What Is Changing Lives?

Perhaps you came across my site and read the tagline “Changing lives through practice and research in organizational behavior.”  I would not have blamed you if you rolled your eyes and thought “Who is she to think she’s changing lives? That’s pretty lofty”.  Allow me to explain why that means something to me.

My first career was in luxury retail. And my first job was in a buying office. We worked with Escada, an amazing couture line whose heyday was certainly in the 1980s with the likes of Dyansty and Falcon’s Crest. By the early 2000s, the line had become sleek, sophisticated, and was continuing to evolve under excellent creative direction and leadership. I spent quite a bit of time, quite gratefully, in the stores for trunk shows, where we could haul the full collection across the country prior to the start of the season, to allow women to come and place orders – to be the first to wear the pieces once they shipped.

I quickly learned two things by spending so much time with the customers (and with the other reps and sales people who were professionals in this area). The first was that this wasn’t just clothing – it was a hobby – like art. Collecting these pieces was much more about the romance of the construction and the inspiration of the design than simply having something to wear. The second thing I learned was that for women, shopping was a psychological event. You may know what I’m talking about (have you ever gone clothes shopping after a big meal? It feels gross). Some women shop when they’re sad. Some shopped to celebrate. Others shopped to distract themselves from other things going on in their lives.

At the time, I had a lot of friends from college who were going onto careers in research, medicine, law, peace corps, etc. And sometimes I felt a little bad – here I was selling expensive clothing. I wasn’t saving lives!  What’s the point?

As I transitioned out of the buying office and into my first management job in the stores, I realized something that helped both me and the salespeople in my department. We weren’t saving lives, but we could change them. I was touched the first time a client hugged one of my employees and thanked her for a wonderful experience. I loved overhearing conversations where the client and the sales associate were cracking up together over something. As time went on, we helped a lot of people. Not everyone who shops needs to have their lives changed, but that became our department motto and philosophy. More than that it became our purpose

Changing lives focuses on providing value to the customer. In doing so it provides value to the employees, and ultimately to the organization. Changing lives means trying to make the cashier at the grocery store smile, or trying to help a student wade through his or her career path. Changing lives means putting others first, but it will ultimately make your work experience better.

That is why I try to change lives. I can’t claim that it works perfectly all the time, but my purpose is clear.