Companies without Soul — The Dark Side of Corporate Life

You won’t find any business school classes discussing it. There are no chapters in business textbooks that mention it. Certainly formal business plans with their stilted text, charts, graphs and projections have little time for it. And business consultants consider it a sign of weakness to even mention it. But in the end it is the most critical and essential element to the continuing success of any venture in a competitive business world. Without it no company can ever reach its potential and if it loses it, the company rapidly sinks into the abyss of bureaucratic failure. When companies or individuals working at companies lose it they are forever condemned to live on the dark side of corporate life.

What is “it”?

It is the “soul” of an enterprise. It is the tie that binds, it is the furnace of passion, the cauldron of commitment, the acceptance of accountability, the vista of visions and the belief that what is being done is being done for the right reasons. It can be felt by anyone, but only the true believers can see, touch and taste it. A company without soul is a thing without a being. The soul of an enterprise bonds it together as one force giving it identity, purpose, direction and a reason for being.

Many pooh-pooh the reality and value of soul in the corporate world but it is truly amazing how, given the same business circumstances, some companies do so much better than others. It is not soul that assures success, but it is the presence of soul that unifies the mission to achieve success.

Study an uncommonly successful company and you will discover a company with soul that was imbued in the culture by a strong entrepreneurial leader. Companies such as Apple Computer, Southwest Airlines, Anderson Windows, FedEx and Starbucks are companies that come to mind.

This soul of a company expressed in a “spirit of success” 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 of attention to corporate soul. Most often this can be attributed to the departure of the individual who initially infused the company with soul and the arrival of “professional managers.”

Even though corporate soul cannot be quantified it can be recognized. Take the example of Apple Computer. Steve Jobs did a wonderful job of creating Apple Computer as a company with soul. When the board no longer felt it needed what Mr. Jobs could bring to the company he was kicked out. With Jobs gone no one remained who could give more than lip-service to the soul of the company. Not surprisingly the company began to decline and ultimately almost failed. Out of desperation Mr. Jobs was called back. Mr. Jobs is a very intelligent, talented, experienced leader, but he was not called back to Apple for his ability as a manager. No, he was brought back to instill a new dose of corporate soul; something the managers were incapable of understanding or doing. As they say, the rest is history. The same scenario is currently under way at Starbucks Coffee.

The culture of success created in a corporation with soul is even more important once an organization attains a critical size and mass because at that time it is more important to constantly improve the level of performance than it is to get bigger. Protecting, enhancing and respecting the company soul that fertilized the early growth of a company 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.

Are there telltale signs that show a successful company may be losing its soul? Yes.
Is the management too busy to take the time to do the little things it took the time to do in the past?]

• Does management find it easier to hire more people from the outside (from cultures that failed) than are gown from within?
• Is the company success defined by what it has done, rather than what could be done?
• Does management look at “outsourcing” as easier, cheaper and better than “insourcing?”
• As the company achieved success did the actions of the company threaten the competitors and now the actions of competitors threaten the company?
• Does management have a philosophy that employees work for the company rather than with the company?
• Does management now view process and procedure as more important than performance and progress?
Companies that achieved success in the past but are now exhibiting these signs are companies that have lost their soul and will soon lose their future.
Successful companies that protect and maintain the culture of soul do so by focusing on three soul-saving philosophies:
• They always act like the leader, but feel like the underdog.
• Always have a challenge to be conquered.
• They are not satisfied with success and terrified of its loss.

Companies with soul never lose sight of one thought – If you are not making history, you are history!


11 responses to “Companies without Soul — The Dark Side of Corporate Life

  1. Pingback: Companies without Soul — The Dark Side of Corporate Life

  2. Hello.

    I would like to put a link to your site on my blog roll if you want to do the same for mine. It would be a good way to build up both of our readerships.

    thank you.

  3. Thanks Bob, another great lesson that my MBA did not teach me :¬)

  4. Mac – Right on, as always! The company I was laid off from has been in decline for a number of reasons, but the primary one is because it lost that intangible quality called “soul.” It’s difficult to create, but oh so easy to loose. Keep up the poignant commentary.

  5. I heard Jewel is making a new video for her classic “Who Will Save Your Soul” – and is seriously considering putting a video of a finger-pointing Mac against a backdrop of the many once-famous companies that have unfortunately lost their souls…

    Once again, great job!!!

  6. Thanks for the comments Mac. Allianz has a ways to go, bet were giving it our best.

  7. Mac, what do you think Allianz has to do to turn things around?

  8. loyal travel agent

    You’ve got moxy, Mac! (as any good leader should).
    I love this part that you wrote:

    “A company without soul is a thing without a being. The soul of an enterprise bonds it together as one force giving it identity, purpose, direction and a reason for being.”

  9. Mac,

    couldn’t agree more..

    I used to work for (with!) a The Walt Disney Company in Florida, and then joined Allianz back in the UK some years later.

    Disney had a great ‘soul’ which was propagated via diversity, vision, and a sense of self-worth. Critics will mock the ‘Traditions’ training ceremony that all employees have to go through, as slightly ‘cultish’, but I for one believe it to be a great tool in educating and aligning all staff to the soul and spirit of the company. We were taught the Disney history, Walt’s dreams and entrepreneurial spirit, and everything that is involved in the huge Disney ‘family’ of companies today.

    In short, working at WDW was a pleasure, 99% of employees wanted to be there, we were all working for the same reason, striving toward a common goal, and most were proud to say they worked with the Mouse. Which is why Walt Disney World is renowned for its service today. And let me tell you, it had nothing to do with money – most of us were on little more than minimum wage, but we still had smiles on our faces 24/7!

    In contrast, at Allianz (UK) everyone seems extremely cynical, the company still holds the ‘pipe and slippers’ culture of 40 years ago. Execs rule the roost (and the top floors of the building), many rarely show their faces on the ‘shop floor’, and when the CEO pulls up in his Aston it just underlines most people’s eye-rolling attitude towards the company and what we do (or don’t!) contribute towards in society.

    Yes, on the surface the magical world of Disney is far more exciting than insurance, but Insurers have a lot to be proud of, and play a far more important role in the world than entertainment! Why doesn’t the industry shout about this once in a
    while?! If Allianz had invested in a thorough induction for all, then it’d be a start to a sense of self-worth for employees, unless this is truly down to British cynicism!

    Quite frankly, the perpetual cynical attitude here can be exhausting at times. Many attempts at trying to unify the organisation by making it ‘a great place to work’ are met with scoffs and sniggers from the majority of employees who still have the ‘too cool for school’ attitude. However, this is helped in no way by the company’s somewhat old-fashioned and occasionally tight treatment of its employees. Just yesterday I went to make a cup of coffee and was greeted by a new ‘kitchen for use by executive team only’ sign on the door..

    Anyone know if Disney are hiring?!

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