Conscious Capitalism Chicago: Blog
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How a journey of self-growth led to a culture of caring in an industry not known for that sort of thing.
Ask Nancy Pautsch, President of Madison, WI-based Envision IT, about her early years in the tech industry and you’ll quickly learn that it is not for the faint of heart. Sharp-elbowed and short-term focused environments notorious for a churn and burn mentality, tech industry corporate cultures can be challenging if not downright poisonous. Like the Atlantic killfish, which has adapted to living in some of the United States’ most polluted waters along the Eastern coast, many people in the tech industry adapt to a toxic environment because they’ve known nothing else.
For Pautsch, that was no way to live, much less thrive. She knew there must be a better way and she was at a crossroads. After a colleague suggested that she should just “trust her gut” when trying to solve a particularly vexing problem at work, she began a personal journey to truly understand what her gut was trying to tell her. All she really knew at the time was that something needed to change.
The Wake Up Call
Feeling conflicted and still in search of the path that she was destined to travel, Pautsch had what she calls her “dark night of the soul.” For years, Pautsch and her colleague, Bill Crahen had toiled together and fought the kind of foxhole battles that forge an unbreakable bond. The pressure of those constant struggles eventually took their toll. One day Crahen came to the office and was clearly in physical pain. His face disfigured, he was suffering from a textbook case of stress-related Bell’s Palsy. “That was a reckoning for me, and it shook me. I told Bill that we’ve got to get the heck out of here, it can’t be this way,” Pautsch recalled.
As fate would have it, Pautsch had discovered the book Firms of Endearment by Raj Sisodia, the co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism movement. “That book was really my inspiration. That was the intersecting point of my career and the personal growth journey I was on,” says Pautsch. “I started asking myself these big questions. What’s my purpose? Why am I here? I began to awaken and see the toxicity of the business that I was in. I was leading, but not owning.” After reading the book, she immediately went to Crahen and said, “Bill, this is the answer. There’s another way. I gave him the book and he read it just as quickly and absorbed it just as enthusiastically as I did. He was equally inspired, but how are we going to do this? Are we going to start our own company or what?”
Fate intervened once again and Nancy met with the founder of Envision IT, Beau Smithback, to discuss a project she was doing as a favor for one of her team members. One thing led to another and before she knew it, she and Smithback were talking about Firms of Endearment and their shared vision of growing a conscious business in an industry that was far from conscious.
“I gave Beau the book and told him that this is what we want to build. Beau is this brilliant, young, and kindhearted founder who was also searching for a better way to do business. He said this is what he wanted Envision IT to be, come on and do it.” So, in 2013 armed with a vision and a resolve to focus on the well-being of the people in the company, Pautsch and Crahen joined Smithback determined to build a conscious business positioned for the long term.
Starting with Purpose
While they didn’t know for sure where the journey would take them, the three leaders knew where they wanted to start – the organization’s purpose. “We knew from so many years of being treated, frankly, as not human, but as revenue generators, that we wanted to do the exact opposite,” says Pautsch. “We began with our higher or noble purpose – To Enrich the Lives of our Stakeholders.”
“When I saw the four pillars of Conscious Capitalism, I realized that maybe we’re doing something right. While we could certainly feel it, the business results came as well. But that’s not why we went ‘all in.’ It was truly focused on defining our purpose, creating meaningful rules of working together, and caring for people. That inspired us – and still does to this day. There is no finish line, no checkbox. The effort continues on and we are all deeply committed to building ourselves, each other and the company.”
You Can Feel It – That’s Intentional
Pautsch is particularly grateful that the other team members – they call themselves “Envisioners” – have embraced and emboldened the culture at the company. “It’s palpable. It’s just heartwarming. You can see how Envisioners care for each other, and all our stakeholders. It’s inspiring. They certainly inspire me every day. It’s fuel for me.”
While you can feel the spirit of the place when meeting with the team at Envision IT, it is important to remember that has only evolved because of the intentional, structured effort to build the company’s conscious culture. That structure allows a level of trust and fearlessness to permeate the business. “I think it fuels innovation and creativity, because with no fear of judgment, people can bring crazy ideas, wackadoodle ideas that might otherwise not be put on the table. We all know that we can trust each other and agree to give those ideas a look and build on them together,” explains Pautsch.
“I also think many conscious cultures are almost naturally diverse because if we're going to innovate and be creative, we have to have people with different experiences, different backgrounds, who bring new ideas that haven't been in our purview yet,” says Pautsch. “I think in the technology industry if you're not creative and not innovating and looking at things with a broader scope and empathy for things that you haven't experienced – you’re not going to be very competitive. That becomes an important competitive differentiator for us.”
That intentional focus resulted not only in positive financial performance but also is measured by their numerous industry accolades and global recognition for engineering excellence, project delivery and customer satisfaction. “After every engagement with clients, we send out a one question survey asking if we did ‘Awesome, Good or Bad.’ Our latest survey results reflect a 97.7% ‘Awesome” rating,” Pautsch exclaims proudly.
Don’t Mistake Kindness for Weakness
A self-described “Type A-cubed” personality, Pautsch’s dynamic intentionality as a leader, teacher, coach, cheerleader and “mama bear” to her work family at Envision IT manifests itself in the numerous ways that she and her team foster what she refers to as the ‘beautiful interdependence among thriving Envisioners and stakeholder success.’
“When I say thriving, I mean supporting a whole life. We’ve learned that employee engagement plus well-being equals thriving,” she explains. “It comes from wanting to care for people. We learned that ‘cared-for people care for people.’ We looked at the interdependence of the bad carrots and sticks that we had experienced before and how they hurt reputation, hurt personal brand, hurt quality, hurt culture and everything. We just turned it on its head. We didn't have any answers at first, but we said let's start with caring for people and the rest will come.”
