Rewind: The Healing Organization
On this Conscious Capitalists Podcast Rewind we bring you a much loved conversation: Raj and co-author Michael Gelb discuss the book that wrote itself. Businesses that are more human and more successful - changing the narrative about business. Originally released on November 24, 2020.
Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Michael J. Gelb is the world’s leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development. He is a pioneer in the fields of creative thinking, executive coaching and innovative leadership. His clients include senior leaders from DuPont, Merck, Microsoft, Nike, Roche and YPO. Michael is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Humanistic Management and a member of the Leading People & Organizations advisory board at the Fordham University Gabelli School of Business. Michael is the author of 17 books including the international best seller "How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day." His most recent book, co-authored w/ Raj Sisodia, is The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World. His new book, is Mastering the Art of Public Speaking: 8 Secrets to Transform Fear & Supercharge Your Career
A founding member of the Conscious Capitalism movement, Raj Sisodia is FW Olin Distinguished Professor of Global Business and Whole Foods Market Research Scholar in Conscious Capitalism at Babson College. He is also the Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Conscious Capitalism Inc.
References & Resources:
Conscious Capitalism main website - www.consciouscapitalism.org
Michael J. Gelb website - https://michaelgelb.com
Gelb, M.J. (2017). The Art of Connection: 7 Relationship Building Skills Every Leader Needs to Know. New World Library.
Gelb, M.J. (1992). Body Learning: An Introduction to the Alexander Technique. (2nd Ed.). Henry Holt and Company.
Gelb, M.J., Howell, K. (2011). Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age. New World Library.
Gelb, M.J. (2014). Creativity on Demand: How to Ignite and Sustain the Fire of Genius. Sounds True.
Gelb, M.J. (2018). The Five Keys to High Performance: Juggle Your Way to Success. G&D Media.
Gelb, M.J. (2000). How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. Dell.
Gelb, M.J., Caldicott, S.M. (2008). Innovate Like Edison: the Five-Step System for Breakthrough Business Success. Plume.
Gelb, M.J. (2020). Mastering the Art of Public Speaking: 8 Secrets to Transform Fear and Supercharge your Career. New World Library.
Mackey, J., Sisodia, R. (2014). Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. Harvard Business Review Press.
Sisodia, R., Gelb, M.J. (2019). The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World. HarperCollins Leadership.
Sisodia, R., Henry, T., Eckschmidt, T. (2018). Conscious Capitalism Field Guide. Harvard Business Review Press.
Smith, A. (1790). The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Gutenberg.
Smith, A. (1776). The Wealth of Nations. Gutenberg.
Timothy: Hello everybody, and welcome to episode 16, that’s sweet 16, of the Conscious Capitalists, and here I am, Timothy Henry, your co-host, with my partner in creating a better world by creating better businesses, Raj Sisodia. Hi Raj.
Raj: Hi Timothy. Good to see you again. I can’t believe it’s been 16. I remember we were young lads when we started this thing.
Timothy: We were! So many moons ago, but here we are, sweet 16 already, and today we have a very special guest and a co-author of a book with you and maybe you want to do the introduction here, Raj?
Raj: Yes. So I’ll just give a little backdrop as to how I got to know Michael, and then ask him to tell us a little bit about his origin story, which is quite fascinating, unlike any I’ve heard. I became aware of Michael’s work, I think, around 1995, when my brother-in-law gave me a cassette tape, a boxed set of Michael’s, around mind mapping, and told me, listen to this and learn. This is a really useful skill. And I did, of course, and then I found out in ’97 that Michael was actually living in the D.C. area, where I was living. I was a professor at George Mason, and I was running the Executive MBA program at the time. I had just stepped into that role and I was looking to do something different, and make our program unique and useful and relevant, and I went and met with Michael and we decided to create a three day program called High Performance Learning, teaching people how to think, how to learn, how to create, that included all kinds of things from mind mapping to creative problem solving to strategic presentation skills, and even speed reading and juggling. We taught them all of that. So, it was really a wonderful experience for the students and for me and for others. We opened it up. We actually repeated that a couple of times. And so that’s how I got to know Michael and it was a big impact on me because he’s all about creativity and I had this self-image that I was an engineer. I was very left brain oriented, analytical, and I just felt like I was not a creative human being. And Michael really changed that thinking for me and got me to think in different ways and recognized that all of us have the potential for creativity, and that was a time I was almost…I think I was turning 40 the next year, so that’s kind of the midlife crisis moment, so there was a turning point for me after that that I started to think more creatively about my life and all of my work, so I do thank Michael for that, and we’ve stayed friend ever since and Michael has been part of Conscious Capitalism. He was the MC of our second CEO summit and has done a lot of work in this area. So Michael, welcome to this podcast. Really happy to have you here today and tell us a little bit about your background and all the different things that you did before you became an acclaimed author and, actually, I think one of the best speakers that I’ve ever seen actually on stage, so thank you .
