Conscious Capitalism Chicago: Blog
We write monthly pieces about our adventures, tours, gatherings, discussions and more.
Conscious Capitalism Chicago is exploring this possibility – not as wishful thinking, but as a practical reality. At our July 20 event, four leaders from the healthcare sector engaged in this inquiry with us. And, on September 28, Raj Sisodia, co-founder of Conscious Capitalism, will continue the conversation with us, exploring examples of how business can help restore the health of our bodies, minds and souls.
In July, Andrew Sykes, CEO of Habits at Work, a collective of researchers, actuaries and consultants who empower positive habit creation for companies and their employees, said we need to acknowledge “our complicity in work being fundamentally unhealthy.” Andrew asked us if we had ever taken the attitude that ‘I will sacrifice myself at the altar of my company’? I have to admit, I’ve been there. Whether it’s the number of hours or plane flights or cups of coffee, we sometimes consider such measures to be a badge of honor, somehow reinforcing the collective myth that success is giving up our lives? Andrew challenged the business leaders present to shift their mindsets and declare that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can design our work in a way that makes a difference to the performance of human beings. The ultimate promise should be: “come and work here, and we’ll send you home in the best shape of your life.”
It sounds ambitious – and perhaps unrealistic. But, our other panelists echoed Andrew’s perspective. Lyle Berkowitz from Abundant Venture Partners, a purpose-based incubator focused on improving the human condition, said that “the whole healthcare system is aligned to get the results we’re getting – it only kicks in when we get really sick. In many ways, being healthy is counter-productive for our healthcare systems.” We’ve got to focus on designing our work and our lives to nurture our health – and increased energy and performance will follow. Ari Levy, founder of SHIFT, an integrated wellness center (where we met) noted that the keyword is “conscious”. He said that we tend to be largely unconscious much of the time, and healthy work would mean being thoughtful and intentional about our behavior and practices. Patty Riskind, CEO of SIMnext, a developer of simulation software for training healthcare professionals shared that ironically the “most unhealthy employees work in the healthcare industry”, and that as leaders we need to set the tone to change behavior and improve outcomes.
So, can work be a source of health and well-being? We think so. Join us on September 28 to delve more deeply with Raj Sisodia. Raj maintains that most businesses take healthy and whole people and – over time – stress them out and burn them out, adversely impacting their health and happiness as well as their families. Yet, he says it doesn’t have to be that way. Business can be a source of healing, making broken people whole again – and being extraordinarily successful at the same time.
How often do you think CEOs gather over a meal to discuss the humbling experience of their biggest mistake? Or reveal that chink in their personal armor?
Not too often, right?
It’s only human to look good in front of our peers and feel as though we have all the answers or only share our victories with each other. The facade in business can be “everything is fantastic,” “we are killing it,” or “sales are through the roof”. It’s the business equivalent of answering “I’m fine” when asked how we are.
Yet, the business leaders on the journey of Conscious Capitalism who gathered for our recent CEO breakfast have found value not only in sharing best practices, but also in being vulnerable to share those moments (or chinks) when they had failed and what they had learned from those experiences. Below’s a smattering of what they shared.
One leader openly shared his company’s journey aligning itself with its core values and making people their top priority. Making this choice exposed a lot of practices and relationships that were not aligned with their foundational values, resulting in their choice to to walk away from their largest client.
While this move had a significant cost,and they felt like they were taking a step back, it really allowed them to move forward, while staying true to their operating principles.
Another leader shared the challenging decision to keep or fire an employee who had an encyclopedic knowledge of their product technology, but who was also killing morale. Postponing and fretting over the decision had had a high cost in the culture, until the employee finally moved on.
Lesson learned? Not only to make sure new hires are a fit with creating the culture, but also to make decisions sooner before the cost becomes too high.
Across the conversations, it was clear that being willing to be vulnerable and share mistakes can not only be liberating for the leader, but it also creates a culture in which employees are more self-expressed and less afraid to fail.
It’s important to share our stories. And, our stories also include challenging moments.
