The Outdoor Industry and How it Relates to Culture

Wednesday evening I went to a panel discussion that was titled: The Outdoor Lifestyle: Changing The Way We Work And Play. Part of the discussion was to be centered around how the outdoor industry is writing the playbook for the future of work. How is the outdoor industry changing the way we work?

I wasn't surprised to hear that there is somewhat of myth about the people who work in the outdoor industry: that they're partiers who drift from gig to gig to get by so they can live life shredding on the mountain, surfing the Banzai Pipeline, or [FILL IN YOUR OUTDOOR PASSION HERE]. They don't require much because life is about doing not having.

I was floored to learn from Luis Benitez, who heads up the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office in Colorado, that the industry is an $800 billion dollar a year machine in the United States. ($34.5 billion in annual economic activity in the state of Colorado alone.) This is more than the automobile and pharmaceutical industries combined. What?!?!

The talent and dedication that is required to fuel such a large industry isn't fueled by those who are living to smoke weed, residing in beat up pick up trucks, or drifting from job to job. They're educated, determined and working hard to make great things happen. And they are connected to their own sense of strength and power that has been cultivated in their outdoor, athletic pursuits and it is weaving into the fabric of their businesses.

I'm discovering that there is no such thing as work-life balance instead there is a thing called life and harnessing the power of individuality. building culture and achieving business goals is kind of like attempting a PR. It isn't easy or comfortable. but when the summit is reached it is exhilarating and satisfying. all the blood, sweat and tears are worth it.

One of the panelists said this:

"I've started looking at the people who work with me through a different lens. I enjoy them while I have them on my team-ride the wave-and work with people while I can." 

We could digress here and discuss the impact of turnover in the workplace, but that would be losing the point. The point I want to make here is that the conversation about culture and changing the way we work and play lies in how we as employers view time off, passions outside of work, and education  that doesn't have anything to do with our job description.

A great culture is built on the idea that humans don't strive to be rewarded for being docile and obedient, they strive to find that their own means of power is strong.

The outdoor lifestyle connects those who engage in it deeply to their own power. When was the last time you set out on an athletic endeavor or a pursuit for a new project and you found it easy? 

Think back to the last time you set out to achieve a goal-personal or professional.

How did you feel?

How did your emotions shift as you progressed towards your goal?

What emotions did you experience when you had a bad go of it?

How did you feel after you achieved your goal?

When I was training triathletes to compete, one of my favorite sayings was that "running never gets easier, you just get faster". My focus was on finding the magic balance of hard, strategic efforts combined with optimal rest and rejuvenation. As well as insisting on a period or two a year where racing and training wasn't the focus. The athletes who just focused on the suffer and worked harder in the name of winning were the ones who were never satisfied with their efforts, seemed to plateau for long periods of time, inevitably ended up with over-training injuries, and had strained relationships. 

As the vp of people and culture at 8020 Builders it is my responsibility to set the framework for us to grow a culture where people find their best and we can find our best as a company. My background with athletes combined with my studies in emotions, empathy, neuroscience, anthropology and ritual bring a unique approach to culture. 

It isn't easy. It requires leadership to view culture through a different lens. And it involves deep, meaningful conversations that are built on trust and a real care and concern for one another. I'm proud to be working next to Steve and Brendan who are setting the stage for what it takes to deliver on our promises to clients and who are in the trenches building our culture. Here are two examples from our culture manual of things we have in place to help us grow our culture:

  1.  We do not do yearly performance reviews. Instead we have several different ways for the team to communicate goals, expectations, need for support, problems and celebrations. I'm always humbled by the amount of communication that happens between team members. I think this is the thing I value most about our culture. We also have outside consultants that our team can reach out to if they feel like they need someone other than leadership to speak with.
  2. Enrichment Allowance. We contribute a yearly amount to each employee for them to pursue a hobby or education outside of the construction industry. 

What it takes to achieve success in a culture that welcomes people's passions outside of work is rarely talked about. It is no longer about work-life balance. That is a myth. The outdoor industry is showing us that we CAN bring our whole selves to our work environments. And that a by-product of doing so gives us strong, resourced, resilient, creative, and humble people who are able to navigate tension/discomfort/disagreements/problems with a sense of curiosity and adventure. They are showing us that work hard and play hard actually helps us achieve a sense of wholeness in our lives when it is welcomed in the workplace. It translates into creative and innovative ways of executing business goals and allows time for the views from the top of the summit to soak into the bones of our culture. Finally, they remind us that the breathtaking views from the top are always worth the time and hard work it takes to reach the summit.

Lexi Steele