Michael Thank you. Well, my background really begins with a sense that healing was my number one priority in terms of professional life. I knew I wanted to be involved in some kind of healing profession. It seemed to me that the world needed healing, society needed healing, people needed healing, and I needed healing. So that, at first, let me to think about becoming a medical doctor. That was the most logical career path, except in those days it was before functional medicine or integrative medicine, so really you just had to study disease, and when I looked at medical school training it seemed to be making medical students sick, so I looked into getting a PhD in Clinical Psychology, another way of helping heal the mind, except same problem, they hadn’t invented positive psychology yet, so if you wanted to get your PhD in Clinical Psychology, you had to study neurosis and psychosis, and I didn’t really want to immerse myself in neurosis and psychosis any more than I already was by just being a citizen. So, I had to find my own path, but I did have clear criteria. It had to be something through which I would be able to learn and grow and healing of course means return to wholeness, so it put me in a direction of returning to wholeness myself, and helping other people and systems, organizations, society return to wholeness.
Now, I didn’t think, oh, perfect, I’ll just go get an MBA and do this through business. That came way later. My first real professional endeavor was being a professional juggler, just because I thought it was the coolest thing and it seemed really challenging and I really wanted to learn it, and I got pretty good at it. I became a professional juggler. I worked my way through graduate school as a professional juggler. I juggled on stage with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones and with Bob Dylan, and then I started using juggling as a metaphor for the process of accelerated learning, keeping a number of balls up in the air at once, managing complexity, make sure you keep breathing, maintain your own balance and poise, don’t get too upset when you drop the balls, work as a team to pick the balls up for one another, take the task, break it down. My very first juggling teacher, I asked him to teach me. He said, take these three balls, throw them up, don’t let any of them drop. We’ve all been given instructions like that which ensure that we’re going to fail, and of course, I failed over and over again, but then I had an aha experience. I realized that if I could just start with one, and then play with two, and then work my way up to three, and four, and five, it would be so much easier and so much more fun, and this opened up a door whereby I was able to teach a lot of people who thought that this was impossible, that they could never do it, that they had no hand eye coordination. I could teach people to do this simple skill that just delights everybody. It’s just fun, it’s playful, it brings out childlike joy in everybody who does it, and people really resonated with this because it gave people a lot of a sense of confidence that they could learn anything they wanted to. So that was really the beginning of my path and perhaps later I’ll tell you how that wound up trying to change the world through business.
Timothy: I love it. And so that’s a great beginning and I’m curious, you’ve had an incredible body of work. What is it? How many books have you written? Seventeen?
Michael: Seventeen so far, yeah.
Timothy: Only seventeen so far, with another ten to come no doubt, and so I’m curious, how does this book, The Healing Organization, that you and Raj co-created, how does that fit with the bigger body of work that you’ve been doing for years?
Michael: Well, The Healing Organization, and I think Raj feels the same, I feel like it’s the most important work I’ve been blessed to be a part of and one of the wonderful things about collaborating with Raj, which we’ve been doing for decades, but this particular expression of that collaboration is that it really is more than the sum of the parts. There’s Raj’s incredible body of wisdom and research, and there’s the work that I have done, but in coming together and incubating this over the years, the expression that emerged in The Healing Organization is something beyond just the sum of the two of us. It feels like a message for the time that we’re in that’s so powerful, so relevant. When people talk about the Zeitgeist, and Raj and I were able to bring more geist into the zeit through this book.
Timothy: And Raj, how about from your point of view? How did this book fit with your ‘oeuvre’ (French for your body of work) as they say? We were playing with that word before we started and I thought I’d try to work in somewhere, so there, I’ve worked in our word for the day. Raj?
