Whole Foods

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Organizational Field Study:

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Team Old School:
Stephanie de Souza, Christopher Mauro,
Jeff Reinman, and David Stewart

March 11, 2009

Professor Joan Winn

INTRODUCTION
Background
Whole Foods Market is a natural grocery store chain with 290 stores throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Founded in Austin, Texas in 1980, Whole Foods has consistently ranked in Fortune Magazine’s Top 100 Best Companies to Work For, placing 22nd on the 2009 list. The company has long been recognized for its unique human resource strategies that exist as reflection of the founding mission and values of the company. Whole Foods Market is in many ways has been shaped by its human resource practices such as its mission, strategy, goals, benefits, structure, and reward systems. Values and Culture

Any study of the human resource practices and policies of Whole Foods Market must begin with a look at the values and culture of the company. John Mackey and nineteen others founded WF (Whole Foods Market), with the vision of providing the highest quality natural and organic foods available in a supermarket format. Five years later, the vision was further articulated in the “Declaration of Interdependence,” a document drafted by sixty employees establishing the WF motto as Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet. It states that the mission of WF is to “sell the highest quality natural and organic foods,” “satisfy and delight our customers,” and “create store environments that are inviting, fun, unique, informal, comfortable, attractive, nurturing and educational” (History, 2008). What is most striking is not the content of this message, but the degree to which the vision is reflected in the words and actions of its employees. From the front office to the store shelves and check-out line, the legend of how the business began and the inspiration behind it were driving forces in the work of employees. Empowerment, accountability, passion about good food, enabling individuals, fun and happy were words consistently heard when employees answered about what the values of WF were comprised of, again reflecting the transparency of the organization’s core values at every level. Also, consistent leadership and the managerial structure at WF have created an environment where employees feel safe, cared for, and driven to succeed. WF seeks ‘high commitment’ rather than ‘high control’ of its employees, and this was evident in the degree of alignment we saw between employees and the mission and goals of the company. Every employee we spoke with told a surprisingly consistent version of WF legend, from the ‘store leader’ (as the location manager is titled) to a ‘team member’ (as every employee is known) pushing carts in the parking lot. They each knew that WF was founded with the mission of selling quality, healthy food, and doing it with exceptional customer service, or as one team member found stocking in the freezer isle put it, “a vision about natural, organic and customer service” (personal communication, October 9, 2008). Each team member learned about this during their extensive training period, which focuses on the unique culture of WF. More than being aware of the story, when employees were asked if they identified and were attracted to what the company was founded on, they nearly all responded that they were excited and proud to be a part of what John Mackey began. The concept upon which WF was founded was something that attracted them to the company and made them feel good about their work there. This feeling can be summed up with the words of one of the department team leaders when he told me that WF has “created a community, more than just a business” (personal communication, October 9, 2008). One team member in the spice aisle told me that he had worked in several WF locations across the US, and that this feeling of community was consistent within all of the stores. He stated that he...
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