Passion & Purpose

Passion & Purpose

Great Workplaces and Conscious Capitalism

Recently, I met with Jeff Klein, author of Working for Good and an official ambassador for Conscious Capitalism.  Our conversation got me thinking about what great workplaces and conscious enterprises have in common; how does the value they have for their employees effect the way they look at and operate their business.

Getting the chance to speak with Jeff Klein was a pretty exciting for me because I’ve been personally interested in the idea of the conscious enterprise since fortuitously stumbling upon a copy of Charles Handy’s 1997 book The Hungry Spirit. (Though, I admit, at the time my inner cynic suspected this whole “purpose over profit” bit was a little too farfetched.)

Fast forward 15 years, and here I am, passionately doing work that gives me a sense of purpose, and sitting down for a chat with a leader in Conscious Capitalism―now a global movement encompassing CEOs, entrepreneurs, students, and researchers committed to adopting a model of capitalism that accounts for the best interests of society.

Jeff Klein left me with a copy of John Mackey’s Passion & Purpose.  In it Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods, and one of Conscious Capitalism’s most influential and vocal figures, addresses the cornerstones of a conscious enterprise.

It probably comes as no surprise that many conscious enterprises are also great workplaces, such as Whole Foods Market, The Container Store, Starbucks, REI, Southwest Airlines.  So what is the connection between being a conscious business and being a great workplace? 

In Passion & Purpose, Mackey outlines the two pillars of a conscious enterprise:

  1. Having a purpose for the company that goes beyond simply making profits
  2. A “stakeholder mentality,” meaning that all a company’s stakeholders— its shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, and communities—are weighted equally when making business decisions. 

While not all conscious businesses are great workplaces and not all great workplaces are conscious enterprises, both share a belief in the role of a greater purpose and the role of employees as stakeholders.  Consider what it looks like when employees are treated as stakeholders:

  • Employees are kept informed (perhaps even over-informed) on the company’s business goals, threats, opportunities, and overall state of wellness.  Employees are invested in the direction and future of the company.
  • Employees are compensated fairly.  Employees are paid above minimum wage and offered access services considered essential to well-being, such as access to health insurance.  There is not an enormous disparity between benefits and pay for front-line employees and managers.
  • Employees are invited to contribute their thoughts and ideas about the business to senior leadership.
  • Employees are not thought of as a cost center or the line item that gets slashed immediately when shareholders feel the company is not sufficiently profitable.  In the stakeholder model, every effort is made to retain people. 

Both the conscious enterprise and the great workplace ARE concerned with making profits.  However, leaders of both take a longer term view of progress and goals and avoid decisions that might yield short term successes but damage long term relationships with stakeholders. 

Does your company treat employees as stakeholders?  What does that look like?