Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) is selling their brand new custom built headquarter building. They never moved in despite designing a facility that captured the essence of outdoor lifestyle and embraced nature. Rumored reasons for abandoning the HQ include, raising cash for the balance sheet, changes to workplace requirements, and pivoting to a new business model. Five years ago, REI was a leader in closing stores on Black Friday. Instead it started the #optoutside movement, encouraging people to engage in an outside activity over chasing retail sales. REI chose people over buildings.
It is easy to think that our facilities as the essence of our being. Where we do what we do defines our stories. We have been encouraged to choose our travel lodging based on the ammenties of a hotel or airbnb. Ice machine of every floor, pet friendly, workout facility with new machines, and 24-hour room service might make the difference in selecting our overnight lodging. But if the people who work within the building do not care, it cannot overcome the luxury.
If we lead with our core values then we can see how REI decided to forego their dream HQ. In the first half of 2020, they laid-off employees and closed stores. The optics of moving into the headquarters would amplified the misguided ethos of managing image over leading people. Instead, they were willing to put the moving trucks on hold and revisit their decisions. REI asked “how might we” and the resulting choice was a different path. A journey which may create more loyalty, greater trust, and a better future.