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Posts Tagged “Conscious Capitalism”

Simon Sinek says the following: “Offer someone the opportunity to rebuild a company or reinvent an industry as the primary incentive, and it will attract those drawn to the challenge first and the money second.”

I believe much of what is expressed about incentivizing the salesman emanates from underestimation, condescension, and even contempt for that person and her profession.

I don’t read sales books. They make me mad. From my own experience as an executive salesman, I believe most sales managers approach the whole subject of sales incentivization ass-backwards.

In my case, this judgment comes from being an unexpected, untrained, and accidental success as an entrepreneur in elite sales outsourcing. My intent as a company founder was to build a happy life and create a community of peers who shared my values. While I wanted to make a comfortable living, money was not my business raison d’etre. And over the years I have managed to assemble a coterie of sales executives who, to one extent or another and in their variegated ways, were compadres in the realm of service, morals, humor, and fierce independence.

After 20 years of sales success emanating from my personal sales intuition and longing to be part of an ethical sales and service community, I began to discover I was not as odd or alone in my approach as I had always assumed. And even more, there is an increasing body of scholarly research that supports the instincts of my life experience.

This is particularly true in the realm of sales incentivization. My core assumption has always been that good salespersons don’t fundamentally work just for money. Rather, they work for satisfaction, service, happiness, a free life and other non-quantifiables as much as for money. Research has shown that, after reaching a threshold of $75,000 or so, money has limited ability to incentivize. (Note, Conscious Capitalism and the Small Giants community).

Dr. Edward Deci, Director of the University of Rochester’s Human Motivation Program says:

“When people say that money motivates, what they really mean is that money controls. And when It does, people become alienated–they give up some of their authenticity–and they push themselves to do what they think they must do.” (Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation).

I have always felt that salesmen are particularly misunderstood. I’m told that sales hires fail 75 percent of the time within the first year. That is a phenomenal statistic. While the reasons for this are complex, I believe the overemphasis on monetary reward is a large part of it.

People want to be part of an organization that imbues quality and meaning to their lives. Yes, they need to make money, but I don’t believe it ever activates their ardor and deep commitment. It does not inspire full use of their internal resources, their full being, their passion.

When I ran my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International, I genuinely tried to start with the assumption that every person I hired should be better than me, that every person I hired could teach me something, that each person I hired could comfortably grow the extant values of my company as a corporate companion.

To quote Edward Deci again, “[In speaking about motivation] the proper question is not, ‘How can people motivate others?’ but rather, ‘How can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves.'”

I agree. Thank you, Edward Deci.

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Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any hows.”

jackie_responsive_1140pxThe headline of this column comes from the title of an interesting and practical new book by Jackie Dryden and Bethany Andell of Savage Brands in Houston, Texas. Dryden and Andell come out of the increasingly influential Conscious Capitalism movement based on John Mackey and Raj Sisodia’s book of the same name.

Dryden and Andell’s book actually is titled Get Your Head Out of Your Bottom Line and Build Your Brand on Purpose–their thesis being that businesses can stay ahead of the marketplace only by being clear about what they stand for, as well as what they do. She says,

“Businesses that get out in front of changes are the ones that last, and one of the best ways to do this is to be clear about the company’s purpose. Taking a proactive stance that clearly states what the company stands for attracts customers who are interested in something greater than just sales transactions. When a business communicates its true purpose beyond making a profit, it will attract and retain loyal customers who are more impervious to trends and market conditions.”

Note that this not a theoretical or philosophical book but rather an imminently practical methodology for actually inserting a brand meaning and branded Purpose into all aspects of your firm. Dryden/Andell term this a “Purpose Roadmap.” Their Purpose Roadmap puts flesh on the bones of business leadership’s moral intentionality, in the belief that through-defining your company’s Purpose (beyond filthy lucre) will improve long-term, dependable profitability. It posits that when ubiquitous Purpose is present in a company’s everyday culture, not only do “soft metrics” improve–things like employee engagement and tenure, customer satisfaction, investor loyalty–but companies also deliver stellar financial performance.

bethany2-650x489The book attempts to bridge the gap between knowing and doing. Dryden/Andell quote Rich Karlgaard of Forbes Magazine, who states: “I would argue that purpose-driven companies have a huge competitive advantage right now. Employees and customers are hungry for purpose….We want to feel that our lives have a deeper meaning that goes beyond paychecks and discount shopping.”