Raj: Yeah, it’s kind of synchronicity, I think, with these things. Right? I mean the expression that I’ve heard is that ideas are looking for a place to land and I think this idea was out there. I had used healing as an acronym for the qualities of a great purpose for several years and I never gave it much thought beyond, okay, it’s a cute…I mean I have a facility with acronyms somehow, and yeah, it kind of fits, right? Because purpose is to make people’s lives better, but I never took it much deeper than that. Then, as we started to think, and I think for Michael and I, we were talking about we need to do a book together. We should do a book together. We’ve been friends for so long and we admire each other’s work, but then we kept coming up with ideas and we were operating from our heads, right? So there was idea about a book about becoming a conscious leader, which Michael had been playing with that idea, sort of similar to what Warren Bennis had done with his book On Becoming a Leader, but that didn’t seem to have the energy within it. Then we had a number of other ideas and we kept writing up little two pagers and sending them to an editor that I had worked with at Penguin, and he kept batting them back, and finally, he said, you know, Raj, you don’t write a book when you think it’s time to write another book. You write a book when there’s something that needs to be born, that needs to emerge. So I think then we started to look inward and I had just been thinking about this idea of healing and it resonated. You know, when something elicits a physical response in your body, and I think Michael has expertise in the Alexander Technique and was much more in tune with his body and his martial arts work. I was never in tune with my body, really. My body is just a vehicle to carry my head around, I think, is kind of the metaphor. Right? But I know that when I was writing Firms of Endearment and writing some of those stories and I literally was in tears and I said I’ve never had tears of joy connected to my work, I knew my body was telling me something. And even here, I think when the heart started to kind of focus on that, I knew that there was something there. You know? And I think part of it also was that there was a deep need for healing inside me.
I think, as we say, we teach what we need to learn, or we write about what we need to explore. I think there was so much that I had swept under the carpet and buried in my psyche and I was operating at a superficial level. Before I did the Firms of Endearment work, I was unhappy in every aspect of my life, and then with that, my work life became more meaningful and joyful, but it was still not as deep and I was kind of not paying attention to some of the other things that actually need healing within me, so there was kind of a walking wounded aspect to that. And a few years ago, I started to kind of address those things and I turned 60 and I started to look inward, and I think Michael and I said early on that writing this book is a sacred undertaking so we need to put our heart and soul into this and do what we have to do. And for me, the advice that came from three different people simultaneously almost was that you need to slow down and you need to look inward and work on your own healing before you…you don’t have permission to write about healing until you actually think about healing for yourself. You know?
Fortunately, I listened to them. They’re all women, Lynn Twist and Nilhma and Louisa. And so I did, I told Michael, listen, we have a deadline of October but I need some time and fortunately we were able to agree on that and the publisher delayed our book for five months and so I did all of that. So anyway, that became an exploration for me, but I think to me, on the Conscious Capitalism pathway, I’m interested in learning more because by no means have any of us arrived at the final answers, so Shakti Leadership was exploring the dimension of leadership, around that everybody matters to something, and I think, to me, this was about going deeper into the purpose question and looking at can our business be a vehicle for reducing suffering in the world and bringing more joy, and as we got deeper into it and started to capture some of the stories, it just took on an energy of its own, I think. This book kind of wrote itself through us, we feel. It was almost…not effortless, we worked hard, but it wasn’t a burden by any means.
Timothy: Wow, that’s beautiful. I love it. Thank you. Thank you both for sharing about what that book means to you. It’s very touching to hear how personal this book was for you. Now, there are three principles that you highlight in the book about a healing organization. Maybe introduce our listeners to what those three principles are and then we’ll dive a little deeper.
Michael: Sure. So, turn to page 207 in your prayer book, and the congregation can read together. The first one is to assume the moral responsibility to prevent and alleviate unnecessary suffering. So that’s the big picture of the healing organization. Recognize that employees are your first stakeholders, so this is just fascinating. People grew up with this idea that the customer comes first and in conscious capitalism we care for all of our stakeholders. It’s just one of the fundamental tenets. But what we learned from spending a lot of time with the CEOs and other folks who are living the healing organization, all shared with us that they recognize that their employees were the key stakeholders, that if you want happy customers, if you want happy vendors and communities and shareholders, you begin with the focus on the people who actually work in your company. So, for example, the Butt family of HEB that’s a wonderful grocery chain, based in Texas, that we profile in the book, Charles Butt, that family, they’re a member of the Giving Pledge, net worth of about $10 billion, pledged to give more than half of it to worthy causes, but they also earn it by making the world a better place, and Charles Butt told the CEO of H-E-B, pay all our employees as much as you can, not as little as you can. Are you listening, Jeff Bezos? Right? And then the third one, which comes back to what Raj emphasized as part of what really brought us together to write this book and choose this title, or the title chose us, as Raj suggested, the third one is define, communicate, and live by a healing purpose, and that begins on an individual basis. It begins with leadership of company having a higher purpose for their own lives.