Pautsch believes that when Envisioners are thriving, they’re working from their ‘zone of genius,’ a concept author Dr. Gay Hendricks discusses in his book, The Big Leap. “When folks are in their zone of genius, they’re loving their work and they’re doing their best work, they’re thriving in their best work. When folks do that, they have a great day at work. It's an awesome day at work! When they leave work, they're their better selves when they see their family. They're their better selves out in society and we've helped contribute to that great day,” Pautsch explains.
The love and compassion integral to building this type of culture, as mentioned before, is typically not the norm in the technology industry and could be interpreted as a weakness. Pautsch disagrees, saying “If Envisioners are doing their best work, they're doing their best work for our clients and our clients are really happy because they're getting such quality work. So, if our clients are happy because they're getting this great output, they will talk to other companies and spread the love. That leads to business development and that's a beautiful thing!”
Going “All In” When Leading with Purpose
Pautsch credits fellow Conscious Capitalism advocate, Roy Spence, Co-Founder and Chairman of GSD&M and Co-Founder and CEO of the Purpose Institute with saying ‘Purpose makes things clearer, not easier.’ “You need a sound business strategy. I mean come on, it’s not all daffodils, rainbows, and unicorns for crying out loud, especially in our industry. You need a sound, well-founded, and structured business strategy and you’ve got to work hard. But there is a better way. Be inspired, it works. Start with people. Care for them, endear them, enrich them, and it will come.”
To borrow from the catchy insurance commercial, Nancy Pautsch, and her fellow leaders at Envision IT “know a few things because they’ve seen a few things.” When faced with a turning point in their lives and their careers, they all knew what they wanted to build – a company founded on a noble purpose. Their passion, inspiration and dedication led to doing business in a way that enriches the lives of all their stakeholders. That is the “All In” embodiment of Conscious Capitalism.
“Not All Readers Are Leaders but All Leaders Are Readers”
A life-long learner and voracious reader, Pautsch embodies the spirit of the quote from President Harry Truman regarding the importance of leaders seeking out new perspectives and ideas. At any given time, you will find her reading the latest books on purpose, leadership, personal empowerment, and growth. Asked what five publications were on her “Mt. Rushmore of books” on those subjects, Pautsch offers these suggestions:
Notice how she snuck in a sixth suggestion in that list? As you might expect from a “type A-cubed” personality, Pautsch provided additional examples of books that inspire her in her personal growth journey.
Finding Your Tribe
While reading is important, nothing solidifies a deep understanding of the power of the Conscious Capitalism approach better than building relationships with like-minded leaders. Pautsch and the team at Envision IT have found that is especially true through their active support of the Conscious Capitalism movement. “Early on it was really awesome undoing everything we had learned and trying to do the opposite. We had not found the Conscious Capitalism community yet, but when I go in, I go all in. So, it was a lot of self-work including therapy, workshops, and coaching, plus doing a lot of research and reading a bunch of books. Finding the common language, support structure and community of like-minded people at Conscious Capitalism has been like an explosion of love,” she says.
“We help Envisioners with their individual conscious leadership journeys and share all the resources that we have – books, podcasts, videos, workshops, etc.,” Pautsch continues. “We are actively involved in the Conscious Capitalism Chapters in Chicago and the Twin Cities. Chicago conducts a course called Conscious Capitalism 101, which we offer to all Envisioners. There’s so much to offer to our team from the chapters and the national organization.”
If you or members of your organization’s leadership are interested in building and supporting an “All In” culture founded on your Noble Purpose, please visit the Conscious Capitalism Chicago Join Us page to learn more.
For Marc Blackman, CEO of Chicago-based manufacturer and distributor of specialty chemicals, automotive aftermarket fluids and additives such as Heet and Sta-Bil, there wasn’t a specific moment where he knew that the principles of Conscious Capitalism needed to be implemented for the company to succeed. In fact, the company was already successful and has been since its founding nearly 90 years ago. No, Conscious Capitalism was not a savior for the company but more a confirmation that the company was already on the right path.
“There wasn't some inflection point that said, ‘We've got to lead with Conscious Capitalism,’” says Blackman. “It's because it's who we are – who we are at the core. Our values already existed, and what Conscious Capitalism is doing is giving us some definition of those values, and some purpose behind those values.”
“Conscious Capitalism says that ‘conscious companies’ seem to be more successful, well, that's been our premise unofficially, forever. You treat your people right, you treat all people with high integrity, you do the right thing, you have very ethical standards. You lead by example.”
Unassuming and earnest, the leadership at Gold Eagle, personified by Blackman, maintains an authentic focus on the four pillars of Conscious Capitalism – A Higher Purpose; A Stakeholder Orientation; Conscious Leadership; and A Conscious Culture. You won’t find pretense at Gold Eagle, but you will find a group of people who have united with a common purpose, a common set of values and common commitment to leading consciously. How the company responded to the challenges of the past year is testament to their commitment to doing things the right way.
Filling the Leadership Void
Blackman has strong feelings about that commitment and the role business leaders should play in the future. “I have always had this belief that as I see more corruption going on in the world, and certainly in our government and very pervasive elsewhere, that there's a leadership void” he says. “People are jumping into those positions, not for the right reasons, or once they get in those positions for the right reasons, and they feel the power, they become corrupted and it's all about them instead of what's right for the country, or what are the right decisions to be made.”
“I felt ultimately leadership is going to have to be shown by business leaders. At some point, business leaders are going to have to step up and fill that void, whether we have to run for office, or we do it in other ways to help this country – business leaders need to step up.”
