Purpose At Work: How Harry’s Builds Culture and Drives Growth By Supporting Men’s Mental Health

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Today’s business leaders combine growth with impact to build a loyal following and a better world. An excellent example of a brand incorporating purpose into its long term business strategy is Harry’s. The men’s grooming company is leveraging its business to take on a healthcare crisis in America.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Maggie Hureau, Head of Social Impact at Harry’s, about how they serve their stakeholders and Lead With We by working to provide better access to mental health care to men. Here’s our conversation.

Simon Mainwaring: How was Harry’s started?

Maggie Hureau: About 7 years ago, Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeff Raider founded Harry’s, the men’s grooming brand, after having a bad customer experience buying shaving supplies. They saw an opportunity to build a relatable brand that was different from the leading players, offering quality products at a fair price, so they built Harry’s to be a personal care brand for all men.

SM: Did they start the company because they saw market potential or was it to be purposeful?

MH: Both! I think what they wanted to do was bring a more fairly priced product to the market, and then, along the way, Harry’s started what we call our 1% program where we donate 1% of all sales to like-minded charitable organizations.

We feel that doing well, and doing good don’t need to be mutually exclusive, so in addition to our 1% giveback program, we also offer our employees five paid days a year to volunteer and give back to organizations that they personally believe in.

SM: With so many companies talking about purpose, how do you stand out for making an authentic impact?

MH: From the beginning, we knew taking on access to mental healthcare wasn’t going to be easy and wasn’t the kind of issue that many companies are willing to take on so directly. With our 1% program, we don’t just make blanket donations to organizations we’ve never spoken to before, we’re really interested and invested in the actual project at hand. In terms of our focus on mental health, we’re constantly digging in deeper and looking to figure out what organizations align with our long term impact, and that helps us ladder up to reaching our goal of helping 500,000 men get access to better mental health care by 2021. There’s a beginning, middle and end to each of our projects, and an impact report written to make sure that we’re actually doing the work.

SM: Why mental health?

MH: We felt that we could really have a voice on this issue. When I joined the Harry’s team, we took a step back to rejigger our focus and further think through issues that men deal with on a daily basis. We went to our partners, and all of them kept saying that the stereotypes associated with men today negatively affect their mental health, and make it difficult for them to access the care that they need. So we kept digging to find out who could benefit from our programming and it turned out that so many groups of men, especially veterans and LGBTQ+ folks, have a dire need for care. While many different groups of guys struggle with mental health, we started learning that specific populations of men suffer from mental health challenges now more than ever.

SM: How do you go from identifying a purpose to creating a brand program?

MH: For Harry’s the first step was identifying men’s mental health as our cause, and then it was zeroing in on the particular populations where we felt like we could really make a difference. What we found was that the LGBTQ community, veterans and young men disproportionately struggle with mental health — 22 US veterans die by suicide every day, LGBTQ folks are four times as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than their straight peers, and suicide is the second biggest killer of young men under 35 in the US.

SM: Why half a million?

MH: After determining our focus, and identifying the populations that we wanted to serve, we took a step back to figure out what we wanted to do with our work, and tried to quantify the amount of men we could actually reach in two years. So we spoke to our partners, and began to scope out projects and determined that by January 2021, if we worked really hard, we would help 500,000 men get access to better mental health care.

This was truly a close collaboration with our partners and the aim was to make it aspirational to show that any brand can make a huge impact.

SM: How did you make Harry’s social mission purpose true to the organization?

MH: Fortunately, Jeff and Andy have had such a strong conviction for this from day one, plus the board and our customers understand, and are in on it as well. When we brought this new focus area to our senior leadership team, obviously the first question was, “are we taking care of our own team’s mental health?” And that led to a lot of checks and balances, and deep dives into our existing perks and policies to make sure that they all aligned with what we’re putting out into the world. And I think that’s one of the reasons why mental health has been such a tricky cause for brands to take on. Not only is it a hard thing to communicate externally, but you need to also be doing it well internally — Do you provide free mental healthcare to your employees? Do employees feel like this is a place that is accepting of mental health challenges? — and I think we had to do the hard work there, but ultimately felt good enough about our efforts to start our program, which I think pushed us to become much better as a whole.

SM: What obstacles did you encounter internally?

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MH: At the beginning, there was a little pushback, not necessarily against the work we were doing, but I think it was all of the competing priorities and things going on — how are we going to take the time for mental health days? How are we going to provide absolutely free therapy for our staff, for up to six sessions?

Then COVID-19 hit, and I think that truly was a click for our team, proving that we needed to value mental health now more than ever. I like to think we put in the groundwork beforehand so that we could springboard from there, and really focus in on what our team needed — more time, more support, quicker access to therapy without dealing with their insurance company — so that’s what we did.

