Learn to play Win/Win

I just finished reading an interview with John Mackey, founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Markets, and it was really quite thrilling to hear his philosophy about how to run a company successfully. Of course, it was thrilling because he fully believes and practices what we have been preaching and writing about for 28 years, a philosophy I will use this opportunity to reinforce.

There are a number of ways to play the game of business, as well as the game of life. One way we call win/lose. In that game, my intention is to win at all costs, even if you lose, and, in fact, it’s actually more enjoyable if when I win, you lose. Recognize this one? Unfortunately, it seems this is the way the game of business has all too often become the preferred way.

Another way to play is lose/win. This is the game of the martyr. I’m willing to sacrifice myself and accept losing in order for you to win. When I play this way, I get to reinforce my lack of self worth and perpetuate the illusion that in life, there are winners and losers and I’m just one of the losers.

Still another way to play is lose/lose. This one is particularly bizarre and one I don’t see very often, except when lunatics (at least that’s what I call them) blow themselves up and sacrifice themselves just to make sure that others get destroyed too.

We surely don’t recommend any of these ways to play. In fact, we truly believe that even in the game of win/lose, it’s an illusion that you can win while another loses. In fact, if you look clearly, you’ll see that anytime you felt you won at the expense of another, at some level you felt guilty or ashamed or just plain bad for the other and the win was not as enjoyable as you thought it would be.

The final way to play is obviously win/win and this is the approach proposed by John Mackey. It was also clearly the choice of Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits. What’s great about John’s interview is all the reasons he gives as to why this is the preferred path. Some of the things he says are: “if everybody is always calculating what’s to their advantage, and no one comes with generosity or kindness or compassion or forgiveness – higher virtues – society starts to break down.” “I actually think that’s what’s happening in America right now.” We agree!

As for playing win/win, he says “I quickly run through every one of the major stakeholders and say, is this creating more value for them? Is somebody losing here? And if somebody is losing, then really we haven’t been creative enough, and probably it’s not a good decision.”

Finally, he says “I really don’t think shareholders should come first, I think it’s fundamentally a bad strategy …Happy team members result in happy customers, happy customers result in happy investors. If you put shareholders first, you won’t get there. Business has got to rediscover is higher purpose.”

And if you’re not yet sold, consider that in these supposedly difficult times, sales rose 16% to $11.7 billion in the fiscal year ended in September, the third straight year with revenue growth of at least 12%.

If you’re not yet fully playing win/win, we highly recommend it. You will likely produce greater results if you do and you might just go to sleep at night with a big smile on your face.