Kathy Ireland, our cover subject for the September/October 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine, knows how to create a strong, cohesive and enduring team. After all, most of the people on her core team at kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW)—a multibillion-dollar brand—have been by her side for nearly 30 years.
Ireland created a successful team by identifying high performers early on. But how exactly did she determine who would be a great fit? Read on for Ireland’s tips for creating the perfect team.
1. Prioritize people who support the same common goals as you.
“The vision for our company is to teach, inspire, empower and make our world better,” Ireland says, adding that she only works with people who share this vision through a commitment to giving back. “A degree of effort, attention and resource must be devoted to nonprofits.”
Everyone who works with kiWW must pledge to support one of the company’s many missions, such as eradicating hunger and poverty, fighting human trafficking, and supporting military veterans.
“Once in a while, we’ll get people who say, ‘Nope, I’m not interested in any of these,’” Ireland says. “There’s something I believe everybody can support, but when we get somebody who can’t support any of these things, [we say], ‘OK, we’re not a good fit as partners.’”
2. Embrace people with different viewpoints and opinions.
Ireland says hiring a diverse group of people for her core team has been a crucial part of their success. “I love the idea of people with diverse backgrounds coming together for a common goal,” she says, noting that kiWW has received awards for its diversity.
“We have different personalities and different ways we approach life,” Ireland says. “If you only get along with people like you, you’re singing to the choir, and I just find that very boring. I love working with people who make me think and really learn and question why I believe what I do.”
3. Focus on the people first, not the money.
“We consider others more important than ourselves,” Ireland says. “When we’re looking at a professional relationship, the first question we ask ourselves is, ‘This partner or this person or this company—how will we elevate them and help them? They’re wonderful already, how will we help them grow even more?”
Ireland says some people believe this method of approaching business is counterintuitive. But that doesn’t shake Ireland’s conviction in its efficacy. “I’ve learned when we do things for the right reasons—and when we do them well and our eyes are off ourselves and on others—the money comes. Working with the right people—that’s what important to us.”
4. Don’t rush into a hire, especially a big one.
Ireland says some people have criticized that kiWW has grown too slowly. Ireland’s response?
“We’ve grown at a pace in which I’m comfortable with the time it takes to vet each potential partner and make sure that these are people who are going to help us honor our mission,” she says.
5. Make sure employees are treated well at every level.
Ireland’s father worked in labor relations with people like Cesar Chavez. She says her father’s commitment to always ensuring people were treated well was passed on to her. This means that in addition to regularly conducting focus groups, kiWW also does surprise factory inspections.
“For whatever we bring to market, [we ask]: How did we get there? What kind of footprint does that leave? All of these answers are critical to what we do and who we’re going to work with,” Ireland says.
6. Learn from the relationships that failed.
Unfortunately, kiWW has been burned by business relationships in the past. But instead of dwelling on these missteps, Ireland uses them as a learning experience.
“There have been times where people have not been honest,” Ireland says. “Sometimes people are not always who they say they are, and we’ve been disappointed. It’s difficult when we’ve been hurt in those ways, but we pick up and we recognize how we need to move forward in powerful ways. [It’s about] having the tenacity to keep going.”
7. Treat your work team like a sports team.
Ireland says she’s always had an affinity for sports and the unique perspective they offer when it comes to healthy competition.
“I have the most incredible team,” Ireland says. “I love them. They’re family. They’re also very competitive, but they’re fair—you just don’t win when you cheat, and I love that about our team.”
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. When she's not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea into excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband or surfing Etsy late into the night.