Yet, what becomes possible when we authentically share those moments where we don’t do our best or we let our team down or we cost our company time or money?
If we have the courage to allow them, those opportunities for learning can open up new pathways for ourselves as leaders as well as for our businesses.
CC2017, the annual Conscious Capitalism conference, is behind us now, leaving a wake of inspiration and meaningful connections behind it. This year, 400 leaders converged in Philadelphia for two very full days of keynotes and breakout sessions. In conjunction with the conference, 45 chapter leaders from all over the world spent an additional full day sharing ideas, building skills and learning from each other.
The movement is certainly alive and well, and expanding rapidly across the globe.
Two members of our Chicago community presented practicums at CC2017: Katlin Smith, CEO of Simple Mills, and Dan Golden, CEO of BeFoundOnline. Katlin’s session was titled: “The Art of Un-Compromise: Growing without Diluting Your Principles.” Dan’s session focused on “The Ownership Culture: How to Build a Culture of Employee Engagement and Empowerment.” They both graciously agreed to spend an evening and share an encore of their Philly sessions with our Chicago community. Here’s a sense of the wisdom they shared with us:
Based on her experience with Simple Mills, Katlin gave us some insight into how to enable a company to grow without compromising its purpose and values:
Be clear about your purpose and stay in touch with it as you grow. Know what your “lines in the sand” are – what absolutely won’t you do as you grow?
Align your employees and other stakeholders’ interests around what the product stands for and product quality, and the metrics you use to measure success.
Have a battle plan for “grey decisions” – the calls you have to make in situations that aren’t cut and dried, may have conflicting demands, and require time to think and different perspectives from team members.
Dan, with his trademark candor, humor and humility, shared how BeFoundOnline created an ownership culture using appreciative inquiry and open book management. The BeFoundOnline team navigated difficult times by engaging all the employees in brainstorming, voting and aligning together on how to handle the challenge of losing
Through the transparency and empowerment of open book management, even the newest, youngest employee was able to contribute to a solution that helped the whole company meet its annual plan and enable the whole team to receive their bonuses.
Our Chicago group responded enthusiastically to Katlin and Dan’s insights. As we wrapped up and shared takeaways, one leader shared, “You’ve completely changed how I’m going to handle my staff meeting tomorrow. I was going to focus on a list of customer service issues that are frustrating me, and instead I’m going to focus first on the much longer list of what we’re doing right, and how we can learn from them. I’ve never started a meeting with what’s going right before!”
“Yesterday is gone and its tale told. Today new seeds are growing.” ~~ Rumi
Crimson, spicy-sweet, and essential to a perfect paella or seafood risotto, saffron is known the world over as the Queen of All Spices or Red Gold.
Saffron is variously grown in Iran, Spain, and Kashmir yet it’s in Afghanistan where you’ll find the highest quality saffron. The high altitude, dry winds and intensely arid climate create an ideal environment to grow the purple crocuses f
What comes to mind when most of us think of Afghanistan, however, isn’t saffron or delectable dishes, but pictures of war-torn lands, stories of terrorist activity, and the reality of the opium drug trade.
Kim Jung and Keith Alaniz, two of the three founders of Rumi Spice, a local Chicago start-up, joined us recently to share quite a different story of Afghanistan.
Deployed to address war, terrorism and drug trafficking as US Army soldiers, what Kim–as a platoon leader in search of roadside bombs, and Keith–as a regional expert working with tribal elders, observed stood in stark contrast to the devastation all around them.
They saw a proud people with a rich culture and history. They saw a generosity of spirit amongst the Afghani farmers. They saw a land covered in tiny purple flowers that contain the rarest, most expensive of spices: Afghan saffron.
Later, back in the US, Kim and third founding member, Emily Miller, had been accepted into Harvard Business School and were in search of a project. While still in Afghanistan, Keith contacted them with an idea.
He’d met Haji Yosef, a local Afghani saffron farmer who could only sell his saffron in the local market. After 30 years of war the Afghanis had effectively been cut off from the international marketplace, and without investment in agriculture, Afghan farmers had few prospects for growth, making them susceptible to the influence of the Taliban’s pressure to grow poppies.
