Sunday, 4 January 2015

Organisational Spirituality; meaningful employment is the opium of the people?

I was first introduced to the concept of organisational spirituality by my niece at my mother's funeral. I have to admit to already having been hooked on deep and meaningful business concepts such as sustainability, inclusion, human performance etc. so an idea like organisational spirituality was always going to provide a source of fascination to me.

Since that initial introduction I've given the concept some thought, kicked the idea around with some colleagues over the odd cup of Costa and this blog is my take on the topic; in it I accept that the concept exists, explore what it means to me, ask a few questions but unsurprisingly come up with very few answers!

Let's start by saying that in my experience some sort of Organisational Spirituality (OS) does exist; people do appear to be motivated to work for a much higher ideal than simply getting paid. But the question for me is it a force for good or is it a simply a coping mechanism for the otherwise down trodden and disenfranchised masses? And who are the organisational spirituality spiritual leaders and if not the current leaders of the organisation then what does this signify and where is this taking us?

Why do I think it exists? Well for me this concept of inner spirituality explains a lot. It explains why the workers think they know better than the johnny come lately boss, it explains the pull of a business environment and it explains a sense of no longer mattering once we leave this warm collegiate glow. If the world outside appears cold and lacking values, being on the inside of a business can provide the spirituality our soul craves, desires and needs.

But what comes first, how does a business or a group of individuals create something that is worth being part of? Where does the spark of spirituality come from? Speaking from my experience it comes from an inspirational leader or a significant period within the organisation's history which then becomes enshrined as some sort of golden age. Interestingly people don't need to have lived through the age or the leader's influence but they do need to have become aware of it. This then becomes some sort of ideal we are struggling to get back to, the unachievable holy grail that makes all the shit we now have to put up with worthwhile and proves that it doesn't matter that the current direction is wrong, our leaders appear out of touch because ultimately we will recover Avalon.

That makes it sound as if organisational spirituality exists but isn't necessary pulling us all in the same direction. So how can we make it a force for good? my belief is that we need a spiritual aspect to our lives but are not gullible enough to believe it can be supplied by religion; hence we look for it elsewhere, in this case in the workplace. But I have to ask that if we are not gullible enough to swallow religion, even when it is packaged and presented by a group of seasoned professionals, are we going to be taken in by a mishmash of inconsistently presented values? I don't think so!

If we accept we are going to struggle to create a spiritual organisation from scratch but people are seeking and finding spirituality in what they do then there does seem a place for nurturing and supporting this spirituality where it can help the business. Of course the challenge for business today is working out how to do that. The first step has to be recognising that OS exists and that it can be tapped into and used. OS beliefs need to be supported where it is possible (i.e. where there is a degree of alignment with business objectives) Messiahs need to be recognised and endorsed and prophets and disciples need to be listened to. Obviously there is a danger here if belief systems clash. This could be a clash with the objectives of the organisation or it could be a clash between beliefs. We have to remember that when we are dealing with deep spirituality we cannot expect to have rational behaviour. No wonder people sometimes go home grumpy!

So that's all I want to say at the moment; I've seen that some form of OS exists but it does not necessarily mean workers are aligned to the belief systems of the current organisation. Tapping in to OS can be a force for good for a business but it could uncover internal conflicts. But I do think we need to recognise that it is good that people can find something to believe in at all in what they do rather than try and knock it out of them.

While I've been writing this the words of a Gladys Knight song have been going through my head so best that I leave you with them:

Come to think of it as, as bad as we think they are
these will become the good old days for our children, hum

"The Way We Were / Try To Remember"

A golden age?

These words and thoughts are those of the author and are not intended to reflect those of his employer