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In November 2014, I had the privilege to become President of Take Shape For Life, the largest division of Medifast Inc., a publicly traded health and wellness company (MED—NYSE) and one of the top 20 largest U.S. direct selling companies. This not only meant a career opportunity for me but also a cross-country move to Baltimore from California, where I had lived for almost 20 years. The move was also a very emotional one, as I was returning to work after pausing for a year in my career to be by my family’s side as my dear father battled and ultimately lost his life to cancer.
As many others have experienced, a cascade of life-changing events can feel overwhelming, but it also can create opportunity. How many times have we seen that happen in business, when the accumulation of stressful events ultimately can lead to great breakthroughs and take the company to the next stage, if the right lessons are learned? And so it has been with me. This journey of life-altering events has improved my ability to respond to business challenges, and brought several important aspects to mind.
Helen Urwin, a widely respected branding expert with whom I had the pleasure to work, says it so well: “The obstacle is the way.” Our biggest learnings and breakthroughs come through facing changes, obstacles and challenges, and not giving in to fear and reactivity, but believing that the best is awaiting us at the end of the tunnel.
Back to Basics
It is always crucial to remember that as we evolve into bigger, more sophisticated companies with a larger field and much higher revenue, to never forget the basics. Obviously, at different stages of a company’s growth different parameters are prioritized, but at no point should we underestimate the importance of the key basics of the business that actually brought us to where we are. When major changes take place and our immediate reaction is to seek out the newest, trendiest and most innovative ways to turn things around, there is a great opportunity to instead actually stop and remember the “back to basics” strategy and what made us who we are.
For Take Shape For Life, it was about remembering that we have always desired to have a simple, fun, duplicable business model available for those who embrace our mission and want to change their own lives while touching and transforming others around them. We want a system that others can easily join and thrive in. This is what made us who we are, and what we want to continue to be. Going back to these basics helped us revamp and readjust so many of our tools, our leadership focus and our unification process within the field, which in turn is leading us to extraordinary momentum for all of our Health Coaches.
Public versus Private Companies
One of the most interesting challenges of this year’s transition for me was learning how to operate within a publicly held company environment versus the privately held companies I had been associated with most of my career. Being a part of a public company does require another layer of understanding and operating. The corporate management’s responsibility is heightened by accountability toward additional stakeholders, beyond the field and the clients—to the board and shareholders. The challenge resides in connecting these vastly different audiences and aligning their interests and objectives around the same mission, vision, goals and KPIs while respecting their viewpoints, perspectives and priorities.
The biggest opportunity I found at Take Shape For Life was our ability to create visibility and understanding for each audience on what the others do and how we all can be aligned. A lot of constructive dialogues, learnings, patience and searching of common ground took place while we were building specific roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. This helped enable the board to put themselves in the shoes of Health Coaches and understand specifically how they conduct their business. We also worked with our Health Coaches to help them have a much better grasp of the parameters that were important to our board and shareholders so we are all operating toward a similar goal and vision. While being in the public eye can present some complexities, it certainly also presents a wonderful opportunity where visibility to the public can create a positive outlook on our world of direct selling and on changing lives through entrepreneurship and sustainable communities.
Embracing Change and Diversity
A very interesting angle of this journey so far has been centered on one of the topics in our industry that is near and dear to my heart: diversity. Due to my personal journey as well as to life-changing experiences in direct selling, I have been a big proponent of bringing more diversity into our industry, both on the corporate side and on the field side of the business. It is important for direct selling companies to be able to attract and retain the fastest-growing sub-segments of the U.S. economy.
Take Shape For Life is the first company I have been with so far in my direct selling journey that has had limited field diversity but an enormous commitment for it to change. What an extraordinary opportunity to help make a difference! And even more interesting, while being associated with the least diversity-oriented company I have worked with, I had the honor to be appointed as the Chair of DSA’s Empowerment and Diversity Council. For me, this interesting turn of events proves that during change, many things we might perceive as challenges have the potential to become the best opportunities.
Attraction and Retention
So often in our industry, our biggest efforts are focused on attracting more people to join our independent field and helping them to build their future as successful entrepreneurs. Many investments, incentives and strategies are associated with that effort.
This attraction—translated into sponsorship—is indeed a key driver for our industry’s growth. But on the other hand, keeping those who were initially attracted to our business too often becomes an afterthought and more of a crisis-management problem instead of a truly aligned strategy. Retention should be a well-thought-out part of the attraction strategy from the very beginning.
The reality is that people stay around and express their loyalty if they keep seeing and experiencing the same things that attracted them to the company in the first place. Providing consistency—in other words, walking the walk and talking the talk—can save us all effort and money on ensuring retention. When the attraction methods and messaging are exaggerated or only good for the short term after the entry point of a new person, retention rates will remain poor. If the realities of “after-joining” are far different from the “honeymoon” stage, we lose the new person because of the large gap between the attraction they first felt and the reality of their daily business.
It is precisely during this in-between phase that the new person’s real experience makes or breaks his or her initial attraction. If that experience is indeed lived out as we had promised, then our retention rates will not be as worrisome. During this time the company should provide:
- Appropriate support through trainings, the right tools and the community experience: The values, interactions and dynamics both between corporate and field and amongst the field.
- The financial compensation: The realistic attainment of earnings with the reasonable time and efforts invested.
- Recognition: Are the right behaviors, activities and achievements being recognized all across the field in a fair manner?
- The commitment: The reality of how much the entire organization, corporate and field, truly believe in and follow the mission of the company.
By remembering our own alignment for retention, we can make that a reality for those entrepreneurs who join our field, as well as for all the valuable employees who support us.
I feel so blessed and grateful for all that has happened these past couple of years and look forward to the upcoming year. Through the challenges and obstacles, we can learn the lessons and gain the insights we need to be better leaders. What a blessing to see that our concerted efforts have helped and continue to help our companies make a positive shift.
Mona Ameli is President of Take Shape For Life, the largest business division of Medifast Inc., a publicly traded health and wellness company.