“Through several organizations that I was involved in, I heard about the Stagen Leadership Program. It was through Stagen, which is an outstanding leadership program, I got exposed to Conscious Capitalism, because Rand Stagen is one of the founding members of Conscious.”
“It was there that I felt as though I had found my tribe – or people who think about the responsibilities of business leadership the way I do. It's not that I can spend as much time with the tribe as I'd like, but it has given some definition behind the things that we believe in.”
It’s that common language and guiding principles that Blackman and his team rally around to govern themselves. “You've got to have a successful business, to be able to be a conscious, capitalistic company and be able to be very empathetic and understanding of your people and all stakeholders,” he says. “You have to be successful, but you've got to be able to look at all the tenets of it and that's what we've always done. I think this has given definition to our approach, and only made it stronger. And frankly, given definition to our people.”
“I think many companies today believe in the values of Conscious Capitalism,” Blackman continues, “they just haven't necessarily attached it to that label, or attached to any specific thing, or have even had it defined that clearly for them in terms of how they run the company.
“Conscious Capitalism – and its alignment with Gold Eagle core values – resonated with me for those personal reasons. It’s very frustrating when I see companies that are not being conscious, that are being the antithesis of that, frankly, giving business a black eye. I feel sorry for those folks. I think the people that approach business as I think we and so many others do, need to be raised up. They need to be celebrated for what they do. The more that happens, I think the more Conscious Capitalism will resonate with people and they'll understand it.”
Innovation as a Core Value
“It’s been a dream of mine and my team members to get this company to be much more innovative,” Blackman says. “Every five years or so we'll put a team here together to review our core values and make sure we're living them and see if there's a gap and if there's anything missing. The team came back to us last time and said ‘Innovation’ now needs to be a core value. I was blown away. But if you really look at it, Innovation isn't just in product development, it's also in the way we approach things. It’s process innovation. It's thinking differently. It's empowering your people, to be leaders. It has nothing to do with team members’ title. It has everything to do with being a leader in their role. And so that all ties together in terms of being an innovative company and thinking differently on behalf of all stakeholders.”
In politics, it has been said that the office of United States President and the stresses of that role, do not make you who you are but rather reveal who you are. The same could be true for the team at Gold Eagle. During the past 12 months, like in virtually every walk of life, Gold Eagle has faced a number of unprecedented challenges. As the business world takes stock of the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing becomes clear for the team at Gold Eagle. Because of its dedication to its core values, the business and its people are emerging stronger than ever.
Now More Than Ever
Blackman is quick to give credit to his team for having the dedication to doing things the right way and staying true to the company’s core values. This was especially true in the early stages of the pandemic.
“The first thing we focused on was how to continue to keep our people safe,” he says. “We learned through the pandemic that the steps that we had taken like having all the office people work remotely, except for my team; manufacturing and distributing hand sanitizer to our people and their families; making available the necessary PPE to Team Members and their families including masks; having regular on site temperature checks and hourly hand sanitizing; disinfecting their area before and after each shift; employing a full time, on-site cleaning service; and the additional deep disinfecting of common areas a couple times a week formed a level of trust.” It was that trust that sustained and deepened team members’ knowledge that company leadership had their best interests in mind. That trust has only grown over the past year.
“Everybody here, the people working in our factory and in our distribution center realized that they're safer being at Gold Eagle than being outside with all the things that we've put into place,” Blackman says with understandable pride. “This is like a sanctuary and it became very obvious to them that it was more about how you handle yourself outside these four walls.”
The company instituted premium pay and told the team members that the only way they’re all going to stay healthy and keep themselves safe is for them not to be forced to come into work or be worried about a paycheck. Gold Eagle implemented a policy that said that anyone that is not feeling well, even a sniffle, a slight fever, or thought they might have been exposed to somebody, just call in and let them know. “You’re staying home, and you are being paid,” emphasized Blackman.
That really made team members feel safe and appreciated. Blackman, does say, however, that there were skeptics. “A lot of people I've told that story to wondered how did we get our hourly folks not to take advantage of us? How did we know if they were really sick? We said we didn't know what was going to happen, we suspected that would not be the case, but we didn't know. And when we did it, nobody took advantage of it. Nobody. In fact, they couldn't wait to get back.”
Then in December, Gold Eagle gave all hourly team members a bonus. “It was just to say you guys have done one hell of a job, not only inside Gold Eagle – because this has been one of the most chaotic years we've ever had – but they did a great job outside Gold Eagle. They kept themselves safe. They were conscious about it and didn't come in and spread the virus,” Blackman said.
Now, as they approach the end of their fiscal year, the company gave out another bonus. Blackman explains it this way. “We couldn't have had the kind of year and couldn't have accomplished the things we have without our people. Despite the premium pay going away, they're excited for this second bonus and they really appreciate it; and the company appreciates them!”
Honoring the Community’s Heroes
Once the efforts to provide their workforce with safety, security and stability were in place, the company asked themselves how it could pivot if they needed to. They knew the business was facing a great deal of uncertainty, but they still needed to figure out a way to help the community.
Using their existing iconic bottles, the company launched the Heroes’ brand of liquid hand sanitizer for use by frontline health care and essential workers.
“We gave it the Heroes’ name with the apostrophe at the end. We were and still are seeing heroes out working on the frontlines. We wanted to celebrate and keep safe the heroes working on the front lines from our very own heroes here at Gold Eagle. That appreciation and affection, if you will, has really gone both ways,” Blackman said.
Measuring the Results
The positive results are not only evident on the bottom line, but Blackman and his team can see it daily in the level of pride and satisfaction the team members have in the company’s efforts to stay true to their core values and still focus on doing what they do best. As anyone at Gold Eagle will tell you, the company’s purpose is not just to make a profit, they are “driven to protect and preserve the things you love” – which just so happens to be the company’s Higher Purpose.
