The Soul of Business

A manifesto to breathe life into your company. 

The business world is changing since I entered it more than twenty years ago. Back then, it was the height of the tech bubble.  People were working ridiculous hours with the potential for big payouts as we watched mid-level managers become millionaires overnight when their company IPO’d.  When you graduated from college, you had more than one job offer to choose from.  The future looked bright…really bright. Then, we know what happened. The tech bubble burst, followed by September 11th and the Iraqi War, and topped off with the financial meltdown of 2008.  As each of these waves hit the institutions we counted on, the foundations of the business world and our economy no longer appeared to be as indestructible as we once believed. Now, the good news is, the jobs and economy are coming back…slowly, but they are on the rebound.  The even better news is that once you have lived through something like this, it makes you look at business differently.  You don’t simply look at the numbers, or the bottom line.  You start to look for something deeper in the work you are doing, something that lasts, or matters more than a paycheck or the bottom line.

If you look at the percentage of time people spend at their jobs, it’s a lot. Americans employed full-time report working 47 hours a week.  That roughly 42% of one’s waking hours, and I’m willing to bet that number doesn’t fully account for the time outside work checking emails, answering texts, etc.  In today’s always connected world, we were are plugged in and available, every waking moment.

When you combine the number of hours spent working with the fragile trust (or perhaps for some people the actual distrust) of the business and economic world, your vocation and career has to be about more than getting a paycheck. If you are hiring people thinking it’s just the paycheck, you won’t get the best person for the job, nor will you get the best out of the person that fills that job.  You won’t get the kind of commitment you’re expecting. You may get their physical body at the office every day, but you won’t get their heart, their best ideas, their commitment…you won’t see their soul.

See an employee’s soul?  That’s not part of business.  Those two words…soul and business…seem like an oxymoron…they shouldn’t be together in the same sentence.  When we think of business we think of competition, money making, profit, sales…how can any of that have a soul?  The word soul is reserved for spiritual life, not the business world.  Yes, employees may have a soul, something within each individual, but you definitely don’t bring that to work.  The soul is too ethereal…airy…it’s not pragmatic, or solid enough for the business world.  But can a business actually have a soul?  Can balance sheets, policies and procedures, annual evaluations, human resource paperwork, etc. have a soul?  I believe, yes.

I view a business, large or small, as a living breathing thing. An entity that has it’s own soul, and that soul is made from the collective souls of it’s employees, customers, contractors, products, organizational structure…everyone and everything that takes part in creating, delivering or purchasing the product or service a company produces.

In addition, in today’s world, our lives are no longer lived in silos…separate containers for personal and business.  Our worlds overlap.  Our constant connection and online lives via social media means the line between business and personal lives has fallen. While some people may keep personal social media profiles, separate from their business ones, it’s becoming harder to do. Both because of the time to maintain two separate sets of identities, and the fact that the design of social media platforms and search engines, mean anyone can trace and tie the two together more easily.  The pace of our world, the overlap between our personal and business worlds, has people craving integration and authenticity.  As the world has become seamless, people desire lives that reflect the same.

All this means, if you run a company, today’s potential employers are looking for more than a paycheck. They are looking for meaning and purpose in their work. They are looking for integration and authenticity.  They want to know what they did today mattered, made a difference, or was part of something larger than themselves. They are looking for soul in every corner of their lives, including their work.

So what does it mean for a business to have soul?  What characteristics does a soulful business present?  A business with soul displays at least some of the following traits:

  1. Core Commitment and Values – This is a company’s “why.” Why they are in business and why they do what they do. This mission, along with core values, are clear and easily communicated.  This sets the foundation that creates the company culture.
  2. Respect for the Individual – Everyone wants to be seen. We are not all the same, and everyone wants to be honored for what they bring to the table in the life of a company. They want their talents and efforts to be respected and acknowledged. People may have different goals or career paths within an organization, and honoring that is part of the process.
  3. Mindset – Organizations who thrive have a growth vs. fixed mindset (Carol Dweck has written an excellent book explaining these mindsets). A growth mindset leaves room for trying new ideas, for failing, and continuous learning and improvement.  Does your company support a growth mindset?
  4. Mindfulness/Awareness – The spread of mindfulness and meditation practices to the business world is on the rise, and much needed.  Taking time throughout the day to check in and be conscious about decisions, interactions, ideas, etc. can greatly impact a company.
  5. Diversity – Does your business reflect the diversity of the community in which it operates, the customers who buy its products, the suppliers who support its efforts?  Diversity within an organization ensures differing viewpoints and ideas.  Creating products or services in a homogenous environment, limits the reach and robustness of an offering.
  6. Transparency – How much do leaders share with employees, management with suppliers, or sales with customers?  While subsets of information may be appropriate for certain groups, keeping secrets, or not clearly communicating can lead to confusion or distrust.  Transparency can also include 360 degree evaluations…performance evaluations from bosses, peers and direct reports.
  7. Conscious Communication – While transparency focuses on what is communicated, conscious communication focuses on how it’s communicated.  There are lots of areas to examine for conscious communication, but some examples are: limiting unnecessary meetings, or focusing on who actually needs to be there, or selectively copying people on emails, rather than sending to a large distribution list simply to cover your as*.
  8. Vibrancy – How vibrant is the working environment?  The products being created?  What are some of the things your organization does to breathe fresh energy, ideas or innovation into the soul of your business?
  9. Visibility – What do customers, co-workers, suppliers see when they look at anything produced by your company? This covers everything from people’s opinion on your product in the marketplace, the branding and packaging of your product, how the employees representing your company present themselves, etc.
  10. Compassion/Empathy – These words have been slowly making their way from the spiritual world, to the business world.  Empathy is the precursor to compassion. Empathy involves putting yourself in another’s shoes, and trying to image how they might feel. Compassion goes one step further, it’s having empathy for another and then taking action.  The use of compassion and empathy can be used within an organization between supervisor and employee, between the company and it’s customers or suppliers, etc.  By their very nature, compassion and empathy require mindfulness and reflection, both of which increase awareness in any circumstance.
  11. Greatest Good – Operating from the vantage point that actions your business takes will work towards the greatest good for all involved. In a perfect world, this would be possible all the time.  In reality, it isn’t.  In cases, where difficult decisions must be made, and disappointment appears, clearly communicating the reasoning behind the choice (i.e., conscious communication) and having compassion for all involved will lessen the blow.
  12. Conscious Measurement –   When implementing any of these characteristics, it’s important to have metrics that accurately reflect what behavior you are trying to encourage. The sales manager who always exceeds his or her numbers, but churns through employees burning them out quickly, may actually be costing your company more than the sale manager whose sales may not be as high, but has strong employee loyalty and saves the business money on hiring and training expenses. Creating effective metrics often takes time, but is required for the changes you are making to become permanent.

For each of these characteristics of a soulful business, there are wonderful examples, best practices, and methods currently being used that can serve as examples to breathe conscious life into your own company.  Simply looking at your business, large or small, through the eyes of any one of these traits, can give a fresh perspective on changes to be made. Fully waking up an existing company, isn’t done overnight.  Take some time.  Look within.  Choose one to focus on, and begin.  Course correcting the trajectory of your organization is best done a little at a time.  Plus, the strides you make in one area help to create positive momentum for changes in other areas.

It may be years before people view the world of business as having breath, life, a consciousness, and soul that must be cared for and nurtured.  But as our lives become more about finding meaning and purpose in our everyday lives, we will see more businesses adopting these methods.  I, for one, will be grateful to watch this awakening.

This column originally appeared online as a guest blog in the Amplify Collective.



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I’m Adrienne. I’m an observer. Meditation Teacher. Cognitive Scientist. Pause Button Pusher. Curator. Mindful Technologist. Conversation Starter. Digital Anthropologist. Awareness Guide. Explorer of the Soul. Mindfulness Coach.

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