I’d like to share the beauty of the second pillar or tenet of the Conscious Capitalism movement, Stakeholder Orientation.

To me “Stakeholder Orientation” means that we as business leaders are putting our heads high up, and slowly, carefully looking all around us. We are feeling real care about how the things we are doing are impacting the well being of life downstream – the people we work with and for, and the communities and ecosystems beyond.  Really following the ripples of our wake and expressing response-ability to care for what belongs to us and for what we belong to. We are feeling and living our true interconnectedness with the Whole – with eyes, mind, heart and hands wide open! We are conscious! Recognizing the interdependent nature of life, we care for our customers, employees, suppliers, investors, local communities, society and planet Earth. 

For John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, authors of Conscious Capitalism, “Stakeholders are all the entities that impact or are impacted by a business. Conscious businesses recognize that each of their stakeholders is important and all are connected and interdependent, and that the business must seek to optimize value creation for all of them. All of the stakeholders of a conscious business are motivated by a shared sense of purpose and core values.” They apply “the limitless power of human creativity” to create win-win-win-win-win-win solutions when faced with conflict or potential tradeoffs. 

Does this seem daunting or even impossible? Yet think about how daunting and impossible the reverse situation is – to work for a company or be served by a company that doesn’t care much about you or anyone else besides their investors. Think about the countless downstream messes, manifesting in stress, resentment, disappointment, distrust, environmental toxicity AND a lot of missed opportunities!

Compare that to working for the possible bright future that Mackey and Sisodia describe – 

  • Loyal, trusting customers
  • Passionate, inspired team members
  • Patient, purposeful investors
  • Collaborative, innovative suppliers
  • Flourishing, welcoming communities
  • Healthy, vibrant environment

Included in this amazing gift bag is their discovery that I shared in earlier posts, that conscious businesses are also more profitable and more sustainable! They provide data to support this business case.


Mackey’s Second Awakening: Stakeholders Really Matter, and the Power of Love 

Mackey provides a great example of the benefits of stakeholder orientation, one that points to why Whole Foods Market still exists today. 

Eight months after he moved the original store, Safer Way, and renamed it Whole Foods, there was a big flood in Austin Texas and their new store was eight feet underwater. All of the equipment and inventory were destroyed. They had no savings, insurance or warehoused inventory so they were wiped out. 

When the team arrived at the store the next day they  felt completely devastated – they  really loved their store. Then something unexpected happened – dozens of customers and neighbors started showing up at the store, bringing buckets, mops etc – saying, “stop moping and start mopping”.

This continued for weeks, and when asked why, their community members said things like, “Whole Foods is really important to me. I’m not sure I would even want to live in Austin if Whole Foods wasn’t here, if it ceased to exist. It has made a huge difference in my life.”

They also received an “avalanche of support” from their other stakeholders. Since they couldn’t make payroll, some people worked for free, suppliers offered credit, investors made additional investments, and the bank made an additional loan. They were able to re-open 28 days after the flood.

Mackey writes, “A company that today has over $11 billion in sales annually would have died in its first year if our stakeholders hadn’t loved and cared about us – and they wouldn’t have loved and cared for us had we not been the kind of business we were. …That is one of the reasons we understand so well the importance of stakeholders and the power of love in business.”


First Awakening

It’s only fair to share Mackey’s first awakening too. As a young entrepreneur he learned his old belief that business is based on exploitation and coercion was wrong, and discovered that business is based on cooperation and voluntary exchange. 


Creating True Wealth

I deeply appreciate Mackey’s and Sisodia’s perspective on wealth and would love to live in a society that broadly understood wealth in this way. 

“Businesses can create but also potentially destroy many kinds of wealth: financial, intellectual, social, cultural, emotional, spiritual, physical and environmental….A business that generates financial wealth but destroys other forms of wealth (which can have greater impacts on people’s well-being) adds far less value to the wold than it is capable of. If it destroys enough of the other kinds of wealth, the business has a negative net impact on the world and could even be described as a parasite on society.”


Moving Towards Firms of Endearment

When organizational and human needs are met through work, a kind of “humanistic company” develops, as described in the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose:

“What we call a humanistic company is run in such a way that its stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, business partners, society and many investors – develop an emotional connection with it, an affectionate regard not unlike the way many people feel about their favorite sports teams. 

Humanistic companies – or firms of endearment – seek to maximize their value to society as a whole, not just to their [immediate] stakeholders. They are the ultimate value creators: they create emotional value, experiential value, social value and of course financial value. People who interact with such companies feel safe, secure and pleased in their dealings. They enjoy working with or for the company, buying from it, investing in it and having it as a neighbor.”

I will leave you with one of the key principles of Stakeholder Orientation from Conscious Capitalism Field Guide:

“Motivated by shared values and shared purpose, stakeholders are givers to the system rather than takers from the system. Paradoxically, they receive far more in return than they give. In summary, in order to win-win-win, you must give-give-give.”


What do you Think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about Stakeholder Orientation and any inspiring examples you see around you. 

In my next post in this series I’ll share what I’m learning about the third pillar of Conscious Capitalism, “Conscious Leadership” – 

Please reach out if you are in conflict or experiencing stress in a work or personal relationship that is important to you. Or if you are inspired to learn how you can bring more empathy and collaboration into your workplace.

I invite you to set up a complimentary session with me to explore possible approaches.


You can find a time that works for you here 

Complimentary Breakthrough Conversation – 50 min


Peace and warm regards,



Photo by RDNE Stock project

About the Author Catherine

Catherine Cooley is a mediator and a communication coach. She has worked in environments of extreme conflict including prisons, the court system and local communities teaching what she calls "Breakthrough Conversations." She specializes in helping people foster clear, respectful, warm, cooperative relationships at home and in the workplace.

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