So this is where my own work as an executive coach over the years and my collaboration with Raj have come together, because for years it always seemed to me that the people I was coaching had to have a goal that was something beyond just make the Board of Directors happy with me and get a big raise and get more stock options and make more money. I’m always in favor of that and there’s nothing…believe me, part of healing is making lots of money. It’s amazing how much happier and whole people can be where there is prosperity and abundance. So part of the genius of Firms of Endearment and Conscious Capitalism is getting beyond the limiting belief that somehow higher human values and fulfillment are not aligned with prosperity and abundance. So this is the big mindset shift that a lot of people need to make and I was helping them make that shift and make mind maps, Raj talked about learning mind maps in the seminar that he sponsored at George Mason years ago. So I would get my clients to make a mind map of their life, their higher purpose, the different elements of their life, and look systematically for where’s the greatest gap between their ideals and their current reality on any given day, and then make a strategy to bridge the gap. Well, that’s the same thing that we do with organizations, but first, you have to do it as an individual.
You asked before, how does all my other work fit in, and Raj mentioned how the book effectively wrote itself, so the creative process that we experienced in this book is the creative process that I teach people in How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, and in Innovate like Edison. So, for years, I’ve been teaching people how to have access to this flow of universal creativity and it’s a good thing that we got to experience it while writing this. And the other thing that’s become really apparent to me in working with real companies on applying these high ideals is, okay, it’s one thing, you create a higher purpose for your organization and you buy into the conscious capitalism philosophy and the four pillars. And then it’s not even that hard to each people to think creatively and to understand how to develop an innovative culture, but what I observed is that for a lot of leaders, the breakdown comes in one to one connection with other people, that they have trouble listening, being empathic, sometimes they are just not aware of themselves even though they get lots of 360 feedback.
So, I wrote this book called The Art of Connection; Seven Relationship Building Skills Every Leader Needs Now, and then my most recent one is called Mastering the Art of Public Speaking, because the other thing you’ve got to do, once you connect with people one on one, if you want to be a conscious leader, if you want to be a healing leader, you’re going to have to get people to buy in. You’re going to have to speak to larger and larger groups with more and more at stake, so I just focused on what do you really need to do to make these noble ideas into practical reality.
Timothy: Great. I really like that approach Michael, and one of the things that struck me in the book was at times you guys had some pretty creative ideas about chapter headings and in this time of COVID, or more importantly, maybe in this time of social upheaval that we’ve been going through in the US. I think one of the chapter titles, in particular, struck me, which was the Parable of the Pothole, and maybe, Raj, you want to take a shot at explaining what that is and what it meant to you when you guys wrote that?
Raj: Okay, sure. Michael came up with many of those chapter titles, by the way. So I think I came up with the parts of the book. The first part is the suffering we have caused and the second part is the joy that is possible, and the third I think we call the beckoning path, but part one is about how did we get here, how did we end up causing so much suffering without intending to in the world of business, and the second part is stories and I think our first story is the Parable of the Pothole. So the analogy is really that, of course, life has potholes. Unexpected things happen and most of us are fortunate in that we have the ability and the wherewithal to actually withstand those and continue on, despite that temporary setback, but the lived reality for huge numbers, I would say the majority of people, even in a rich country like the US, is that a pothole can completely derail your life, something that happens, your heating system breaks down in January, your kid gets sick, your car breaks down, whatever it may be. More than 50% of Americans have less than $400 in the bank and they can’t raise $2,000 within 30 days if they have an emergency. They are that close to financial disaster, right?
And so, the story that we use to illustrate that is that imagine…so there’s a company called Appletree Answers, which is a call center company, which was created through the mergers of a bunch of smaller companies, so it became one of the larger call center companies. And so John Ratliff, the CEO, as he started to try to run this business in a more systematic way, given that it had grown, he looked at the employee engagement and turnover data and overall, it was pretty mediocre. But then he said, okay, let me see how it is for the college educated salary professional managerial side of the business, about 15% of the business, 10% to 15%, and he found the numbers were pretty good. Turnover was in the teens, engagement was, I think, above 50% or 60%. Not great, but not bad. Looked on the other side, on the hourly workers, turnover was 118% and engagement was in the low teens. He said, wow, we’re losing people on average after 10 months, and he thought he needed to learn from the industry how to do it better. He found out the industry average is 150%, so they were looking to him to say how do you get it down to 118%?
But then he started to ask simple questions. How can we make your life better? What can we do? Please tell us, anything that we can do to improve. And things like better chairs so we don’t get backaches and stuff like that, so they took care of those, but there was still an underlying cause, which is the financial strain and the economy of uncertainty that plagues. 100 million people in the country, in the US, work in hourly jobs. That’s two-thirds of the workforce, and about 80 million of those are essentially paycheck to paycheck. We have another story into the book about Pay Active, which also gets into that issue.
