Nancy Adams on How to Cultivate True Potential

Nutrisystem’s vice president of human resources reveals how a new culture strategy impacts the bottom line

Before launching her career in human resources, Nancy Adams was something of a trailblazer in her own right. She and a high school friend built a $30 million online retail company for natural supplements in less than three years. Their company,, thrived during the Amazon boom, which led to a venture capital firm buying the company in 1998. At the same time, Nutrisystem, a commercial provider of weight loss products, pivoted from brick-and-mortar centers to direct-to-consumer sales—a reinvention that not only mirrored Adams’s own career transformation, but would also lead the company to being named number one on Fortune’s list of fastest-growing companies.

Nancy Adams, Nutrisystem

“Nutrisystem approached me and said, ‘We’re going to explode. Are you up to the task?’” Adams recalls. “And I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Nutrisystem had heavily invested in advertising to jump-start exponential growth as an internet distributor. Adams joined the team as a tactical HR generalist in 2005, after several roles in the recruiting world. During that year, she hired four hundred exempt and nonexempt employees—a more than 600 percent increase in the workforce. The high demand for talent led to creative and innovative strategies, forming creative alliances, tapping into the current workforce, and partnering with community career centers, among other initiatives.

During Adams’s tenure, Nutrisystem experienced phenomenal growth. Revenues, which were less than $40 million in 2004, nearly reached $700 million last year. Now, Adams is the vice president of human resources, and the company that has helped millions of people get healthy is stronger than ever. With CEO Dawn Zier, who joined the company in late 2012, Adams has helped to reset the culture to accelerate the next stage in Nutrisystem’s evolution.

As a former business owner and entrepreneur, Adams knows firsthand what it takes to run all facets of a business, and human resources offers the ideal platform to merge her business experience with her passion to develop talent. “My role today is to be a strategic driver of operations and revenue, by partnering with my business leaders to overcome obstacles that stand in their way of driving the business forward,” she says.

Zier’s arrival in 2012 led to an internal reorganization—the building of a new culture and a drive to attract and retain top talent to the organization. “Dawn and I have shared values as it relates to talent and our belief that it is talent that makes a business succeed or fail,” Adams says. “We both knew that it would be our collective focus going forward.” First, they established a cultural statement for the business to align and rally the team. The result is Nutrisystem’s new cultural statement, FACTS, which stands for focused, accountable, customer-centric, team-oriented, and solution-driven.

The FACTS-based culture led to more clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and deliverables, which then led to another cultural reset around rewarding employees based on performance. Previously, Nutrisystem provided a flat bonus to everyone based on the percentage of company goals collectively achieved, which Adams says hindered employee motivation. That model was replaced with a pay-for-performance culture, which ensured the company awarded high performers for exceeding their goals. Nutrisystem’s leadership meets multiple times a year to assess the performance and potential of every individual in the organization. Adams, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from King’s College and a master’s degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix, facilitates these conversations.

“We dig deep to understand why employees succeed or struggle within our organization. Hiring mistakes can cost thousands of dollars, and it’s not a good experience for the candidate or the company.”

Another strategy she uses to ensure new people brought into the organization are successful is to conduct an annual review of successful hires and regrettable losses. “We try to diagnose and understand what’s going on with each individual,” Adams says. “If they are struggling, is it the relationship with their manager? Are there gaps in their skill set? Do they need a mentor? If they were recently promoted, do they have enough support in their new role? We dig deep to understand why employees succeed or struggle within our organization. Hiring mistakes can cost thousands of dollars, and it’s not a good experience for the candidate or the company.”

Nutrisystem also connects the bottom-line to employee engagement. The CEO regularly meets with small groups of employees across the company to get their feedback firsthand. Leadership provides frequent touch points with new hires to establish positive relationships. The result is clear: a recent employee survey revealed that engagement has increased 40 percent since 2012—even as the workforce expanded from roughly 400 to 600 employees.

Adams, a certified professional coach, cites the cross-functional opportunities and the autonomy Nutrisystem employees have to innovate outside of their titles as key factors for employee happiness and success. “Dawn expects her team to be two steps ahead of her. As a result, my goal is just that,” Adams says. “I carve a portion of my time each day to think about and anticipate the future needs of our organization.”

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