Published on: March 15, 2010John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, has a long essay on the Huffington Post on “Creating a High Trust Organization,” writing that “American society appears to be undergoing a crisis in trust. Most of the major organizations that we depend upon, including governments of all types, corporations, our health care system, our financial institutions, and our schools all seem to be failing us. Indeed, I do not believe it is an exaggeration to claim that our society is actually undergoing a disintegration process whereby the fundamental premises and values supporting our institutions are all being called into question. While such disintegration is of course very painful to experience, it is also a tremendous opportunity for genuine transformation.”
Among the steps that Mackey prescribes, with excerpts from his essay:
Define a higher purpose... “Virtually all of our societal organizations seem to have either forgotten or have never really known why they exist and what their higher purposes are. Instead, they have often elevated narrow individual and institutional self-interest into the only purposes that they recognize as valid. Our governments all too frequently serve the politicians and the public service unions rather than their citizens. Our schools too often serve their educational bureaucracy and teachers' unions instead of their students and their parents. Our health care system too often seeks to maximize the profits of pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies rather than the health and wellness of patients. Many of our corporations primarily exist to maximize the compensation of their executives, and secondarily shareholder value, rather than value creation for customers, employees, and other major stakeholders.
“The single most important requirement for the creation of higher levels of trust for any organization is to discover or rediscover the higher purpose of the organization. Why does the organization exist? What is it trying to accomplish? What core values will inspire the organization and create greater trust from all of its stakeholders?”
Leadership has to exemplify organizational values... “Nothing is more important for creating high levels of organizational trust than the quality and commitment of the leadership at all levels of the organization. It doesn't matter if an organization has a higher purpose if the leadership doesn't understand it and seek to serve it. The various stakeholders of an organization, especially employees and customers, look to the leadership to ‘walk-the-talk’ - to serve the purpose and mission of the organization and to lead by example. It is especially important that the CEO and other senior leadership embody the higher purpose of the organization.”
Empowered teamwork is key... “ To receive trust, it is usually necessary that we give trust. Organizing into small interlocking teams helps ensure that trust will flow in all directions within the organization - upwards, downwards, within the team, and across teams ... While small teams are essential to optimizing the flow of organizational trust, equally important is the philosophy of empowerment. The effectiveness of teams is tremendously enhanced when they are fully empowered to do their work and to fulfill the organization's mission and values. Empowerment must be much, much more than a mere slogan, however. It should be within the very DNA of the organization. Empowerment unleashes creativity and innovation and rapidly accelerates the evolution of the organization. Empowered organizations have tremendous competitive advantage because they have tapped into levels of energy and commitment which their competitors usually have difficulty matching.”
Transparency most be a clear priority... “If we want to optimize trust then we must seek to optimize transparency. When we decide to keep something hidden the motivation is almost always a lack of trust. We are afraid that the information that we wish to hide would cause more harm than good if it were widely known ... Transparency is a very important supporting value for empowerment. Indeed, it is difficult for an organization to be empowered if it lacks transparency.”
- KC's View:
- This is a long piece worth reading in its entirety here .
A lot of people will say that Mackey isn’t being realistic about how organizations should operate, and I suspect that even he would agree that even at Whole Foods, “creating a high trust organization” is a work in progress. But there is very little in his posting with which I would disagree; if I were creating an organization, these would be the standards to which I would aspire.
However, it seems to me that there is another column here...about how organizations without these values can essentially retrofit themselves and adopt them. Starting from scratch is one thing...but re-engineering an organization is an entirely different - and more challenging - proposition.