Bob MacDonald on Business

Sage Advice for Superior Business Management

Bob MacDonald on Business header image 2

Building a Healthy Corporate Culture Starts with Soul

August 12th, 2013 · 6 Comments · Building Better Business Managers, Business Ethics, Business Management, Improving Your Business Leadership

Corporate Culture – for good or bad – is a reflection of the soul of a company.

There is one aspect to company management that is probably the most essential to its long-term success. Yet despite its crucial importance, few managers make reference to it.

Business schools don’t offer classes to study it. It is absent from the charts, graphs, projections and stilted narrative of businessCorporateSoul plans. Management consultants avoid it because it defies their simplistic “peer-group” comparisons. Most managers see it as something more mythical and metaphysical than quantifiable, so they pooh-pooh it as “soft” and prefer to focus on process and procedure and the tangible numbers of financial statements.

But it is the big gorilla in the room. And ultimately, it is the most decisive and essential element to the continuing success – or failure – of any venture in a competitive business world. Without it, no company can ever reach its full potential. And if it loses it, the company rapidly sinks into the abyss of bureaucratic failure.

So, what is “it”? It is the core of an organization – its soul.

The Living, Breathing Corporate Soul

The soul of an organization, like that of individuals, serves as an active and essential moving spirit. It animates principles that arouse emotions, sentiment, purpose and persistence. Even though the corporate soul refuses to be quantified, it can be recognized and nurtured.

The soul of a company crafts its spirit, feeling, character and the essence of its being. The soul of a company defines and sets the cultural tone of the organization and how it goes about its mission. A strong soul is the glue that binds; it is the furnace of passion, the cauldron of commitment, the acceptance of accountability, the vista of visions and it gives belief to all participants that what is being done is being done for the right reasons.


As with humans, you can’t see and touch the soul of an organization, but you can sense its presence and perceive its influence on the actions of a company. The potential for the success of an organization resides not with rules, structure and power, but in the soul of the organization. A company with soul is managed on the basis of respect, rather than fear and intimidation. It is the soul of an enterprise that bonds its elements together as one force, giving it identity, purpose, direction and the power to achieve. A company without soul is a vacuous entity that ultimately destroys itself and those associated with it.

To the Nonbelievers

Many scoff at the reality and value of soul in the corporate world, but it is truly amazing how, given the same business circumstances, some companies dramatically eclipse the performance of their competitors. It is not soul that assures success, but it is the presence of soul that unifies the efforts of an organization to achieve success.

The soul of an organization is the basis of its identity, so it is the responsibility of leadership to nurture it and protect it, because once an organization attains a critical size and mass it is more important to constantly improve the level of performance than it is to merely “get bigger.” Protecting, enhancing and respecting the soul of a company that fertilized the early growth is the key to continued achievement, because if that fails to happen, not only will the spirit that drives the company success break down, but it will lose the essence of what it was all about.

It is the soul of a company that brings to life a “spirit of success.” But this soul-driven spirit is fragile and will exist only so long as it is allowed to exist. There can be many reasons why successful companies begin to fail, but a close examination will show that the decline starts with the decline in attention to corporate soul.

There are telltale signs that show a company may be losing its soul.

  • Management rationalizes that they are too busy to take the time to do the little things they took the time to do in the past.
  • Management finds it is easier to hire more people from outside than to grow from within.
  • Success ceases to be defined by the company as what it can do, and begins to defined by what it has already achieved.
  • Management begins to see “outsourcing” as easier, cheaper and better than “insourcing.”
  • In an earlier time, as the company achieved success its actions threatened the competitors and now the actions of the competition threaten the company.
  • Management now views process and procedure as more important than performance and progress.

It Starts at the Top

The good news is that it is possible – actually, relatively easy – to develop, nurture and protect a healthy corporate soul. What is important to recognize is that the soul of an organization is defined, created and determined by the beliefs and actions of leaders at the top of the organization. The effort needed to achieve success by an organization comes from the bottom up, but the soul of an organization that gives reason and motivation to the effort is established from the top down.

The building blocks to nurturing a healthy corporate soul are simple and easy to assemble. It starts with the leader’s commitment to clearly, simply and consistently communicate the objectives of the organization to others. It means creating an environment that involves all in the process in a way that will motivate participants to work together to achieve a success that is shared by all.

Leaders should accept that their first – and most important – responsibility is to cultivate the soul of the organization in a way that encourages people to see the success of the organization as their own success. To accomplish this objective, the leader should:

  • Constantly reminisce about the future with everyone; allowing everyone to see what the future they are building will be like.
  • Establish and maintain certain inviolate principles of ethics and rules of engagement so people will have confidence in the support, stability and consistency of direction as they put forth effort.
  • Constantly communicate so that everyone knows exactly where they and the organization are on the map to success.
  • Provide the support, tools and encouragement that makes it clear to all that their talent and efforts are respected and that what they do does make a difference.
  • Always have an open architecture that encourages risk and learning from failure.
  • Be consistent, open, available and honest.
  • Always make abundantly clear that the most powerful and critical assets of the organization are the people.

Just as there are telltale signs of a corporation lacking soul, there are also clear signals that an organization is functioning with a healthy soul. Those within the organization act as though they are underdogs even though they are leaders. Collectively, the organization is always hungry to find and conquer the next challenge. No one in the organization – from bottom to top – is satisfied with success that has been achieved and is terrified at the thought of losing it. It is this expression of soul that will ultimately drive the organization to success that will be the motivation for even more success.

And the Moral of the Story …

The concept of soul within an organization may seem abstract and mythical, but to ignore its reality is to risk abject failure. Recognition of the presence and power of the soul of an organization encourages and empowers the leader to build a culture designed to recognize, acknowledge, respect, challenge, motivate and reward those within the organization who have the talent to determine the success of the organization.

So the bottom line is simple. The soul of an organization is determined by those who are charged with leadership. If the leaders of an organization do not recognize or accept the power and value of creating a nourishing corporate soul, they will not comprehend or give credence to the significance of a healthy, motivating culture based on respect – not fear. The corporate soul that fails to recognize and reward the value of the individual breeds a culture that ultimately will self-destruct, and unfortunately, so will the organization.

Fax Online    Send article as PDF   

Tags: ··