Are executive sleepovers the best way for staff to bond?

Whole Foods bosses on sharing leadership: "It's like a marriage"

Would you feel uncomfortable chatting to your boss in your pyjamas? How about brushing your teeth together in the morning, or preparing breakfast with one another?

While sleepovers are standard fare when you're a child, spending the night with your boss is a level of intimacy that most people would rather avoid.

But for Whole Foods Market chief executive and founder John Mackey, escaping the constraints of the office and spending time with colleagues in a more personal setting is the best way to build up a trusting relationship.

"I know this sounds weird, but there's something about sleeping in the same house and then fixing breakfast or dinner together that is very much a bonding experience," he says.

Whole Foods Whole Foods opened its first store in 1980

Start Quote

People have got to have that sense that their work matters”

End Quote John Mackey Whole Foods

This level of personal interaction, says Mr Mackey, prevents staff compartmentalising their work life and personal life, and means workers can relate on a deeper level.

His approach stresses the importance of emotionally involved leadership and creating a culture that allows workers to flourish.

Gallup's most recent study of employee engagement in the US workplace found an alarming 70% of those surveyed either hated their jobs or were completely disengaged.

Right from when he founded the natural and organic food firm in 1980 with just one store and 19 staff, Mr Mackey has been on a mission to change this.

The company now has 80,000 staff across 373 shops in the US, Canada and the UK, but his main objective remains ensuring employees feel valued and that their work is more than just a pay cheque.

"If you want to create a good culture and a good company then people have got to have that sense that their work matters and that they matter."

Whole Foods Whole Foods sells natural and organic foods
Staff power

To get this across, Mr Mackey says "caring leadership" is emphasised from the top down, with a conscious effort not to promote "the jerks".

Start Quote

You have to create a culture where everybody has an opportunity to be recognised”

End Quote John Mackey Whole Foods

This isn't just rhetoric. In each store, workers are divided into eight teams in different departments.

When new employees join they are assigned to a team and put on two months' probation. Only when they are approved by at least two-thirds of their team members in a secret ballot can they stay on permanently.

While it is easy to be sceptical about an approach that appears to have come straight from the 1960s hippie era, the results suggest it is very effective.

For the 2013 financial year, Whole Foods reported the best sales in its 35-year history. In the 52 weeks to 29 September, total sales rose 12% to $12.9bn (£7.8bn), and net income rose 18% to $551m.

And for the past 17 years in a row, it has been listed as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" in the US by Fortune magazine.

Room at the top

Part of its appeal for workers is the consensual culture. Even the very top job is shared, with Mr Mackey leading the firm alongside co-chief executive Walter Robb.

Walter Robb and John Mackey Walter Robb (left) and John Mackey say sharing the chief executive role works better than the traditional corporate hierarchy of a solo boss

This approach continues throughout the firm, with individual stores having control over budgets and staff having the power to make decisions.

Mr Mackey says this "decentralisation" approach differs from the standard corporate chain model and helps to drive innovation.

One idea that came via this process is the "tap room" - an in-store beer and wine bar that lets customers nibble on food while sampling local wine and beers by the glass.

It started out in one store after an employee came up with the idea, but has now been rolled out to more than 100 stores.

The tap room The tap room came from a suggestion from a member of staff

Mr Mackey believes most chief executives are afraid of handing their staff this level of responsibility, mainly because they fear they will lose control.

He admits the approach can be messy and inefficient, with time wasted duplicating existing ideas, but says the upside - "a much more dynamic and turned on workforce" - is worth it.

Pay is equally egalitarian. The seven-strong executive team, which includes the co-chief executives, all earn the same salary, which is capped at 19 times the average pay of a full-time worker.

And it ends all meetings with what it calls "appreciations", thanking people on the team for specific contributions to the firm, a simple idea that Mr Mackey says has had a "huge revolutionary impact" in terms of improving staff relations.

"You have to create a culture where everybody has an opportunity to be recognised," he says.

This feature is based on interviews by leadership expert Steve Tappin for the BBC's CEO Guru series, produced by Neil Koenig and Evy Barry.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    RBS PROFITS 11:03:

    We recall RBS was bounced into an early release of interims last week because, when the numbers arrived, they proved surprisingly better than the market was expecting. Today's reiteration of the results wasn't therefore expected to have anything surprising in. But there's this: "It is not possible to estimate reliably what effect the outcome of these investigations [forex, Libor etc], any regulatory findings and any related developments may have on the Group, including the timing and amount of fines or settlements, which may be material." So, that's all clear then.