Could this be the project that Kim and Emily were looking for at Harvard?
Kim set out to find out, despite her parents thinking she was a bit crazy. She bought a ticket to Afghanistan where she met up with Keith and Haji Yosef. Deeply moved and inspired by Haji’s story, they set to “become entrepreneurs like Haji Yosef, to start a business, and to do something with this one wild and precious life that actually meant something.”
Rumi Spice was born.
Named after the Persian poet, Rumi, whose life and teachings involve coming home to a spiritual center, Rumi Spice’s purpose is ‘to lay a foundation for peace, one saffron flower at a time.”
To that end, Rumi’s stated purpose is at the core of everything they do: “economically empowering Afghani farmers, inspiring Afghani women through earning direct wages, building out Afghanistan’s agricultural infrastructure, and reinvesting back into the community.”
Rumi is the largest foreign employer in agriculture in Afghanistan. They currently partner with more than 90 farmers, employing more
While the average Afghani household earns around $500/year, Afghan farmers can more than triple their income with saffron while providing an alternative to poppy and opium farming – one of the primary sources of income for the Taliban.
Uniquely positioned to overcome barriers with their social networks and in-country expertise, Kim, Keith and Emily have built important relationships, partnerships, and organizational infrastructure necessary to operate within and out of Afghanistan to bring this top-quality, sustainably farmed saffron to customers around the world.
In addition to its unique flavor, saffron’s amazing health benefits range from improved respiration and heart health to reduced inflammation and pain. Its healing properties have been known throughout time as it is an excellent source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium.
Chosen by world-class chefs and Michelin-rated restaurants, Rumi’s additional products and luxury items include saffron gemmies, saffron cocktails, green tea and saffron mixes.
Kim, Keith and Emily see their competitive advantage as their ability to navigate the Afghan business landscape, which is built on trusted relationships and strengthened by their insistence on quality. Rumi’s Afghani saffron received the highest rating at the International Taste & Quality Institute in accordance with ISO Standard 3632 at an outstanding rating of 236. The Institute has rated Afghan saffron #1 three years running.
“The social impact piece is great, but this saffron stands on its own.” At Rumi they believe that a for-profit, social enterprise is the solution to long-term post-conflict development, and Afghan peace is worth fighting for.
When asked about what they’ve learned in building their business, they shared the following:
This conscious company is making its mark in the world in big ways. On May 7,2017 all three founders appeared on Shark Tank in hopes of securing investment monies for their growing business. After presenting their business case, graciously addressing the pushback they received, shark Mark Cuban agreed to finance them to the tune of $250,000 in exchange for 15% of their business.
Learn more about Rumi Spice. Check out Chicago Tonight’s story from this spring.
How do you not only bring an 85-year-old company into the 21st century, but innovate to create a sustainable future?
This was a question that Marc Blackman, CEO of Gold Eagle Brands, and his team were asking. Golden Eagle Brands is a Chicago-based manufacturer of fuel stabilizers and ethanol treatments. They have built a family of brands that are driven to protect and preserve the things you love.
The challenges that Gold Eagle was facing as a company were both external and internal.
External ChallengesThe way people buy products has changed over the last 10 years and will only continue to change as e-commerce grows. Many retailers are closing their doors, so it poses the challenge of how to connect products to the market. The way we communicate has changed. Digital and social media are replacing TV as a way to effectively connect with customers and build a brand. And consumers want to feel that connection to a brand as they buy their products – they don’t just want to hear about the product, they want to hear about the company.
Internal ChallengesHow do you make an 85-year-old manufacturing company on the Southwest side of Chicago, sexy and attractive to millennials and continue to create a work environment where people can thrive?
You realize that as a company, you need to change.
Marc became involved with Conscious Capitalism and saw the impact it can have on business. Marc shared, “You have to be successful, but business owners are going to be the stabilizing force. Gold Eagle has always been known as a great place to work with a family culture, but as we learn about what it takes to be successful in the future, we see that our good culture can be so much better.”
