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.  
    MORTGAGE APPROVALS 11:34:
    A row of terraced houses in south London

    Mortgage approvals for house purchases rose to a three-month high in June, the British Bankers Association said. Although, they remain below the peak levels seen at the start of 2014. Mortgage approvals for house purchases climbed to 43,265 in June from 41,881 in May and from an eight-month low of 41,825 in April. Mortgage approvals in January were 48,500 - the highest level since the onset of the financial crisis.

     
  2.  
  3.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 11:20: Via Email Ben Brettell Hargreaves Lansdown Senior Economist

    "Those hoping for a November rate rise could be disappointed - the labour market remains weak, with productivity still substantially below trend and wage growth virtually non-existent. In today's minutes the committee noted that uncertainty about the degree of slack in the labour market has risen. I believe the MPC will want to see hard evidence that spare capacity in the labour market has been absorbed before considering higher interest rates."

     
  4.  
    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 11:06:
    British Prime Minister David Cameron

    Downing Street has denied reports the UK is still selling weapons to Russia. Number 10 says the UK had not sold arms to Russia's armed forces since March. MPs are seeking urgent clarification on the UK government's position. The Prime Minister has criticised other EU countries' arms deals with Moscow, and his spokesman has said the arms export licences still in place are for "non-military legitimate reasons".

     
  5.  
    PUBLIC SECTOR STRIKE 10:52: Breaking News
    Striking public sector workers protest in Trafalgar Square on 10 July

    Local government and school support workers will walk out on strike on 30 September in their continuing dispute with the government over pay, Unison has just announced. It follows the strike on 10 July, Workers are unhappy with a 1% pay increase after a three year pay freeze.

     
  6.  
    CROSSRAIL PRAISED 10:42:
    A Crossrail worker inspects the first completed section of Crossrail tunnel,

    The usually critical government spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, has praised the Crossrail project as "a textbook example of how to get things right". Its report, published today, says: "Major, complex infrastructure projects are notoriously difficult to deliver on time and in budget." But, it says, the £15.8bn project is on course to deliver value for money for taxpayers. The committee is now calling on Crossrail - which passes just north of Mrs Hodge's Barking constituency - to be used as a template for major infrastructure schemes like HS2.

     
  7.  
    BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS 10:26:
    Employment minister Esther McVey

    Employment minister Esther McVey has been telling middle-class kids they should believe setting up their own business "is every bit as good as going to university and working for a big company," according to the Daily Telegraph. Ms McVey told The Telegraph self-employment should be given the same social status and respect as the more conventional university route into employment. Someone should ask Richard Branson whether he thinks starting his own business was just as "good as going to university".

     
  8.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 10:11:

    Essentially, Bank policymakers think it is possible retired people are working for longer or there has been a sudden increase in the number of lower-skilled and longer-term unemployed people finding work. The minutes show policymakers were "unclear what the reason for such a shift could be" adding that if it persisted, wage growth could remain lower for longer than they had assumed.

     
  9.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 09:56:

    The second explanation for lower wage growth is far more complex and suggests the "supply of labour [has] increased". In other words, wage rises are being kept depressed because there are more people willing to do the jobs that are available and willing to accept lower wages to do those jobs, work longer hours for the same pay, or avoid retirement. Policymakers see several explanations for this including concerns about the adequacy of pensions, changes to benefits or weakness of current levels of income.

     
  10.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 09:49:

    On average wages - which appear to be one of the bank's biggest concerns at the moment - policymakers discussed two potential explanations for low growth. The first was the lag between any tightening in the labour market and an increase in wages was longer than the Bank first thought. So, that being the case, it is only a matter of time before increasing employment over the past year eventually feeds into higher wages. That's the easy, do nothing, wait and see, explanation.

     
  11.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 09:35: Breaking News

    Bank of England policymakers discussed whether there was a case to raise interest rates but once again voted unanimously to hold them at 0.5% in July. They remain concerned about low wage growth, it seems. And they also still fear choking off the economic recovery, according to the minutes which have just been released.

     
  12.  
    CENTRICA CEO 09:24:

    Iain Conn, the group managing director for refining and marketing at BP, is on a shortlist of one to replace Sam Laidlaw, the present chief executive of Centrica, reports BBC Business Editor Kamal Ahmed. Mr Conn's confirmation in the role could come as soon as next week.

     
  13.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 09:10:
    the Bank of England

    Bank of England policymaker Paul Fisher, who has just stood down after five years on the Monetary Policy Committee, has given an interview to the Independent, in which he claims the Bank delivered the economic recovery. Mr Fisher defends the decision to slash interest rates to 0.5% and launch quantitative easing. He also pays tribute to the "tremendous" efforts of Bank of England staff "who really did pull all the stops out to try to turn the economy round". The minutes of July's MPC meeting are out at 09:30 and will be pawed over for clues as to the timing of a possible interest rate rise.

     
  14.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:54:

    Europe's main stock markets are flat today without a clear sense of direction as investors digest the continuing conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine and their potential impact. The biggest rise on the FTSE 100 is Capita - up 1.13%, or 13p, to 1,168p - following its trading update this morning.

    • The FTSE 100 is 0.15% higher at 6805.50
    • Germany's Dax is higher by 0.41% at 9773.77
    • France's Cac-40 is up 0.14% at 4375.73
     
  15.  
    COMMONWEALTH BUSINESS 08:40:
    A swimmer practices using a snorkel during a training session at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre

    The Queen attends the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow tonight. But before all that there is the Commonwealth Business Conference. The event will focus on issues and opportunities common to all Commonwealth countries, including employment and skills, infrastructure development, improving financial services for business and the development of the smart cities of the future.

