What does an evolved organization look like? Is it easy to recognize? What differentiates evolved behavior from behavior in transition? Throughout my travels, I have seen my share of companies and I am often asked to identify what I believe to be some of the most evolved modern organizations. In the interest of discussion, here are two companies I believe have benefited most by examining their values and pursuing behaviors that lead to organizational evolution:

Starbucks: Pursuing the Perfect Cup of Joe

A cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee right? Not to the thousands of employees working for Starbucks, one of the world’s most premier coffeehouses. With over 18,000 retail stores in over 60 countries, the Starbucks brand has become synonymous with not only exceptional coffee, but also an inviting atmosphere. Since 1971, the company has experienced exponential growth and a stellar reputation by staying true to its founding principles – to become an “enduring company that strikes a balance between profits and social conscience.”

Starbucks is firmly committed to providing value- both to its employees and the rest of the world. At home, they offer a comprehensive benefits package to full and part time workers, engage in the community and maintain an aggressive career advancement program that fosters diversity. Abroad, they pursue ethical purchasing practices and lead the effort to reduce negative environmental impact through energy and water conservation, recycling and green construction.

As an organization, Starbucks has evolved into a stellar example of how doing the right thing can lead to extraordinary success. By engaging its workforce in the community, staying true to its values and promoting responsible behavior across the globe, they have built a solid company by demonstrating not only exceptional values but also a quality product.

Whole Foods: Keeping it Real

Whole Foods is a large corporation with fifty-four thousand employees plus. Nevertheless, it’s another example of an organization that despite its size, has managed to stay true to its principles– even when they may not be popular. Chief Executive John Mackey has made some brave decisions throughout the years, but always manages to bring the company back around, holding its own as one of the pioneers in the natural foods movement. With unparalleled transparency and a unique commitment to its employees, Whole Foods thrives.

The company’s seven “core values” are designed to foster equitable treatment to stakeholders while promoting health and wellness for everyone on. The organization isn’t shy about discussing its mission to pursue a higher purpose and has on a few occasions even been a bit controversial. Organizationally, the company is unique in that it gives its employees (called team members) a voice in literally everything. It’s not uncommon for team members to choose the specific product lines to sell, even select managers. Decision making is truly participative, with an extremely high level of transparency and accountability. Equity is a core value and no one at the company is permitted to have a salary more than nineteen times that of an average team member.

A common theme with organizations that are evolved is the ability to stay committed to core principles and values even when it would be easier – and in some cases, more profitable – to shirk responsibility. The choice is clear and as we have seen with both Starbucks and Whole Foods- this commitment to transparent core principles can bring about great success.