This is not an article on corporate corruption, poor governance or just plain bad judgement on the part of boards appointed to government corporations for reasons of political reward or a relative’s financial support to a minister’s election campaign.
It is not even about WASA and why streets are being flooded every time it rains, but there is no water in household taps – although the latter is tempting, after I attended a meeting in a downtown ministry building last week to which I was warned to bring some bottled water, as there was no pipe-borne water in that area.
This article is about something rarely, if ever spoken about in business circles in TT: corporate spirituality. Not religion, which is a very personal matter, connected to some very complex social, political and psychological issues, but of spirituality.
Over many years I have co-ordinated management meetings and workshops from Curacao through TT, the Windward and Leeward Islands, as far north as Cayman, the British Virgins to the Bahamas.
One of the “ice-breaking” exercises we used to get started was to ask people to name the six or seven most important things in their lives. Most people included, in their first five, their relationship with God or “peace of mind”, family relationships, personal integrity, or some other definitely spiritual values, although they may not necessarily have identified them as spiritual.
Practically no one put their job in the first five, which was significant, as we were focusing on leadership and personal development.
So I started to do some research at the Alister Hardy Research Centre in Wales, at Westminster College, Oxford, at Princeton Religion Research Center, at Morgan Research in Australia and, of course, with the Gallup Poll people in the UK and the US.
What stood out was that a majority of people have had a variety of transcendent spiritual experiences in their lives, which some chose to interpret as spiritual or religious, and others (almost 48 per cent of people polled had no religious affiliation at all, and some were declared atheists) saw as an experience of spiritual transcendence connected to music, to nature, to giving birth, to intimate physical and sexual experiences, or even to “being there, on the road on J’Ouvert morning as the sun rises behind the Laventille hills.”
Transcendence is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as: “going beyond normal or physical human experience, not limited to the human universe”, as something that lifts you out and above your usual senses, what many defined as a union with God.
Asked to identify the leading cause of demotivation or poor organisational relationships, the almost unanimous response throughout the Caribbean was lack of trust.
The research, interestingly enough, suggested a strong link between spiritual and moral and ethical behaviour, although not with religious organisations or anyone teaching as such. The point is frequently overlooked in business because it became fashionable in the last century to disassociate science and logic, and hence business, from spirituality.
In management circles, many people over the age of 30 have now drifted away from the religious precepts and practices of their childhood or have been forced away by immoral and corrupt practices discovered to have taken place within the religious organisations that trained them.
As a result, trust in any aspect of authority has vanished.
Do you trust the police? Politicians? Lawyers? The media?
Very often, people have found nothing to replace the moral certainties of youth, and have difficulty reconciling the sense of unease they feel about the nature and scope of relationships and transactions they must face as adults in business, in dealing with their political obligations, or in what they experience in social and community life.
So what does spirituality have to do with management?
Management has to do with the planning, organising, directing and controlling of resources. Surely, management has to do with temporal and material matters, if it deals with anything? Religion seems to be more in line with business than with spirituality which may start with the temporal, but “goes beyond.”
Management of both usually implies organisations of some sort. Both have guiding policies and rules governing action or conduct indicating a belief, if not a respect, for some kind of power.
So where does the conduct of corporate spirituality creep into all of this?
As long as we accept that human beings consist of mind, body and spirit – and most systems do accept that – it seems to make sense that provisions should be made to deal with all three aspects in organising human resources at work, not just the first two – mind and body. That would be like sitting on a three-legged stool with only two legs to hold it steady.
Attention is paid to the physical aspect at work to ensure that temperatures are comfortable, that adequate space is allocated, equipment, materials and safety practices are installed and monitored. The OSH Authority and the Factory Inspectorate Ordinance are there to make sure theory becomes practice.
Mind? Mental stimulation is provided through corporate training and development programmes. Mental illness and mental health are finally beginning to be understood as key factors in performance, in problem-solving and decision-making, to motivate and enable employees to give of their best.
So it seems passing strange not to give consideration to the spiritual aspect of the human make-up, which can be the deciding factor in people’s ability to respect, to trust, to relate to, protect and support others. Teamwork, for example, may be a practical manifestation of corporate spirituality. You do not have to like everyone you work with (or even live with) but to enter what is called “The Zone” when working with them is to accept them on a spiritual bonding level, and can turn work from a money-making exercise, even for a transitory period, into an enriching and ennobling one.