Naomi Cramer, as Chief People Officer at Leslie’s, shapes the entire spectrum of talent management, guiding the associate journey from recruitment to retirement. In her role, she leads recruitment, onboarding, learning and development, engagement, compensation, benefits, and HR operations, spanning scale to distribution, corporate and retail HR. Her operational acumen extends to additional ownership with the call center and customer care team. In all aspects, her expanded scope of people practices and customer care reflect her commitment to foster a dynamic, inclusive workforce culture and elevates Leslie’s as a place where everyone – associates and customers feel accepted and valued.
One of Naomi’s goals has been to create the best and the most progressive work environment possible for employees. She believes in having fun while doing it. Every month, she and her team organize monthly HR All Hands meeting, and their goal, she says, is to be informative and have fun.
As a leader, Naomi is approachable, open, and supportive. She is all without losing the focus on getting amazing results. Because of her exemplary leadership, she has received several “best boss” awards throughout her career. “I have had people tell me that I was able to influence their personal life in a positive way,” she says. “I love that- it is truly what matters.” For her, the best recognition, however, is the recognition that she receives from the team that works for her.
From Operations to HR
Naomi was still in college when she started working part-time. Target Corporation is where she began her career in September of 1989; it saw her potential and invested in her. She worked there for more than two decades. “I am very grateful for the leadership lessons that I learned from that organization and the many wonderful mentors I’ve had along the way,” Naomi says.
At Target, initially, she worked in in-store operations roles. One of her “best mentors” encouraged her to move to HR from operations. At the time, the thought of transitioning to HR did not excite her. But she soon learned how fulfilling the job could be. Now, she is a seasoned veteran in the HR space, mentoring and inspiring a number of young HR professionals.
Naomi points out that many people have misconceptions about the HR field, as they think of only the unpleasant aspects of it, such as disciplinary actions and terminations. “It is much more than that,” she adds. HR should have a seat at the table as a strategic partner to the company leaders.
Most accomplished HR professionals have the potential to coach, teach, develop, mentor, and support the team in so many ways. For Naomi, this is the “fun part” of being an HR leader.
Dealing with Challenges
When Naomi was at a director level, a leader told her that she would “never do more.” Instead of becoming disheartened, she took that statement as “challenge accepted” and worked hard to prove them wrong. She, therefore, always talks to her leaders about not sharing “absolutes” when it comes to someone’s career progression. “Many leaders rise above, and some who you think have the highest potential do not realize that potential,” she says. She also stresses that HR leaders should work together to encourage their teams to be the very best version of themselves.
As most leaders, she has made mistakes during her career. Luckily, she had bosses and mentors who were there to pick her up. Because of her own mistakes, she understands the importance of sharing mistakes with others so that they see the person as a human and can learn from them.
After completing 3 years, Naomi left college because her career was progressing. Several years later, she went back and completed her bachelor’s degree. She successfully managed to do that while juggling a full-time job, a household, and two children under 5. “I would never recommend that, but it helps me appreciate what hard work and determination can bring,” she says.
Leslie’s is the largest direct-to-consumer brand in the U.S. It was founded in 1963 in North Hollywood, California, and it went public in 2020. The company is one of the largest pool supply companies in the nation, and Naomi points out that they operate over 1000 stores in 37 states, a Leslie’s direct to PRO Division, and they also have a portfolio of hot tub companies.
The company’s associates, pool and spa care experts, and certified technicians are passionate about empowering consumers with the knowledge, products, and solutions necessary to confidently maintain a clean, safe, and beautiful pool all while enjoying their pool and spas.
Naomi’s team supports approximately 4000 employees. “Of course, we are a retailer, but our peak season is unlike other retailers- it is in the summer,” she informs. “That is a great recruiting tool for those of us who have retail in our blood. We can spend the holiday season with our loved ones!”
Naomi joined Leslie’s in September of 2022, and soon after stepping into her role, she began working hard with her team to make the company the employer of choice. In 2023, they participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s Human Equality Index, and they scored 90 out of 100. “We are very proud of the work we are doing to become a more inclusive company,” she says.