There are many ways to measure the results and profitability is certainly key. Among the others, is customer satisfaction. Are they viewed as a thought leader? Do they add value and bring insights? Based on customer surveys, the reputation Gold Eagle has in their industry is strong. “People keep telling us this all the time. For a company our size, that's nice,” says Blackman.
The company also measures how they are doing internally with Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys. Is it a great place to work? Is it a place where people feel appreciated? Is it a place that has a vibrant culture that they’re always working on? Blackman acknowledges that NPS is a roadmap for continuous improvement. “Our net promoter score is good. Can we continue to get better? Absolutely! And we keep trying to improve. Does that mean, it's this utopia and everything's perfect and there's never a disgruntled employee? No, but do we treat people right? Do we appreciate them? Do we listen to their concerns & ideas? Do we try to empower them as much as possible? Again, absolutely.”
But Blackman takes the concept of NPS a bit further – to former team members. It's also about their work experience. “One of the things that we've told people, and I've told my team, I've told myself, when somebody leaves, to go to a better job, I've taken it very hard in the past, especially if it's someone you don't want to leave. Because it's like, how could you leave us? This is a great company.”
“What we realized is that we're part of their journey,” Blackman continues. “There may be much bigger opportunities out there than we can provide. We're a fairly flat organization. If someone has the opportunity to grow, and continue to move along in their journey, what I measure is what they say about us when they leave. Did we give them the experience, did we give them the learning and the growth to enable where they've gone? That's a big mind shift. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves when people leave, have gratitude and, know that if we have done our job, we were able to contribute to this person, and you never know if that person may come back someday. But if they leave feeling really strong about the company, that's going to be promoted and paid off, over and over. And forget the payoff. It's more fulfilling to know that we positively impacted their career.”
A Seat at the Table for Other Stakeholders
Gold Eagle takes a measure of pride in working closely with all their suppliers to figure out solutions that will help achieve the win-win-win scenarios that Conscious Capitalism is founded upon. The pandemic caused shortages and supply chain issues, and the company recognized that they needed to have some flexibility. “We would not have been able to do what we've been able to do if we didn't have great suppliers and great relationships with our suppliers,” recounts Blackman. “There’s one thing we learned, and I will say is this is happening throughout business today as a result of the pandemic, you can't be single sourced. You've got to have some backup. We were single sourced in some areas. We had to find substitutes just because of the supply chain. Our suppliers get it.”
As they are innovating and doing new things, the leadership team at Gold Eagle knows that suppliers must have a seat at the table. “We don't want to come up with all these great ideas and great new things and then all of a sudden find out there are problems with it, or it can’t be done. If it's real innovation, our suppliers must have a seat at the table,” says Blackman.
If Not Us, Who?
Marc Blackman and his team at Gold Eagle represent a growing group of conscious business leaders who are thinking about business, not just to maximize dollars, but rather as something where you can have an impact, and leave a legacy by impacting the community, your team members, and all stakeholders.
If you are thinking about that, or if you have been operating that way, Blackman encourages you to check out Conscious Capitalism and the community of support it offers. “My experience is that it's helped take those same instincts and feelings that I've had, and it's given them definition. It might further refine and help other CEOs focus more and even improve on some things. They’ll hear best practices that they may not have otherwise thought about or understood,” states Blackman. “From exposure comes further learning. When you talk about being a conscious business leader, from that exposure, you have the chance to help others learn as well.
There’s one other thing the pandemic has taught Blackman and his team about the value of approaching business as a Conscious Capitalist, and it's aligned with their focus on innovation.
“You’re not going to know unless you try,” he says. If you have a twinge of an interest, if something resonates with you, you're not going to know what it fully can be unless you lean in a little bit and try it. And if you don't, you may be missing something big.”
If you or members of your organization’s leadership are interested in learning more about Conscious Capitalism and how its focus on creating win-win-win scenarios for all stakeholders, you’re invited to reach out and let us know how we can help.
The work day is busy. We all go through our day - driven by deadlines, meetings and schedules. We are constantly debriefing on the past or planning for the future. What about the present?
Practicing mindfulness means purposefully setting your attention and awareness on the current moment – without judgment. It means acknowledging how you are feeling in that moment and accepting those feelings without believing they are right or wrong. Mindfulness leads to stronger focus, conscious listening, happier employees and higher productivity.
Here are five tips for increasing your mindfulness at work.
The never-ending to-do list. You cross one thing off and then add two more. To be mindful about how you are spending your time and to help you be more present with the task at hand, you should prioritize your list and focus your energy on the items that fall into the Important/Not Urgent category in the Time Management Matrix below.
The activities in this category are proactive (vs. being reactive) and will help you prioritize the long-term, strategic initiatives that will make you, your team and your work more productive and effective.
Multi-tasking has never been a way to become more productive. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Every interruption decreases productivity as your focus is pulled into different directions. Don’t let the blackhole of your email swallow your day. Turn the pop-ups off. You are much farther ahead if you close your email while you’re working on a project or in a meeting and open it once you have the time to devote attention to it. In this day of instant communication, it’s difficult to refrain from the urge to respond for the sake of responding. Don’t do it! Stay in the moment and don’t be disrupted by email notifications.
Ah, the meetings. So many meetings! It’s difficult to get your work done around a day full of meetings. First thing’s first: don’t attend meetings that are not going to move your priorities forward or that will not benefit your work or your team’s work. Decline meetings that are not pertinent to you. Another solution is to only join for the parts of the agenda that are relevant to you.