And a ton of our team is involved with the organizations we work with — we have crisis counselors on staff that have gone through an intensive 40-hour training who actually sign up for counseling shifts during the day.

SM: What results did it have with your employees? One: How did they feel about the fact that the company was showing up and doing something really meaningful like this? And two: This is a really stigmatized issue, even if you give free mental health support to your employees, people are going to show up and say yes I need that support — so how did you deal with that? What results did you see?

MH: We’re always tracking the results and receiving feedback, but what I can say is that when we do ask our employees, ‘Does our social impact make you proud to work here?’ Overwhelmingly, the answer is ‘Yes’. When we post on social media, our employees repost, and think “Oh, this is exactly why I work at a place like Harry’s.”

Once COVID-19 hit, instead of hitting our customers with sales messages, and things they didn’t want to hear, we talked about mental health frequently. We asked our customers, ‘Are you okay right now?’

SM: How did you balance talking about COVID-19 specifically and the health challenges it presented with mental health?

MH: When COVID hit, our immediate response was that we had to talk to our customers and team differently — we can’t go on with business as usual. Nothing is normal right now — admitting that, and giving people access to crisis lines and mental health resources that they might need immediately became our top priority.

Our shorter term response was a bit more focused on COVID and the healthcare crisis, so we began donating our products on a one-off basis to hospitals across the country in serious need. While we were doing that, we learned from healthcare workers that they needed to be clean shaven to get what they call ‘a good seal’ on an N-95 mask . While razors aren’t always as lifesaving as some other products, this was an instance where we realized that our products actually could make a huge difference. From there, we made the commitment to donate $1 million in product to healthcare workers around the US — 50% just to hospitals in New York City, because at that time it was the epicenter of the pandemic and Harry’s home city.

SM: With your mental health focus, how did you cope with the Black Lives Matter movement?

MH: We couldn’t just donate to organizations that we had no relationship with, that we’d never talked to before. We needed to go back to what we know really well to maximize our impact — and that’s mental health.

After speaking to our partners and folks working in the space, we made the commitment to donate $500,000 in the US and £50,000 in the UK to organizations supporting mental health access in Black communities. Our goal is to have a long term commitment here, and bring the Black community into our social impact efforts in a more distinct way, picking partners that we can continue to support in the future.

We announced our new partners in both the US and UK, across both Harry’s and Flamingo earlier in August and they are: BEAM, The Loveland Foundation, Black Men Heal, The Steve Fund, The AAKOMA Project, Black Girls Smile, Inside Out UK, Celutions, Kwanda and BLAM UK.

SM: How important are partnerships to scaling your impact?

MH: Our partnerships mean everything to us, and we want to make working with us worth their while by helping them to grow their impact exponentially. The first year of partnering with us, we do a project, the next year we ask, ‘How do we take this to the next stage, and could this be one of three different stages of how you’re going to flip this topic on its head? ‘

We’re having some really interesting conversations with partners right now around diversifying their crisis counselor pool, and how together we can bring more voices to the mental health space. A lot of people can’t see themselves in their therapists, and that’s an issue.

SM: How do you differentiate yourself from other brands addressing this issue?

MH: Mental health as a cause area is underfunded. There are not enough brands that are coming to the table and actually giving money to nonprofit organizations that are doing really great work in the space. Overall, in this field, we need more help, so we welcome other brands that can get involved authentically. We’d love to share our resources and what we’ve learned because we want to make a real impact in the world.

SM: What has being purposeful done for your bottom line? How do you measure it?

MH: We’re building a community of customers that care about mental health as an issue. We’re still figuring out how to quantify that and what it means for brand loyalty, but research shows that if you build a purposeful brand, you’re going to do better as a business. Younger generations really value it. You need to give back in an impactful way, otherwise folks will call you out on it — rightly so!

SM: How do you build a culture and rally people around your cause?

MH: It starts from the top — when leadership is honest with what they’re struggling with, more people feel comfortable sharing their struggles. It happens when talking about a project with a nonprofit partner. We’re building rhetoric around mental health, and we’re slowly ticking way at it with our team, so that everyone feels comfortable talking about their own mental health in the workplace.

It’s a continual drum beat of talking about it and discussing the outdated stereotypes of men today. And connecting how that plays into the barriers to accessing the care they need. This is another way that our internal work and external work come together.

Simon Mainwaring: What’s one lesson you’ve learned on the way that has helped you moving forward?

Maggie Hureau: Slowdown in the beginning and dig in deep to make sure that the cause you’re supporting works for your team in the long term. You don’t want to talk about an issue that doesn’t feel right with your team or consumers. And most importantly, you must always ‘walk your talk’ and constantly strive to do better.

Written by

CEO We First Inc, author NYT's bestseller We First, strategic corporate consultant and trainer, father, Australian, optimist.

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