Which checklist ingredients do you think are most uncommon in organizations?

Which checklist ingredients would you value most as an employee? Which would you value least? Do some suggestions seem debatable? Which checklist ingredients do you think are most uncommon in organizations? Do those ingredients seem to be promising avenues for creating sustained competitive advantage? Chouinard argues that “tedium is easier to take when it has meaning.” Which checklist ingredients seem most promising for creating meaning? Would you add any additional suggestions to increase meaning further?
Let’s say your company makes fleece jackets and other forms of outerwear. Why should someone buy your jackets and not someone else’s? Well, maybe you could become a cost leader in the manufacturing and logistics behind the jackets, allowing you to sell them at a cheaper price. But what if your competitors just copy those strategies? Another approach might be to differentiate your jackets from everyone else’s. Maybe they’re more comfortable or durable, maybe they’re more cutting edge in terms of look and features, or maybe they represent a brand that people admire. But how could you attain such sources of differentiation and—just as importantly—how could you stay “one step ahead” of other firms?
Patagonia, the Ventura, California-based maker of outdoor clothing and equipment, has a clear set of answers to those questions. When its founder and owner, Yvon Chouinard, transitioned from making climbing tools to launching an apparel company, he created his own vision for how business should be run. One pillar of that vision was work being enjoyable on a daily basis, with Chouinard noting, “We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time.” Today’s employees benefit from that vision in a number of ways, including flextime based on a “let my people go surfing” mantra. A whiteboard in the lobby of the beachside corporate headquarters gives the surfing conditions, with employees encouraged to gain first-hand experience with Patagonia’s clothing and equipment whenever the waves are breaking. Employees also enjoy on-site childcare, profit sharing, free yoga and aerobics classes, and an outdoor organic café. Another pillar of that vision was the company doing what it could to support environmental causes and maximize its own sustainability. Today the company donates one-percent of its sales to environmental charities and makes much of its clothing with recycled wool, cotton, and polyester.
What do such initiatives do for Patagonia? Well, for starters, the company receives an average of 900 resumes per job opening, allowing them to select the cream of the crop for open positions. They also routinely attract top executives from rival firms. Having better people, in turn, helps Patagonia push the envelope when it comes to the quality, innovativeness, and sustainability of its products. Indeed, the initiatives have created a “brand” embraced by employees and customers alike, allowing Patagonia to differentiate itself from competitors.
In his recent book The Responsible Company, Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard argued that meaningful work depends on what one does, in terms of daily tasks, but also on the larger issues that a company stands for.[i] He writes, “Regardless of our talent or education; our preference for working with words, numbers, or our hands…we have meaningful work at Patagonia because our company does its best to be responsible to nature and people. Our daily gestures—on the one hand, mundane and often tedious—are, on the other hand, infused with the effort to give something useful and enjoyable to society without bringing undue harm to nature, the commons, or other workers. Tedium is easier to take when it has meaning.” In an effort to encourage other companies to be more “responsible to nature and people,” Chouinard includes a responsible company checklist in the book, and as a download on Patagonia’s website (http://www.patagonia.com/pdf/en_US/checklist.zip (Links to an external site.)). The checklist includes sections on being responsible to: (a) the financial health of the company, (b) its employees, (c) its customers, (d) the local community, and (e) nature. The employee checklist is excerpted below:
Determine whether your company pays above-market, at-market, or below-market rates. Paying below market means your competitors will attract the best talent, including your own.
Calculate the multiple by which the company’s highest paid employee compares to its lowest-paid full-time worker. Set a goal over a specific period of time to narrow the gap to a specific multiple, appropriate to your industry.
Calculate your average annual attrition rate and compare with that of other employers in your business. If your number doesn’t look good, figure out why. Set a benchmark for improvement.
Calculate the internal hire rate for open positions. If you have to hire outside too often, are you training properly and allowing people to grow in their jobs?
Include as many employees as possible in the company’s bonus plan to secure broad-based support for company goals.
Diversity and gender balance, at all levels of the workforce, are strong virtues in a workforce; discourage both management myopia and provincialism.
Provide stock options or equivalent forms of company ownership to as broad a base of employees as possible.
Allow part-time and flextime and telecommuting opportunities as appropriate.
Install showers so employees can exercise at lunch or bike to work.
Provide a company café or kitchen or, if not practical, a dedicated space to let employees eat and/or rest.
Provide on-site day care if possible (or establish a relationship with a local provider).
Share financial information with all employees; no one should be innumerate.
Incorporate into the mission statement a commitment to reducing social and environmental harm.
Provide employee training to reduce social and environmental harm.
Provide paid sabbatical leave for long-term managerial and creative staff to help prevent burnout.
Get rid of dehumanizing cubicles; let there be natural light.
On an annual basis, conduct a job-satisfaction survey of all employees; quantify and share the results.
Require that supervisors write an annual performance appraisal for their staff. Supervisors should consult employees’ co-workers and key contacts within the company, set goals (including social and environmental performance goals) for the coming year, and determine training needs.
Chouinard, Y. Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. New York: Penguin Books, 2006; Hanel, M. “Surf’s up at Patagonia.” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, September 5, 2011, pp. 88-89; Hamm, S. “A Passion for the Planet.”

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