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Workplace Pettiness: How Patagonia Helped Axero Overcome Pettiness

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“Pettiness and 'I'm the only one doing anything' (not true, but...)”
Manager, POCC

I love this challenge, because I’ve actually solved it in my company. I’ve actually solved it without trying to solve it.

How do you solve pettiness in the workplace?

Thank God we are still a free country where everyone is entitled to the relentless pursuit of his own pettiness. And, if I am not ready to kick mine, how can demand it of others?

So, here’s what happened.

While working on Who the Hell Wants to Work for You?, I stumbled upon a 1988 article about Patagonia (Patagonia is a designer of outdoor clothing and gear for the silent sports: climbing, surfing, skiing and snowboarding, fly fishing, and trail running.). The article explained how Yvon Chouinard, CEO of Patagonia, ran the company while spending most of his time outdoors.

Once a week, every Patagonia employee filled out a form summarizing the past week’s accomplishments, challenges, and lessons, and setting priorities for the next week. (I have a version of this form and a solid case to make it your performance plan in my book in Chapter 19, Give Them a Voice)

Chouinard designed the weekly report to take about 15 minutes to write and 5 minutes to read. Managers collected individual 5-15s and compiled team reports for their managers, and so on, until a filtered and synthesized version of the report reached the CEO, wherever he happened to be.

5-15 Report

Download the 5-15 report in a Word document.

At the time, Axero was going through all sorts of growing pains. I was working around the clock hiring and training new people, and taking care of business. I often felt like I was the only one in the company getting anything done. I knew it wasn’t true, but I felt it anyway.

I wondered if there was a way for me to stay in the loop without doing so much work, and Chouinard’s idea caught my eye. It was insultingly simple. I couldn’t believe it had been around since 1988 and I was only now learning about it. So, I just asked everyone to start doing the 5-15s. I didn’t know if it was going to solve anything. But at 20 minutes a week, it literally didn’t cost anything to try.

Right away, I noticed that people liked writing and reading these reports. It was a great way to wrap up a long week. Even talking about the things that didn’t go well felt good. You felt like you were accomplishing something just by clearly stating the problem and focusing on the next steps. Which often proved to be the case.

Next, the mood in the company started to shift. The reports gave us a break from heroically chasing our tails. A moment to put our daily tasks in perspective. And a way to keep it all in perspective, even when we weren’t writing a report. We saw the bigger, less petty picture. And we saw each other.

As I looked back on my week, I knew that every Axero employee was doing the same thing: figuring out his wins, losses, lessons learned, and next week’s priorities. We were all curious to see what we came up with. So, we put our 5-15s on the intranet, where everyone could read everyone else’s. The reports didn’t just go up the chain. We shared them with everyone in the company—or any way that was useful.

It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but after a year, I am amazed at the difference the 5-15s have made for us.

One, everyone knows what everyone else is working on, and it’s a good thing. People appreciate each other and don’t act like they are the only ones doing anything worthwhile.

Two, everyone knows what’s important to everyone else. Since sales and customer service people share their reports, we all know what’s important to prospects and customers. So, we prioritize accordingly.

Three, we set what we call “realistic and moving goals,” since we understand our capacity and priorities much better.

Four, since we set somewhat realistic goals and are totally transparent, everyone owns his job. People not only deliver superior results, but they are constantly improving the process, so that a new person can eventually step in their shoes and replace them, as they move onto bigger things. This is exactly what we need to keep growing!

I completely agree with this POCC manager: pettiness is a big problem if you care about running your company and growing your business. Fortunately, it goes away when we share our work and sharpen our focus. Give it a shot!


If you dislike pettiness, you might like my book, because it will help you inspire people to get past the small stuff.

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Tim Eisenhauer
About Tim Eisenhauer
Tim is the author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's also a co-founder and president of Axero, a technology company that makes intranet software for businesses. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, and other top publications.

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