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leadership lab

David Labistour is CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).

There's a quote I like to share in staff meetings: "Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again." I see it as a nod not only to how we are growing and adapting as an organization, but a reminder of the constant progression of the retail landscape. It's no longer enough to just sell something; you need to create an emotional connection to build brand loyalty. Consumers are actively looking for more.

Thankfully, MEC is and has always been an organization focused on connection. It's the first place I've worked where my job and passions truly align, and I know that is true for a lot of staff as well. That sense of purpose not only situates us as ardent and enthusiastic experts in the activities we promote, but it fosters a propensity in staff to share that sentiment, making them inherent brand advocates. We engage staff on various levels to amplify that enthusiasm, even prior to their hiring.

Know what to look for

When we're recruiting new staff, we look specifically for individuals who are as passionate about getting people active outside as we are. Hiring those aligned with our purpose creates an innate authenticity that consumers pick up on. They don't need to be die-hard backcountry explorers or world-class athletes, but they need an enthusiasm for growing their passions and inviting others to join in.

Empower staff from day one

MEC has an internal "Bring It" culture that is at the core of how we operate. Bringing It means showing up, making it happen, and carrying the fire – this applies to everything we do and is how we hold each other accountable. During onboarding, we hand over a signature MEC water bottle with a note introducing them to Bring It culture and the #MECstaffer hashtag. The latter is a public-facing place of pride for MEC staff to share their adventures and currently has over 22,800 open-profile contributions.

Have a consistent news stream and feedback loop

Storytelling is inherent at MEC, even outside our member-facing content streams. We have a social intranet called Mondo. It's our digital water cooler and a fantastic connector for MEC staff coast to coast. Everyone has a profile and can comment and like posts. The stories about races or events, workplace wins and service successes – like a staffer lending a family a paddling map after we were out of the guidebook they needed – are the most popular. I regularly share our progress and important changes with staff here.

Feedback also happens via annual reviews, and staff are invited to participate in our annual Pulse Check survey, which gives us an accurate idea of how we're doing internally. We know from last year's survey that 82 per cent of MEC staff would recommend MEC as a great place to work.

Foster trust through proof points and inclusivity

Departmental and quarterly meetings are a regular occurrence, and we use them as an opportunity to be transparent about business and financial performance, including areas where we need to improve (MEC members see these in our annual report). Staffers are also MEC members, so they are keen on holding the organization accountable.

Create and maintain community connections

Staff frequently partake in community events – our MEC Outdoor Nation program, annual Paddlefest and Snowfest events, gear swaps, trail building, races – connecting them with new and existing audiences while genuinely sharing their passions. Recently, some head office staff took their Avalanche Safety Training 1 together in Whistler. They went out as a team, connected with Avalanche Canada (an MEC partner), and brought their learnings back to work.

Through our paid volunteerism program, staff have also helped with search-and-rescue organizations, mapped local flora and become mentors within outdoor education programs.

Bring in staff on campaign creation

Staff are welcome to submit outdoor photos, videos and other content that may make its way onto member-facing communications (blog posts, ads, reusable shopping bags, etc.) They've even been known to show up in a few campaigns as models, too.

Recently we launched our first-ever Big Day Out activation for staff in conjunction with the debut of our Good Times Outside activity guide. Staff received a paid day off and up to $1,000 in funding to craft an unforgettable day outside. Some of the ideas included a SUP-dodgeball tournament, culinary campfire challenges, photography sessions and programs introducing new Canadians to paddling. In addition to Big Day Out events, staff contributed tips, photos and insider information to the myriad activities on the ever-growing Good Times Outside site.

In those respects, as well as on social media channels, MEC staff are natural leaders. They got the ball rolling on our #live4snow, #myhomewaters, #mecnation and #goodtimesoutside campaigns.

Build a collaborative environment

From shared areas to differing departmental layouts, the design of our buildings reinforces teamwork and plays on our love for the outdoors. We've got rooftop picnic tables and tented meeting "rooms." Our more traditional meeting room walls are transparent and covered in Bring It statements. We have a wall on the main floor covered in #MECstaffer pictures. When we have a win, we head out for active team days at climbing gyms, public parks and ski hills.

Look forward together

Everything comes back to change happening faster than ever before. We are deeply proud of our internal culture at MEC, but we know we are far from perfect. Being more inclusive and aware is something staff have regularly highlighted as a matter of importance. It's a well-known fact that the outdoor industry needs to make strides in showing the breadth and depth of cultures across Canada. We want to make sure everyone feels welcome in the outdoors, and thanks to MEC staffers being great brand advocates, we're on our way.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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