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Vivobarefoot’s Regenerative Business Journey 

September 21, 2022

The award-winning B-Corp Vivobarefoot is on a mission to reconnect people with nature and natural health through regenerative footwear and experiences.

Like many organisations, Vivo developed under a hierarchical system with siloed departments. It was selling barefoot footwear to bring people closer to nature, and business wasn’t bad. But something felt unnatural to Co-Founders Galahad and Asher Clark.

“Are we just growing yet another business, delivering more stuff through more stress, in an over-polluted world?” they found themselves asking. “Or can we be part of the regenerative revolution and become a real force for good in the world?”

In summer 2020, the Vivo leaders found Regenerative Leadership, a book co-authored by Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm. This led to Galahad and Vivo’s leadership team having a session in the woods of Springwood Farm with Giles on the Autumn Equinox of 2020. This first session made quite the impression, and marked the start of Vivo’s Livebarefoot Journey. 

Over the subsequent two years, this journey has involved a shift from hierarchy to flatter networked circles, and from a footwear company to a holistic natural-health brand with circular value chains, rewilding experiences and regenerative products, communities and business practices. 

This evolution has meant transforming Vivo’s inner nature (its culture, values and behaviours) and outer nature (its value propositions and stakeholder relationships). It’s been challenging and empowering, and remains unfinished business. It’s also become an excellent case study for other organisations exploring regenerative business. 

This article is a summary of a detailed case study chapter from Giles’ latest book, Leading by Nature. It captures Vivo’s journey through the words of Galahad Clark (CEO), Ashley Pollock (Head of ‘Livebarefoot’ – People & Culture) and Giles Hutchins (world leading regenerative leadership coach).

The Outer Journey, by Galahad Clark

In summer 2020, during a Vivo leadership retreat on a remote beach in Devon, twelve of us set ourselves the challenge of moving Vivo from sustainability to regeneration: from making stuff, however sustainable, to actively reconnecting with and replenishing the natural world.

A transformative journey of learning and unlearning was underway, and the first thing to change was our ‘what’. Vivo would still be creating regenerative footwear, but also regenerative experiences. We were turning from a footwear company into a holistic natural-health brand. Along with committing to a company-wide transformative and regenerative journey with Giles, we pledged to publish a meaningful annual report, Unfinished Business, to more transparently track our progress.  

Since that initial retreat in Devon we’ve developed and launched value propositions that transform our impact as a business, helping people reconnect with nature and their natural health.

Through ReVivo, our re-commerce platform, we now repair, refurbish and resell old Vivos, keeping them on feet and out of landfill for longer. In doing so we’re helping to pioneer a circular footwear industry. VivoBiome is an innovative scan-to-print approach to mass producing bespoke footwear through local hubs. A better model for feet, the world, and nature. And VivoHealth is a holistic education platform for natural health and regenerative practice. Through courses, coaches and community networks for natural movement, it helps customers undertake their own natural-health journey while applying regenerative leadership principles to ways of living.

These changes represent Vivo’s evolution into ‘Vivo 3.0’, with a focus not just on regenerative products, but regenerative business and regenerative communities. We’re pursuing this through three strands of work:

  1. Healthy Digital – a better customer journey through our natural-health ecosystem.
  2. Circular Value Chains – genuinely regenerative supply chains that design out waste and toxicity, keep materials in use and replenish natural systems.
  3. Rewilding Communities – funding regenerative community projects and creating our own spiritual woodland home for the Vivo community to gather and walk together towards a regenerative future.

As Ashley explains below, these ideas have been enabled by a simultaneous inner-culture transformation that is swapping top-down “planting” for individual agency and the potential to cross-pollinate new ideas. ReVivo, VivoBiome and VivoHealth all originated through what we call ‘Project Circles’ with self-managing, agile ways of working.

The Inner Journey, by Ashley Pollock

A couple of years back, Vivobarefoot had lots of yang (a hyper-masculine, cut-and-thrust focus on outer-doing) and too little yin (valuing inner-being, listening to ourselves and others, becoming more aware of Vivo as a living system).

To restore balance, we’ve been writing our own rulebook to move from a hierarchical, control-manage system towards a more horizontal, adult-to-adult, sense-respond approach.

To foster these changes, Giles has helped us restructure from a traditional hierarchy into a network of cross-functional Circles forming around specific business needs. Some hierarchy remains, but we’re consciously shifting power from parent-child to adult-adult. 

