Identifying, crafting and telling values-based stories are the core of my Corporate Storytelling system, so I was excited to read a story recently in The Seattle Times about the importance of values and virtues to Whole Foods co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey. In a book he wrote with Raj Sisodia, marketing professor of Bentley University, Mackey makes the case that the power of a free market depends on creating value and strengthening society by practicing “higher virtues”.
“If everybody is always calculating what’s to their advantage, and no one comes with generosity, or kindness, or compassion, or forgiveness–higher virtues–your society starts to break down,” Mackey says. “I actually think that’s what’s happening in America right now.” He went on to explain that a sense of Judeo-Christian values served as the foundation of American enterprise for most of its history, and added that the resulting empathy and caring for others softened the forces of self-interest. But as America has become increasingly secular, the ethics that drove business have been lost, and as a result, trust in institutions, both public and private, has disappeared.
As a society, we have to find our purpose again, Mackey believes, and likewise, “business needs to rediscover its purpose….”
In their book, Conscious Capitalism, the Whole Foods leader and his co-author argue that business must integrate the needs of all its stakeholders. Rather than seeing the world through a win/lose perspective, conscious business leaders need to be creative enough to “deliver multiple kinds of value simultaneously.” As you’d expect, that’s the guiding principle of Whole Foods. For example, Mackey explains, he can quickly consider every major stakeholder’s needs and interests and determine whether Whole Foods is delivering value for each group. “If (as the result of a decision we’re considering) somebody is losing, then really we haven’t been creative enough, and probably it’s not a good decision.” As a business rediscovers a higher sense of purpose–one focused on creating value for employees, suppliers, investors and customers–it can create value for all stakeholders, he says.