But there’s kind of a caste system. So we have the salary people and then we have the hourly people actually doing the work, 85% of our employees, and their life is way different and nobody cares about their struggles. We have all kinds of benefits and other things and developmental opportunities for the managers.
So the analogy is imagine if our CFO is driving to work and her Mercedes hits a pothole and the tire blows out and the rim gets damaged. Well, all she has to do is call AAA and the car gets taken for repairs and she gets a ride to work. She arrives maybe an hour late. Everybody is very solicitous and says, oh my god, are you okay? Can I get you some coffee? And the car gets delivered. It’s washed and repaired and clean and the insurance takes care of most of it. So, here’s the non-event in her life and yet, we are caring towards her and empathetic.
Now imagine one of those hourly workers is driving into work, same road, hits the same pothole in her $800 14 year old Tercel, and blows out the tire and damages the rim. Now, she doesn’t have AAA. She really can’t afford it, so she has to call around and get it towed off and she can’t afford the $35 that it costs to get a taxi to get to work, so she calls friends and finally gets a ride. Arrives three hours late and she’s told that the supervisor is waiting for you. He’s really mad. And she goes in and he reprimands her pretty harshly and says this is a checkmark against your record and two more of these and you will be fired. so don’t let it happen again. And then at the end of that he says, now go and answer the phones and be nice to our customers. Now this woman has $160 in the bank. She has no idea how she’s going to pay for whatever the repair is going to cost her. How is she going to get to work? How will she get her kids to school tomorrow? And yet, we kick her when she’s down. There’s no empathy for her.
So John Ratliff said, I want to help people in that situation, so they created a program called Dream On. He said, please apply. We know life is tough, things happen, we want to be able to help you. We don’t want your life to get derailed because of some incident. And for eight days, nobody applied. And finally, a woman wrote in and she said, I’m so sorry, but I need help. My ex-husband stopped paying alimony two weeks ago and a week ago my two kids and I got evicted from our apartment and we’ve been living in my car for a week now. And I’m sorry, I can’t do this to them anymore. I need help. John Ratliff sees this and he says, he has tears in his eyes, all I felt was a deep sense of shame. He said, what kind of a leader am I and what kind of a company am I running here? A full-time employee who is a mother is homeless for a week before she can tell us, and we’re asking people to ask or tell us. So of course, they immediately got her into a hotel that night and they helped her get into another apartment within a week and they helped her with the first month and last month and furniture, all of which are steep hurtles for most people, and they told her, we can keep this quiet. We don’t have to tell anybody if you want your privacy. She said, nobody has ever done anything this nice for me in my life. I’m going to tell everybody I know.
And so the word gets out and before you know it, the floodgates open and so many people came forward with their stories. There’s all this silent suffering out there. People are stoic and people are heroic. They walk around with these enormous burdens. If you could see a thought bubble over their head, it would break your heart. And they started helping everybody, one by one, and over a period of the next few years, that employee turnover of 118% went all the way down to the teens, somewhere in the 15%, 16% range. Now, imagine if the industry is at 150% and you’re one-tenth of that, imagine the productivity and the customer care and the profitability of the business that’s impacted by that.
So the fact is, when you do these caring, kind, healing things, the business consequences are also positive. However, we caution that’s not why you do them. You do them because that’s the human thing to do. You don’t say, okay, make a calculation, if I do this, this will happen and therefore we will be more profitable. You don’t make a business case for being human. You have to start by saying we need to be human. We need to be caring. So that’s why that story…I think it illustrates a broader phenomenon that we have a caste system out there in our world of work, that they’re the invisible super majority of people who are working those jobs, and now we are calling them essential workers and we are thanking them during this pandemic, but the fact is they’ve always been doing this hard work for way little money and suffering all the way through.
Timothy: I love that point and the way you’ve brough it out, Raj. I mean, you look at it from the human side and it’s very clear the case that you just made, and I just want to reemphasize, and it’s also clear from the business side, when the supervisor says, okay, you’ve had a really rotten beginning to your day. You’re not in a great mood. Go out and give good customer service in the customer service call center. Not going to happen baby, as Kip Tindell, who we had last week said. He said, listen, your customers are not going to love your business or your product if your employees don’t love your company and working there, and I think your example there just…you know, it’s a call center. What kind of vibe are you going to give off when, one, you’re not in a happy place, and so I think that’s a really strong argument just for creating a happy, healthy workplace. Therefore, that will be translated to your customers.
