Does Your Workplace Have Soul?

Ecumen was recently named for the 5th straight year as a Best Place to Work by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.  At Ecumen, we believe in building our brand "from the inside out.," meaning that we have to have an innovative, empowering, honor-filled culture on the inside.  Our brand (our culture) is our soul.

Below is an article that Ecumen CEO Kathryn Roberts wrote in 2005 for the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.  It’s entitled "Does Your Workplace Have Soul?"  It’s as timely today as it was in 2005.

One of life’s enriching experiences is to work in an organization that has soul.  While such places value and elevate people – not in a “who gets the employee of the month parking space” kind of way, but in a much more authentic way that exudes “we are human beings in this together.”  At workplaces with soul, you don’t find dreaded cases of Sunday night anxiety or people arriving on Monday to step on others for personal gain.  A workplace with soul doesn’t segregate profit and purpose.  It sees them as mutually reinforcing, a way to a greater good.  While even workplaces with soul aren’t perfect, such places are truly “Great Places to Work.”

So how can we nurture a workplace’s being and attract high-quality people who can continue enriching its value and contributions for the next generation?  While financial reward and quality benefits are one component, gold loses its glitter quickly if there is no soul.

A Bigger Purpose:  To be a workplace of choice, its people must intrinsically know they are making a difference and creating a legacy. At Ecumen, an affiliate of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we work to enhance “home” and expand choices for those we serve – older adults and their families. Improving home and choice guides all that we do.  Soul, however, isn’t just for faith-based organizations.  At Medtronic, its employees are driven by the purpose of developing medical technologies that “alleviate pain, restore health and extend life.”  And, at General Mills, a core value is building leading brands that their customers trust, and which make lives easier, healthier and more fun.  All great workplaces are shaped by people driven by purpose beyond the bottom line.

Clear the Runway:  Ideas improve outcomes. If you show me a workplace lacking ideas, you’re showing a workplace that teeters on emotional and financial bankruptcy.  Without ideas, Saint Paul’s El Burrito Mercado wouldn’t have grown from a small store with a few employees to an organization of more than 100 people who share great Latino food and culture across the region.  At Ecumen, we cannot transform elder housing and services without ideas.  One way we have opened the runway to let people fly with ideas is through an on-line “innovation station.”   Patterned after, it lets people across our multi-state network share ideas and build upon them.  It’s an incubator for progress in which everyone lends a

Listen, Learn & Act:   Working in a place where your thoughts don’t matter is deflating.  Great workplaces ask what their people think, they learn from that feedback and they act upon it.  The Business Journal’s process of surveying employees of vying “Great Places to Work” companies is a great tool because it gathers information – not from a promotions department or marketing agency – but from employees themselves. 

At Ecumen, we have an internal survey process to gauge how we are doing as a workplace of choice.  Among the results that have flowed from that research are a recognition and reward program tied to innovation, enhanced benefits, and processes that make it easier for people to do their jobs.  These aren’t top-down changes; they have occurred through two-way communication and collaboration.  At great places to work you don’t see “suggestion boxes” gathering dust, or patronizing “leaders” who pat ideas and employees on the head, but never act on what’s presented.  Rather you see people who contribute, collaborate, create and, consequently, flourish.

Have a Life:  Creating positive change takes tremendous energy.  To nurture the soul of an organization, I fundamentally believe that its people must have a nourishing life outside the walls of work.   While I and many others in our organization gain tremendous satisfaction from our vocation, our vocation is not what defines our full being. That being has a great many other parts, such as family, faith, friends, and fun.  If the other parts of life that make life worth living are neglected, not only do you suffer, but so do the people whom you serve and work with.

I am extremely proud to be part of one of the Business Journal’s “Great Places to Work.”  But I am even more proud to work in an organization that has tremendous soul.