For those meetings that you do attend, it’s important to be a present and mindful participant. This means focusing on the topic at hand and listening to your colleagues without judgment. Be open to their thoughts and ideas. Try to understand where they are coming from first and provide feedback and ideas second. Avoid checking your phone. Avoid side conversations. And if you’re leading the meeting, be sure to start and end on time. This will help your participants remain focused and attentive for the duration of time they blocked off for your topic.
Planning is time well-spent! All too often we dive into our day, then our week, reacting to what’s being thrown at us. Instead, it’s important to create a plan incorporating your priorities among the must-do tasks that often consume our time. The more you feel overwhelmed and/or out of control, the more you need to take 15 minutes to regroup and revisit your plan. It’s smart to invest time into getting back on track. Having a realistic, doable plan will allow you to focus on the task at hand and be more productive.
The best way to stay focused and centered is to take breaks – and often! You should take a five-minute break every hour that consists of walking, stretching, deep breathing or relaxing in some way. Getting away from your screen is key. Checking your email or social media is not a break. This sounds so simple, but is often very difficult to put into practice. Find a break buddy. Find a colleague who you can go for a walk with or an officemate who enjoys a quick chat. Work cultures that practice care have happier employees. Those who are mindful during breaks will be more mindful at work, and happier overall.
One of the pillars of Conscious Capitalism is a business’ commitment to a purpose beyond just making a profit. As Conscious Capitalism co-founder, Raj Sisodia, is fond of saying, our bodies have to produce red blood cells to survive, but our purpose in life is not to make red blood cells. Similarly, business needs profit to fuel the pursuit of their purpose, but profit is not a purpose.
I had the pleasure of attending an Executives’ Club breakfast in September that featured Allstate CEO, Tom Wilson. Tom’s message (“Building and Leading a Purpose Driven Culture”) was intriguing; I don’t often think of Allstate as a conscious company. The insurance giant, headquartered in Northbrook, is the second largest property and casualty insurer in the U.S. – and insurance does not naturally spring to mind as a conscious industry. But I was at the breakfast to learn and be curious.
Tom shared the genesis of Allstate’s journey around purpose beginning with leadership development at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando. One element of HPI’s program is exploration of personal purpose. Tom shared his personal purpose as to “help other people have more meaning and success in their lives”. As more Allstate leaders engaged in their own purpose work, Tom brought the process in-house and engaged his leadership group together to develop Allstate’s purpose. Today, their stated purpose is to “help customers realize their hopes and dreams by providing the best products and services to protect them from life’s uncertainties and prepare them for the future.” Helping people realize their hopes and dreams – I can get behind that!
And, having a clear purpose is not the end; it’s just the beginning. How do you align your business with the purpose and lead from there? Tom said it requires balancing stakeholders, and Allstate has a few: 40,000 employees, 11,000 agencies and over 16,000,000 customer households – not to mention shareholders as well as the communities they serve. He aspires for Allstate to be a purpose-driven company, fueled by purpose-driven people, such that customers come before company and people come before policies. That requires a shift to a conscious culture, and Allstate has surrounded its purpose with clear values, priorities and leadership and operating principles.
Tom shared further about his recent tenure as immediate past-Chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While there, he challenged the Chamber to articulate its purpose, and the result was two-fold: to help businesses grow and create jobs. For him, the purpose of business is to create prosperity by:
Great lessons from a conscious leader. Thank you, Tom Wilson!
“Love and Impact”, that’s how First United Bank in Oklahoma describes its values. Unusual for a financial services organization, wouldn’t you say? First United Bank’s CEO Greg Massey shared the bank’s story with us at our chapter event last month, hosted at Loyola’s Baumhart Center for Social Enterprise.
As a younger man, Greg reluctantly joined his father in leading the bank in Durant, OK. Together, they grew the bank, and Greg took the lead in creating a more conscious culture. They articulated a purpose beyond making profits – “to inspire and empower others to Spend Life Wisely” – and began to align business practices around that purpose. First United hosts financial management seminars for its customers and makes business decisions based on customers’ financial welfare. Greg shared an anecdote about an opportunity to provide a customer with large mortgage; after consideration, the loan officer discouraged the customer, explaining how it would burden his personal budget. This was an excellent example of living out the purpose – helping the customer “spend life wisely”, even though it meant reducing short-term revenue.
And yet, the purpose has not inhibited the business results. In fact, since 2013 First United’s assets have tripled from $2.4 billion to over $7 billion. Over the same period, the bank’s earnings have also tripled from $40 million to over $120 million. This is a powerful example of how purpose and profit need not be mutually exclusive; focus on purpose can dramatically increase profit.
During its journey, First United strengthened its culture by clarifying its stakeholders and articulating its values. It identified five core stakeholders in its business: customers, employees, shareholders, partners and the communities it serves. It strives to live out its purpose for each of these stakeholders, balancing their needs so that no one wins at the expense of another.
The bank also engaged its employees in formalizing its values and culture – the beliefs and behaviors that guide how it does business. The process surfaced seven core values, perhaps too many to remember and actively demonstrate. Upon further discernment, it was clear that the values aligned around two primary themes - love and impact:
These two themes energize the organization. Loving themselves, their families and their customers and making a positive impact on the lives in their communities. And, the values within the themes help to guide behavior and decision-making on a day-to-day basis.