And then, I think the second point you raised, which is the turnover, and think of the experience that those people have when you’ve got people that are in the call center for three or four years, they’ve seen this problem before, they’ve heard these kinds of issues, they know what to do. They do it faster. They do it better. And pull in the happier factor from the beginning and you’ve got happier, faster answers. What’s not to like about that? I think that’s great. There are a couple of other titles that sort of hit me and I must have known that Michael was the creative genius behind them, but this one had to be one of the more unusual titles that I’ve seen in a semi-business book, and get this, Thanks For Putting Poison on My Microscope. Thank you, yes indeed. Michael, please, tell us that one.
Michael: Sure, I will, and let’s just contextualize a little bit because there are three kinds of stories in the book. There are stories of companies that started with a healing purpose, companies like Greyston Bakery, for example, in Yonkers, amazingly moving, profound story. Raj and I both visited them. They adopted right from the beginning a policy of open hiring, so if you’ve just gotten out of jail and you wanted to work, no questions asked. Just show up, go through the training, do the job, and the stories of people whose lives have been transformed who would be dead or in jail now have beautiful lives thanks to Greyston Bakery. So, this is one category of healing organizations, the companies that started out with a healing purpose.
Timothy: Just to add to that, Michael, if I could.
Timothy: There was a Jeopardy question that said, where do the brownies in the Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream come from? The answer would be?
Michael: Greyston Bakery, and the other Jeopardy question could be focusing on what happens when you become a healing organization? Other healing organizations want to do business with you. So, this is part of the power of this movement. When people hear these stories, a lot of people just don’t know that this is possible. One of the other types is the type that Raj just told the story of, John Ratliff and Appletree Answers, and that’s why the subtitle of the book is Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World. Of course, business itself doesn’t have a conscious. John Ratliff had one and when he became aware of what we call the Parable of the Pothole, when he became aware that one of his employees was living in her car with her two children, he felt that sense of shame, he felt an awakening of his conscious, and he acted on it. So those stories are profoundly inspiring because people who are not awake, not aware, have an epiphany, have an awakening, and change the way they do business in a way that, as Raj articulated so beautifully, is more human, and you do it because it’s more human, but the drop in turnover that they experienced, the profitability of that company, was absolutely transformed by the healing initiative that they took.
The Thank You for Poisoning My Microscope story is the third class of companies. So we have those who start out as healing organizations, those who start out basically exploiting workers for profit because that’s what they learned to do in business school, and then there’s another large group, which is people are basically just really good people and have really good human values, which they haven’t fully integrated into their business. They just want to do good through business, but they haven’t really developed that, so a lot of these companies, like the company that we’re about to talk about, give to charity, do community initiatives, are nice to their employees, try to help people, but it goes back.
So the story goes back to Chris Hillmann, who is today the Chairman, he’s the Founder of Hillmann Consulting. And he was a graduate seeking work. He was interested in environmental safety and he got a job as an inspector on asbestos sites. So, he’s working for a big company and they send him to a school to do a test for asbestos in the school building and he writes up his report and he found unsafe levels of asbestos. So, he’s visited by one of his bosses after he submits the report and the boss hands him an envelope full of cash and says, I need you to change this report. So Chris is just a good Catholic boy. He’s not going to poison school children for money, just basic human decency. He says, you’re crazy, I’m not doing that, I quit. But he’s such an honorable person, he promised to give two weeks’ notice before he quit so he’s working there for the next two weeks. So he goes the next day to look at other samples in his microscope and just before he’s about to put his eyes on the oculars, he sees that someone has put dispersion fluid, a toxic substance, on the oculars trying to burn his eyes to punish him for not going along with this criminal racket.
Michael: So he walked out that moment and started Hillmann Consulting, on a fundamental value of integrity and basic goodness. So, I was blessed to begin working with Hillmann five years ago. I’ve led their strategic planning meeting every year, and part of how I connected with Chris Hillmann is he wanted to have more impact with his business. He didn’t know it, because he didn’t know about conscious capitalism, but he wanted his endeavor to be a conscious business. So he brought his team to a couple of conscious capitalism conferences and then, as Raj and I wrote The Healing Organization and profiled his company in it, he stook up at a strategic planning meeting a couple years ago, where I brought Raj in as our special guest speaker, and Chris stook up and said, look, the reason we’re going to continue to do this is because we want to be a healing organization. If he wanted to, he could sell the business right now. He could play golf every day for the rest of his life and he wouldn’t have to think about a thing, but he wants to grow because he wants to serve all the communities that they serve, he wants to provide more opportunity for people, he’s begun a wellness people for his people, he’s got his people engaged in all kinds of really creative community service, and it’s a continual quest to up-level the ability to help everyone that they interact with in their business. So, we say Thank You for Poisoning My Microscope, because that’s what let him start this beautiful healing organization, Hillmann Consulting.
