3 Lessons From a Case Study in a True Sharing Model

WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE TO ACTUALLY MAKE SHARING — NOT PROFIT — THE PRIMARY DRIVER OF OUR ECONOMY?

By Lori Hanau with Claire Wheeler
Whenever someone tells me ‘I like coming to work,’ I ask myself, ‘What’s that worth?’” — Bill Whyte, W.S. Badger Company founder

Thanks to modern technology, sharing resources with neighbors has become easier than ever before. While many of today’s “sharing economy” tools don’t live up to the hype (see Gerry Valentine’s article from Issue 9), some, such as networks like Nextdoor or apps like Peerby or NeighboorGoods, genuinely foster increased connection and prosperity among neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Time banks, sharing apps, and neighborhood forums can bring the distant globalized world of commerce close to home by connecting us directly to the people and resources right in our very own communities.

As a member of my local time bank, Onion River Exchange, I can offer an hour of cooking, coaching, or carpooling to my neighbor in exchange for exactly what I might be needing: a deep tissue massage, a marketing consultation, or a dozen of my next-door neighbor’s famous homemade cookies. All of this happens without the traits of the typical business transaction — no prices, no contracts, no negotiation. The beautiful byproduct of this way of transacting with one another is the depth of connection and community it cultivates.

That intimate “village” mindset was the more widespread norm of yesteryear. Our great-grandparents trusted that they could count on their community for some extra butter, or to collectively raise the neighbor’s barn. There was even a word for it in Old English: “frith,” which describes how people’s lives and actions are inextricably bound to one another, and how the quality of that connection makes a group collectively strong enough to meet all that life brings. While this kind of sharing mentality is rarer now, it’s a welcome departure from the dominant modern economic model that relies primarily on monetary value and all too often ignores the currency that really matters: trust created through mutual support.

It’s amazing what can happen in our lives and work when we choose to see past the price tags we wear and affix, when we give way for money to be less of a rule and more of a tool. No longer the end-game, money and profit can instead become mechanisms to help us achieve greater connection, satisfaction, and enjoyment. Imagine what could happen if we brought this mentality into more of our organizations.

CASE STUDY: A sharing mindset in action

Southern New Hampshire’s W.S. Badger Company Inc., makers of the famous Badger Balm salve and a suite of natural health- and body-care products, began in 1995 with a conscious reorientation of the role money would play in its operations, leading instead with a frith-based mentality. Badger embodies the concept in its mission: “to run a business that is fun, fair and profitable; where money is fuel, not a goal; and where our vision for a healthier world finds expression through the way we work and through the way we treat each other and the people we serve.” This approach has been embedded in the company culture from the very beginning and remains 20 years later, even as the company has grown to employ more than 100 people and produce 100 products. During my visit, there was a palpable sense of vibrant community as soon as I walked in the door: everyone looks you in the eyes and greets you with an exuberant welcome. With one glance out the window, I noticed employees tending to garden beds next to a labyrinth designed for walking meditation. In the company’s open kitchen, chefs prepare local and organic food as the daily lunch. The office’s “Badger dens” boast standing desks and privacy partitions to create comfortable and productive workspaces.

I sat down with co-founder and CEO Bill Whyte and his daughter Rebecca Hamilton, VP of Innovation & Social Impact, to explore their approach of cultivating a sharing- economy mindset within the company. Here are three key types of sharing I saw brought to life:

Sharing Community

Sharing Community is about leading first and foremost from our humanity, such that we are all equally responsible for bringing out the greatest capacity in each other at work.

Here’s how Badger does it:

  • The company is committed to being a model for business as a community foundation. This means tending to everyone in the community, including the children of any parent who works at Badger. “Many businesses today put a lot of money toward their executives,” Hamilton says. “We feel businesses have a role in developing happy, healthy children. Children are the responsibility of the community This starts with Badger offering six weeks of paid parental leave when a child is born.
  • In 2013, Katie Schwerin, Badger co-founder and COO, co-created Calendula Garden, a full-day, partially subsidized childcare center offering reasonably priced, high-quality, flexible childcare for children of Badger employees as well as a limited number of children from the community. Childcare workers are guaranteed a living wage, including a salary and benefits for full-time lead teachers, and there is a high ratio of teachers to children. And for the parents, their time on the clock starts and ends not when they enter the manufacturing company, but when they drop off and pick up their children down the street. Badger also aligns its work schedule with school schedules: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Badger is proud of its Babies at Work program, which allows new parents to bring their babies with them to work until the child is 6 months old or begins to crawl. As Whyte put it, “Our investment is in the parent, child, and community. You shouldn’t have to give a cost/ benefit argument for doing something that is kind and beautiful. If you can afford to, do it!”
  • Badger offers free, local, organic, home-cooked lunch
to its employees every day. They even grow their own vegetables for the meals on the property. In the company’s culture, lunch is a time to step away from the screen and connect.
  • Like many of its B Corp peers, Badger pays employees for up to 16 hours per year of volunteering for environmental and community projects.

