Bringing business spirituality to the next level

Robert Vissers

In a recent article about a Big Data Forum [NL] Jorgen Heizenberg made a remark that sounded, well, rather holistic. He said: “Everything is connected to everything.”

As a starting point, three aspects are typically used to explain what Big Data is: volume, high velocity and a high variety of data. With new techniques and hardware possibilities, analyses are carried out where data from different sources of information can be connected to each other. The possibilities of this approach are so promising that some companies don’t want to miss out on Big Data strategies. This one holistic aspect, however, does not imply that Heizenberg’s article would turn towards Business Spirituality. On the contrary, Big Data is even said to make our intuition – often connected to spirituality – redundant. In this article I will focus on this paradox (holistic conclusions in a fact based world) and show how Business Spirituality can be put into practice alongside Big Data.

Recently, the International Journal of Business and Management (Banyhamdan et al. 2012) came up with five pathways to outline the development of spirituality in business:

1. organizational culture;
2. an organization’s mission and vision;
3. leadership;
4. human resource development and
5. an organization’s structure and job design.

A further definition of Business Spirituality is given by Andrew Thorn in his recent Guest Post. With the pathways as a reference point, we can now return to the statement some people declare: that intuition is dead. Despite this assertion, these same people still employ spiritual terms when describing developments in the business field. These attitudes may seem contradictory; nevertheless, there is some underlying logic. To illustrate this point, a trip to one of Deepak Chopra’s workshops – which I attended – may be of use.

The workshop was about Ayurveda, a system of alternative medicine from India. Ayurveda is based on a holistic approach to the human being. For example, a sign in the waiting room of a Western doctor states that you can only discuss one complaint per consultation. This may occur in the Netherlands, but it is unthinkable for the Ayurveda approach. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, two different physical symptoms are always related to the patient’s overall state of body and mind and therefore linked. In the case of an illness, an Ayurvedic doctor guides the healing process on the basis of insights into the workings of one’s body type. Chopra further expanded the basic principles of Ayurveda, the functioning of the human body and the effects of different flavors on each of three body types. He rained a slew of technical terms that dazzled the audience.

“If your food is not digested properly, ‘Ama’ (toxic waste) is formed, which stuffs the Srotas (fine body channels) (…) to balance the kapha , it helps to eat foods with a bitter or astringent taste.”

After an hour-long explanation he reassured everyone by saying that it really is not necessary to remember all the terms and their complex explanation: the body knows very well what it needs on its own. So simple. Only when you are stressed and do not listen to your body’s signals, does a physical imbalance arise whereby doctor advice is needed.

And so these truths carry over to developments in business too. If a company listens carefully to all the wants and needs of its employees, business partners and customers, success will be the outcome. As an individual who doesn’t listen to his (or her) body needs a doctor, so does a company that does not ‘listen’ attentively to its stakeholders end up with layoffs or bankruptcy. To achieve this ‘listening’, management and analysts must realize that the interests from any one stakeholder will effect the company’s overall business model and therefore the satisfaction levels of all the other stakeholders. “Everything is connected to everything.”

It is not necessary to convince people of the importance of spiritual intelligence in business. As will be substantiated with examples, this type of awareness happens automatically. Following this line of reasoning, the best Business Intelligence analysts are people that fully use their intuition. In Big Data, the power of that strategy lies not in the quantity of the data, but in what people do with it. What questions lie at the basis of the analysis? It is the quality of these questions that ultimately leads to the company’s success and the best questions come from people who poses a mixture of experience, curiosity and intuition.

So how can a company implement spirituality effectively? This question can be answered with an approach from the business analysis field. Using business analysis, amongst others, goals and business processes are obtained. These are then translated into policy documents and requirements. These requirements, plus the wants and needs of stakeholders, serve as a basis for strategic choices and system development. Within a project system, choices can be traced back to the goals defined by the managers. In other words, the system requirements (“how we do it”) are an elaboration of the user requirements (“what do we do?”), which in turn give meaning to the business requirements (“why do we do it?”). The answer to this last question is how the company deals with the challenges it has to face.

The following two pictures show examples of requirements elicited with a traditional mindset (first picture) and an approach based on spiritual intelligence (second picture). Both examples cope with the company’s challenge of “We are losing market share in our line of business”:

The difference between the two approaches is obvious. In practice the process of attaining spiritual intelligence often seems to be painful. The need for it is crucial however, because the threats and challenges that companies currently face are getting bigger. Threats include developments in the market, driven by new technology and the recession.

Even in the light of these threats, the company’s goals and main business processes can be examined to be able and face a new reality. By setting up business requirements that do justice to principles of integrity and ethical business practices, a company can make strategic choices that reflect the spirit of the age, as well as meeting the customer’s and the employee’s needs.

Various forces in society enforce these kinds of ethical developments. Think of WikiLeaks, where corruption and hidden agendas are exposed for all to see. Or the current criticism, directed at the corporate bonuses and high salaries, that gradually became effective in the financial world. Authorities are always there to help the process: the EIOPA, a European financial authority, recently came out with a “holistic balance sheet” to protect members and beneficiaries of (pension) insurances. As a final example, there is the company Chemie-Pack that went bankrupt after it had been struck by a large fire. It turned out that they had disregarded many security policies, in order to have higher profits. These kinds of examples show that it does not pay off anymore to disrespect the customer or citizen, or to only focus on generating more money.

On the other side, companies that are doing exceptionally well show a healthy corporate culture. Jumbo, a supermarket chain in the Netherlands, won eight awards in the past five years, from ‘supermarket of the year’ to ‘most friendly supermarket’. Their market share increased from 3% in 2002 to almost 11% in 2012. Customer focus is core business at Jumbo. They even have a Jumbo Acadamy [NL] where employees learn ‘customer friendly thinking’ and receive attention for their personal growth. All of these initiatives show the respect of Jumbo management for employees and customers alike. As another example, in last month’s Guest Post, Kathryn Weber showed how implementing Feng Shui has tremendous advantages for the employee and therefore the company itself. Successful companies like Whole Foods and Shell have been using Feng Shui techniques for many years already.

Examples of companies in either the traditional or more spiritual categories are endless. In recent years, it is clear that any major change in a company, success or failure, leads back to the extent in which the company had been developing its spiritual intelligence.

Even though successful companies do not explicitly acknowledge that they are being ‘spiritual’, if we let market forces take their course, inevitably they will show that the spiritual component is a reliable success factor.