Spirituality in Management was the topic of a roundtable discussion held in May at the Rochester Business Journal. Participants were: Germaine Knapp, president of Worksmart of Rochester Inc.; Mary-Frances Winters, president of the Winters Group Inc.; Edward deJong, technical specialist/project manager, strategic programs, Xerox Corp.; John Engels, president and partner of Great Lakes Leadership Group Inc.; and Barry Keesan, founder of Logical Operations Inc. and coordinator of the Rochester chapter of the World Business Academy. Moderators were editor Paul Ericson and special projects editor Rose Ericson. Excerpts:
PAUL ERICSON: Let’s start at the beginning–by defining spirituality.
EDWARD deJONG: I think the word “spirituality” brings some negative connotations into the workplace. (At Xerox), we’ve renamed it diversity, empowerment, management for results. We’re really looking at the planning process and encompassing everyone’s ideas, thoughts, making sure everyone is satisfied that they know what the objectives are. It really (means) satisfying (all of our) customers, both internal and external.
GERMAINE KNAPP: Personally, I see it as trying to understand the meaning behind what we do and how we work. Spirituality has the element of (being) unseen. It’s essentially saying, “Why are we doing all of this? Why are we working this way together and not another way? Why are we even putting out this product?”
JOHN ENGELS: I often find myself asking clients, “Out of everything you could be doing with your life, why are you doing this?” It’s what makes us distinct as human beings, the “why” question.
The other thing is this idea of perspective, which has to do with realizing what ultimate or bigger context this work fits into. Perspective says to me, “Nothing matters–5,000 years from today, who’s going to remember anything?” But meaning says to me, “Everything I do counts, because all I have is this self and this life.” It’s that paradox; it’s wrestling with that tension.
BARRY KEESAN: (To me,) spirituality is seeing our connectedness to all things: to the planet, to the people on it, to ourselves, to our community. That means we’ve got responsibilities to ourselves and to each other not to act in isolation. That’s true for any aspect of life. Particularly in business I think we don’t have traditionally enough of that recognition of the true interdependence. Bringing our human spirit to work means bringing our deepest feelings about our connections.
ROSE ERICSON: How do you exhibit those at work?
KEESAN: By being authentic about who you are, about behaving in accordance with your values. This comes out in the most ordinary ways: treating people kindly, honestly, the Golden Rule. Recognizing that everyone has dignity, everyone has value.
KNAPP: And still you have to do tough things that make people unhappy, for the good of the business.
deJONG: The foundation of ethical behavior (is) open and honest communications, trust and respect for each other, and what you end up with are basically empowered employees. At the same time, you have to manage the business side of things. That really gets into listening to people, understanding people, meeting their needs. Kaizen says we don’t do it well today. We’ve actually had to lay off people; in some cases, we may have laid off the wrong people. But it’s the attempt to try to do it right and continue the process improvement.
ENGELS: This sounds very positive to me. (Then) why is spirituality, in so many ways, systematically kept out? Why are people so afraid of it? I think much of what passes for spirituality is really a very unhealthy kind of spirituality that’s intolerant, very rigid, that looks and sounds like certitude.
MARY-FRANCES WINTERS: Or religion.
ENGELS: Or denominational rigidity.
WINTERS: I think that’s why we have so much trouble with the term “spirituality.” Many people immediately translate that term into religion, and, of course, we separate church and state. I think spirituality is the third piece (of the whole person): the mind, the body and the spirit. We work a lot on the mind; we do a lot with our body. But we don’t really deal with the spirit, (because it) is within. We can learn what’s right and wrong using (our heads), but we do what’s right and wrong because of our spirituality. That’s how I think about it.
KNAPP: I think religion can divide people because it gives us rules; (as) Barry said, spirituality connects people. Spirituality means wondering, not settling, not having the certitude. I think it’s difficult in business, because we want to be there first with the best, and you’re always racing against other people.
P. ERICSON: Don’t you think that, for some people, religion does define their spirituality? Can that become a problem in the workplace?
ENGELS: There’s a big difference between the person who says, “This is how I see it. This is what drives me,” and the person who says, “I have found it. This is the truth. And if you don’t see it this way, maybe you need to listen to me and I can help you to get it.” One posture is more humble, more curious; the other is more dogmatic.
KEESAN: One honors the other people around you and accepts them; one rejects and separates people. A lot of times what passes as spirituality is a religious kind of fervor that separates people.
KNAPP: Proselytizing. When we proselytize, we conquer, we take over, we don’t honor.
deJONG: In order to have a successful team, we’ve got to learn to get along with each other. The term “managing diversity” looks at the religious aspect of things: sex, nationality, creed, whatever. We’re talking about managing different types of people, whoever they are. Industry today is starting to change. The competition is still there, but it’s different. We have more team recognition, more peer review processes.
WINTERS: I think, too, in the ’70s and ’80s, we minimized the importance of people in the workplace. We were talking a lot about technology. Now, in the ’90s, we recognize that people truly are what matters. People make computers, sell machines. Without the people, nothing is going to happen.
