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Don Pickering

“There’s a welcoming climate now for feedback. People are more open to accepting criticism because there’s a context for it.”

Title: Executive Strategist
Role in the Off-Site: “First, the team devises a plan to scrutinize the current and future roles at Altrec. The tension centers on Pickering. He revised the company’s business plan and helped recruit top industry talent. But people can’t figure out what he’s doing now, or what influence he has on their day-to-day work. Before the trip, neither (Mike) Morford nor Pickering, who are friends, has had much motivation to resolve what’s obviously a prickly situation.

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“But hours before takeout, the two announce that they’ll use an upcoming business trip to hash out the problem. Another team with brainstorm a job description to fill the current leadership void.”

What were your expectations for Altrec.com’s off-site?

My expectations were to get outside the business environment, and give people a chance to reflect on and to talk about working with each other. I felt an off-site would be very valuable for this team. Issue number one was to relate to one another on a personal level outside of the business realm. Because our work is so intense in the office, it’s oftentimes hard to do that.

How have you seen the off-site’s action items brought to life in the workplace?

There’s a welcoming climate now for feedback. People are more open to accepting criticism because there’s a context for it. And when decisions need to be made, we discuss the process for that decision rather than just fall into it. We outline ahead of time who the decision making authority is, and what the process for input and decision-making is. That’s really saved us a lot of debate.

What are you doing to pass on the Salmon River learning to other Altrec.com employees?

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Mike (Morford) and I are co-principals in the company. I’ve basically recruited most of the management team here and I’ve helped defined the roles needed within Altrec.com. I’ve also done a lot of strategic planning and positioning work. The things I work on have very long cycle times.

Before Altrec.com, I was a president and CEO. I had my own company. It was successful. And then I come into an organization where I’m expected to be the visionary element — putting the foundation in place, but at the same time I don’t have the one-on-one association with the employees.

I came out of the off-site and said, “What is it that I contribute to this company? How can I help both the company and myself with my skill sets and abilities?” I actually spent a great deal of time after the trip reflecting on those questions and I put forth a plan outlining ways I can help the company. I communicated that, and then began to implement the process and what has come out of it is a complete sort of site reorganization initiative as well as a company reorganization initiative that allows us to address the complexities of our business a little more easily and scale more efficiently.

The issue with Altrec.com was that we started as this traditional “silo” organization with marketing, technology, design, and merchandising divisions. As we’ve grown, we’ve felt the restraints and the limitations of that because now we represent different market segments like climbing, snowboarding, and hiking — and we need the passion of those sports to come through in our products. So I’ve put a model in place — a road map to that next level. Also, the trip helped people to see that when you get down to the nuts and bolts, we all want to make the company win, and we all really have very similar principles. If we can ground ourselves in those principles, then we can work through our issues and our problems.

Personally, the off-site made me think a lot about how I can help, and it spurred me into action. I’m continuing to do what I’ve done in the past, but this time it’s not so behind the scenes. I’ve been more overt about my role. And I think it’s helped.

Do you feel more at ease with your role in the company?

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To be honest with you, I do and I don’t. It’s not an easy process and it’s one that we continue to make progress on, but it’s a complicated situation. I spend most of my time on site initiatives, work flow initiatives, and strategies for working together. That’s what I’ve always done. But until we went on the trip, I didn’t understand that people didn’t know what I did.

What do you feel will be the real testing points for Altrec.com in the next six months?

We’re going to be engaged in rapid growth here. A great challenge will be scaling the ladder from the empowered individual into the creation of data — actually transforming data into information and then information into knowledge. Just fostering growth and managing that systematically is a hard thing. When you’re a 40-person company, you can manage the information. But as you become a 100-person company and you start producing 10 or 20 times the volume that you previously were, all of a sudden you have a lot more noise. It’s crucial to make meaning out of that noise, and then alter your behavior accordingly. Information is meaningless in and of itself. It’s how you alter your behavior from that information that matters. For us to learn that as a company, both collectively and individually, is huge. That will have major ramifications on our evolution.

Are people excited about the prospect of their work environment changing somewhat dramatically?

Yes and no. People who were here when we were a five-person company recognize that the skill sets needed to manage the business then are different than the skill sets needed to manage the company now and moving forward. People who helped spawn this baby are excited to see it become an adult. But, at the same time, they long for the intimacy and sense of community that we had when we were five or 10 or 20 people. We’re going to fight hard to retain that as we grow.

Have you thought about putting the Altrec.com story into words and images in a digital story?

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We actually have a bulletin board that contains snippets of things we’ve done on our own or with the company. We have had discussions about getting more serious about storytelling as we grow — building an Intranet with a digital diary component, a calendar of events for the company, and a forum for photographs. That way, when new employees come on board, they can view the company’s progression and history.

What Did Happen on the Salmon River?

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