Timothy: I love that. That’s a great example, Michael, and you know, it raises a really interesting question. You both sort of brought it up in your own different ways around this story, and the question that I want to pose is at one level you’re sort of saying, listen, bring your humanness to work, be a human at work. Don’t have this difference between who I am at work and who I’m not, who I am at home. It’s sometimes what I call the Tony Soprano version of capitalism. Tony comes up to you, puts the gun in your side and says, hey, nothing personal, it’s only business, and then pulls the trigger. It’s like, yeah, somehow there’s this work life that has one set of rules and then there’s our personal lives which have another. And you’re sort of saying, hey listen, that’s not the way it works. Really, you need to bring your whole person to work, and guess what, everybody else does too, so let’s break that barrier down. Now, that makes so much sense when we’re talking about it, but that’s not the conventional mindset today and I’m curious, what do you think we need, Michael, to be able to sort of bring that whole person to work? Because you walk into companies, I’m sure, all the time where people have that gap. How do you help them, especially at the leadership level, bring their whole self to work?
Michael: Well, let’s be clear too. When we say, bring your whole self to work, we’re not inviting you to whine, complain, be self-indulgent or narcissistic. So, Freud did say that repression was the basis of civilization, and there are some things you should probably repress both at home and at work, but we’re talking a deeper soul level. We’re talking about leaders who genuinely care about the soul of all the beings that they interact with and all of us have been blessed to be around leaders like…I mean you had Kip Tindell last week. So Kip is that kind of guy. Kip will see the janitor in the building and will greet that person with the same sense of respect and humanity as his biggest investor or most important client. It’s wonderful to be around those kinds of role models to realize what’s possible so that you can aspire to be like that, and that’s why I’ve emphasized throughout my career choosing consciously the role models you want to emulate. So if you want to be creative, emulate Leonard da Vinci. If you want to be innovative, emulate Thomas Edison. If you want to be a healing leader, then emulate Kip Tindell, for example. And that’s why we tell these stories in The Healing Organization because a lot of people, they hear about this and it sounds almost too good to be true, but then we tell the stories of real businesses with real challenges. Look, Raj and I, in the past few weeks, we’ve interviewed a number of the leaders whose businesses were most impacted by the pandemic, because the test is when you’re under adversity, when…well look, I’ll just tell you about Hillmann Consulting.
When COVID first hit, the job sites that they were working on in New York City were all shut down and they lost about 30% of their business, and they had to furlough 40 people, which was a significant percentage of their workforce. But how do you do that? You have to do it. Profit, money, it’s like oxygen. If there’s not enough oxygen, you die, and same thing with your business. So this is a tough decision. It doesn’t mean we’re just going to keep everybody on and the company is going to go broke. Tough business decision, and Chris Hillmann and the senior team at the company all took a 20% pay cut. They asked all the remaining employees who still had a job to take a 10% pay cut. They kept, obviously to just to keep the benefits going for all the furloughed people, but senior leaders called every furloughed person every week to let them know what we’re doing to bring you back. Then, the George Floyd monstrosity event happened, which was horrifying and compounding the suffering. The CEO, Chris Hillmann, personally called every minority employee, every minority employee who had been furloughed, and every employee or furloughed employee who had a significant other who was from a minority group, to just express his caring and just if there’s anything that the company could do. So empathy, he was caring.
So what’s wonderful is Hillmann was super resilient and creative. Within two days, they had an up and running business clearing COVID out of buildings and transforming the air filter…they do asbestos remediation, mold remediation, well, now they do COVID remediation. That business was up and running within two days. They were able to bring back all of their furloughed employees, reinstate full salaries for everyone, and I got a letter from an African American woman who had been furloughed and is now back at her job, telling me how much it meant to her that the CEO called her the day after the George Floyd thing happened. She said, I felt unsafe letting my boys drive…what’s going to happen to them just going out to try to get groceries, but the comfort she felt. This is just the right thing to do. It’s just human, but you could feel the energy in the letter this woman wrote. She loves this company, which, by the way, is winning award after award of most beloved company. It’s also in the 5,000 fastest growing companies. They’re managing to grow this year and make a profit, because when people love coming to work, when they know that the CEO and the other executives really genuinely care about them, they bring a level of energy that you just don’t get in a business-as-usual environment.