  1. A Home Circle is a person’s permanent home, aligned with their horizontal function or vertical category (similar to a traditional ‘department’). An Evolution Lead supports people’s development within each Home Circle.
  1. Project Circles form around cross-functional projects. They include a Project Lead (more facilitator than manager), a small and accountable Active Project Team and a wider Advisory Network.
  1. In Yin Circles people gather to sense the health of Vivobarefoot’s ecosystem, reflect and practice peer-to-peer coaching.

This networked structure gives people more agency to make decisions. And it invites them to bring more of themselves to work, helping us embrace honesty and diversity of thought. 

Within the Circle system, we also encourage everybody to develop ‘self-circle-system awareness’. In other words, awareness of Self (how one personally shows up), Circle (how the team self-manage and work towards a mission) and System (the flow, evolution and impact of the wider Vivo ecosystem).

The Proprioceptors at Springwood Farm

We now have a team of Systemic Enablers we call ‘Proprioceptors’, who work as ‘live sensors’ across the Vivo-system, gathering feedback from across the organisation and sensing where there is ‘stuckness’, brilliant flow, healthy tension or over-stress. We encourage in-person feedback Circles where people gather in the woods around the fire (without digital devices!) at Springwood Farm to dialogue, listen, share problems, give and receive constructive feedback and reflect on self-circle-system commitments. And we’ve opened up company-wide communication through weekly stand ups, for relaying news and asking questions; a virtual daily Fire Pit, for simply gathering and chatting; and transparent notes from leadership meetings.

These ingredients all form part of our culture’s essence (we call it ‘living barefoot’). Living barefoot is our Vivo way of rejecting the cushioned life – living courageously, showing up true to our values and in line with our mission; shifting our individual and organisational relationship with power and control (from power & control to sense, respond & flow).

To understand how our evolution has been affecting people at Vivo, we’re collaborating with the Happiness Index: a feedback platform, rooted in neuroscience, for measuring employee engagement and identifying happiness drivers. It helps us understand where things could be better.

We’ve created an ever-growing ‘Barefoot Code’ on Trello, our living version of an employee handbook full of info on working at Vivo and Living Barefoot. Similarly, we use a great tool called Maptio to map how all our Circles and people interrelate. Actually seeing our new structure is a game-changer.

Every joiner also now has a Buddy from a different Home Circle to help them settle. And a new Evolution Council has reviewed outdated job titles like ‘Manager’ and created a more transparent Evolution Process that also empowers everyone take ownership of and explore their own individual Evolution Plans.

Last but not least, we’ve enhanced our regenerative benefits package. With £1,000 allowances for professional development and personal hobbies to 30 holiday days (we believe time is more precious than money), 12 pairs of free Vivos a year, discounts on natural-health experiences and regular in-person celebrations, we’ve made it much easier to live regeneratively beyond work.

Giles Hutchins & Ashley Pollock at Springwood

The Vivobarefoot Essence, by Giles Hutchins

While it feels like much has changed over the last two years, we know Vivo is only at the beginning of its regenerative journey, scratching the surface of what’s possible. Many challenges and learnings lie ahead. But the initial indicators are good. 

Although the Vivo culture still contains some control-manage dynamics (sometimes people revert to old habits, and sometimes control tendencies are necessary), people are better at identifying parent-child micro-management and busy-stress cycles and instead defaulting to adult-adult, authentic, sense-respond decisions and communication. From January 2020 to January 2022, Vivo’s Happiness Index score for loyalty and satisfaction rose from -25 to +26, and overall employee happiness increased 36%, from 5.9 to 8.0. And Vivo’s culture also feels more resilient, engaged, entrepreneurial and better able to respond to challenges and realise Vivo’s mission. In a word, more ‘barefoot’. 

Ultimately, Vivo has broken beyond the status quo amid a challenging and volatile business climate. Resisting a strong temptation to play it safe, the company is a beacon of light inspiring others to transform. It’s telling that leaders of organisations across Vivo’s ecosystem who have witnessed their transformation first hand often enquire about embarking on something similar for themselves.

For more on the Vivobarefoot journey towards becoming a regenerative business, see the book Leading by Nature. If you are interested in exploring where your own organisation is on this journey, you can find a Regenerative Organisation Reflective Tool and other useful tools, all free to download, here.

Head of Livebarefoot at Vivobarefoot Ashley Pollock and regenerative leadership coach Giles Hutchins co-authored this summary, which is extracted from Giles’s latest book, Leading by Nature – the Process of Becoming a Regenerative Leader.

Feel free to join Leadership Immersions Group on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

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