Lessons from Patagonia


It's been fascinating over the last year to watch businesses engage on a series of social issues, generally initiated as a response to a political situation.  While the occasional business is leveraging controversy to reaffirm a commitment to mission or for a PR campaign, most quickly find themselves over their heads trying to play both sides or otherwise reduce fallout. 

"Navigating the political/ PR landscape is terrifying business owners who aren't sure when an external issue, an unfortunate tweet or an angry mob of 'consumers with pitchfork' may be coming their way."

Because I am seeing a situation weekly, I thought it would be interesting to start a learning series to examine what makes one response effective while another makes the situation worse?  Through this process we'll look at each business through the 5 Phases, and the B.E.G.I.N process to understand opportunities, issues, and what we can do as leaders to prevent this in the future. 

This week we start with an easy example: Patagonia.

The situation: Upset at the reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Patagonia urged their consumers to take action to "Tell the Administration that they don’t have the authority to take these lands away from you.

How does this align with the organization's mission?  It's spot on.  Patagonia's mission is "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis."   Clearly they've initiated this through a variety of programs and solutions that they've created through the years as an 'Activist Company.' 

Financial considerations: It's clear upon further inspection that Patagonia has considered the financial implications of action as well as the financial implications of non-action, by outlining the impact of protection of private lands on the outdoor industry.  In fact, they state, "Outdoor recreation is among America’s largest industries, contributing 7.6 million jobs and $887 billion in annual consumer spending— far outpacing the jobs and spending generated by the oil and gas industry.[4]"

Employee Engagement:  While the impact of this initiative appears to be limited in impact on the employee base, past initiative such as Opt-out on Black Fridays and a variety of employee wellness and volunteer programs make it clear that employees have opportunities to support Patagonia in its mission and feel that the care extended to the environment extends to them.  In fact, Glassdoor shows a 95% CEO approval rating and an 81% recommend to a friend connection.   Compare that to 74% and 51% respectively for another company we'll cover in the series, Keurig. 

Operational Alignment:  Uhhh.. yeah.  There's a lot more here than a blog post would even cover.  Let's just grab this quote from GivaInc.com:  "In spring 2014, much to everyone's surprise, Patagonia dissolved its sustainability department. Rather than this being sign of regression, it actually indicated a deepening of Patagonia's core commitment to CSR and environmental sustainability. As stated by the company's CEO, Rick Ridgeway, the intention was to "integrate innovative sustainability thinking, values and goals into every employee" by making sustainability the responsibility of every member of staff in every department of the business."

Marketing: the recent takeover of the website was dramatic, thorough and make quite an impact on Social Media.  Even those who didn't agree with the perspective were forced to admit that it was a bold move, and one that was clearly on brand.  Patagonia has lived this in the past and continues to be a bold leader in sustainability and ecological social issues. 

How does the organization's aspirational community engagement phase stack up with reality?  Aspirationaly they are a level 5 organization.  They clearly align at level 5 in all 5 functional areas of the business. 

What can business leaders learn from this?  Alignment across all functional areas makes it easier to make a stand and be on brand when you feel it's time to take action.  It also makes it much easier to determine which battles to fight. 

Overall Rating: Flawless.  Recommendations: None.

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