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How Conscious Company Magazine Lived Up to Their Own Values and Purpose

Executive Summary

In the pursuit of a business that focuses on people over profits, surviving can become a daunting task. When you hope to live out your company values, but also have to face the realities that helping requires funds and other resources that aren't free, the path suddenly gets a little less clear and easy.

  • Conscious Company magazine learned this lesson upon its inception. Not only did it fail numerous times, but it also strayed from its principles in order to grow.
  • The founders of the print publisher only found its way back by taking care of themselves and their employees.
  • A healing organization cannot be created by an individual. It is a complex engine, which runs smoothly or poorly based on the health of its parts.

In March 2014, Meghan French Dunbar was enjoying a slice of pizza and a glass of red wine with her friend Maren Keely at Pizzeria Locale in Boulder, Colorado. A year earlier, she had received her MBA with a focus on sustainability in business and found a job working in the publishing industry.

In the flow of their conversation, Maren, who was then studying for an MBA with a focus on how business could be a force for positive change, asked Meghan: “Why doesn’t a magazine exist for conscious businesses? There’s Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Success, but where’s the magazine for businesses that are actually trying to do good in the world?” Meghan’s first thought was, “Surely, such a magazine exists. There must be one!” It seemed like such an obvious gap in the market. They returned to Meghan’s house after dinner, pulled out their computers, started searching, and discovered, to their amazement, that nothing like that existed in the marketplace. The two friends talked for hours about the possibilities and got incredibly excited about launching a magazine focused on business as a catalyst for a better world.

The Reality of Living Your COMPANY Values and Purpose

Meghan and Maren eventually did create Conscious Company magazine, their first issue featuring John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market. But none of this happened without chaotic vacillation between success and struggle, as illustrated in the video below.

  • Their Kickstarter campaign failed by $7,000
  • Their Indiegogo campaign was successful, but only covered the first issue
  • Meghan and Maren, as well as their friends and family, racked up credit card charges to keep them afloat
  • They received $710,000 from angel investors

The capital infusion kept the company solvent and it seemed that the dream was now a viable reality, but beneath the surface there were significant problems. Most notably, there was a growing misalignment between what the magazine was about and how the company was operated. Conscious Company magazine gives business leaders information and advice based on three key principles:

  1. Conscious Leadership: The self-awareness, wellness, and continuing personal development of the leader sets the tone for a conscious culture.
  2. Conscious Workplaces: The workplace needs to be designed and managed so that it supports the wellness and continuing development of all employees.
  3. Impact: The business must serve a purpose that goes well beyond generating a financial return.

Recognizing the Disconnect 

Although they were doing a brilliant job of telling stories of leaders who were living these principles, the magazine’s founders were drifting away from their own principles.

Meghan was working seventy-five to eighty hours a week, not exercising, and neglecting her family and friendships. She and Maren gave no attention to the culture they were creating at work, and never had time to even think about taking care of their team. Their unspoken belief was, “We are doing great things in the world, the rest will take care of itself.” They did not codify a purpose for the organization or the values and norms they would live by.

Meghan recalls, “Despite the fact that we were doing great work and putting out a wonderful publication that people were finding hugely valuable—we had all these stories coming in from all around the world from people who started their companies as a result of picking up one of our magazines—internally, we were experiencing an unbelievable amount of discord and suffering.”

The intense stress was manifesting in unpleasant disagreements about the direction for the company. They brought in a third partner in an attempt to create more harmony, but that only made things worse. By 2016, though it seemed to people on the outside that the magazine was thriving, Meghan found herself at the lowest point of her life. She was experiencing intermittent chest pains and full-fledged panic attacks and found herself in despair on an almost daily basis. Moreover, despite the early success, the magazine was headed for bankruptcy.

Resources Were Running Low

With money running out and the culture in disarray, the situation was dire.

Meghan reflects, “Nobody was seeing eye to eye. We were writing about engagement but our team members were becoming disengaged. We were flailing around. I could not see an end to this. It was awful.”

It was clear that incremental changes were not going to remedy the situation; drastic action was needed. Meghan and Maren realized that if they could sell the company to a mission-aligned buyer, they could move forward and realign. After six months of working with a potential buyer, they sold the company on December 1, 2017, in a win-win for all parties, with Meghan remaining as CEO.

With this fresh start, Meghan thought about what she needed to do make the company true to the ideals it was spreading. How could she reset the company? How could she build a business that was healing? How could she build a compassionate organization, one that was in full alignment with who she wanted to be and how she wanted her team to feel?

