With twos ounces of boldness and one of anxiety I submitted a requested article to the editor of a business journal this past week. Why the anxiety? I used the word “soul” - not just once but twice. After hitting the send button I sat back and imagined many possible responses, including “This is not appropriate for a serious business journal.” After spending at least 20 hours on this piece it was not the response I most wanted to hear. But I just couldn’t stop myself from scratching this persistent itch in my own soul.
The very next day I happened upon a post in the Wall Street Journal by London Business School thought leader Gary Hamel.* “The Hole in the Soul of the Corporation.” The esteemed Mr. Hamel cites a survey indicating that only 20% of employees are truly engaged “heart and soul” in their work. He blames the almighty corporate mission, vision and goals that lack “cosmic good” and drain the life blood from the heart and soul.
I sent Hamel’s article to the editor.
The journal, Global Business and Organizational Excellence, observes strict copyrights, so I cannot share the article publicly. I am instead writing a series of posts on the Soul at Work. The series focuses on individuals who bring heart and soul to work and companies that design them into their mission and vision. I make bold claims. You are warmly invited to agree, disagree and engage in the conversation.
The terms soul and essence are used interchangeably in this post.
Companies with a Soul
In addition to engaging the heart and soul of employees and customers companies that link their purpose to essence paint on a very broad canvas that endures over time. How that essence manifests itself today may be very different from how it is expressed twenty or fifty years from now. Working from essence is a critical condition for creating longevity. Had the railroads been in the business of helping people visit new places they might have transformed themselves into airline companies and then space travel, and then who knows what.
Apple’s essence -aesthetics and ease of use are timeless and are infused throughout the company’s products and customer experience. You can hear Steve Jobs love for aesthetic beauty in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University as he recalls a course he took after dropping out of college.
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them.
Disney used to be in the business of creating joyful experiences. Replacements Ltd “creates, honors and preserves traditions by connecting customers with their most cherished memories.” At the transactional level they buy and sell dinner ware. Dow Chemical “passionately innovates what is essential to human progress.” In each of these companies the purpose is clear not only in the products they create but in everything they do. Many Replacements Ltd employees are from other countries. Corporate policy makers don’t think it makes sense for people to save money for years in order to spend only one or two weeks in their home country. Instead Replacements works with each employee to ensure they can spend one or two months visiting home and family. Replacements “honors and preserves traditions.”
How Leaders Can Engage the Soul
1. Understand (in brain, mind, heart, soul and gut) that leadership is moral and value laden. Simply having followers does not make anyone a leader. Leading involves the evolution of human kind. If you are not moving your company, your employees and your customers in that direction your are not leading.
2. Find your company’s essence, its soul. Simple to say and not so easy to do. This is where an outside expert can be most helpful. Soul searching goes all the way back to the founder(s). It involves exploring questions such as which of the universal values you and your company intend to advance. Beauty? Truth? Wisdom? The Search for Knowledge? Courage? Joy? Generosity? Discovery? Caring? Kindness? Then you must be Attentional and Intentional about advancing these values by infusing them into your mission, vision and the way you do business.
NASA’s vision was to put a man on the moon and bring him back safely. The essence or universal value of NASA’s mission is discovery. We are a curious species. We want to know and we want to constantly push the boundaries of our knowing.
3. Communicate the essence. All human action is a communication. So “communicate” refers to more than what you say. It is in the design of your buildings and offices, how they look and feel, who parks where in the parking lot, the food in the cafeteria, company policies, how you treat employees, customers and the communities where you do business. EVERYTHING.
4. Hire employees who are passionate about and aligned with this essence, your mission, vision and corporate values. Then support them in bringing mind, heart and soul to work each and every day.
Future post in this series feature:
- A man who makes his living removing underground oil tanks, and does it with heart, soul and joy.
- A lingerie sales woman who is partnering with G-d
- A bread baker who is part scientist part artist.
*The Wall Street Journal recently ranked Gary Hamel as the world’s most influential business thinker, and Fortune magazine has called him “the world’s leading expert on business strategy.