     
  2.  
    WILLIAM HILL 10:47:

    The betting giant gives detail on that record-breaking World Cup. Across the tournament as a whole, wagering was £208m, up 80% on the 2010 outcome. Gross win margin was down (18.4% versus 27.9%).

     
  3.  
    RUSSIA SANCTIONS 10:27:
    Veg stall in Poland

    More on the impact sanctions between the European Union and Russia will have. Poland's deputy prime minister says these will knock 0.6 percentage points off his country's economic growth this year. This week Russia announced a ban on most fruit and vegetable imports from Poland. "Currently, our exports to Russia have fallen by 7% and by 26-29% to Ukraine," he says.

     
  4.  
    IAG PROFITS 10:08:

    ONe more from IAG has also ordered eight Airbus A350-900s and eight Airbus A330-200s for its Iberia Airline's long haul fleet. The aircraft will be delivered between 2015 and 2020, it said.

     
  5.  
    MANUFACTURING OUTPUT Via Email

    David Richardson, head of manufacturing at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, notes: "The overall performance of the manufacturing sector so far this year has been positive. The country's makers have offered a robust source of job creation and export activity, in the face of a strengthening sterling."

     
  6.  
    MANUFACTURING OUTPUT 09:45:
    Chart showing manufacturing output over the last year

    The UK manufacturing industry continued to grow in July but did so at its slowest pace for a year, says analysts Markit. Its purchasing manager's index fell to 55.4 from 57.2 in June. That's still well above the 50-mark, which separates growth from contraction but suggests the industry could be slowing in preparation for higher interest rates.

     
  7.  
    IAG PROFITS 09:25:
    Iberia aeroplanes are parked at Madrid's Barajas T4 airport terminal

    Splitting out the figures British Airways made an operating profit of 327m euros (£260m) compared with an operating loss of 95m euros for Iberia Airlines for the first six months of this year.

     
  8.  
    MARKET UPDATE 09:07:

    European markets are lower ahead of a US jobs report due out later today, which is expected to show 230,000 jobs were added to the economy last month, a decline from the previous month's 280,000. The biggest riser on the FTSE 100 is British Airways and Iberia Airlines owner IAG - up 2.3% to 338.40p - after it swung back into profit in the first half of this year.

    • The FTSE 100 is lower by 0.72% to 6681.69
    • The Dax is down 0.81% to 9330.89
    • The Cac-40 has fallen 0.72% to 4215.46
     
  9.  
    RBS PROFITS 08:52:
    A woman walking past the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland

    Royal Bank of Scotland has released its profits for the first half of 2014 in what can only be described as a quirk of officialdom. The bank was originally planning to publish its results today, but having discovered how good they were got really excited and released them a week early. So it appears there is nothing new to see here.

     
  10.  
    WILLIAM HILL 08:34:
    Betting slip

    William Hill - the high street and online betting chain says "record-breaking World Cup wagering drives second quarter operating profit growth" - but pre-tax profit was down 15% at £222m.

     
  11.  
    IAG SHARES 08:21:

    IAG shares are off to a strong start on the back of the results announcement. They're up 4%.

     
  12.  
    RENTOKIL INITIAL RESULTS 08:19:
    Horrible moth

    Rentokil is a whopping player in the pest control business. "Revenue growth was particularly strong in our Pest Control category," it reveals, "reflecting good growth... supported by improved organic performance and a number of pest control acquisitions." Growth through acquisitions; not scary. Improved organic performance? Does that mean there are more moths, rats, wasps and such for it to kill?

     
  13.  
    HEADLINES
  14.  
    IAG PROFITS 08:05:
    A British Airways Airbus A380

    Spanish cousin Iberia is becoming less of a drag on IAG's overall performance it seems. IAG says Iberia's restructuring continues to have "a positive impact". Last week Iberia agreed a deal with unions "on collective redundancies for pilots and ground staff" that could see a further 1,427 jobs axed. IAG says: "This will create new opportunities for Iberia to enhance its profitability further in the next two or three years."