How are they doing it? For starters: Marc and his executive team made the commitment to transforming their work culture. By reading, Everyone Matters, by Bob Chapman the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, they became interested in learning how well they are balancing their operating performance, operational stability and people-centric leadership.
Barry-Wehmiller created the BW Leadership Institute. They they teach companies how to implement their Truly Human Leadership model.
Marc and Dan Stewart, Head of HR for Gold Eagle Brands, paid a visit to Barry-Wehmiller company in Saint Louis to learn from the BW Leadership Institute and are kicking off a workshop with their team at Gold Eagle Brands this month.
Here are some of the things that they have learned so far as they start implementing this model:
Hand-in-hand with their efforts to evaluate culture, Gold Eagle invested in transforming its physical space. Their older office space was ready for an upgrade. They were intentional in their design by creating spaces that inspire collaboration, attracts more millennials and has natural light filling rooms and a floor plan of open space. The new space is truly inspiring. The impact on the company has been connecting the teams, enabling them to communicate more face-to-face with larger, open meeting spaces and a new physical environment that fosters collaboration.
Gold Eagle Brands is among the many companies who are authentically purpose-driven and passionately changing their corner of the world by creating cultures in which their employees are thriving, their stakeholders are served and their leaders are inspiring, creating value and making their companies profitable.
We look forward to checking back with Marc and his team for updates on their cultural transformation. This is how business transforms – one conscious company, leader and employee at a time.
In the last month we’ve heard about big brands like Pepsi, United Airlines and Fox News and their epic failures to connect to their stakeholders, serve their customers and create a safe culture for employees to thrive.
In case you missed it, Pepsi caught flack for a commercial, featuring Kendall Jenner, that tried to capitalize on the protest movement of this new political climate we are living in, in a very manipulative way. Not only did the ad NOT tug at our heartstrings and have people rushing out to buy a Pepsi, it missed the mark so badly that there was immediate consumer backlash and the ad was pulled rather quickly.
United Airlines had its worst week ever when, in a bad customer service move, security was called to remove a customer who refused to give up his seat when the flight was overbooked and they needed to make room for a flight crew. The scene of the man being brutally dragged off the plane and humiliated in the process was filmed by other passengers and played over and over again in the news media, in what must have been a very slow news week. To make matters worse, the CEO of United Airlines issued an initial statement that left an impression that he was blaming the victim for the situation and not taking any responsibility for the actions of the United Airlines staff or the authorities who removed the man.
And in other news, Fox News fired Bill O’Reilly over longstanding sexual harassment allegations and settlements of over $13 million dollars to women who were either current or former employees of Fox News. Make no mistake, this wasn’t conscious capitalism at work; this was a financial move, as it wasn’t until advertisers started pulling ad revenue from the O’Reilly Factor, fearing backlash from their consumers. Fox realized that O’Reilly was becoming a liability, and they took action.
That’s enough to make even the most optimistic person feel disheartened about the state of business and the future of our society.
But for every Fox News, United and Pepsi we have seen wonderful responses from other companies working hard at transformation.
In April, Dove released a case study of how they hacked Shutterstock’s search results to portray women that reflect society with their IMAGE_HACK campaign. The New York Police Department is working alongside the New York Housing Authority to improve customer relations. The New York Time’s article, Customer Service in Blue, highlights, “As New York City’s police department, the largest in the country, undergoes a transformation in how it serves and relates to the communities where faith in law enforcement has eroded, it is a good moment to ask just how happy the customers are.” And the American Association of Universities released their Campus Activities Report: Combating Sexual Assault and Misconduct. They, along with 60 institutions are working to make American campuses safer for every student. The report offer examples of campus activity now underway to better inform universities about sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus, and to affect change.
It’s a shame initiatives like these aren’t viral pieces consumed en masse and applauded. But if we look for it, remain aware of it, we can find inspiration in private enterprise, government and within our strongest institutions.
