“Corporations have no soul.” I read this in a non-fiction book recently and I thought, “Oh, yes, they do!”
Let’s define what “soul” means. In theology and philosophy, the soul is seen as one’s essence or spirit which exists beyond the physical self.
I define corporate soul as the organization’s essence or spirit which exists in the hearts and minds of the humans who operate within that organization.
I believe corporate soul is not tangible or visible. It is a subtle, steady entity that provides insights into how the organization is acting upon it’s perceived purpose, values, strategies, and goals.
Some examples may help further define corporate soul. When I think of Southwest Airlines, two words that describe it’s soul to me are “fun” and “service.” When I think of Apple, two phrases that describe it’s soul to me are “elegant design” and “disruptive technologies.” When I think of Zappos, two phrases that describe it’s soul to me are “service” and “pleasant surprise.”
You may have different words come to mind when you think about these organization’s corporate soul descriptors.
If you agree that corporate soul exists, what then? Should one “do something” with corporate soul? Is corporate soul worth “tending”? I firmly believe that it is.
I have a number of friends who are former Navy sailors and SEALs. At dinner recently one shared that for sailors onboard a Navy vessel, that ship’s soul is tended intentionally, every day. He said, “Sailors definitely believe their ships have a soul. Outsiders see ships as metal and machinery; sailors attribute soul to the ship’s spirit.”
Ships are referred to as female forms – “she’s running well tonight.” Proactive maintenance is a constant onboard, a shared value and shared goal for every sailor. During the overlap between shifts, sailors describe the creaks & groans as indications of “that’s normal” or “that’s an unusual noise – we need to check that out.”
Sailors are incredibly attuned to the ship’s essence, it’s soul. Therefore, they invest time and energy daily to keep the ship in perfect operating condition, everything neat and in order (i.e., “shipshape”).
Tending to Corporate Soul
The most effective leaders I’ve observed pay close attention to both the obvious and the subtle in their organization’s soul and culture. They monitor the obvious through performance metrics and dashboards, to ensure that promises made are being fully delivered.
They monitor the subtle by casual conversations with players at all levels, inquiring, “How’s it going? How can I make your job easier?” then listening and refining where possible. They “manage by wandering around,” observing the nuances of employee engagement in day to day interactions with peers & customers.
They tend to their organization’s soul by reflecting what they’re seeing and hearing, saying “I think this is an unusual noise – we need to check that out,” or “It sounds to me like the project is going very well. What are you hearing?”
What is your take on corporate soul? What creaks & groans have you learned to pay attention to in your company, department, or team? What did your best boss do to tend to your team’s corporate soul? Share your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below.
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