Managing the Tides of Change

An acquisition, change of leadership, or economic crisis would challenge any business. Kyle Polischuk faced all three at Talbots and led a people strategy to come out as a stronger, refocused company

Kyle Polischuk VP of HR  Company: Talbots  Location: Hingham, MA Career Advice: “Do what you are truly passionate about. While I stumbled upon HR as my career, it is in my blood, and that has provided me with the conviction to get through even the most challenging times.”
Kyle Polischuk
VP of HR
Company: Talbots
Location: Hingham, MA
Career Advice: “Do what you are truly passionate about. While I stumbled upon HR as my career, it is in my blood, and that has provided me with the conviction to get through even the most challenging times.”

When I joined Talbots in 2008, the company was facing a lot of organizational transition,  following many years of relatively little internal change. This is a brand that was founded on a single philosophy: do what is right for the customer and the business will take care of itself.

This simplicity in focus had served us well through most of our history, but we had hit a point where we started to question who we were and where we needed to position ourselves. This was compounded by a global economic crisis and a rapidly changing marketplace. With a new leadership team in place, we changed the way we created our product to a design-led process, brought in new talent, restructured, and said goodbye to some people.

We also went quiet for a bit, trying to figure out who we were. Our relationship with our customer changed, and as we lost focus on her, we lost our way. Sales suffered, and in 2011, our CEO announced she was retiring as our business was put up for sale. The following year, Talbots was acquired by a private-equity firm.

After the acquisition, a new leadership team was brought in. I had been working with our new owners in advance of the sale to be thoughtful about how we would communicate with our employees. We needed to establish the new leadership team quickly and share an aligned voice that hadn’t been present for several years. We felt it was important for them to be visible, accessible, and transparent.

Kyle Polischuk on
How to Adapt to a Changing Corporate Environment

1. Establish credibility

If you want your recommendations to be understood and considered, you need to represent both the business and the HR function—not just HR.

2. Be flexible

You have to work quickly, but take time to assess the new expectations. Have a high level of awareness of what your existing employee population is feeling and thinking.

3. Create a level of consistency

Establish a cadence of communication within the organization and give people something to expect and return them to a normal schedule.

We identified some quick wins to let our employees know they had been heard and passed along our insights. One basic, but powerful, example came from a tour of our headquarters. It’s a big campus that has been expanded and reconfigured through the years. It has multiple entrances but only two there were accessible by all employees. The rest were restricted—that is, accessible only at certain hours or to certain people. This meant some employees were walking a lot further than others to get to the same area of the building. We simply opened all the doors so employees can park wherever they want and use any entrance, regardless of the time or their title.

It may sound crazy, but I learned, and still marvel, that we really moved the needle by going back to the fundamentals of good HR. Our success was based on clear and consistent communication—making sure what is written, spoken, and conveyed through actions all match. Our leadership team shares the same vision for our brand, and we collaboratively hold each other accountable for results.

Our journey continues. We’re learning, improving, and looking ahead every day. Four out of the five years I’ve been with the brand, Talbots has been in transition, but we’ve emerged as an HR organization that has evolved from a reactionary function to a true business partner. This has allowed us to play a critical role at all levels of the organization.