We live in a time where many people are asking the question “What’s my purpose?” That question can come at any given time… when we reach midlife or when we experience a life change (divorce, death of a loved one, job loss, health scare).
To explore this very topic, Conscious Capitalism Chicago hosted Tim Kelley, acclaimed speaker and author of True Purpose: 12 Strategies for Discovering the Difference You Are Meant to Make.
People have the view that purpose is something that we do outside of work. Some of this may come from economics… we “work toward retirement”. Our end goal is to avoid work and maximize leisure, so we end up living into this future that assumes meaning lies outside or beyond what we do for a living.
The context that we live in suggests that people go to work not expecting to find meaningful value but expecting to find economic value by trading time for money. Current movements, like Conscious Capitalism, are trying to break down this belief that somehow purpose and work cannot go together.
Why is Purpose So Important?
About one third of people are purpose-driven. Purpose-driven people are more likely to stay with a company if they find meaning in their work. And if they find meaning in their work, they are more productive and create better relationships with their co-workers. Their co-workers are fellow travelers on a mission to change the world. This is why purpose-driven companies seek out purpose-driven employees.
Purpose-driven leaders are usually more inspiring. Leaders who are only managing – just moving around parts or who are only focused on the bottom-line of profit – typically do not engage our hearts.
Purpose is also a good guide in a confusing world. Classic business strategy that is based on predicting the future and planning moves ahead like chess is not as effective in this current market. It’s difficult in this market to be able to predict and plan for the future. A company with a larger purpose has a rudder to deal with the uncertainty, because the purpose will help guide their decision-making and bring them back on course when the waters get rough.
Companies that are authentically “on purpose” and who share that purpose with their employees and customers tend to have a loyal fan base and the relationship becomes one of a shared movement, rather than a transactional exchange of goods and services. There is also plenty of data to support that purpose driven companies are profitable and sustainable over time. A company does not trade profit for purpose, in these business models, profit becomes a natural outcome of a purpose driven company.
So How Do I Find Me Some Purpose?
You can start by asking questions like:
During our session with Tim, he led us through an exploration of purpose at work and in life, and he went further to facilitate an exercise to help us connect to our own purpose. Tim’s book True Purpose, is a helpful guidepost for the journey. This excerpt of the book serves as a practical resource to get you started.
Here’s a parting thought on purpose: when you become clear about your purpose, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need blow up your current life or find a new job. We can bring who we are and our purpose into our own current workplace or life situation and create greater fulfillment right where we are.
What’s your purpose?
Katie Simmons on April 18, 2017 at 8:07 am
Thank you for this reminder on seeking purpose-driven work. I have found it particularly powerful to retaining my clients. They can see my passion and that builds a relationship of trust and loyalty lasting many years.
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The theme of this year’s Annual Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit was Confidence and Humility: The Dynamic Duo of Conscious Leadership. 225 CEOs from around the world converged in Austin, TX this past October to connect and learn, from each other and from other conscious leaders, how to put Conscious Capitalism into practice in their businesses and within themselves.
For Thea Polancic, Founder and Chair of the Chicago Chapter, author Brené Brown’s work with the group on vulnerability and shame was especially engaging. Vulnerability is at the core of conscious leadership and is our access to courage. It’s what is at the source of creativity, innovation and change – things that many organizations are looking to impact.
Brown challenged the group to be vulnerable and confront what she calls “face plant moments” of failure. Leaders who are willing to be vulnerable and authentic enough to tell themselves the truth about those times that they’ve failed, can create a space in which employees are free and feel safe to share their mistakes – and humanity – with no consequences.
Joining Thea this year were a cadre of CEOs from the Chicagoland area. A few of them shared their experiences of being at the Summit with us and our members who weren’t able to attend the Summit, at our December CEO breakfast.
CEO, Round Table Companies
Corey Blake, CEO of Round Table Companies, a storytelling company that helps companies and individuals be seen, is a CEO Summit veteran. This was Corey’s third summit and he shared that he continues to attend because he has found a tribe that is aligned on values.
