ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

June 1999

100 Percent Waterproof

Taking Teams To A Higher Level

Making The Soft Stuff Hard

The King Of Leadership Programs

Merger And Acquisition: The Six Deadly Sins

Enough Is Enough

by Peter Block

Tick Tock, Your Life Is Like A Clock
by Greg Smith

Sorry We're Closed: Diary Of A Shutdown

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Site Unseen


Making The Soft Stuff Hard
Building Corporate Consciousness With A Values-Driven Organization

It seems like every time you turn around someone is introducing a new tool that will transform your organization and the way we think and do business.

Well, Richard Barrett is out to make that happen. "I believe we can create a whole new world of business," Barrett states boldly, and he makes this inspired statement with one goal in mind: to find a balance between the interests of the corporation, the interests of the workers and the interests of society as a whole. A kind of modern-day missionary, proselytizing for spirituality in the workplace, Barrett is making believers of anyone who hears his words.

He ticks off three simple components to the application of his ideas to organizations. First, cultural capital - by which he means workers, customers, and reputation - represents the new frontier of competitive advantage for organizations in today's world. Second, an organization's financial success strongly correlates with employee fulfillment. Third, and perhaps most fundamentally, organizational transformation begins with personal transformation. He observes, "Organizations don't transform. People do!"

Show 'em That You Care
Barrett's 30-year career has taken him from transportation planning in England, to being "values coordinator" for the World Bank in Washington, D.C., to currently raising awareness of a "corporate consciousness." And while that concept may sound like some kind of feel-good, New Age approach, Barrett insists that the advice he offers can be readily quantified and that the intangibles he preaches are the essential quality of successful organizations.

He begins with a story about a man retiring from a Fortune 500 company, who told his senior managers at his retirement: "For 20 years, I gave you the work of my hands. If you'd asked me, you could have had my mind also." Physical and emotional satisfaction are important, Barrett observes, but people feel a sense of achievement when they are asked to use their minds.

"What I'm asking people to do is a win-win situation for business, for people and for the environment," Barrett explains. "And there are companies out there who are doing it, and they are the winners. They're caring about their employees. They're caring about their customers. They're caring about the community, and they're caring about the environment. It builds good will. It builds passion. It builds enthusiasm. It builds pride. And it's great for the bottom line."

Birds of a Feather
By "liberating the corporate soul," that is, identifying the collective values and attitudes of those working for and managing an organization, Barrett suggests this transformation comes about. He likes to use an analogy of birds flocking: "Every bird maintains a minimum distance from the other birds. We don't want our wings to crash, we try to match the velocity of neighbors, we never get too far ahead. We try to stay near the center of the mass of birds in the vicinity. That's teamwork," he explains.

"All these rules are individual to each bird. But the phenomenon we get is flocking. What do we call flocking in organizations? What are these rules of flocking? They're values!"

Barrett has identified seven levels of corporate consciousness, a concept he expanded from psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of personal needs (see box). While components of each level may be evident in "transformed" organizations, he suggests that those who succeed will be focused on the common good (the three higher states of consciousness), instead of self-interest (the three lower states).
To ascertain an organization's values, Barrett has devised a simple written instrument which can be administered in various ways, including on the internet.

"There are specific words associated with each level of corporate consciousness, he says. "For example, 'learning' is a level four, transformation. 'Trust' is a level five: it builds cohesion. 'Open communication' is level two: it's good for communication. 'Profitability' and 'shareholder value' are level one: it's about money and survival."

After providing some demographics, respondents are asked to pick 10 words from a list (which may be tailored to the organization) that most reflect how they individually operate: in other words, what are their personal values. The second exercise is again to pick 10 words, this time reflecting how the organization operates. Finally, respondents are asked to select 10 words describing a high-ideal organization.

Barrett and his colleagues then can plot a "histogram of consciousness" that very specifically demonstrates where an organization is on his corporate consciousness scale, relating employee attitudes to their perceptions of the organization and their ideal organization, which often reflects personal values. In some cases, they add up the number of votes each value gets to plot a top 10, creating a clock of priority that demonstrates what's important to employees.

Based on these findings, Barrett often conducts workshops to foster team-building within organizations. In a series of workshops, Barrett helps clients understand the evolution of business paradigms toward a "consciousness age," takes a look at other successful companies, then looks at how to build a visionary organization. His success, evidenced by a long list of clients and speaking engagements (and a prolific, informative website:, speaks for itself.

"Caring about employees is good for business," Barrett suggests. "Cultural transformation is the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of an organizational culture to achieve dramatic improvement in critical measures of performance such as commitment, motivation, empowerment, emotional intelligence, innovation and creativity.

"I believe that the crucial question for business in the 21st century," he continues, "is how to create a corporate culture that develops and releases human capacity. The answer is, by adopting a values-driven approach to business."

Concepts such as transformation and consciousness have long been in the lexicon of consultants, but Richard Barrett has made some giant strides toward interpreting these into real, concrete concepts that have meaning and application. As he's fond of saying, "We've made the soft stuff hard."

June '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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