As John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, traveled throughout the United States visiting his stores, he often would be approached by employees who would ask him if the company could implement this benefit, or that benefit, which caused him to re-think how benefits are offered.

Now, Whole Foods Market — which has 300 stores in the United States, Canada and the U.K. — puts its benefits to a vote. Every three years, the company lets employees nominate benefits and if other employees agree, the benefit is added. It’s just one of the ways the company empowers its employees and encourages innovation, Mackey told a packed crowd in this Wednesday morning’s opening keynote address at the Great Place to Work conference in Atlanta.

Mackey also briefly outlined the company’s total immersion health program whereby people at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, or those already diagnosed with the disease, are encouraged to attend a one-week immersion program that teaches them to about the importance of diet and exercise in managing — or even eliminating — their disease.

“What really makes a difference is when team members are transformed and they become missionaries for better eating, diet and exercise. Their productivity goes up,” said Mackey, noting that he’s been approached by tearful employees who’ve gone through the program and want to thank him. “But it’s their hard work,” he added. “It requires a radical shift in your diet but it changes lives.”

One of his company’s higher purposes, he said, is to bring this knowledge to the world, “to raise consciousness about the principles of healthy eating and to help change our health care system to focus on prevention of disease through diet and lifesyle, rather than disease management through drugs.”

He also discussed the lack of authenticity in corporate America today and argued that this lack of authenticity is just one reason why trust in corporate America is so low. “And yet people cry out for authenticity and communication without spin,” he said.

“One of the things I hear all the time is people like the way it feels when they’re in our stores,” he added. “The reason it feels good is because our team members aren’t afraid. We don’t manage their fear. When people aren’t afraid they can be authentic. Humans are fundamentally loving when they’re not afraid. It’s essential that leadership manifest this love. We think love is weak in corporate America. … We need new metaphors about binding people together.”

As an organization, Whole Foods Market decentralizes its decision making as much as possible. “You should decentralize as far down in the organization as you can, unless there are overwhelming economies of scale that would lead you not to,” said Mackey. “Decentralization enables more participation to occur and encourages innovation. It’s always appropriate to ask ‘who should be making this decision?’”

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