Performance | Podcast

Patagonia and the Regenerative Approach to Performance Management

person playing with dirt in their hands

Dean Carter thinks about agriculture a lot these days. Not to grow crops, necessarily, but as a metaphor for cultivating a happy, productive workforce.

Dean serves as the Chief Human Resources Officer at Patagonia, the apparel company we’ve all come to know and love. His big insight lately involves the way leaders think about their employees: Do they look to extract all they can, or do they look to regenerate the employee?

What Patagonia puts back in

The idea stems from agriculture in the sense that come harvest season, farmers can either rip their crop from the ground and dig up the soil, and incur greater costs for pesticides and fertilizer. Or they can plant new seeds where the current plant already grows, in the microbial-rich environment.

This is the extractive versus regenerative approach. And as Dean explained in a recent episode of the Your Brain at Work podcast, “We began to think about what processes we have in HR that are more extractive in nature, and which processes we have that are regenerative in nature.”

Performance management, it seemed, was one area where Patagonia was taking a lot from its employees — time, energy, creativity — without putting much back in. So Dean led the charge on killing performance ratings, and at the all-hands meeting where they announced the change, people stood up and applauded.

“I did not expect that,” Dean laughs.

The company also shifted to a nine-hour workday each week, freeing up every other Friday to create 26 three-day weekends a year. Together with other processes that acknowledge employees’ commitment, Dean says the regenerative approach has been a huge win for Patagonia — and not just this crop of talent either.

“If I’m stewarding this employee population as if I’m going to employ this population for the next hundred years then yes, I don’t want them stressed,” Dean says. “I want to take good care of the children because it’s highly likely a hundred years from now that not only will I be employing their children, but I could be employing their grandchildren.”

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