Innovation: A People Process at Arc’teryx
bh in Brief
Arc’teryx is a global design and manufacturing company based in North Vancouver, BC, that specializes in technical high-performance outerwear and equipment. They design and manufacture a wide range of mountain sports outdoor apparel and equipment for all conditions and experiences. The company started with six employees in 1989 and now has more than 1000 employees in Canada. Arc’teryx is a division of Amer Sports which is a publicly-traded company headquartered in Helsinki, Finland.
The name and logo of Arc’teryx refer to Archaeopteryx Lithographica, the first reptile to develop feathers for flight.
Arc’teryx is a high performance outdoor clothing and sports equipment company known for leading innovations in climbing, skiing and alpine technologies. Recognized in 2017 as one of B.C.’s top employers, Arc’teryx is also known as an organization that puts people first. “Our vision,” says Geoff Watts, Senior Manager, People & Culture, “is to build a platform where people can perform at their best.”
Innovation at Arc’teryx is a process. It starts with the organization’s culture and core values and is embedded in the behaviour of its people. Innovation flows within the organization from the bottom up, as well as top down. Leadership’s role is to envision the opportunities to pursue and remove barriers along the way. Being innovative, however, is not always easy. It requires agility and an ability to expect change and embrace ambiguity while still focusing on delivering results.
Building camaraderie, rapport and trust is also important at Arc’teryx. While each person is considered an individual with specific values and strengths, employees are also encouraged to see themselves as members of a team, at work and after five o’clock. Arc’teryx provides opportunities for people to get beyond the office walls, to enjoy themselves, hang out with each other and use the products they make in the wild spaces they were intended for. As Watts says, “Arc’teryx was founded on the desire to go harder, further, higher and that remains our call to action.”
Success with people at Arc’teryx is not an accident. The organization works hard to become better and better at what it does, not just in relation to its products, but also with a focus on its people and culture. In its quest for improvement, it reaches out for advice to other organizations with specialized expertise, such as Great Place to Work® (GPTW) and Habanero Consulting Group.
In October 2016, 422 Arc’teryx employees responded to GPTW’s Trust Index© Survey. Results showed they should prioritize their improvement activities in five areas: Listening, Oversight, Fairness, Thanking and Respect. Findings were shared with Senior Leaders who, in turn, shared them with their teams in group settings or individually. Teams established priorities and developed action plans that resulted in specific changes.
For example, in their Commercial team they had a specific need to focus on oversight, and to make sure expectations were clear. C. J. King, VP, Global Commercial shared the results of a small group discussion on potential improvements at the team’s first huddle:
“….people want continued clarity on the work they do, and knowledge of how it impacts the greater organization. My hope is that the huddle helps the Commercial team get to know each other better, and learn what different parts of the department are doing to take care of our consumers, get people outside, and grow the business. My additional hope is that people know how their individual work and projects have an impact on the overall department and company. In the end, I hope we can continue to build on the Arc’teryx Values and Code of the Collective and make this an even better place to work.”
Going higher with Arc’teryx in the wild spaces of Greenland.
Habanero Consulting Group
On a broader scale, in a bid to unearth its purpose and values from its history, Arc’teryx turned to the Habanero Consulting Group to coach the organization through the process and help bring the results to life. In addition to collecting data, Habanero used empathetic research to better understand Arc’teryx employees. The use of personas as an aspect of empathetic research illustrates the extent to which people were at the heart of the process. After imagining half a dozen types of people – or personas – who work for Arc’teryx, Watts recalls that they thought about what those people would be thinking, feeling, seeing and hearing throughout the process. “We imagined what questions and concerns they would have, and then spent time proactively crafting tools that supported each of their journeys.”
People were part of the entire process. The unearthed articulation of purpose and values was officially launched with an Evolution Summit that brought all employees together for two full days – a day of outdoor activities led by employees, followed by a day of interacting with each other in relation to the Values (Evolve, Commit, Do Right, Live It) and the “Code of the Collective” (the“how-to” for living their purpose and values). In a Habanero report, one participant is quoted as saying that “the most impressive aspect of the event was that it appeared to flick a switch for many people who … now understand that the company fully trusts each employee to do right for the brand”.
The Summit has left a lasting impression at Arc’teryx. Almost immediately, people began talking about purpose and values. Later when a new commercial strategy was unveiled, without referencing the process, it echoed the re-articulated purpose and values. Commenting, almost in celebration, Watts confirms “the Values and Culture team had nothing to do with it!! That leader just really grasped who we are.”
People at the Core
Who they are at Arc’teryx puts people at the core. The fact that Arc’teryx trusts each employee to support the brand and is able to find its purpose and values embedded in the priorities and strategies adopted by its teams attests to the extent to which people are central to the innovation process and, indeed, anything that happens at Arc’teryx. As Watts says, “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.” bh
Working Together … Arc’teryx’s Do Right crew helping the North Shore Mountain Bike Association (NSMBA) build trails for the local community. At work, evolving hard goods in the Design Centre.