Magazine article Workforce

Changing Behavior at Weight Watchers

Magazine article Workforce

Changing Behavior at Weight Watchers

Article excerpt

People are the most important asset, making HR the most important function no matter what the business. Find out the unique challenges faced by this HR leader and some strategies for handling universal HR issues.

Devising strategies for keeping the workforce motivated is a primary role of HR. Nowhere is this more important than in a company at which the business itself is all about motivation. Weight Watchers International Inc. is just such a business. The 34-year-old organization relies on welltrained leaders to motivate and encourage millions of customers to change their eating habits and become healthier human beings. Brian Powers, general manager of Weight Watchers, explains below how HR fulfills this role.

What's your background?

My background originally is in education, in which I obtained an undergraduate degree. But I fell upon a recruiting assignment through a recruiting firm and ultimately ended up in HR, doing recruitment and working my way up through the ranks. Then I went for my master's degree in labor industrial relations. And here I am. That's the short version.

Over the years, I've gained a lot of experience in all areas of HR: recruitment, employee relations, compensation and benefits. I've done it all.

What's the unique aspect of HR at Weight Watchers?

All of our field personnel have been on the program. They're lifetime members. That fact, however, creates some challenges for us in terms of recruitment and selection-to have former members want to share their success with others and become part of the Weight Watchers organization. In fact, some members don't realize our leaders actually get paid to do what they do because they're sharing their success and motivating them by saying, "I've done it. You can do it, too." That passion about wanting to help others succeed is what we have.

So what strategies have you created to successfully recruit?

As soon as people become lifetime members, we send them a recruitment brochure. We have our staff talk to them and ask if they want to be part of the business and become part of the experience to help others succeed. We try to get that message out to those people. We identify those who are dynamic at speaking. Our leaders and receptionists become friends of these people. They can identify the dynamic people. We approach them in writing or just ask them, "Would you consider a position with Weight Watchers?" We put them through a complete training program to learn how to deliver our message and motivate others to do as they did.

How Is human resources organized in your company?

We're probably no different from HR at other companies. We've gone through many changes within this group. We're a division of H.J. Heinz Co. So we're able to reap some of the rewards of its enhanced benefits programs. It's a $7 billion company. We have a good benefits package, which we wouldn't be able to have on our own because we're a smaller company. We provide full comprehensive medical benefits, dental, vision, life insurance and tuition reimbursement for some groups of employees.

What's your breakdown of employees in North America?

Our full-time, salaried employees include 550 people: all our administrative office personnel, field management staff, trainers and finance people. The part-timers are the 5,500 people who work between two meetings a week to 15 to 17 meetings per week. It runs the gamut. There are some leaders who are professionals in their own right and they want to share their success with others by working part time about two nights a week. Our leaders and receptionists are on the front line. …

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