Sharing Leadership

Sharing Leadership is about trusting our diversity and collective wisdom such that we acknowledge we know more together than any of us does on her or his own.

Here’s how Badger does it:

  • While the organizational chart looks like a hierarchical structure on paper, in practice Badger relies on a shared approach to leadership. Badger’s eight-person leadership team operates through democratic consensus, influenced by the Quaker form of decision-making. For any particular vote, five fingers up means whole-hearted agreement, three fingers up signifies deference to the judgment of the strategic team, two fingers up is opting to stand aside from the decision, and one up is a request for more discussion. A fist signifies a full block, which, Hamilton says, “is an extremely rare happening,” as the team has developed a high level of trust and open dialogue.
  • Badger prides itself on mission-based and strength-based hiring. A potential hire’s passion and natural gifts come before the details on their resume. Hamilton says, “No one is a master, regardless of their education, but if someone is well-skilled and passionate about our mission and principles, we welcome their application.”

Sharing Wellbeing

Sharing Wellbeing is about developing a healthy ecosystem through a commitment to wholeness, cultivating balance and harmony within each of us, within a group, and within a company environment.

Here’s how Badger does it:

  • Cultivating a culture of wellness, not sickness, is a conscious approach that Badger stands by. Badger does not offer sick days, and instead uses the phrases “Health Days” and “Wellness Plan.” Each person is responsible for their wellness — no judgment and no questions asked. Whenever anyone needs time off for mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness, they take it; the shared benefit is one paid 40-hour week of wellness leave per year.
  • This ethos also extends into the product line. “We blend organic plant extracts, oils, beeswax, and minerals to make the safest, most effective products possible to soothe, heal, protect, and otherwise treat your body” is the Badger promise.
  • Badger grants $800 annually to every employee toward any product or service that promotes wellness. It can go toward things like a health insurance deductible, vision care, enrolling a child in a swim class, buying running shoes, or taking a yoga class.

These new-but-old ways of conducting business, whether in our communities or in our companies, help to unlock us from a hyper-focus on money as the ultimate determinant of value. Synonymizing money with worth reinforces our separateness, which holds us in a constant state of competition for scarce resources. Focusing instead on our innate human ability to see ourselves as a part of a larger whole gives us the freedom to be more than just the makers and spenders of money, even when we’re on the clock.

As important as the programs we use to foster conscious cultures is the approach we take when implementing them. What I admired from my visit with Badger was an intentional corporate culture that thinks about the wellbeing of employees as whole people, beyond their role in simply generating profits. There is an exhilarating freedom that comes when we invite ourselves
to consider the natural value of a person, a product, or a resource before considering the monetary value or the costs and the benefits ascribed to them. “Why wouldn’t you run a business the same way you treat family and friends?”

Whyte asks. “I think the reason we are successful is that people are free to be good, kind, and hardworking without limitation. Kindness is an approach to doing business.”

In today’s business world, which habitually values transaction and profit before people and thinks of relationships and community as separate from business, building a vibrant, sharing community as a workplace can feel very hard, often wasteful; even impossible. But changing what we value and how we value it requires a shift in perspective.
I often return to my own father’s wisdom, which he imparted to all of the employees at his company, Vermont Container — including me. “Always remember to begin with caring about and appreciating what you do, and do it well,” he would say. “Begin by respecting and caring for the community around you as you work together.
The profits will follow. Always value the quality of relationship first and foremost.” Or, as Bill Whyte told me, “the things that seem impossible are completely possible; it just requires a reorientation in thought.” 

Badger Balm's founders, the Whyte family
From left: Rebecca, Bill, Katie, Emily, and Maya

 

Lori Hanau is dedicated to supporting shifts in consciousness, communication, and community in the workplace through experiential learning. She founded Global Round Table Leadership, where she works co-creatively to coach, guide, facilitate and steward individuals and teams in opening to their innate brilliance, cultivating the soul of their organizations and their work. She is faculty and Co-Chair
at Marlboro College of Graduate and Professional Studies and on the board of Social Venture Network.

Claire Wheeler is a freelance consultant and co-conspirator for
sole practitioners, community-based businesses, and nonprofits. As principal of Re:work, her passion is to translate the creative genius of people and organizations into systems and structures that make work make sense. She finds power in prose and splendor in spreadsheets.

For more human-centered value streams and examples from Badger, visit the Global Round Table Leadership blog. This piece was written with support from Jodi Clark at GRTL.

This article appeared in Issue 9 | September/October 2016

We’re going local in Issue 9, taking a deep look at what it takes to create thriving communities, where some attempts fall short, and how conscious business can and does help. We have interviews and advice from top CEOs, including George Siemon of billion-dollar farmers’ co-op Organic Valley; Robyn Sue Fisher, who built a 200-employee ice cream business out of a Radio Flyer wagon; and Reeves Clippard of A&R Solar, one of Seattle’s fastest-growing companies. We also investigate the dark side of the sharing economy, offer a complete guide to the new equity crowdfunding law, and present the case for employee ownership. Plus: how to be a better listener, key business lessons for makers, Detroit’s leading innovators, and more!

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