For a while there, we sort of forgot the importance of people. We even called these kinds of disciplines “soft skills.” I was at a diversity session at a major employer in this town, and people started to hug each other, and there were some people in the room who were totally appalled. One person actually walked out.
KNAPP: It may be true that some are recognizing the importance of people, but on the other hand, profits are going up, and the number of people employed is going down. I think it says that profit might be more important than people. I wonder what kind of obligations a company has to keep people employed, to not desert a city. I think this is part of the interconnectedness of business with the community and the world. I think there’s a difficult thing with making a profit and as much money for the shareholders as possible and still being a company that really cares about people and the community.
ENGELS: If spirituality would be postured as an increase of reflection, or as an appreciation for meaning or depth or careful thinking or sensitivity or connection to other people, it could be seen as a competitive advantage, something that actually undergirds and fuels and contributes to performance.
R. ERICSON: Give a real concrete example of how that might happen.
ENGELS: A spiritual perspective might value imagination and reflection time instead of an obsessive busyness. It might value taking 15 minutes to really ask myself, “Is this where I should be? Is this what we need to be doing right now?” Out of that perspective, I might come up with a kind of idea, a kind of approach that could actually be deeper, and more in sync with the mission of my organization.
WINTERS: Some companies even have meditation rooms.
KEESAN: (Spirituality) also manifests as really functional teams. (In) the total quality movement, human behavior is so important. A lot of times you have the techniques without the underlying attitudes. From a spiritual perspective, you’re not competing with a fellow employee, you’re mutually dependent on getting the job done.
WINTERS: I think, also, you don’t tend to have the entitlement mentality. If you’re in touch with who you are and you feel self-actualized, you don’t feel, “I’m entitled to this job. And look what this big company is doing to me.” The employment contract truly is changed in America today. There is no more lifetime employment. But I think people still feel entitled to that. They feel like they have been let down. The spiritual perspective reverses that.
deJONG: I think industry today has changed; we are doing new and different things. The students coming out of college today are smarter than we are; they’ve got all the right tools. We need to reach into those people, pull them out, build them up, pull their creativity out and add it to ours. We have to manage diversity, we have to empower them, we have to work with them so they are free to let their imaginations run wild and let loose some of those ideas that they’re working on.
KEESAN: As John said, if it’s done right, this is competitive advantage. I think that’s why we’re here now, because we have experienced some competitive advantage in our worlds by acting on these things.
deJONG: (At Xerox,) we had to go through layoffs and everything else. But those of us who were left felt bad about the whole situation as well, so we had to deal with it. Here we had just laid off people, and we sent a team of quite a few people out to New Mexico to go on a “Let’s figure out how to work together”-type seminar. Xerox can’t stop developing the people that are left.
R. ERICSON: Everything everyone is saying here sounds really wonderful, but there are a lot of companies out there (that) would have nothing to do with what any of you are saying. So what happens to people in those companies? What happens to their development and their opportunities to express their spirituality?
KNAPP: I think some of those companies will lose good people if they think they can go someplace else and use their talent and be respected. So I think it eventually will be a competitive advantage. I do think the challenges for a small business are different from those of a larger business, and maybe you feel the heat, the devil at your back, and worry that the payroll won’t be met this week. It’s a constant preoccupation for some people, and it drains a person of energy and desire to think of the meaning behind everything. I think it’s a major thing, that we’re all trying to be first and fast and best.
ENGELS: Let’s play with that, though. This is what spirituality really is begging at: What’s the point of being first? I’m not knocking it; I think it’s an important goal. We’re all here; we have families to support.
WINTERS: The point is supposed to be self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction. When you get up in the morning and you look at yourself in the mirror, do you feel good about who you are, what you did yesterday and what you’re about to do today? I think more and more companies are getting to that point where they’re saying, “If we treat our people well and we do the right thing, the money will follow.” You’re right; there are some organizations that haven’t caught on, (but) the labor pool is shrinking. There are fewer people out there to be had.
WINTERS: Right. And those folks will want to go to those companies that value the fact that they are a whole person, and that their whole life does not revolve around whatever it is they do from 8 to 5. The whole notion of balancing work and family life has become much more respected and accepted.
R. ERICSON: But what about the people who don’t want to hug? Suppose you plan some training for your employees, and there is going to be a spiritual component of this training. What happens when employees get into the midst of it and, all of a sudden, they realize they really don’t want to do this?
WINTERS: They can walk out. I invite people to say, “I’m not comfortable with that.”
KNAPP: I don’t think spirituality, though, is all about feeling good all the time. I think spirituality also involves a little pain and questioning. It doesn’t mean that you always have the great answer to everything. I think it’s questioning and wondering and seeking.
WINTERS: I think spirituality is about hope.
KNAPP: But it doesn’t erase questions and doubts and a certain amount of pain and tension. Without it, maybe we’re not asking the right questions.
KEESAN: If you’re not honoring and acknowledging your own pain and your own difficulty, it’s hard to be honest about anything. You can’t be working on love and not feel all kinds of pain around you. How do you feel joyous about working and, at the same time, acknowledge that difficulty?
