John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc., said it well about this experience in Austin: "This is not a seminar, nor a conference. It is an event. It is like a cornerstone laying. In fact, it is a cornerstone laying. It is a gathering of business professionals who will lay the foundation for turning the idea of 'Conscious Capitalism' into a global movement, shaped by the conscious intent of companies everywhere, to make the world a better place for all."
John was our host for the event, which was organized by Freedom Lights Our World (FLOW), Inc. I joined more than 25 speakers, all passionate about moving business and capitalism forward to make progress for all stakeholders. I gave my view on the state of marketing, or brand-building, and why change is needed and needed now. I shared stories about people who have been inspirational to me, and why I am hopeful that we indeed will lift brand-building to be a more life-improving force for consumers we serve, and indeed, all stakeholders.
The event was an amazing mix-up of ideas. And along with the ideas came commitments to act on them. While I took away many ideas helpful for my new venture, I was struck by four themes during the four-day meeting:
- The Incredible Power of Engaging Employees/Associates, Fully, Genuinely and Enthusiastically — I once heard Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco, say that his most important learning was to treat employees as he wanted customers treated. This theme was voiced by several people in several different ways during the event. Terri Kelly, W.L. Gore & Associates President and CEO, spoke about their focus on the individual. And their belief in individual self-direction, and that with freedom comes responsibility. And how people rise up to that responsibility. She also talked about the power of small teams, and the philosophy that everyone is in "the same boat."
Raj Sisodia, professor of marketing at Bentley College, and co-author of the book "Firms of Endearment," reported that from his findings, culture was the heart of every story in his book, which compared the performance of purpose-driven organizations to the industry at large and to their competition. Chip Conley, founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, shared his model that a great culture leads to an enthusiastic staff, which leads to customer loyalty, which leads to profits. Kip Tindell, chairman and CEO of The Container Store, spoke about their "holding hands culture," and how they consistently put employees first. These six principles that underlie the company begin with hiring great people because great people lift everyone up. It's the most important thing.
- The Importance of Constantly Asking "Why?" — Sally Jewell, the most amazing president and CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), said it best as she described REI's endless quest to live their brand purpose. Sally spoke passionately of their strategy process in which they probed why they are here, and what greater purpose they serve. They discussed what would happen if REI went away—would anyone miss them? They talked about why employees want to be part of this business, as it is a great commitment for employees to spend a significant part of their lives with a company. And this strategy process resulted in a purpose that inspires their employees, inspires their customers: "To inspire, educate and outfit people for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship." Who wouldn't want to work for a company with that incredible purpose?
- The Value of "Free" Time to Spark Innovation — Google has been a real pioneer here, urging employees to devote 20% of their time to exploring ideas that they are passionate about. And they measure it. Terri Kelly, at W.L. Gore and Associates, spoke of "dabble time," where associates were encouraged to network inside and outside the company, and to explore new ideas to advance the company's purpose and results. In a similar vein, Gary Hamel spoke about organizations' need to evolve to be as human as the people who work there.
- The Need for Education Reform — Several speakers addressed the need for business education to significantly evolve, and none were as passionate as Nikos Mourkogiannis, who is the author of "Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies." Nikos spoke about how new businesses purpose tells us what to do next and makes alignment real. And he spoke to the need to infuse this notion of deeper ideals at the heart of every successful business into our management curriculum.
I hope you found these insights helpful as you strive to lead your organization to greater results through a greater sense of purpose, which inspires employees, customers and all stakeholders.