago and made her affinity for people into a career.
Deanna Hartley is an associate editor at Talent Management magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.