Bringing in Reinforcements

With the help of Nathan Havey, a consultant, Meghan and her team clarified the company’s purpose, which is to: Redefine success in business in service of all life. They crafted a compelling statement of their core values, which are: treat people beautifully, choose joy and love, take pride in the product, practice radical trust and courageous patience, be authentic, stay open and curious, and walk the talk. They also came up with cultural norms and practices to adhere to on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to ensure that they would stay true to their purpose and live their core values.

Meghan made a deep commitment to her own personal development. She got a coach and a therapist, adopted daily meditation and yoga practices, and started journaling. The organization healed quickly from the trauma of the previous year and started to blossom. The new cultural practices helped greatly.

For example, with a geographically dispersed team, the week begins every Monday with a virtual team meeting that opens with a personal check-in; people talk about how they’re doing as humans and what they are most grateful for right now. The meeting ends by talking about the personal purpose of each of the team members (Meghan’s is to be a force of love). They share their highs and lows, what they were proud of and not so proud of from the previous week in staying true to their personal purpose. On Fridays, the team focuses on the company’s purpose and values and goes through a similar conversation about highs and lows. The company practices radical transparency, recognizing that anything people are going through at home will affect them at the office. Team members are able to bring any difficulties or traumas they are going through in life into the workplace and talk about them as a team. The focus is, “What do we need to do to support you?” The difference between the new culture and the old culture is profound.

Imagine a world where the organization that you’re either building or you’re working within can be one in which you don’t have to suffer alone, but you can actually go to your team for support. You can actually be in a place of caring and compassion when you go into the workplace. In [the first week after having a miscarriage], Meghan took time off from work to take care of herself and recover her energy. By modeling self-care, she makes it easier for others in the organization to do the same when necessary.

The Role Leaders Play in Establishing Values and Defining Purpose

Leaders can help create and shape healing cultures, and those cultures then help heal everybody, including the leader. Businesses can only rise to the level of consciousness of the leader. If leaders are in trauma, the organization will be in trauma. Meghan reflects, As I get to know fellow founders and CEOs, when you actually peel away the veneer, there’s so much suffering going on at the highest levels. Leaders aren’t expected or encouraged to discuss their loneliness and anxiety. The pressures of being a leader are intense: You are responsible for the profitability of your company; you are responsible for your workers’ well-being and safety; you are responsible for your own work. And, of course, on top of all that responsibility, being a CEO doesn’t make you immune from life traumas.

Business is the largest aggregator of human potential on the face of the planet. It’s the place where we spend the majority of our waking hours, and if we can actually have organizations that are addressing societal issues and also creating workplaces where people feel valued and appreciated, then people are going home and feeling a sense of excitement about their work rather than dreading it. That energy comes home and that spreads from homes out to communities and from communities out to the world. If everyone had the pleasure of being able to work at a purpose-driven enterprise, I think it would be one of the largest levers for change that we could possibly see in the world right now.

Supporting the leaders who are behind those purpose-driven enterprises and making sure that they have the support and the care and the nurturing that they need is one of the most important things that we could be doing. By integrating her healing ideals with her leadership of the company while now generating consistent profit, Meghan and Conscious Company Media are indeed redefining success in business in the service of all life.

Excerpted with permission from The Healing Organization by Raj Sisodia and Michael J. Gelb, copyright Raj Sisodia and Michael J. Gelb.

Bring It Home

Both millennials and Gen Z are poised to saturate the workplace in coming years. While there are distinct differences between the two generations, the similarities speak volumes for companies and brands who plan to compete for the best possible talent. Millennials and Gen Z are motivated by creation, contribution, personalization, and diversity. In other words, they want to feel like their 9-5 allows them to connect with their passions and provide value through everything they touch. How well is your organization living up to this standard? Join the conversation at the end of this post.

Raj Sisodia

Raj Sisodia is the F.W. Olin Distinguished Professor of Global Business and Whole Foods Market Research Scholar in Conscious Capitalism at Babson College. He is also Cofounder and Cochairman of Conscious Capitalism, Inc. This is Sisodia’s tenth book.

Michael J. Gelb

Michael J. Gelb is the world’s leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development, and the author of sixteen other books. A pioneer in the fields of creative thinking, innovation literacy, and conscious leadership, he helps organizations around the world develop more creative, innovative, and conscious cultures.

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