When corporate culture junkies gather around the fire, we tell stories and recount legendary figures in our mythos like Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, who offered to competitors all details of his business knowing that without Southwest’s culture–the focal point of its business–competitors would never gain traction. Drawing us around the fire the recent Conscious Capitalism® Conference sparked stories, armed us with new skills, and provided a common refrain offered up by Roy Spence, co-founder and CEO of GSD&M Idea City, “The Conscious Capitalism movement is about playing to our strengths to serve the greater good. When we do this, it will make all the difference.”
Conscious Capitalism is an approach to business based on four principles–
1) Purpose. Recognizing that every business has a purpose that includes, but goes beyond, making money;
2) Stakeholder Orientation. Engaging and creating value for various stakeholders (employees, consumers, suppliers, shareholders;
3) Conscious Leadership. Those who embrace the higher purpose of business and work to create value for all of the business’ stakeholders. Conscious leaders recognize the importance of culture and actively cultivate it; and
4) Conscious Culture. Culture sets the tenor of the business, integrates and supports the business purpose, and connects stakeholders.
But how do these principles translate from static theory to practice within organizations combatting daily demands? Throughout the two days of the conference, we heard from many CEOs and former leaders. Below are some of my favorite tactics that they shared.
I. Walter Robb, Whole Foods’ president and COO, believes that culture has strength and immunity.
8 Characteristics of Culture
- Culture is alive. It’s not enough to create it well and then leave it. It shifts and changes and needs to be tended to and nourished.
- Culture is empowering. One Whole Foods employee took it upon herself to create Braille tags for the majority of items in the store. Additional stores later adopted the tags, and Whole Foods is now working with the Braille Institute in Boston to develop signage and improved tags for all stores.
- Culture is a differentiator
- Culture is powerful
- Culture creates innovation
- Culture is soulful
- Culture is precious and fragile. Whole Foods dropped 30 spots on Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. This was a warning for Whole Foods leadership that they needed to revisit the needs of employee and consumer, and develop new ways to support these.
- Culture is evolving
II. Eric Ryan, co-founder of Method, was quick to share that “Nearly everything I’ve done with Method, I’ve taken from someone else, so you should take this from me.”
- Method starts every week with a ‘Monday Huddle’ at 9 AM when the whole team gathers. Everything at Method is about empowerment so each week they draw a name from a hat and that person leads the meeting, which includes a customer testimonial, business updates, an employee story, and appreciation shout-outs.
- Method believes you can prototype anything, including a relationship. Job candidates are given three questions, including the last one, “How will you help keep Method weird?” This trait is key to the culture, so they recruit for individuality, authenticity and zaniness. “The bigger we get, the smaller–and weirder–we act.”
- At Method, everyone is a receptionist, including the two-founders and CEO. Every six weeks, an employee sits at reception for the day. He can develop a theme and do whatever he wants with the lobby. The company has had mac & cheese days and Jersey Shore-themed days.
- Borrow from improv. Instead of a the prevailing culture of “Yes, but” Method has a culture of “yes, and.” They’ve brought in different improv instructors over the years to improve the company and shift culture.
- Method applies culture to marketing by writing for one person. Marketing is not top-down but rather everyone is a marketer. “The second that Fred, our product designer, posts on Facebook, he’s a copywriter so he needs to understand the culture and be able to communicate this.”
III. Tom Gardner created his financial services company, The Motley Fool, in the image of a jester, which evokes a fun-loving culture. But underscoring an atmosphere of playfulness is a core set practices and commitment to employee wholeness at the workplace.
- Every employee writes her own job description. Of 54 million workers polled, 72% are indifferent to the work they’re doing, without passion for their job or what they accomplish (Gallup). The most important thing we can do is engage the people we work with.
- Traditionally, high performing work is monetarily rewarded with a raise or bonus. But this doesn’t factor in four key metrics by which employees evaluate their own satisfaction (how much they believe in and are driven by the purpose of the organization; how much they like their colleagues and management; how much they love the work they do and whether they have challenges that excite them; and flexibility of their schedules). Conscious companies look to address and reward employee performance across these four areas.
- Every other weekend is a long weekend with Friday or Monday off.
It’s all simple cause and effect to Howard Behr, former president of Starbucks: A strong culture leads to employee happiness, which feeds customer happiness, which leads to profit, which circles back again to company culture. For Behr, culture is just “who you are.”