Elevate Your Business By Cultivating A More Soulful Culture
We all know from our personal lives that small, incremental goals can make a big difference. Whether it’s making the effort to run a little further on your morning jog, or setting our devices aside for a little while each day to build our relationships with our families, shifting our habits day by day can make a world of difference.
Our businesses are no different. As we move into the third decade of this century, it’s becoming clear that the zeitgeist, or spirit of our age, can be summarized with one word: soul. In a business setting, this means embodying the values and philosophies that prompted us to create the business within our daily working practices.
No longer are businesses viewed just as cash cows, and no longer are entrepreneurs prepared to ‘hustle’ to get ahead. The best entrepreneurs among us understand that success comes through giving something back, through fulfilling a social need.
That doesn’t mean writing big cheques to charities. It’s as simple as doing the ordinary things a little bit better each day, elevating each individual in the organization to a better way of life.
And that’s why your human resources strategy could be the most important one you set.
In an August 2021 article for MIT Sloan Management Review titled ‘Strategy as a Way of Life,’ Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi make the case for this approach.
“Doing the ordinary things a little bit better every day in our jobs — such as working hard, making ethical choices, being kind, practicing self-reflection and self-discipline, being humble, and being thankful — elevates our work lives,” they write. “This builds culture at the organizational level and character at the personal level.”
They suggest six practices that companies can adopt to put the soul back into their strategy:
- Cope with complexity.
Thanks to its ever increasing levels of connectivity, the modern world is a highly complex landscape. Businesses which thrive in this environment are those which empower their employees to come up with innovative solutions to novel circumstances.
“To solve our most pressing problems, we must tap diverse perspectives and sources of expertise across multiple domains — no single approach or field of study will provide the answers,” Nonaka and Takeuchi suggest
Adapt to change.
By placing principles, not goals, at the center of a company’s strategy, effective leaders are better placed to identify trends as they emerge, and adapt their practices to them. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella once said: “From ancient Greece to modern Silicon Valley, the only thing that gets in the way of continued success and relevance, and impact, is hubris.”
When he took the helm, Nadella overturned competition-based performance management practices that had given Microsoft a reputation as something of a bully, replacing them with a new collaborative structure, breaking down silos between departments and encouraging innovative thinking.
“The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives,” Nadella said. “This is the opportunity that drives each of us at this company.”
- Embrace dynamic duality.
The Western intellectual tradition, Nonaka and Takeuchi point out, is dualistic – it divides the world into duel categories: mind and body, humans and nature, explicit knowledge and intuition, with one of the pair given dominance. The Eastern tradition makes no such distinction, allowing Eastern leaders to draw on both sides of the duality when the time is right.
They give the example of Toyota, which embraces this approach. Toyota “moves slowly, a little at a time, but takes big leaps once in a while; is hierarchical but gives employees freedom to push back; is efficient on day-to-day operations but redundant in its use of employees’ time.”
- Empathize with everyone.
It is well understood by now that to attract customers, you have to show your target audience that you offer something that they need. But to do that effectively, you need to be able to put yourself in your customer’s shoes, to empathize with them. And so do your staff.
Eisai, a Japanese pharmaceutical company, has approached this by having each of its 10,000 employees spend a few days a year with patients.
“We get to know how patients feel by spending time with them, which eventually moves all of us to tears,” CEO Haruo Naito explained. “Our motivation comes from our desire to do something about the true needs we grasped then and there.”
- Tell stories.
Our civilization is built upon the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we are doing, and our businesses are no different. But if these stories are fictional, they will quickly be spotted by both employees and customers as fake.
Effective leaders involve their employees in those stories, casting them in starring roles, inviting them to participate with their whole being.
- Live with nature.
A 2017 study by Cone Comm found that 92% of consumers are more likely to trust a company that supports social or environmental issues, and 88% will be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues. However, while the importance of taking care of our natural environment shouldn’t be underestimated, it also shouldn’t be viewed as a marketing gimmick or fad.
Nature is a cyclical, complex system which, no matter how many high rises we build, we as humans live within. Research shows that bringing nature into the office environment helps employees be more creative, less stressed, and even increases their self-esteem.
Incorporating these practices into your business culture may mean a shift in habits which at first may be uncomfortable, but with steady practice and a commitment to placing values at the heart of everything you do, the benefits can be transformative.
- Cope with complexity.
These are some some of the reasons why we call ourselves Soulidify