To get a sense of where 2020 is heading, it might help to go back several months, to August 2019.
Last summer, we wrote about Patagonia’s innovative approach to performance management. Dean Carter, the company’s head of HR, legal, and finance, discussed on the Your Brian at Work podcast how Patagonia has started taking a more agricultural approach to how it treats employees.
Instead of thinking only how employees could give and give and give, while leadership extracted everything it could, Dean and his colleagues have begun implementing systems that gave back to their teams. They took as their model the idea of permaculture, in which farmers create rich, fertile soil by growing new crops alongside existing ones.
“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,” Dean said. These have included generous parental leave policies, in-office daycare, and flexible scheduling that produces 26 three-day weekends a year.
Looking at the year ahead, NLI expects these regenerative practices to spread—not just in HR functions, but in the general talent practices leaders exhibit throughout their jobs. In casual conversations, check-in meetings, brainstorming sessions, and performance reviews, we predict regenerative leadership will make its mark in 2020.
Putting regenerative leadership in perspective
At NLI’s 2019 NeuroLeadership Summit, we opened the conference with a session titled “Value the Human.” In it we discussed how an integral part of that title involves leaving people better than you found them. In our global war for talent, it’s not enough for firms simply to take; there must be a concerted dual effort to give—specifically, to give back.
Leaders might need some time to move from more extractive processes to more regenerative ones, so we developed a continuum that should help clarify the journey.
The least mature position is exploitative leadership, whereby organizations essentially wring their employees dry of their talents and energy. They treat personnel purely as labor, a means to increase profits. Moving along, depletive leadership might not be so malicious, but still has the effect of leaving employees feeling burnt out. Sustainable leadership finally begins to replenish employees for what they offer to the organization: more days off, better work-life balance, and so on. This approach still falls short of regenerative leadership, however, because it still fails to create an upward trajectory. Employees don’t necessarily grow; they merely get by.
Regenerative leadership honors what people put into their work, recognizes their needs to do that work, and commits resources to serve those needs—and then some. And because each individual receives similar treatment for their efforts, entire teams, departments, and organizations can begin to thrive.
Just look at Patagonia’s success. After implementing the policy of closing shop every other Friday, the company issued surveys to gauge progress. To their surprise, they saw no declines in productivity and measurable improvements in people’s ability to shop for and cook healthy meals, schedule doctors’ appointments, and generally have better relationships with their partners.
What we’re seeing—and what we’ll continue to see in 2020 if organizations make the commitment to regenerative leadership—are the fruits of a rather unremarkable idea. If you respect employees’ full spectrum of humanity, everybody wins.