Should C-suite execs keep their opinions to themselves on store visits?
When Whole Foods CEO John Mackey makes a visit to one of his chain’s stores, he withholds criticism as much as possible and recommends that others in similar positions do the same.
Mr. Mackey told the Freakonomics podcast a single criticism from him could be devastating to store employee morale, even when given alongside 10 compliments, CNBC reports. He believes store staff see him as akin to a parental figure who they want to make happy because of his role as company founder and so he gives any store he visits, for the most part, nothing but praise. In his estimation, people only receive criticism well from people with whom they have built trust.
Surveys have found that, at the store manager level, serving as a role model is important, but offering feedback, holding teams accountable and avoiding condescension are likewise critical. Mr. Mackey’s role positions him differently with respect to the company; although he is the CEO/founder of the grocer, he no longer owns it. Whole Foods was acquired by Amazon in 2017.
Mr. Mackey has long been a frequently-quoted figure on matters of leadership and entrepreneurship due to Whole Foods’ success. In 2013, he co-wrote a book outlining the concept of “Conscious Capitalism,” which makes ideological room for social responsibility in the enterprise world. Such concepts have grown popular throughout the business world. The Business Roundtable recently introduced social responsibility as a central tenet, replacing Milton Friedman’s doctrine of focusing exclusively on building shareholder value.
Mr. Mackey has also proven to be controversial with public statements, sometimes appearing to be at odds with his avowed social consciousness. In 2010, he wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal criticizing healthcare reform (which quoted Margaret Thatcher as an epigraph) and Whole Foods was forced to distance itself from his position on the topic.
In late-2019, reports revealed that Whole Foods intended to cut medical benefits for 1,900 employees who were working fewer than 30 hours a week, again raising the question of how conscious a capitalist Mr. Mackey is in reality.
- Whole Foods CEO John Mackey: How to ‘devastate employee morale’ in a single blow – CNBC
- Whole Foods Co-Founder John Mackey’s Career Advice to Entrepreneurs – The Motley Fool
- Time for John Mackey to resign – RetailWire
- Did Whole Foods just give conscious capitalism a swift kick to the curb? – RetailWire
- What makes a great retail store manager? – RetailWire
- Is Walmart’s CEO the right leader for Business Roundtable – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree with Mr. Mackey about the need to first establish trust with employees before giving criticism, and how can that be accomplished by figures in the upper echelons of a business? Are there times when a CEO or other C-suite member should break with Mr. Mackey’s advice and offer criticism to employees when visiting stores?