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Whole Foods Market

Jessica Rohman

Higher Purpose, Shared Fate

Whole Foods Market is one of the few companies that has been named to all 16 FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® lists, and today I had the opportunity to immerse myself in their culture at their flagship store and global headquarters in Austin, TX.

While onsite, I was struck by the consistently energetic and fundamentally positive nature of every employee I encountered. “Team Members” (as all employees, including the co-CEOs, are called) behind the deli counter were chatting and laughing with each other as they served customers. A certified cheese sommelier enthusiastically offered me a sample as well as her extensive knowledge of the latest Italian Parmesean Asiagio. Beautiful displays of chocolate, baked goods, wine, personal care products, fruit, and much more graced the many aisles spread out before me, all boasting the promise of furthering  their mission to support “Whole People”, “Whole Foods”,  and a “Whole Planet”. Not surprisingly, customers seemed to glow with delight as they placed their orders and filled their baskets.

Anyone who has been to a Whole Foods Market knows that this experience is not specific to this Austin location. The positive energy felt here at the flagship store—along with the expert showcasing and delivery of the highest quality healthy foods and products—is consistent throughout their 340+ stores in four countries, and across their more than 70,000 employees.

It is this consistency across the enterprise that begs the question: In an organization so dispersed, how is it possible for the same “Whole Foods Market” culture to flourish across stores?

While the answer to this question is multi-faceted, two key components stand out to me as I have learned more about how this notable organization functions. The first component is that Whole Foods Market has many carefully designed programs and practices that ensure their unique culture is sustained in every nook and cranny of the enterprise. Examples of these are:

  • A participatory hiring process that allows Team Members at all levels to participate in the selection of immediate Team Members as well as senior level executives
  • Inclusive “Tribal Gatherings”, “Vision Days”, and “Future Search” events that allow Team Members and other stakeholders to bond, re-align with the culture and values, and co-create a unified a vision
  • At new-store openings, new and existing Team Members attend a two-day orientation session where they have an opportunity to build relationships, attend several intensive sessions on Whole Foods Market's Core Values, as well as other team building and informational sessions on Whole Foods’ business and culture.

The other key component that stands out is less about specific practices, and more about the overarching philosophies that drive the execution of everything from the hiring of senior leaders to the presentation of the Parmesean Asiagio. Two particularly noteworthy philosophies I learned about while onsite are the concepts of a Higher Purpose and a Shared Fate.

  • Higher Purpose: According to co-CEO John Mackey, who is also a key leader of the Conscious Capitalism movement, businesses must exist for a higher purpose than simply making a profit. At Whole Foods Market, the higher purpose is to improve the health and well-being of everyone on the planet through high quality foods and better nutrition. All Team Members are connected to the higher purpose, and this purpose is at the forefront of all they do.
  • Shared Fate: Says John Mackey of Whole Foods Team Members, “We are a team; we have a shared fate. We either succeed together or we fail together.” To this end, Team Members at all levels of the company are involved in decision-making and goal-planning, and consensus decision-making is the most common means of deciding on major action items such as staffing and strategic initiatives.

With these inclusive ideals, supported by well-crafted practices and policies, Team Members are equipped to align their own actions toward a commonly-held vision as well as goals that they feel a vested interest in achieving. The result is a consistent culture and business that thrives in stores across the U.S. and around the world.

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Great Place to Work is pleased to announce that Whole Foods Market is the host of the Best Companies Executive Strategy Network meeting in Austin, Texas, on May 21-23 on the topic of Sustaining Culture During Times of Growth.

To learn more about the ESN and the May 21-23 meeting, please visit: http://www.greatplacetowork.com/best-companies/executive-strategy-network



Jessica Rohman is the Director of Programs Great Place to Work® Institute.
 
 

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