If you care about having a company where employees treat work as play and regard themselves as ultimate customers for the products they produce, then you have to be careful whom you hire, treat them right, and train them to treat other people right. Otherwise you may come to work one day and find it isn’t a place you want to be anymore.
Patagonia doesn’t usually advertise in the Wall Street Journal, attend job fairs, or hire corporate headhunters to find new employees. We prefer instead to seek out people through an informal network of friends, colleagues, and business associates. We don’t want someone who can just do a job; we want the best person for the job. Yet we don’t look for “stars” seeking special treatment and perks. Our best efforts are collaborative, and the Patagonia culture rewards the ensemble player while it barely tolerates those who need the limelight.
We also seek, as I mentioned above, core Patagonia product users, people who love to spend as much time as possible in the mountains or the wild. We are, after all, an outdoor company. We would not staff our trade show booth with a bunch of out-of-shape guys wearing white shirts, ties, and suspenders any more than a doctor would let his receptionist smoke in the office. We can hardly continue to make the best outdoor clothing if we become primarily an “indoor” culture. So we seek out “dirtbags” who feel more at home in a base camp or on the river than they do in the office. All the better if they have excellent qualifications for whatever job we hire them for, but we’ll often take a risk on an itinerant rock climber that we wouldn’t on a run-of-the-mill MBA. Finding a dyed-in-the-wool businessperson to take up climbing or river running is a lot more difficult than teaching a person with a ready passion for the outdoors how to do a job.
Of course we do hire some people strictly for their technical expertise. We have employees who never sleep outside or who have never peed in the woods. What they all do share, as our organizational development consultant noted, is a passion for something outside themselves, whether for surfing or opera, climbing or gardening, skiing or community activism. (Excerpted from Let My People Go Surfing, by Patagonia founder/owner Yvon Chouinard)