Greg shared an unusual example of these values at work. A bank teller was working the drive-through window when a customer pulled up, crying and obviously upset. The teller inquired if she was OK, and the customer replied that she had just been diagnosed with cancer and was trying to deal with the news. Now, most of us would have expressed our concern and wished the best for her, but the First United teller asked, “May I come out there and pray with you?” The customer gratefully accepted her offer, and the teller exited the bank, came to the driver’s window and spent a few minutes praying with the customer. This example may seem over-the-top in our urban, secular life, but it was the perfect expression of First United’s values in Durant, OK. It impacted the customer through an expression of love, and it allowed the employee to be authentically connected to her faith and integrity (Greg also shared that the teller was a cancer survivor). While the example may challenge our norms or sensibilities, it’s a vivid example of how purpose and values need to resonate for the stakeholders and communities a business serves.
This quote recently went viral on social media.
I have a few modifications to it.
One important way leaders make everyone better (including themselves) is by empowering their colleagues to be their best, to try new things, to share their opinions and ideas. This leads to a win-win scenario where the employee is motivated, invested and productive while the business spends fewer resources managing staff and reaps the benefits of new, creative ideas/programs/initiatives that keep the business competitive.
Outcomes of Empowerment
Outcomes for the employee
Outcomes for the business
Sense of purpose
New, creative business ideas and models
Feeling of ownership & responsibility
Cost savings from less turnover and micromanagement
Motivation & investment in the work
Motivated, inspired staff and work environment
Portfolio of successful programs/projects
Increase in sales and profit
Increase in sales and profits?
Yes. You read that last outcome correctly. It has been proven over and over that Firms of Endearment (a term coined by Raj Sisodia, David Wolfe, and Jag Sheth) regularly outperform the S&P 500 firms by large margins. In fact, the companies featured in the first edition of their book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose returned 1,026 percent for investors compared to 122 percent for the S&P 500.
The Firms of Endearment that they studied include companies such as Patagonia, Whole Foods Market, Stonyfield Yogurt, and Adobe Systems. However, you don’t have to be a national or global company to increase sales and profit by implementing a conscious culture. Companies of all sizes are seeing the benefits to leading with empowerment. Companies of all sizes can be high-trust organizations.
Empowerment leads to trust, which is another element of having a conscious culture. As a leader, once you empower your staff and realize they can do so much more – you trust them with larger projects and trust them to lead programs and implement ideas. But trust also goes the other way. As a staff person, once you have been empowered to take ownership over a project – you trust that your leader has your back. You trust that you have the support and guidance you need to do a great job – and be your best self.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that empowerment does not only have to be between a boss and a subordinate. Empowerment can come from anyone at any time. Any time you are working with another you can both empower each other – regardless of your title or position in the org chart.
Many high-trust organizations – such as Southwest, Google, The Container Store and IDEO - build in time for social events and playfulness. Similar to how families take family vacations and have family dinners, high-trust organizations create opportunities to connect. These connections lead to a deeper trust between colleagues, as well as trust between staff and the business/organization.
How to Lead Using Empowerment
The Empowerment Dynamic
David Emerald presented at a Conscious Capitalism Chicago event and shared The Empowerment Dynamic with us. The Empowerment Dynamic is a positive approach to problem-solving. The focus is on turning a reactive disposition into a proactive orientation. See the diagram below. The Victim at the bottom of the Dreaded Drama Triangle becomes the Creator at the top of The Empowerment Dynamic, taking control of his/her actions and response to problems and obstacles.
We all play each role of the triangle at different times. At times, we feel like we are the Victim. “I’m getting dumped on. I always have to do everything. Why is this happening to me?” This is the mindset of the Victim. On the other hand, the Creator understands he/she is empowered to choose how to respond to each situation and is focused on the outcome of the situation versus dwelling on the scope of the problem.
At times, we all play the role of the Persecutor. The Persecutor often times dominates the Victim’s time and energy (think project manager, boss, etc.) and is often seen by the Victim as the source of the problem and feeling victimized. Interestingly, the Persecutor often sees the Victim as the problem. In The Empowerment Dynamic the Persecutor becomes the Challenger. The Challenger is empowered to do his/her job while being focused on learning and growth, constructive criticism, and trust.
Finally, at times we all find ourselves sympathizing with either the Victim or the Persecutor and our natural instinct is to save the person. This role is called the Rescuer. We’ve all been there. We decide the Victim is right and we confront the Persecutor. Or we think the Persecutor is in an unfair position, so we try to intervene. Or, more common yet, we simply want the pain and discomfort to go away, so we jump in and offer to handle it ourselves. “I’ll just do. It will be faster if I do it. I’ll take this on so you no longer have to worry about it.” These are all very reactive responses to the situation.
In The Empowerment Dynamic, the Rescuer becomes the Coach. The Coach supports and assists the situation. The Coach may facilitate a conversation to foster clarity. The Coach asks questions and delivers options and solutions to the situation that are outcome-driven. And the Coach does this without taking the burden on him/herself.
But, how do I do that?
First of all, leadership comes from all levels of the org chart. The Empowerment Dynamic is not just for management. Every one of us can lead – and empower.
Here are some specific steps:
And remember, leadership is not about being the best. Leadership is about making everyone better (including yourself).
Business as a force for good on Chicago’s South Side was celebrated on Wednesday, Jan. 16 as business leaders from all over the city gathered at Chatham’s Studio Movie Grill (SMG), on West 87th Street for a panel discussion hosted by Conscious Capitalism Chicago.
Moderator La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, General Manager of Urban Broadcast Media and Founder of the Girls Like Me Project led a panel discussion that included Brian Schultz, Founder & CEO of SMG; Aaron Thomas, General Manager of SMG Chatham; Michelle Kennedy, Founder of the South Side Film Festival; Cydni Polk, Owner of Xposeur Photography; and 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr.
“We’re here to recognize the efforts to grow the South Side business community,” said Gray-Sewell. “We’re here to push back on how Chatham is portrayed in the media and to show that we are a vibrant middle class community.”
