Leveraging purpose and values to boost performance at Arc’teryx

Arc’teryx—the BC-based technical high-performance outerwear and equipment company with a relentless commitment to design, craftsmanship, and performance—sought to assert their purpose and values in order to create a more accountable, high-performing culture.

The challenge

To boost performance, effectiveness, and accountability by re-articulating the organization's purpose and values and bringing the values to life throughout the entire organization.

The outcome

Being purpose-driven unites employees, ensuring they feel a sense of commitment and accountability. Employees are able to engage with the company's purpose and values using a shared new language to keep them aligned, committed, and accountable.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins writes about a flywheel, an enormous disk that takes incredible energy to get moving. But once it does, the positive momentum is nearly unstoppable.

At Arc’teryx, Geoff Watts, Senior Manager, People & Culture, recognized the metaphorical flywheel in front of him. In its relentless commitment to amazing product and people, Arc’teryx had the muscles required to make the flywheel move. But the team needed more. They needed coaches — people who would help Arc’teryx harness their energy and transform momentum into motion.

  • Coach Arc’teryx through the re-articulation of their purpose
  • Define what Arc’teryx team members stand for
  • Develop tools and methodologies for bringing purpose and values to life

Mountaineers traverse British Columbia's Bugaboos aided by their Arc'teryx gear.

The journey

Habanero used visioning and empathetic research to help Arc’teryx articulate its purpose and values. Then, we provided practical tools, such as experience design, for bringing the purpose and values to life.

For several months, we worked side by side with the values and culture team as well as numerous employees from other Arc’teryx teams. We weren’t just collecting data (although we did a lot of that). We were coaching team members through important conversations, using visioning and empathetic research to align employees with a collective and guiding purpose.

Personas, for example, played an integral part of this empathetic research. Imagining half a dozen “types” of people that work for Arc’teryx, “we thought about what they would be thinking, feeling, seeing, and hearing throughout this process,” recalls Geoff. “In doing so, we imagined what questions or concerns they would have.” Then, we spent time with people representing all the types. “This is about getting a lay of the land,” explains Habanero Senior Consultant, Barb Richards (one of two consultants who worked on this engagement), “and laying the foundation to intentionally design the employee experience.”

Steven Fitzgerald, Habanero’s president, describes the development of purpose as an archaeological exercise: within your people, you have all the information you could ever need right in front of you. So, you dig. “There’s nothing magical about it,” Steven says. “It’s about creating opportunities and exercises that give you ways to observe. There can be a lot of different ways to go about this and over the last two decades we’ve been doing this, we’ve had a chance to experiment with a lot of variations.”

Being purpose-driven is what’s going to keep us together, committed, and accountable. And it’s what’s going to make us stand out.
Geoff Watts
Senior Manager, People & Culture, Arc'teryx

The event

Crafting the experience of an all-employee summit was an integral part of laying the foundation for dialog.

Having worked through the articulation of purpose and values, we then helped design an event that would officially “launch” them back into Arc’teryx. The event, called the Evolution Summit, was designed “to create an environment where people were in the best possible position to have candid discussions about what the company is,” explains Steven.

To this end, we facilitated with the Arc’teryx team the creation of a blueprint for the experience we wanted people to have not only at the event but also leading up to and after it. Literally an enormous map on a wall, the blueprint laid out the following:

  • The various touchpoints people would have with the event, both before and after it (e.g. the invitation, hearing about it from a manager, and leaving the event)
  • What we wanted each persona to think, say, and do at each of the touchpoints
  • The tone we wanted to hit before, during, and after
  • “Habanero led us through an experience design approach,” says Geoff. “We came to think about the event as just one touchpoint of the whole Evolution Summit experience.”

The event itself brought all employees together for two full days. The first day saw employees leading outdoor activities, while the second brought people together to interact in unique ways with each value and the “code of the collective” (the 10 behaviours that Arc’teryx employees aspire to live by). For example, one value, “Commit”, was presented by two senior leaders who “told stories about why we make product the way we do and why we have the factory in New Westminster,” recalls Laura Appleton, Arc’teryx Talent Acquisition and Development Manager. “They talked about our commitment to building product the right way by Arc’teryx standards, and how challenging that can be in today’s economy.”

While connecting people with senior leaders was a crucial part of the event experience, one participant remarked that “the most impressive aspect of the event was that it appeared to flick a switch for many people who, I think, now understand that the company fully trusts each employee to do right for the brand.”

Habanero brought conversations and tools that we didn’t know we needed to be successful, and yet we never felt pushed. My relationship with them is one of the most beautiful consultant relationships I’ve ever had.

Laura Appleton
Talent Acquisition and Development, Arc’teryx

The learning

Having been considered and involved in the development of the purpose and values, Arc’teryx employees are already rallying behind them, integrating them into product strategy and performance management.

Looking back, Geoff says that developing strength in experience design is a means to empower people: “It gives us a voice. It inherently involves more people, so it’s more collaborative. You have to put real thought into how you’re moving forward.” Having long applied this approach to developing their products, Geoff says he now feels better positioned to use it for developing their people.

Laura remarks that empowerment has emerged in other ways as well: “Now that we have a common language around our purpose, values, and behaviors, people are able to lean on it to speak objectively to performance.” Laura says Arc’teryx employees now have tools that support both hard conversations and reasons for celebration, two important pieces of performance management.

Since the Evolution Summit, we’ve continued to support Arc’teryx in their journey to fulfill their purpose through the following efforts:

  • Coaching a cross-functional team on design-thinking to create a vision and roadmap for internal communication
  • Leading a quarterly design-thinking learning sessions as part of the Arc’teryx learning and development program
  • Leading a workshop with 85 of the most promising Arc’teryx leaders. The topic? How each individual’s purpose lines up with the company’s purpose

In addition to planning its next steps, Arc’teryx is celebrating some early wins. “Just a few weeks after the Evolution Summit, we’re seeing a lot of people talk about the purpose and values, using the language, relating to the values.” And this talk isn’t cheap. It’s directly related to Arc’teryx products. At a recent all-company huddle, for example, the company’s commercial strategy was unveiled, and the strategy was rooted in the recently re-articulated purpose and values. “And the values and culture team had nothing to do with it! That leader just really grasped who we are,” says Geoff, adding, “Being purpose-driven is what’s going to keep us together, committed, and accountable. And it’s what’s going to make us stand out.”

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