ENGELS: I wonder if what you’re saying might explain why more people aren’t open. All authentic spirituality involves dealing with the dark side, with challenge, with struggle. To what extent are we, as business leaders–and a particular onus is on those who are at the top–really willing to enter into the fray, the trenches of uncertainty, where I’m not in control anymore, and I have to be curious, and I have to begin to open my life up, perhaps share with others at a level at which I’m not used to sharing? This is scary stuff.
P. ERICSON: I want to get back to what the point of being No. 1 is. A lot of people would say the point is knowing that you’re not last. You’re certain, at least for now, that your business is going to survive. That doesn’t mean you don’t get fulfillment out of the work that you do, but you can’t be fulfilled in your work if you fail. A number of companies in this town who seem to be doing the right kinds of things, from this perspective, are also ones that are laying off people wholesale–even while making record profits. Speaking for, perhaps, the people who just got laid off from Kodak and Xerox, where does spirituality come to the table? Wouldn’t it be, perhaps in the Christian sense, more spiritual to have found other work for those people?
deJONG: When I joined Xerox in 1968, at the same time I was walking in the front door, they were laying 2,000 people off in Henrietta. I never quite understood that. When I grew up a bit, I went back and saw there was a business need that wasn’t being met. They had too many people; they laid them off. They went into a voluntary type of work- reduction exercise, provided phones, counseling. You have to remember our competition was Japan Inc., and we were in trouble. That made us stronger, more efficient.
I can’t justify what they did, because I don’t have a lot of the facts, but the people that were left behind were just as hurt as those who were laid off. We had to help not only the people who were laid off with all the counseling, helping them find jobs, moving people around or retraining them. Xerox was willing to retrain people instead of lay them off.
P. ERICSON: The assumption (about layoffs) is that, “We have to do it.” Says who? What does spirituality say about profits?
KEESAN: It doesn’t say anything about it. It’s very hard to talk about this in the abstract. In some cases, layoffs can be the most profoundly helpful thing that can happen, because a company that is failing can’t help anybody. And other times, layoffs are unnecessary. You can’t make pronouncements that layoffs are good or bad; it’s the way it’s done and the circumstances.
WINTERS: I really don’t see the correlation between a company (not) caring about their employees, and layoffs. Going back to my premise: We have to take care of ourselves. Some people believe one door is closed, that means another is going to be opened. I think that it’s not necessarily the lack of a caring for employees that leads companies to make business decisions.
KEESAN: But it can be, right?
KNAPP: I think it can be.
WINTERS: It can be, but … to be honest, there are some people who retire in their jobs and are not benefiting the company. The other thing that you said I just want to mention: I don’t equate Christianity with spirituality.
P. ERICSON: I said, as an example.
ENGELS: I had the same reaction. It has as much to do with spirituality as Hinduism and Buddhism and Judaism and the rest.
KNAPP: Getting back to laying off employees and profits increasing: I think it’s unclear how much obligation business has to the community. We did say at the beginning that spirituality connotes connectedness, and if it does, then one can hardly not care about what happens in the community. It seems to me that there are becoming two tiers: skilled and unskilled people. Somehow business has a part to play in that.
ENGELS: What I hear all of us saying is that a holistic, spiritual approach is very nuanced. There are no simple answers to very complex questions. It has to be seen as, “What is the best we can do?”
There’s a lot of societal permission to care. But the other side of not caring is caring too much. I work with many people who have difficulty making decisions, taking stands, because they’re afraid of what the reaction’s going to be. So this wrestling, this curiosity, coming together and really struggling with the questions, instead of having to have the answer to the question– reductionist, black/white thinking–I think that’s going down a path of a decidedly unspiritual approach.
deJONG: (There are some) values that we have that we’ve all wanted to get back to. If you want to call it spirituality, we’ll call it spirituality. I think we’re all now into managing for results and looking at our employees as assets, continuing to develop them. We need to touch the hearts of all of those employees as well as continue to develop their minds, the interconnectedness.
KNAPP: Terminology of people as assets and getting return on investment connotes a little bit to me that, if they don’t come through, they’re not worth it, and I’m going to get something more valuable in its place.
I also hear you say empowerment, and open and honest communication. But I’m just thinking about people as assets, as things, and it just bothers me.
WINTERS: I like to look at it as organic vs. inorganic. We think, oftentimes, the processes we see in corporations are inorganic; they’re about inputs and outputs. When you think about something being organic, you think about it changing, living, needing nourishment. I would say that the terminology that we use often in describing people is an inorganic language.
KEESAN: The easy way for management to talk about this is to say there’s a correlation between certain behaviors and a return on investment. And I think that’s the way you justify making positive change. But, really, it comes down to an act of faith. Right now, in the evolution of our business, people have seen success, and they have seen the returns that come from valuing people. But it is kind of an act of faith for a lot of companies and a lot of managers to say, “I’m going to put my people first,” and really act out of that place.
WINTERS: And that’s difficult because it’s not as concrete as setting a machine.
KEESAN: Many people who have taken that leap of faith have seen positive results. If you try to explain that to others, they put it in their own situation and say, “I could never do that.”
R. ERICSON: How about if you tried to explain it to the media? I’m wondering if anyone other than I is frustrated with the way this issue is generally dealt with in the mainstream press.
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