- Kirsten Marriner is the executive VP and chief people and corporate affairs officer at Clorox.
- Her career experience has taught her how to push a team toward innovation while offering support.
- She suggested finding ways to work smarter and encouraging diversity, debate, and vulnerability.
- This article is part of a series called “Leaders by Day,” which takes a look at how prominent business leaders are tackling various challenges in today’s economy.
Kirsten Marriner is the executive vice president and chief people and corporate affairs officer at The Clorox Company. The HR professional got her start in financial services right out of college, and she joined Clorox in 2016 after serving in leadership positions at Deloitte, Key Bank, Fifth Third Bank, and Omnicare.
“It was a great company when I joined, and then things have intensified even more over the last several months,” Marriner told Insider. “This enormous responsibility that we have been given is that we’ve got what people need, and we take it so seriously.”
To meet high demands for their sanitation products to help fight the pandemic, Clorox has had to ensure the health and safety of its workforce while innovating simultaneously.
“How we take care of our people has been critical to their ability to be productive and to stay healthy and to respond to the crisis,” Marriner said.
From her time in banking during the 2008 financial crisis, Marriner has some experience in encouraging innovation while managing a major climate shift. Here are her tips for taking care of your employees while also pushing them forward.
Find simple ways to cut down the work required
In October 2019, Clorox announced it was employing the “IGNITE strategy” to drive growth and create value for both shareholders and society. One of the key elements of this strategy is striving to be simpler, faster, and bolder in ways of working.
Marriner shared an example of an employee who, when asked to start a new project, pointed out that previous work had been done that accomplished the same goal.
“It’s about freeing people up to find simpler ways and to cut out work that is not value-added or not as value-added as other work that we can do with that same resource,” she said. “So that same time is again a huge enabler of our entire strategy, but also an enabler of innovation.”
Invite diverse voices to the table and set hierarchy aside
Another pillar of the IGNITE strategy that’s foundational to innovation is inclusion.
“If you have a diverse organization – and diverse in every sense of the word – and then you have an inclusive culture where those people feel like they have every opportunity to bring forward their ideas and their perspectives and to have healthy discussions, then that is a contributor toward innovation of every type, whether it’s big I or a little i,” Marriner said.
In the example mentioned above, the employee was several levels below Marriner in the company hierarchy, yet he still didn’t hesitate to voice what he thought about the work he was assigned to do.
“That was wonderful initiative that he took to take us off a course that would have created new work on something else, but actually to leverage work that had already been done and met the needs that we were trying to achieve,” Marriner said.
This type of initiative is more encouraged when company hierarchy is not seen as a dividing line. The most effective communication, when coworkers can connect in “very human ways,” she said, happens when the distance between executive team members and all other employees is shrunk.
“It’s about creating the culture and the environment and making it more than okay” to voice your opinions, she added. “It’s expected for people to engage in that way. And that’s where we get to our best outcomes.”
Encourage constructive debate and seek that quality out in new hires
Communication needs to be encouraged, but so does constructive debate. Marriner said she was asked in her interview for her first Clorox role if she would be willing to push back on Benno Dorer, the CEO of Clorox, who was interviewing her. She answered yes, and he hired her.
“One thing that I would say has been consistent at Clorox, and then I would also say has been consistent in terms of how I have approached my role is, you must have open dialogue and healthy debates,” Marriner said.
Once she started interviewing people to bring on at Clorox herself, she asked a similar question, but encouraged candidates to share stories of examples of times where they weren’t afraid to push back on something they disagreed with. Those who answer this question well are the most attractive candidates to her.
Be authentic and vulnerable
Finally, if employees are encouraged to voice their opinions, leaders should also show the same vulnerability.
“One of the very positive effects of what we’ve gone through over the last several months has been that the veneer [on executives] has been wiped away,” she said. “And so you’re seeing leaders who are showing up with this authenticity and humanity that is different in a very positive way.”
When executives avoid intimidation, it reminds the whole team that they’re just like everyone else and they too have shared experiences and challenges.