Dryden/Andell term their Purpose Roadmap “building your brand from inside out,” and cite a number of compelling case studies, as well as the entrepreneurial work and writings of people like John Mackey, Kip Tindell, Steve Jobs, Herb Kelleher, Tony Hsieh, Walt Disney, and Jim Sinegel.

My favorite case study of Purpose Branding offered by the book is a litter campaign created by the State of Texas, which had failed repeatedly to turn around an endemic indifference to litter in the state. Texas discovered that the litter problem centered around 18-24 year old males who liked country music and drove pick-up trucks. A series of rebranding ads featured country-music and showed famous Texans picking up trash and disposing of it properly. Each spot ended with the simple line, “Don’t Mess With Texas” over a country music score. It redefined the group identity of these targeted Texans around Purpose. The number of cans on the roadside was reduced by 82%. The Purpose Branding trope actually came to symbolize the very identity of Texas itself and ended rebranding the whole state.

I could go on, but enough said. I do have a few cavils with Get Your Head Out of Your Bottom Line. It is not a poetic, particularly passionate, or philosophical book. For that you will need to go to original sources like those mentioned above. Also, the successful Purpose entrepreneurs I know, or know of, are highly individual, idiosyncratic leaders, who have both read broadly and lived lives of deep thought, study, and almost religious entrepreneurial zeal. Without such seminal leadership at the top I’m not sure a Purpose-based through brand is possible, despite the book’s compelling methodology.

leonardoThat said, Get Your Head Out of Your Bottom Line is a great practical contribution toward the new tropes of meaning and culture that are the cutting-edge of current business thinking. Dryden and Andell’s book, is indeed a “Purpose Roadmap”–a step-by-step method for actually creating and monetizing a Purpose-based culture. It is a straightforward, accessible didactic guide for transforming company culture and adding long-term profitability.

I’m sure Dryden and Andell would agree with Leonardo da Vinci who said, “Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose.” Indeed.

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8551937456_9f2c1544d3Elizabethan poet and playwright Francis Bacon once said, “Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not, a sense of humor for what he is.”

Recently I was at a meeting of fellow Inc. 5000 company owners who periodically meet to share, dialogue, and solve business conundrums together. I found myself laughing uproariously there. It got me thinking about humor and business ownership.

I harked back to a column I read last year by Jacquelyn Smith of Forbes. Smith pointed to a survey done by Robert Half International which showed 91% of executives found humor imperative for career advancement and 84% found people with a sense of humor do better work.

There are several reasons humor can be a powerful business tool. Here are some I especially esteem.

  1. Humor creates mindfulness, perspective, and balance. If laughter is a part of you and your company’s life, it reduces anus clinching anxiety and fear. It relaxes you. For example, Dr. Julia Wilkins cites an experiment using episodes of Seinfeld to measure tolerance to pain thresholds. After viewing a Seinfeld video, results showed pain tolerance to be much higher. The process of laughter caused a serotonin release similar to aerobic exercise. Laughter causes you to breather deeper. You feel better.
  2. Humor builds culture. Laughter promotes a sense of unity and shared culture. It boosts comraderie. It builds corporate empathy.
  3. Humor facilitates creativity. Laughter opens you to the absurd and the impossible. It encourages playing with concepts, taking risks, and considering the outrageous.
  4. Humor humanizes leaders. It nurtures a sense of “we are all in this together.” It can be a key component of empathetic leadership.

seinfeld_on_stage1-667x368Humor is great within your own firm, but I find healthy leadership needs a home for humor outside the confined community of my own company. Certainly joining a convivial, discreet organization of your peers gives an outlet for letting your hair down and being yourself in all your profound non-rationality.

Free flowing silliness and laughter is not the easiest thing to come by for a business owner. It is not necessarily prudent to share all your uncensored business mind with your employees or your clients or the world at large. Yet the successful entrepreneurs I know are remarkably funny people. Often wickedly funny. (You can find it at places like the upcoming Inc. GrowCo, as well as places like Vistage, EO, Conscious Capitalism, Small Giants, among others.)

The role of leading a small business can be a lonely enterprise. (I wrote about this last year in this column.) ( “The Peculiar Loneliness of Entrepreneurship”.) No one but another entrepreneur can fully understand the special frisson of fear and excitement each day holds for the high-risk small business striver. It is an infinitely not boring experience. Yet it is not something that you can truly share in its unfettered joy and horror even with your wife. To try to talk about your daily trials and tribulations would load an unnecessary burden on your intimates and, really, to what point? It’s cryptic to anyone who is not living in it. Each of our businesses is unique and peculiar, but the business ocean we swim in is common to all of us.

