Given we are in the midst of the Great Talent Wars, any insight on employee retention is like gold. And when we see companies like Patagonia posting an incredible 4 percent turnover rate (the retail and consumer product sector average is more than triple that at 13 percent), we can't help but look to them for gold nuggets.

The Ventura, California, based outdoor clothing brand is on no shortage of "Best Employer" lists nor is it short in its reputation for retaining employees over the long run. 

A recent profile in Quartz at Work highlighted some of its more noted practices like promoting women into leadership roles, paying to send nannies on business trips to embrace and support work-life integration, and hosting childcare right on their facilities (helping with their astonishing 100 percent retention rate among working mothers).

But it's one particularly quirky policy that symbolizes the root of the company's appeal. The company hires activist employees and encourages peaceful environmental protests. But for those wayward employees that get thrown in jail for their efforts, Patagonia will pay their bail (and their spouse's bail), pay for their legal fees, and pay them for their corresponding time away from work.  

Why? (one writer asks incredulously)

Because, as Patagonia's Chief Human Resources Officer, Dean Carter, told a crowd at a recent Salt Lake City conference, "We want them to be who they are."

And there you have it.

It's the same reason the company encourages employees to get out and enjoy nature in their own way. The same reason why Carter says he doesn't keep measuring employee engagement because it's not important to know if employees are "97 percent or 98 percent engaged."

Authenticity.

The Patagonia employees I interviewed for this piece said it was the first thing that came to mind about their company. They walk the talk. They want you to bring your whole self to work. They have a track record of living their values through heavy environmental philanthropy and investment. In fact, Patagonia started the anti-black Friday movement with a famous 2012 New York Times ad that implored people, "Don't Buy This Jacket." It featured their top selling fleece and broke down the environmental impact of producing the jacket, asking consumers to carefully consider the need to make the purchase (or any purchase).

Look, they're no dummies: sales increased significantly in 2012 directly due to the ad, but the point nonetheless holds, they meant every word they printed--authentic.

How you can leverage the power of authenticity in your company.

An authentic culture starts with the leaders. It's worth the pursuit because authentic behavior binds human beings to one another, reinforces self-identities, and creates a bridge to a sense of belonging. Working in an authentic culture helps answer two questions we ask ourselves in our quest for meaning: "Who Am I?" and "Where Do I Belong?"

Leaders (and anyone) can conduct themselves in an authentic manner, thus feeding an authentic culture, in the following ways (as taken from my book Make It Matter). Think of what follows as an Authenticity Code of Conduct:

  • Be a beacon of: transparency, honesty, and integrity.
  • Be worthy of: belief and trust.
  • Behave: in a down-to-earth and approachable manner congruent with your values (no matter the conditions).
  • Believe: in the power of each person bringing their whole self to work.
  • Be beholden to: employees who speak the truth, expose issues, and admit mistakes (and do so yourself).
  • Be the first to: give away credit and accept blame.
  • Be wary of: politics and two-faced behavior.
  • Be a provider of: truth, reality, and hope and a safe haven for risk taking and venting frustrations.

I don't know if intense focus on authenticity will guarantee you only four percent turnover. But undoubtedly it will lead to more employees with deeper bonds to the company and each other. And in this fractured world, that means fostering authenticity is genuinely worth the effort.

Published on: Mar 30, 2019
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