Corey particularly resonated with Brené Brown’s session. (He shared that he felt that starting in that way created room for the participants to let go of titles and be more human with each other – not easy in a room of two hundred plus senior executives.) Each year, Corey’s team provides the “Vulnerability is Sexy” wall. Throughout the summit, leaders share their observations about how they’re experiencing the keynotes and conversations they engage in, and his team translates them into a wall-sized unique graphic interpretation.
According to Corey, his participation in conscious capitalism has helped his company create more aligned relationships with their customers and has impacted the quality of work his team is able to produce for those clients.
CEO, Envision IT
Envision IT is an IT consulting company that prides itself on being a group of talented and compassionate people who are “Purpose-Full”. This was Nancy’s first time attending the CEO summit, although she personally has been on the journey of becoming a conscious leader building an exemplary, purpose-driven company for a few years.
As a first timer, Nancy said that she went in with no expectations, but committed to being open, learning, and experiencing as much as she could from the speakers and her fellow participants. Nancy shared that she found the practicums to be especially valuable, providing the opportunity to hear stories from other CEOs about their journeys, and the victories and challenges of implementing the principles of conscious capitalism in their organizations.
Nancy resonated with the talks that emphasized the capitalism part of conscious capitalism. John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods) and Arthur Brooks (President of the American Enterprise Institute) both made compelling case for capitalism to as a powerful force for good in the world. Brooks challenged the group to remember that money isn’t inherently evil… it is instead the attachment to money that is the source of people working against the greater good.
Nancy has had personal success with helping to guide Envision IT into a thriving “firm of endearment”. She shares that the key to building a company with a solid foundation is to build it from the perspective of “doing the right thing.” She and her team at Envision IT are doing just that.
CEO, Simple Mills
Simple Mills is a start-up food company with a mission to produce products that are both healthy and delicious; and was also a first time attendee at this year’s summit. She shared her experience in an excellent article entitled Four Insights from the Most Revolutionary CEO Summit in the Country at Inc.com.
Closing our breakfast conversation, her comments felt almost prophetic. She reminded us that the world is changing quickly, and capitalism itself is going to continue to evolve before our eyes in the coming years.
The new Whole Foods Market in Englewood opened Wednesday to much fanfare… As much as we don’t like to make Whole Foods the poster child for everything Conscious Capitalism, it’s moments like this that make it clear why they’re the leaders of the movement.
A couple of years ago I visited the Whole Foods in Detroit and it was a moving, inspiring experience, a community experience. People hung out outside drinking coffee and chatting, and called out to neighbors as they arrived. Moving through the store I saw items on the shelves that were the usual suspects, but also new local and ethnic brands I’d never seen before. At the food bar, strangers helped each other navigate the honor system. One man asked the woman next to him, “You mean I just take it myself?” Being trusted to serve yourself stood in stark contrast to paying for gas through a tiny slot in a bullet proof window not far away. Whole Foods had succeeded not only in engaging the community in planning for and launching the store in way that was culturally sensitive and relevant to the area, but also creating a place that people felt was their own.
The Englewood store is a great example of the Conscious Capitalism stakeholder model in action – a win, win, win. Customersget healthy foods, including low cost staples ($1.50 for a loaf of whole wheat bread, cage-free eggs for $1.99). Suppliers include local businesses like our recent conscious business boot camp winner Laine’s Bake Shop – who thrive and grow with Whole Foods’ business and guidance. The Community gets a new source of jobs and a vote of confidence that pulls in other retailers, like the Starbucks next door. Employees get to work in a great, positive environment; learn, grow, and have a good wage and benefits. Whole Foods expands their brand and most importantly, gets to fulfill on their purpose. And their Investors prosper as a result of all of it.
I’ll admit it – I’m a softie and had a hard time swallowing my food during my visit to Detroit, moved by the sheer goodness of a business doing the right thing in a profound way. I expect my visit to Englewood to be the same.
*Photos used from “What if Englewood became the new Hyde Park? A battered neighborhood dreams” published in the Chicago Tribune, Sept 30, 2016.
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