     
  16.  
  17.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:24:

    Japan's Nikkei stock average closed down 0.1% to 15,328.56 as the Tokyo markets kept their focus on tensions in Gaza and the Middle East. Meanwhile, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.5% after earlier pushing to a three-year peak. It moved in tandem with the S&P 500, which hit a new high overnight as traders turned their attention to positive corporate earnings.

     
  18.  
    TOUR DE FRANCE Via Twitter James Baker Councillor

    The economic benefits of Yorkshire hosting the opening stages of the Tour de France a fortnight ago are being called into question by James Baker, a local councillor for Warley ward on Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire. He tweets: "Interesting getting some feedback that Tour de France weekend wasn't great for some local businesses and takings were down for some." That's slightly at odds with the £100m estimated economic benefit the county was expecting.

     
  19.  
    BHP BILLITON 07:54:
    Ore

    BHP Billiton posted record annual iron ore production in Western Australia for the fourteenth consecutive year, while Queensland coal production also hit an all-time high. Rival mining giant Rio Tinto last week said its iron ore production and shipments surged to record highs in the first-half of the year as it boosted output despite a recent fall in commodity prices.

     
  20.  
    PAYPAL LENDER 07:39: BBC Radio 4
    A general view of the home page of PayPal.

    Online payments firm Paypal is to begin offering loans to small businesses. The loans will be in the form of cash advances and will be repayable when those small businesses make sales, it has said. Rupert Keeley, chief executive of PayPal Europe has told Radio 4's Today programme the firm hasn't set interest rates for these loans yet, but claims "they are going to be very competitive indeed". He adds businesses can set how much and how quickly they repay the loans.

     
  21.  
    ISRAEL FLIGHTS 07:25:
    British Airways (BA) Airbus A380 comes in to land at Heathrow airport

    Indefatigable British Airways has said it will continue to fly into Ben Gurion international airport in Tel Aviv despite most airlines deciding to cancel flights into the Israeli capital. All US airlines and most European flights into Israel have been halted after a rocket fired from Gaza landed one mile away from the airport. US airlines were stopped by the Federal Aviation Authority from landing in Tel Aviv for 24 hours.

     
  22.  
    CAPITA EARNINGS 07:10:

    Capita says "underlying" profit before tax for the first six months of the year rose 16% to £238m. However, if you factor in things like acquisition costs and reductions in the value of its assets, it's a drop in profit to £152.3m from £157.5m. Still, dividend is up 10.3% to 9.6 p.

     
  23.  
    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 06:51: BBC Radio 4
    Vladimir Putin

    More from Mr Grodzki on Russian sanctions: He says the Russian economy is very resilient to sanctions and Russia is virtually self-sufficient. It can sell its oil elsewhere in the world - it recently signed a deal with China - and he says France cancelling defence contracts may even boost the Russian economy and Russian jobs.

     
  24.  
    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 06:41: BBC Radio 4

    Georg Grodzki has now popped up on the Today programme, again talking about sanctions against Russia. He says: "It's very difficult to impose sanctions on a country that needs healthy relations with the West less than the West needs healthy relations with it." He adds Russian can buys the goods they want to from elsewhere. They would prefer to buy goods from the West but if they can't, they will live with it, he says.

     
  25.  
    RUSSIAN BONDS 06:33: Radio 5 live

    Russia cancelled one of its weekly bond sales yesterday, its first in three months, citing "unfavourable market conditions." On 5 live we have Georg Grodzki, formerly of Legal & General, telling us why. Sometimes governments realise they don't need the money he says, but this time that isn't the case. Russia's borrowing costs, which are about 4.6% for five year bonds - already high - have only got worse in recent days, he says.

     
  26.  
    TAX 06:23: Radio 5 live

    "Everyone should pay taxes at a flat rate from the first dollar," says Arthur Laffer, a former adviser to Ronald Reagan on 5 live. People like to avoid tax, he says, and taxing everyone the same should help stop gaming the system, he says. Does that mean taxing the poor the same? Yes, he says. Do you reward tax dodgers then? "They pay the tax rather than doing the dodges," he says.

     
  27.  
    ROYAL MAIL 06:11: Radio 5 live

    James Bevan of CCLA Investment Management is back on 5 live talking this time about Royal Mail's performance. Their annual shareholder meeting is on Thursday and he wants to hear more about the French antitrust case they, TNT and FedEx are involved in. Royal Mail has received notice from French competition authorities over a possible breach of antitrust law by one of its subsidiaries, which could result in a fine for the recently privatised group.

     
  28.  
    TESCO SHARES 06:01: Radio 5 live

    Tesco shares were down yesterday, but when it was announced they were losing their chief executive, the shares rose. How come? James Bevan, chief investment officer at CCLA Investment Management is explaining what he thinks on 5 live. "When Philip Clarke was let go there was also a profit warning," he says. "For that to drive the share price up seemed absolutely mad."

     
  29.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Hello! You can, as ever, get in touch with your views and experiences via email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk and via twitter @BBCBusiness.

     
  30.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Good morning everyone. We've had Microsoft second quarter earnings overnight - they were bad - as well as Apple - good- flights into Israel have been halted and there's a row over Russian sanctions to contend with. the morning is only just getting started.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • (File photo) Usain BoltClick Watch

    Challenging the world's fastest man to a virtual race over 40m – can you keep up?

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.