Fully renovated and reopened in February 2017, Studio Movie Grill serves Chatham and the greater community by combining first-run movies, alternative and family programming with in-theater dining from an extensive American Grill menu and full-service bar. As an advocate of community building and conscious capitalism, SMG offers programs such as The One Story Movement™ to open hearts and minds one story a time, capturing authentic stories from amazing people; SMG Community Outreach which is committed to contributing to issues impacting SMG teams, their families, and friends; Special Needs Screenings designed for families raising children with special needs; and Chefs for Children where SMG donates 5% of proceeds to local non-profits serving Special Needs Children in the community.
“I’ve been in the movie business for more than 20 years, and worked at the theater for years before the renovation, starting when I was 16,” said Venisha Johnson, Midwest & East Coast Sales Manager at Studio Movie Grill. “It’s gratifying to see the resurgence in the community that our space has fostered. As a conscious business, we feel it is our responsibility to contribute to the community and serve our neighbors. We host special events, parties and corporate functions as well as provide a safe and fun place for people to enjoy a first class movie-going experience. We are so proud to be a member of the Chatham community.”
Panelist Michelle Kennedy had a dream of showcasing South Side filmmakers and needed a venue. After several unsuccessful attempts, she came to Johnson, and her immediate response was positive. “Venisha immediately said ‘yes, let’s make it happen’, and then I knew that the dream of a South Side film festival would become a reality”, said Kennedy. “I’ve travelled the world attending film festivals, and creating a festival showcasing local talent has been a dream of mine. South Side filmmakers want validation. Now we have a home to do just that.”
Schultz acknowledged the critical role Alderman Brookins played in realizing his goal to bring a Studio Movie Grill location to Chatham. “Alderman Brookins was instrumental in paving the way for us,” said Shultz. “My mom grew up across from Marquette Park and I am a Chicago native, so I knew the area. I was on a noble quest, and I fell in love with the community. I had to sell the idea to the community and we couldn’t have done it without them. When we took over the theater, it was only serving 120,000 guests per year. This year we are on track to serve one million customers. I’m very proud of what we have built together.”
“We want it all, added Brookins. “We want businesses to locate in Chatham, we want to see development on the South Side, we want to people across the city to know that we are a vibrant community of people with disposable income who are willing to spend it. We want to feel pride and shift the culture. We are well on the way to doing all those things. Chatham is an underserved area, but we’re worth the risk. The entire 21st Ward is delighted that Studio Movie Grill took a chance on us”
Conscious Capitalism is a worldwide non-profit organization dedicated to elevating humanity through business and making a positive impact on the world. Over the past ten years, the Chicago chapter has formed a web of more than 1,500 people across the Chicagoland area who believe that trust, compassion, collaboration and value creation in business are vital to our future. And the more than 100 business owners, CEOs and leaders involved in Conscious Capitalism Chicago are dedicated to driving change from the top.
I’ve become a relatively frequent flyer on Southwest, so I’ve learned a bit about their ways. For instance, passengers board in groupings labeled A, B and C, depending on how quickly you check-in online (or whether you’ve purchased an early check-in privilege). The running joke is that C stands for “check bag” (because there won’t be enough overhead space) or “center seat” (because that is all that will be left).
On one recent trip, I ended up with a high C number. So, I scanned for a center seat near the front of the plane, and – lo and behold – there was one. Except it had two Southwest pilots sitting in the aisle and window seats, chatting together with great animation. The last thing I wanted was chatty neighbors, but it was a choice seat. As I did the customary nod with raised eyebrows, they immediately acknowledged me, and the pilot on the aisle rose to allow me to sit. Once seated, I said, “OK, fellas, I’m looking forward to a quiet flight, so please don’t think you’re going to talk to each other over top of me.’ They laughed, and we settled in.
As we prepared for take-off - and realizing I had a captive audience - I said, “So, all the commercials and advertising for Southwest show happy employees. Give me the inside scoop: what’s it really like to work for Southwest?” Without missing a beat, one of the pilots said, “AWESOME!” (I have to acknowledge that I hate that word – it’s so overused and inexact – but it’s the word he used, and the caps do reflect his spontaneous enthusiasm.) I swiveled my head and looked at the other pilot, who was nodding vigorously. “Exactly what I would have said…”, he agreed.
So, I probed deeper – why was it so awesome? The first pilot said that his objectives were clear and that he felt empowered to take the necessary actions to accomplish them. As you might guess on your own, the objectives were to: leave the gate on time, make customers happy and save money. “For example”, he said, “when I’m sitting at the gate, I choose to have only one engine running to serve the electrical and airflow needs of the plane; but, at the same time, I’m saving gas. And, no procedure manual tells me to do that; I just do what makes sense.” The other pilot chimed in, “And, it’s in our best interest, since we’re shareholders, too.” The conversation continued, but you get the idea.
These employees had clear success criteria, felt a very real sense of ownership for results (and costs), appreciated the importance of the customer, and felt empowered to make decisions and act on them.
Southwest has a stated purpose to “democratize the skies”. In pursuit of that purpose, it has recognized the importance of all stakeholders in its ecosystem, not just the shareholders. This value orientation requires them to balance the needs and welfare all stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers as well as investors and shareholders. None can win at the expense of others, and all need to align on the overall approach.
If shareholder return is depressed, this model would not fix that problem on the backs of employees or customers. We’ve seen this discipline reflected in countless business decisions by the company, ranging from their customer treatment to employee empowerment to fuel purchase and flight pattern design. And, their shareholders trust this balanced approach – or they can choose to take their money elsewhere.
Interested in engaging further with stakeholder orientation?