     
  15.  
    RUSSIA SANCTIONS 07:51:
    Russia adidas shirt

    European companies say sanctions against Russia are already taking their toll, reports the Financial Times. Adidas shares dropped 15% after its profit warning yesterday - it's closing stores in Russia. Also seeing an impact are Volkswagen and Siemens.

     
  16.  
    DIRECT LINE RESULTS 07:41:
    Dog

    Direct Line is the largest motor insurance group in the country. It reports an 8% rise in six month profits to £225.1m. Brands include Churchill, Privilege and the Green Flag roadside recovery service.

     
  17.  
    IAG PROFITS 07:28: BBC Radio 4

    IAG boss Willie Walsh tells Today the airline group is "doing very well" and is on course to deliver its full year guidance. The conversation quickly turns to safety. British Airways and Iberia have been avoiding Ukrainian airspace since March, he says. "We don't look at the cost at all. It's simply a case that we look at whether it is safe to fly over an area or not," he adds. "We don't fly over Libya or Syria." But the airline judges that it is now safe to fly over Iraq.

     
  18.  
    IAG PROFITS

    British Airways and Iberia Airlines owner International Airlines Croup has swung into profit. It has reported pre-tax profits of 155m euros (£123m) for the last six months, compared with a loss of 177m euros a year earlier.

     
  19.  
    RENTOKIL INITIAL RESULTS 07:10:

    Office services business Rentokil Initial said its half year profits rose 38.9% to £66.8m.

     
  20.  
    US ECONOMY 06:59: Radio 5 live

    More from Terry Savage on the US economy. She says the US Federal Reserve policy of quantitative easing "has created all of this money... and all that money has not gone into, so far at least, good paying jobs or homebuilding. It's gone into the stock market and... made the rich a lot richer."

     
  21.  
    PORTUGAL BANK 06:47: BBC Radio 4
    Woman outside BES

    Bill Blain from Mint Partners tells Today Portugal's government has a tough decision to make on BES: "Does it bail it out as 'too big to fail', or does it stand back and let the bank sort itself out? Many want the debt holders to pay the cost of this."

     
  22.  
    TOUGH MUDDER 06:36:
    Man leaping

    The Today programme likes a natter with a company boss of a Friday morning. Today's is Will Dean from Tough Mudder. People pay him £100 to spend time on an obstacle course - jumping, swimming, crawling through mud and so forth. Why? "It's not a race its a challenge. It's about team work over 12 miles. Its a set of individual challenges to test you mentally and physically." Fine.

     
  23.  
    PORTUGAL BANK 06:28: BBC Radio 4

    Shares in Banco Espirito Santo lost 42% yesterday after the bank announced a loss of 3.6bn euros (£2.8bn). Bill Blain from chief strategist at Mint Partners tells Today this is "Deeply concerning for all bankers looking at Europe. It's [Europe] had 450bn of new capital to sort out the relationship between sovereign debt and the banks. What the Banco results show shows is the bank remained a piggy bank for the family".

     
  24.  
    US ECONOMY 06:15: Radio 5 live

    The US releases jobs data later today - GDP figures earlier this week showed the US economy growing strongly. Expectations are that another 230,000 jobs could have been added to the US economy in July and that the unemployment rate may - we'd stress the may here though - have fallen below 6%.

     
  25.  
    US ECONOMY 06:07: Radio 5 live

    US financial expert and businesswoman Terry Savage tells Wake Up to Money the US economic recovery is still difficult to read: "It's kind of a glass half full/half empty kind of thing. Different parts of the economy have picked up, particularly consumer spending on autos and other big items," she says. "It's not what we would call a booming economy . It's just so much better than what we have had for the last few years."

     
  26.  
    06:01: Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    In a short while we'll have results from William Hill and British Airways owner IAG trading updates. And we'll have an eye on everything else that's going on. bizlive@bbc.co.uk @bbcbusiness.

     
  27.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. So what's happened overnight? Well the World Trade Organisation has failed to agree a global customs deal.... again. But manufacturing in China grew at its fastest pace in more than two years in July, according to the latest figures.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • A woman sits on a bed in a scene from Gustav Deutsch's latest film about Edward Hopper's paintingsTalking Movies Watch

    How film-maker Gustav Deutsch brought Edward Hopper’s paintings to life

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.