After Naomi joined Leslie’s, she did over 100 interviews with leaders from around the company. She wanted to hear what they felt they needed to improve their culture. She heard two key themes: more resource groups and development.
Transparency and career growth are the key factors that make the company the employer of choice. From a career growth perspective, Naomi and her team are building programs for the most important times of a leader’s career. For example, in 2023, they built a new leader program.
Naomi recalls that when she first became a leader, she had no idea how to coach someone or prioritize her time. “So, our program includes role play and routines that will help a new leader get off on the right foot,” she says. “Our team scored us 4.8/5.0 on the new leader program.”
In 2023, she and her team also implemented Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). For the teams, it is important to feel supported from the top, yet feel like they have a strong voice in the workplace. Under Naomi’s leadership, Leslie’s resource groups are designed to enable the employees to influence decisions across the organization. She says that the ERGs are helping them be connected to their team as well as the communities they serve.
The Feedback Model
Employees of the future are primarily interested in three key factors: transparency, flexibility, and technology. So, Naomi and her team are working hard to offer all three to their team. For example, they introduced a feedback model called ARC.
The A in ARC stands for Aspirations, R for Results, and C refers to the Challenge to Grow. Naomi explains that it is important to ask employees what they want to do and when they think the timing will be right, and then tie that to their actual results. And, ultimately, leverage the data to develop employees by giving them a developmental opportunity, which is the Challenge to Grow part of the ARC model.
Naomi points out that they no longer have to do the annual performance reviews because of ARC. “We just use the ARC model, and it is simple,” she adds. They are also building an internal database of potential successors based on aspirations and results. “This is the truly rewarding part of HR, getting our teams reach their potential!”
Impact of Technology on the HR Industry
Technology, including digital technology such as social media, has impacted all areas of a business. Noami points out that for the HR field, social media can be a blessing and/or a curse. If the company does not have a great culture, social media platforms make it easy for a person to share their negative opinion with thousands of their closest friends. This can hurt the company’s reputation.
“So, it is important that employees feel comfortable about sharing concerns and issues with their direct leaders,” Naomi says. “Also, along with encouraging transparency, we must have the right guard rails to keep the company safe.”
She also believes that AI is an important piece of the future.
Working at Leslie’s
At Leslie’s, every day is different. “No two days are the same,” and this is something Naomi loves the most about her job right now. Prior to joining Leslie’s, she always worked in large organizations, such as Target and Banner Health. She says that being in one that is a bit smaller than them has its advantages. One of them is that she knows every person on her HR team on a personal and professional level, and she loves that.
Naomi also loves to work at Leslie’s because her CEO, Michael R. Egeck, is very supportive of trying new things. She can also blend her operational background with HR, which she enjoys doing. “My mantra is making things easier, because, before I moved to HR, I always felt like HR was an administrative function,” she says. “Everything can be simplified.” And, she knows that, if they serve their employees well, in turn, they will take care of their customers.
Naomi is an exceptional leader because she is able to maintain a work-life balance. Over the years, she has learned the value of one’s family, health, faith, and friends. They are the most important parts of her life, and she supports her team when they want to be present for their families and friends, follow their faith, or take care of their health. This is why her team performs for her every day. And they often talk about how they can be their best self. To ensure that, she walks the talk and serves as a good model for her team.
Making a Difference
Naomi has always been a competitive person and loves to win. Her parents, too, always pushed her to be the best that she could be. But, as she grew in her career, she learned that success is about the difference one could make in someone’s life.
So, she now loves teaching, coaching, and supporting her team to be their best both at home and work. “Encouraging people to truly take care of themselves, both physically and mentally gives me a lot of satisfaction,” she says.
Calm that Little Voice!
For many years, a little voice in Naomi’s head would tell her that she should be better than she was. “It was not until I had an executive coach as a director that I understood why I was so hard on myself,” she says. She helped Naomi calm that little voice and be comfortable with who she was.
She made her understand that should strive for the best but not at the expense of her self-confidence. “I meet so many amazing leaders who have that same level of doubt, and I want them to figure out why and then to calm that voice and to celebrate who they are as an individual,” Naomi tells aspiring HR professionals and leaders.