Engaging a Workforce

The Home Shopping Network’s chief human resources officer, Maria Martinez, puts an emphasis on keeping employees engaged by offering unique opportunities and superior flexibility

Maria Martinez, Chief HR Officer, The Home Shopping Network
Maria Martinez, Chief HR Officer, The Home Shopping Network

Maria Martinez oversees more than 6,000 employees as the chief human resources officer at HSN, Inc., the $3.6 billion interactive multichannel retailer. But you can often find Martinez on the sidelines of her teenager’s sporting events. “I may be checking my phone for e-mails,” she says, “but my kids know that I’m there for them.”

A healthy balance of family and career is one of many factors that Martinez identifies as integral to HSN’s human resources strategy. “There’s an awareness, understanding, and support of it,” she says. “And it’s not just OK; it’s expected.”

Born and raised in Spain, Martinez came into HSN in 1995 when the company was known ostensibly for its TV channel. After 10 years, she left, only to return again five years later when the business had become a much larger operation, composed of retail outlets across a range of media platforms as well as catalog company Cornerstone Brands.

Today, Martinez is responsible for all HR programs and processes across the organization, from talent acquisition and development to succession planning to benefits, compensation, and wellness plans. Her role includes implementing several creative initiatives, which help the company find, retain, and maintain a diverse and productive workforce across HSN, Inc.’s entire enterprise.

One of the ways the company accomplishes its goals is by having a large work-at-home labor force of over 1,000 individuals in customer care. “We have found it’s efficient and effective to have employees working at home, where they have the technology and software available to them,” she says.

Launched in 2005, the program was instigated to meet a specific need: to expand its talent base outside of its St. Petersburg, Florida, home. Though the company had distribution centers in California, Tennessee, and Virginia, they didn’t want to build new call-center offices. Therefore, the home-labor force was an “opportunity to expand our reach,” she says. “And it has proven to be very successful.”

To stay in touch with the satisfaction level of employees, engagement strategy results are recorded with annual surveys. “We want our employees to feel good about the company and feel like they are part of it,” Martinez says. “This is a very key driver of their performance.”

Another useful engagement tool involves employees in business initiatives that are beyond their day-to-day responsibilities. When the company launched a Wellness Committee, for instance, it had a huge turnout across the organization, from entry-level staffers to senior leaders.

HSN has also been able to engage its workforce through an active community-service program, in which all employees are awarded two paid workdays each year to volunteer in their communities. “They love giving back to the communities in which they live,” she says.

In finding the right employees, Martinez gives credit to HSN’s robust intern program. “It’s become a huge pipeline for us,” she says. For example, in 2014, 58 percent of entry-level merchandising positions were filled by interns who learned on the job and decided to stay on as employees after graduating from school, according to Martinez.

Additionally, the company has formed close ties to Florida State University (FSU), which has a large retail, merchandising, and product-development program. HSN’s VP of executive talent acquisition sits on FSU’s Retail Center board and helps shape the university’s curriculum. Martinez says the FSU partnership and another with the National Retail Federation have allowed HSN to tap into and grow its talent base.

Such strategic shifts are all part of the company’s attempts to grapple with a rapidly evolving retail industry. “Retail today is so much broader than it used to be and we have to be at the forefront of these changes,” Martinez says. For example, 50 percent of HSN’s current business comes from its e-commerce operations.

For that reason, HSN’s employees must be an eclectic and adaptable bunch, taking on multifarious responsibilities. “If you think about HSN,” Martinez explains, “we are this amazing blend of television, marketing, merchandising, operations, and logistics. And when you look at all those different elements, it takes a unique person to keep up with all that’s happening all the time. Because the roles tend to be nontraditional, agility and ability to change are keys to success.”

“There are certain skills we can teach people,” she adds. “But you can’t teach people to be curious or passionate or connected to the outside world.”

Martinez also touts the diversity of HSN’s workforce and leadership. For example, HSN recently focused on growing its bilingual hires and establishing connections with the Hispanic market. In 2013, the company partnered with Univision. In addition, it formed a Hispanic Marketing Executive Advisory Committee, which will assist in marketing programs to the Hispanic customer that are “authentic,” she says, “and make sure that we’re talking to the customer in the way that’s best for her.”

Taking that a step further, Martinez proudly says that four out of HSN’s 10 corporate officers are women, and 50 percent of its leaders are females. “It says a great deal about our organization that values and grows talent,” she says.

Indeed, as a Hispanic woman, Martinez feels especially supported by HSN. When she felt like she needed to visit her home in Spain last year, CEO Mindy Grossman encouraged it, even though it took Martinez away from the office.

“When it comes down to it, our company respects and understands that our employees need to spend time with their families and be involved in their community,” she says, “which we fully support throughout our organization.”