A place of real safety to talk openly with very smart colleagues is great. I find myself relaxing with an almost palpable emotional sigh when I enter a meeting of my peers. And humor is frequently a predominant mode of sharing in peer business communities. A lot of the humor is mordant and dark, but it comes from an ambient sense of relief at being in a safe harbor, a non-darwinian grotto of relief from the sturris of a darwinian world. William_James_b1842bThere is a glow of irenic happiness in being with one’s own kind–one’s own little supportive ghetto.

This may not be a particularly profound thought, but participation in a safe, outside personal business community of peers is surely healthful for the mindful business psyche. And the release of business anxiety and uncertainty through humor often frees up the animal spirits and the playfulness from whence cometh innovation and ideas.

Psychologist and philosopher William James said, “Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is common sense, dancing.” Thank you, William.

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Of late I have become increasingly convinced that most of the business schools in America should be burned to the ground and the Plains of Carthage should be planted with salt where once they stood, especially those institutions (most) which claim to teach entrepreneurship.

019bbdd9-bfc5-4eb3-b94e-010b7e036d37That said, admittedly, it is easier to cast a caterwauling calumny on our current business pedagogy than to come up with a positive replacement. Mea culpa, to be sure.

So how do you truly teach leadership and visionary process in a world of business change moving at the speed of light-a business world unmoored to any real communal and universal verities? How do you teach originality and personal vision? How do you teach passion for freedom? How do you teach the personal courage to fiercely fail (and even fail multiple times?) How do you learn to slay the dragon of self-doubt each day and maintain faith that you can create something out of nothing? How do you teach all that and the many other non-quantitative intuitions that constitute the foundation of creative business? How does one learn how to bring love and meaning, as well as profit to entrepreneurship?

Well, I was in Austin, Texas last week and came across a remarkable new school of entrepreneurship called the Khabele + Strong Incubator, founded by Michael Strong and Khotso Khabele, both men well-known, passionate educators out of Harvard. (Strong-Philosophy, Khabele-MBA) The school is bankrolled by John Mackey (Whole Foods), Douglas Drane (HPT Development), and other prominent businessmen with the intent to create a new kind of prep school devoted to creating conscious business leaders. The school incorporates a Socratic liberal arts educational program with a daily opportunity to work directly with the most cutting-edge entrepreneurs, business leaders, design firms, and technologists in Austin. And when ready, with angel investors. Just starting its second year, the school has more than doubled its enrollees, who come from all over the world. It covers grades 6 through 12.

Michael-StrongMichael Strong is a warm acquaintance of mine and a longtime fellow-traveler concerning the current non-efficacy of business education for entrepreneurship. His Socratic Practice work has been endorsed by a former National Teacher of the Year (Elaine Griffins) and by a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award Grant (Deborah Meier). He is the author of The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice, which has been widely praised by the leading experts in brain-based learning and learnable intelligence. Strong also co-founded FLOW (with John Mackey) out of which several important nonprofits were generated. To wit, Conscious Capitalism, Peace Through Commerce, and Radical Social Entrepreneurs.

Michael’s mission is to unleash waves of conscious entrepreneurs through creating a unique environment of love, inspiration, and reverence for the world. The goal is to create human beings who are lifelong learners eager to understand all aspects of the world-students quick to identify business opportunity in a world of coruscating disruption.

Lest you think Strong is merely an impractical, hippy-dippy granola-eating dreamer, it is to be noted that, already in their first year, Khabele Strong students’ SAT scores have increased to more than three times the prep course average. Their incubator ensures that young people are well positioned for college admissions and academia with a potent orientation toward autodidactism. Furthermore, they expressly are seeking to train up men and women with inner integrity and optimal self-knowledge, as well as scholars with the academic tools of the liberal arts. They expressly seek to mold entrepreneurs who can remain spiritually and physically healthy and confident as they navigate uncertain times, creating imaginative human beings who can transcend the fear-based reactivity that often leads to unconscious, damaging decisions.

The Khabele + Strong Incubator School intends to build thinkers and doers who are individual bastions of imagination and the new. Their teaching emphasizes three strands of personal growth for their students: Authentic Leadership, Personal Development, and Autodidacticism. (I personally find disciplined skills in the latter particularly crucial to business health.)

Jim-rohn-PASSES-AWAYI agree with the school’s ideals and it gives me some hope for a truly new template in teaching entrepreneurship. Michael Strong and Khotso Khabele are embarked on a noble educational experiment that is producing some interesting early results. They clearly posit a promising approach to both education and business development. Like all starting ventures it seems an impossible dream initially-almost an act of madness. Much like an entrepreneurial company, it can only achieve a miracle one day at a time- like those of us who try to create a creative business where nothing existed before.