Timothy: So, Michael, you know, with your fascinating background, the part of you that’s been driven into the healing profession at some level or some of the healing work and the incredible work you’ve done around creativity and innovation and thinking, really in a lateral way, how do you pull those together in terms of your advice to leaders who want to lead healing organizations?
Michael: Thank you. Well, Raj mentioned that The Healing Organization book has three parts. The first part is how we got here, for better or for worse, the second part are the stories, which are profoundly inspirational and they fit into the three categories of companies who started from the beginning to be healing organizations, those who underwent an awakening and transformed, and those who always were trying to do good but learned that there’s a better way to do it. And then the third part of the book is on becoming a healing leader. So, what are the competencies? What are the skills that we all need to translate this noble idea into practice? So in part three, we say, well, you need to learn creativity and innovation. You need to learn to be an empathic communicator. You need to learn to get other people engaged and involved. You need to help others align around a higher purpose. So, the with the limit of words we were allowed, if we were allowed more words, I would have just taken everything in all my other books and put it in the rest of this book, because the how to part is, first, okay, great, a healing purpose, get everybody in your company to take the healing oath. Then, to execute this, to operate this, figure out the competencies that everybody needs to have in leadership and that’s creative thinking, innovation, understanding the process of innovation, one to one communication and relationship building, and the ability to get other people engaged and involved in larger groups.
Now, there are other skills as well, but those are the ones that I’ve devoted my life to creating a practice curriculum in an integrated way, so that we’re not just improving your creative thinking or it’s not just innovation or it’s not just communication or it’s not just public speaking. It’s an integrated approach, a systems approach to all of these competencies because they all go together. If you want to give great presentations, it helps to be really creative, for example.
Timothy: Yeah. Well, I love that and maybe a final note on this might be to tell us a little bit more about the Healing Oath and maybe let’s take it.
Michael: So, what Raj and I both feel about The Healing Organization is we’re both aware of the power of an idea to change the world. Noble ideas, like Adam Smith’s original idea that freedom and prosperity go together. It’s a genius idea. It came forth on The Wealth of Nations, very popular, everybody knows about it, but they forgot The Theory of Moral Sentiments that he wrote 17 years beforehand, and without The Theory of Moral Sentiments, The Wealth of Nations becomes destructive. So really, if you think about it, the Healing Oath is an oath to integrate The Theory of Moral Sentiments back into The Wealth of Nations. So, I’ll read it and then people can take it, we can actually take the oath together.
So, we see this book as part of a movement to change the world of business and make it about love and healing instead of fear and survival. If you’d like to be part of this movement, begin by taking the Healing Organization Oath. Place your left hand on your heart and raise your right hand and proclaim, “primum non nocere, primum non nocere.” It’s the same oath that physicians take. First, do no harm. I’ll give you a little background. I will operate my business in a way that causes no harm to others or the earth. Just already, if everybody going into business took that part of the oath, the world would be a much better place, but that’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient. So next is ‘malus eradicare’, it means root out evil. So, we can come across all these stories of huge organizations, a global bank, and it eventually comes to the attention of regulators that they’ve churned more than 500,000 false accounts to create commission. Now, ultimately, they’re fined billions of dollars and the CEO loses his job and so does the person who replaced him. We talk about it a little bit in the book. I don’t think the people in that company went to business school and said, gee, someday I want to defraud investors to churn commission, but instead, they walk into a system that somehow colludes with doing that and says, turn a blind eye when you see this. So, malus eradicare says, no. I won’t turn a blind eye. I’m blowing the whistle. So we say, I will never enable or collude with abuse or exploitation. I will be an everyday hero who stands up for fairness, truth, beauty, integrity, and basic goodness. And then the third part of the healing oath, ‘amor vincit omnia’, which Leonardo da Vinci’s motto and it means love conquers all. So we say I will operate from love. I will measure success by the fulfillment, abundance, and joy I generate for others.
Timothy: That’s beautiful. That’s really beautiful. Do no harm, root out evil, and love conquers all. Beautiful
Well, thank you so much, Michael, and thank you, Raj, for being both our guest and our host this week, and for those of you that are listening on whatever channel you’re listening, remember, you can always hit the subscribe button and if you have any thoughts or comments, please come to TheConsciousCapitalists.com and leave your thoughts and comments. Thanks, Raj.
Raj: Thank you, and thank you, Michael, so much for joining us today. It was a delightful and stimulating conversation, and if you would like to learn more about Conscious Capitalism, the movement, please go to ConsciousCapitalism.org. Until next week, goodbye.