CASE APPLICATION 1 Passion for the Outdoors and for People
At its headquarters in Ventura, California, Patagonia’s office space feels more like a national park lodge than the main office of a $400 million retailer.100 It has a Douglas fir staircase and a portrait of Yosemite’s El Capitan. The company’s café serves organic food and drinks. There’s an infant and toddler child-care room for employees’ children. An easy one-block walk from the Pacific Ocean, employees’ surfboards are lined up by the cafeteria, ready at a moment’s notice to catch some waves. (Current wave reports are noted on a whiteboard in the lobby.) After surfing or jogging or biking, employees can freshen up in the showers in the restrooms. And no one has a private office. If an employee doesn’t want to be disturbed, he or she wears headphones. Visitors are evident by the business attire they wear. The company encourages celebrations to boost employee morale. For instance, at the Reno store, the “Fun Patrol” organizes parties throughout the year.
Attracting people who share its strong passion for the outdoors and the environment, Patagonia motivates its loyal employees by giving them responsibility for the outcomes of their work and a high level of task significance that their work is meaningful because it contributes to the purpose of protecting and preserving the environment.
Patagonia has long been recognized as a great workplace for mothers. And it’s also earned a reputation for loyal employees, something that many retailers struggle with. Its combined voluntary and involuntary turnover in its retail stores was around 25 percent, while it was only 7 percent at headquarters. (The industry average for retail is around 44 percent.) Patagonia’s CEO Casey Sheahan says the company’s culture, camaraderie, and way of doing business is very meaningful to employees and they know that “what they do each day is contributing toward a higher purpose—protecting and preserving the areas that most of them love spending time in.” Managers are coached to define expectations, communicate deadlines, and then let employees figure out the best way to meet those.
Founded by Yvon Chouinard (his profile as a Leader Who Made a Difference can be found on p. 134), Patagonia’s first and strongest passion is for the outdoors and the environment. And that attracts employees who are also passionate about those things. But Patagonia’s executives do realize that they are first and foremost a business and, even though they’re committed to doing the right thing, the company needs to remain profitable to be able to continue to do the things it’s passionate about. But that hasn’t seemed to be an issue since the recession in the early 1990s when the company had to make its only large-scale layoffs in its history.
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