The Chicago chapter of Conscious Capitalism is hosting a panel discussion on January 16 from 6:00-8:30 at Studio Movie Grill (SMG) at 210 W 87th St. in the Chatham neighborhood. SMG’s purpose is to “open hearts and minds, one story at a time”. They are committed to delivering on that purpose to all of their stakeholders – customers, employees, the community, shareholders and partners and suppliers. The panel will include representatives from those stakeholder groups here in Chicago along with SMG’s CEO Brian Schultz. Join us for a rich evening of connection and learning. You can register here.
What’s the cost of drama in the workplace? First of all, what do I mean by drama? Come on, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the pervasive, life-sucking gossip, blame, criticism, overt (or covert) destructive conflict, passive-aggressive guerilla tactics that we’re all too familiar with. Some call it simply “politics” for short. Why does it seem so commonplace when it comes to our organizations? Let’s take a closer look.
In the early ‘70’s, Stephen Karpman developed a model of human dynamics called the Drama Triangle. Evolving from the study of family systems, it portrays how we can get caught in a web of three interlocking roles that feed off and reinforce each other:
Victim – “I’m not responsible. There’s nothing I can do about it. Why me?”
Persecutor – “You screwed up. It’s your fault. You’re wrong.”
Rescuer – “I feel bad for you. Let me fix it. I’ll handle it.”
As you can imagine, these roles are in a constant dance, triggering each other with no apparent way out of the vicious cycles they produce. I know I find myself in the Drama Triangle frequently throughout my day.
These mindsets or roles show up in the workplace – in spades! When we’re under stress or pressure, or at risk – not even physical risk, but just the risk to our ego of being wrong or failing or missing out – we tend to fall into the Drama Triangle. And, the costs are significant: from the daily grind of suppressed ideas, hurt feelings and conflict avoidance to the truly toxic conditions of misguided leadership and cultures of fear. This results in low engagement, increased attrition, and decisions get undermined once the meeting is over – all draining human energy and organizational results.
Two of Conscious Capitalism’s core tenets are Conscious Leadership and Conscious Culture. By “conscious”, we mean leading and working together from conscious choice rather than reactive stress - choice that is informed by our values and commitments. When leaders catch themselves being reactive – fixing and solving from fear for safety or survival – they create the opportunity to be more intentional and aligned with purpose, vision and values. When all team members embrace the norms and commitments that make up the culture, they can work together in ways that forward the organizational direction as well as their own growth and success.
So, how can we shift from reactive drama to more conscious choices?
David Emerald developed an “antidote” to the Drama Triangle called the Empowerment Dynamic. In his fable TED: The Empowerment Dynamic, his main character explores the possibility of breaking free from the vicious cycle of reactivity. He discovers three roles or mindsets that complement, but transform, those in the Drama Triangle:
Creator – “How can I be responsible for the outcome? How can I choose to act?”
Challenger – “I believe in you, and I know you can do better.”
Coach – “What do you see as your options? What do you really want?”
Being aware that we are playing the role of Victim allows us to shift to a Creator mindset. I may initially feel helpless, but how can I take steps to move forward? Similarly, if I reflexively begin to blame (as a Persecutor), how can I stop myself and challenge from a place of commitment (as a Challenger). And, when I step in to fix or handle things (as a Rescuer), how can I act as Coach and support the other person to be responsible and follow-through?
These are critical questions for the Conscious Leader in creating a Conscious Culture. How can I notice my own reactivity and shift to a space of choice and commitment?
Well, guess what? David Emerald will be in Chicago at the end of November, and he’ll share his wisdom with us. This conversation is essential to shifting our leadership and cultures toward greater engagement and results. Join us on November 29th from 6:00-8:30 PM at GEMS World Academy Chicago for a conversation with David as he leads us in an exploration of 3 Vital Questions: Transforming Workplace Drama. Learn more and register here. If you are a CEO, David will also be presenting at our quarterly CEO breakfast on November 30th from 7:30-10:00am. You can learn more and register here.
Come to find out, quite a bit.
Personally, it makes sense that when we receive and give care to another human being we feel more energized, connected, and loved in return.
Yet, that’s not so obvious in the workplace - at least not to most.
Recent studies, however, show that those who perceive greater affection and caring from their co-workers perform better.
Professors of Management, Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill have conducted a number of studies on this idea of creating a culture of “companionate love.”
Companionate love includes shared experiences of affection, concern and compassion amongst co-workers. Asking about an ill parent. Offering a kind word during a hectic project. Listening to concerns vs. gossiping.
Their early results, within a non-profit, long-term healthcare facility, revealed that in this caring culture employees showed up to work more often and reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork.
Further, the companionate love culture directly influenced patient mood and outcomes, their felt sense of quality of life, and resulted in fewer trips to the ER.
Ok, you think, it’s already a “caring culture,” so why the surprise?
Thought you’d ask.
These two professors then extended their research going on to survey 3,201 employees across seven industry groups from financial services to real estate on the idea of creating a culture of companionate love.
And, guess what? Love’s got a lot to do with it!
Seems that people, across business industries and within cultures where the freedom to express affection, tenderness and care for one another is valued, end up expressing greater satisfaction with their work.
Additionally, they hold solid commitments to their organizations, and show increased accountability for their overall performance. Solid business outcomes!
What’s not to love?!
Organizations leading the way in creating cultures of companionate love include the likes of Subaru, Starbucks, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and Whole Foods.
In fact, Whole Foods was founded on the question, “Can you build a company on love and care, instead of fear and stress?”
Care, compassion, and, yes, even love feature prominently in Whole Foods’ day-to-day work. Even when making hiring and promotion decisions they ask, what’s this candidate’s capacity for love and care?
The rest of us?
Companionate love or business as usual? What action will you take?
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