Does Your Company Have A Soul?

Are you caught up in this whole Enron thing? Probably to most of us it is a distant happening. It wasn't our employer. We didn't have our money in Enron's 401k. None of those zillionare executives invited us to a party at their mansions. Like most front-page news items - it happened 'over there'. Or did it?

The whole story is immensely sad. Sad because thousands of people have been betrayed. Sad because Enron's former vice-chairman J. Clifford Baxter shot himself because he "could not take the pain," leaving a wife and two children to make sense of it all. He was only 43. He had a brand new 2002 Mercedes the papers were careful to point out, as though the kind of car you take your own life in is important. May God grant his family unusual courage and peace.

I can't follow the unfolding Enron story without thinking of St. Matthew's writings. He wrote "What does it profit someone if they sell all their shares based on insider knowledge, accumulating extra-ordinary wealth at the expense of others, and lose their soul in doing so?" (Well it goes something like that.) St. Matthew went on to ask: "And what can a person pay to get their soul back?" I understand that to be a rhetorical question with the implied answer being "Nothing." No amount of money would do it. In other words you can sell your soul, but you can't buy it back.

Obviously, I am no Enron expert - apparently no one is. But it seems to me that this company went to a great deal of trouble to sell its soul. According to news, they set up 900 different ventures to conceal billions in debt. Cliff Baxter "complained mightily to (former CEO) Skilling…about the inappropriateness of our transactions." Some think his suicide was really a reflection of his despair over participating in selling the soul of Enron - that he deeply regretted not being able to stop it. Like I said, once you sell your soul, you can't buy it back.

I absolutely believe that every organization, every business, has a soul - that is if it hasn't sold it already. It is that mysterious spirit that you feel but perhaps cannot measure. It is the light in the eyes of those who work there. It's the fire in the belly. It is the pervasive sense of calling that gives reason for every activity no matter how mundane. It is knowing that together you are fulfilling a higher calling, helping creation come to fulfillment. Perhaps making the world a better place. It is what distinguishes you from all others.

We shop at a Safeway store near our home. This Safeway has a soul. I don't know if they all do. It hits you like a healing breeze when you walk in. Does your grocery store have a soul - or does it just have groceries? How about your bank - does it have a soul? My observation is that most people just roll their eyes and smirk at that question like the answer is obvious. Our small local bank used to have a soul. Then it merged with a big bank and lost its soul. Now it just has checking accounts, makes loans and does various other financial transactions. Let me be clear - it is also possible for big banks to have a soul, it's just harder for them.

Ever gone to a very expensive restaurant that has no soul? You feel it instantly. It can have chocolate lava cake and still have no soul. When you do find a restaurant with a soul you become a faithful and frequent patron. The cynical reader will instantly protest, "You go to a restaurant for decent food, not for a spiritual experience!" I disagree. I believe most people do want a spiritual experience - oh, and of course good food too. A restaurant that has soul will do everything it can to ensure your meal is the best it can possibly be.

I believe your customers want a spiritual experience from you too! Been in touch with a law firm lately? Does it have a soul? How about your accounting firm? I think accounting firm Arthur Anderson is fighting for its soul right now don't you? You are going to hear about a lot of companies fighting for their soul over the next few months. If you've been in a hospital lately, what is your opinion of its soul-full-ness? Does the United States Senate have a soul? Where do you buy your office supplies and does that supplier have a soul? How about where you get your hair done? We take our lab puppy Destiny to Dr. Debra Scharrer. Her animal hospital has a soul.

Most of you reading this have something to do with your company's Human Resource function. Have you ever hired someone with the world's best credentials but no soul? Would you do it again if you had the option?I've got a feeling that you haven't been able to stop yourself from answering this flurry of questions. No. Yes. No. No. Yes. Etc. We can't help but answer because we are always in tune with the evidence of soul, and with its absence. We can't help it and neither can your employees. Or your customers.

So do your customers think your company has a soul? I would like to convince you that that is precisely what keeps customers loyal. Do your employees think the company has a soul? I would like to convince you that that is precisely what will keep them committed to supernatural service and performance.We are spiritual beings and we grow and perform best in spiritual contexts. If your company has lost its soul you might as well forget about performance improvement! It ain't going to happen. Asking spiritual beings to perform in a situation with no soul is like trying to grow a maple tree out here in the Arizona desert. Or a cactus in northern Canada. Can't be done because the object and the circumstance aren't meant to go together.

If you can't 'buy back' your corporate soul through higher pay, increased employee benefits, incentive travel and so forth - just how does a company get its soul back? Maybe an even more basic question is how does a company find its soul in the first place? And that will be the subject of next month's column!In the meanwhile, if your company has a soul (and yes, you do know what I mean by that) please contact me and tell me the story. Maybe you have something to teach us all.

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"Copyright The Ian Percy Corporation."
Ian Percy is one of North America's most inspirational speakers.

Ian Percy is an international speaker and consultant and can be reached at


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