Jim Rohn, famed entrepreneur and author of 7 Strategies for Wealth & Happiness, once said, “Formal education will make you a living: Self education will make you a fortune.” I think Strong and Khabele would agree.

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kip-tindell-mainI had the good fortune to  be a guest at the coming out party for Kip Tindell’s new book Uncontainable on October 8 at the New York Stock Exchange, where he addressed the Inc. Business Owner’s Council.  Kip is the Founder and CEO of The Container Store, the largest company in the U.S. devoted to organizing customers and saving their space and time.

Kip is an enchantingly modest man imbued with a palpable missionary zeal for his company and the unique working principles on which it is based.  I have spent the weekend reading his book.

I would describe Uncontainable as one-third autobiography, one-third company love letter and one third business theology.

To put it briefly, Tindell’s book is the best book about creating corporate culture since Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table in 2006.  (In fact, Tindell is a colleague with Meyer, John Mackey, Tony Hsieh, Herb Kelleher, David Neeleman, Howard Schulz, and, as a philosophical precursor, Steve Jobs.  These and others make up the growing cadre of company leaders in the Conscious Capitalism movement.  I highly recommend  any business owner with an interest in efficacious corporate culture put Uncontainable  on her reading list.

This is meant to be a short essay so I will make no attempt to be encyclopedic in describing Tindell’s book.  But here are a few unsystematic things I found notable about the book and the man.

First and foremost, Uncontainable is a book utterly devoid of irony.  It is the rare business book that is unapologetic and forthright in its use of the language of love to describe his corporate community—his employees, his investors, his vendors, his customers, and even his private equity firm.  (Tindell calls his financial backer, Leonard Green & Partners, “the first conscious capitalist PE firm.”  He claims this is not an oxymoron, in Greens’s case, despite the rape and pillage reputation of PE firms.)  It is almost a sensual pleasure to experience the utter delight with which Tindell describes his business creation.

There is an ebullient joy and an overflowing spiritual generosity to the man.  His tall, attenuated frame virtually throbs with love and passion when he talks about his company.  He conveys a compelling and unfeigned delight that he is part of, as well as the leader of the good ship Container Store.  It is a joy to behold.  His enthusiasm is contagious.  He has an almost messianic passion for the business value of sheer  agape and goodness and service as business values for his employees and his customers.

Uncontainable_Cover_rgbFor example, Tindell couches his business philosophy about his employees as the following:  “Treating your employees with affection and respect is not only the right thing to do, it also happens to be the fastest road to success.  In fact, it’s much more successful than any other business methodology.”  (Uncontainable, Hachette Book Group, 2014, p. 5)  I couldn’t agree more.

Tindell believes in maximizing the individual creativity of everyone who touches his company.  He hires outside traditional retail talent pools.  He welcomes artists, actors, and stay at home moms.  He then claims to basically “love” these hires to success.  He tries to hire on applicant’s ability for customer care and patient avidity to genuinely serve his customer and his fellow man.  He often judges these things on how a candidate treats the waiter at lunch.

He wants his people to use their intuition, which he defines as “the sum total of one’s life experience.”  He states,  “…you don’t want to straightjacket employees with a manual about how to do their jobs.  Instead, we unshackle our employees to follow their own individual creative genius.”  His expressed management style sounds almost as though he intends to stage a play, rather than run a company.  (He even admits he loves the drama of his enterprise and its retail narrative.  The way he describes it is almost like a communal art event.)

I find it encouraging that conscious business leaders like Tindell are increasingly being sought out to share their magic elixir at even the most hide-bound business schools.

Tindell is, nonetheless, a committed capitalist.  He is not a minister or a priest or a socialist.  He just believes in leading with a servant’s heart and with the belief that genuinely caring about everyone The Container Store comes into contact with is the surest road to profitability.

In this he is very like Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group here in NYC, who I have written of often in the past.  As Danny so succinctly puts it,  “Generosity is clearly in our self-interest.”

Or as I like to put it to my executives and employees,  “Good is greed.”

I think Jim Collins sums up the argument very well in his book Built To Last.   He says,  “Core purpose is the organizations fundamental reason for being.  An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company’s work—it taps their idealistic motivations—and gets to the deeper reasons for an organization’s existence beyond making money.”

Amen, Brother Jim.

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