As we fast approach the holidays, the spirit of giving is more important than ever. At a time when so many people and families are facing difficulties, there’s a lot to be said for giving the gift of quality sleep.
Deep, restorative rest is an invaluable gift we can all deliver to ourselves that can improve our health and well-being, support us in enjoying life, and help us through tough times. That’s why Shelly Ibach, Thrive Global’s Sleep Editor-at-Large and President & CEO of Sleep Number, recently surprised her entire team with an extraordinary gift. All 4,500 team members, from home delivery technicians to managers, received what many have described as the gift of a lifetime: a 360® p5 Smart Bed (the retail value of each bed is $2,700).
Firm in her conviction about the value of quality sleep, Shelly believes this gift translates to making the world a better and kinder place. Although Shelly was on the giving, not receiving, end, she describes the experience as the highlight of her career. Here she shares why:
Thrive Global: What prompted you to give smart beds to every one of your team members, Shelly?
Shelly Ibach: We are a company with purpose. Our entire team is dedicated to our mission of improving lives by individualizing sleep experiences, and their dedication inspires me. Our purpose of improving the health and well-being of society through quality sleep sets a high bar for all of us. I am grateful to our team members for the difference they make every day and felt compelled to improve their well-being with the gift of this life-changing 360 Smart Bed. I always say, “Sleep well, dream big,” because sleeping well at night enables us to dream big during the day. Giving proven quality sleep to every one of our team members is an outcome of dreaming big, and a personal career highlight.
TG: What was the response when you made the surprise announcement, virtually of course, due to the ongoing pandemic?
SI: There were gasps and tears of joy. The outpouring of letters and stories has been emotional; it is so clear how meaningful this gift is. For example, when the team at our Salt Lake City plant heard the news, there was complete silence for a few seconds. Then everybody erupted in applause. One person shared how she had been sleeping on an air mattress for years and was incredibly moved because she knows what a huge impact this bed is going to have for her and her family. Another new team member shared her story of losing her husband of 26 years to cancer, how she lost everything. She expressed how much she has gained by being a part of our Sleep Number family and how receiving this smart bed is life changing. It was such a beautiful, heartfelt note.
TG: Why was it particularly important to say “thank you” to your delivery workers?
SI: Our home delivery technicians are our frontline heroes, especially during the pandemic. They are faced with challenging circumstances every day, individualizing each experience and keeping themselves and our customers safe. We are so grateful to them and all our team members.
TG: It’s been a very difficult time for businesses across the globe, and when many CEOs are being extra cautious about spending, you gave a gift with a total retail value of over $11 million. Why was it so important to you personally?
SI: This is an important topic. Recently, my senior team and I were discussing our company’s purpose and how our 360 Smart Bed delivers proven quality sleep and enables a deeper understanding of the direct link between sleep and health. Sleep has a profound impact on our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It makes us more emotionally stable and resilient, and better equips us to handle challenges throughout the day. During the pandemic, those needs are even more pressing. It was clear to all of us that the most important thing we can do for our team is to make sure they have this bed themselves, so they can all benefit from proven quality sleep. After all, they all live our mission every day. We believe investing in our team and customers’ experience translates to superior shareholder value.
TG: As a leader, what does this kind of generosity signify, do you think?
SI: Courage, compassion, and faith. Reflecting on my own leadership journey … the trials and tribulations, and the lessons I’ve learned; there was a clear point in my career when I knew that ultimately I wanted to become a CEO. The motivation for me was my desire to support a culture of integrity, a culture which values individuality, where everyone’s working towards a common goal. I wanted to lead a company that was contributing to society, adding value to people’s lives and helping them be happy, kind, and fulfilled. It’s an ethos which continues to be my primary motivation at Sleep Number. If you are good to people and do the right things to help individuals become their very best, and you foster those positive qualities in every single person you lead, then collectively, you will inevitably accomplish extraordinary things.
TG: It sounds like the “ripple effect,” the concept that the kindness and generosity you demonstrate as a leader has an impact on everyone in your company, and beyond into the community?
SI: Absolutely. We’ve all heard the phrase, “It starts at the top,” and I truly believe what you give to others comes back around. The ripple effect, sometimes known as the “boomerang effect,” is real. We all see examples throughout our lives. There are so many stories of kindness and generosity in our team, how they support one another, their customers and community. They inspire me; the ripple effect works in all directions. At Sleep Number, good people are doing important, life-changing work. Our gesture of giving everyone one of our team members a 360 Smart Bed is a piece of the ripple effect and the circle of giving. Our culture of individuality and innovation is why people join Sleep Number and why they stay here. You have to have integrity and passion to be here.
TG: It’s inspiring! Your gift brings to mind an “Oprah” moment — when Oprah famously surprised her audience with gifts. What was it like for you when you actually made the announcement?
SI: It is still emotional for me now, thinking about it. It was a joyous moment for sure. It would have been even more moving to do it in person, but even virtually, I was able to think about it from their perspective. It was very rewarding to be able to make such a difference for so many people — to do more than they expected. They exceed my expectations all the time, it was great to give back. We are all inspired by the thank you notes and stories being shared, they fill our hearts with gratitude.
TG: We’re coming up to the holiday season. In terms of giving, it’s going to be difficult for many people to spend money on extravagant presents this year. What are your thoughts about gifts and giving?
SI: One of the most important gifts that doesn’t cost anything is empathy. Taking time to think about things from another person’s point of view, thinking about what will be important to them, and finding a way to give something of meaning. It doesn’t need to be a material gift, it can be a very small thing, a comment or a gesture that will make a positive difference to others’ lives. Or it can be a more tangible gift. Whatever it is, when you give a gift with empathy, you are effectively giving a double gift. There’s the gift itself and how people feel when they feel your kindness and care.
TG: Do you think that giving and receiving are intertwined?
SI: Absolutely. The pleasure of giving and receiving flow in joyous harmony. It’s what gratitude is all about, being grateful for your blessings and being kind to others. I know when others give me gifts, I am so appreciative of their thoughtfulness. Whenever I am giving, whatever it is, I strive to start with empathy and think about what that person would love, or what would make a difference in their life. And always focus on gratitude. Science shows that being thankful can strengthen relationships and boost happiness, which makes all the difference, especially during times of stress and over the holidays.
TG: We’re coming to the conclusion of a very tough year: What’s your advice right now?
SI: Ensure you benefit from a quality night’s sleep so you are balanced, mentally and emotionally. Sleeping well will also help you stay present. For my personal balance, I also take the time in the morning for reflecting and being grateful. This helps me be present to receive life’s gifts each and every day, to listen more and to be kind to others.