The spirit of enterprise

What has the ‘spirituality’ of employees got to do with big business? For most, it’s a private matter, but when HR directors in some of the world’s most successful companies tell you otherwise you have to sit up and listen.

Among the companies embracing concepts such as the ‘spiritual quotient’ and ‘spiritual capital’ are Nokia, Unilever, McKinsey, Shell, Coca-Cola, Hewlett Packard, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Starbucks and the Co-operative Bank.

So what is spiritual intelligence (SQ)? Does it mean that people will need to get religion to get on? How do you measure SQ and how does it apply in practice to HR management?

SQ has been on the margins of business thinking since the 1990s. For example, you can do a course at Woodbury University in California on ‘Spirituality in the Workplace’ and the syllabus includes books with titles like Jesus CEO or The Tao of Leadership as well as more familiar ones such as Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work.

Although many of those spreading the word on the internet are connected with eastern religious practice and pursuits such as yoga and reiki, there are also Christian exponents of spiritual intelligence, such as the US management speaker Pat Robertson.

However, experts emphasise that spiritual intelligence is not associated with any particular organised religion or faith. The spirituality they are talking about is common to all human beings, including agnostics. So what is it?

Experts agree that people’s spirituality is an essential part of their nature and is at work when people feel the desire to ‘do the right thing’. Charles Handy, who describes himself as a social philosopher, seems to agree. He told delegates at this year’s annual conference of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) that “there is a basic altruistic gene in all of us – there is a gene that really wants us to be decent people”.

Search for meaning

Although SQ is not connected to any particular religion, it has many attributes common to the mainstream religions and ethical secular philosophies. These include an assumption that people fundamentally desire purpose and meaning in their lives that goes beyond their immediate self-interest, and that we all need to feel a connection to other people.

SQ encompasses other quasi-religious dimensions including utopian visions, the notion of renewal, having values and being “authentic” in the sense of being true to your higher beliefs and motivations. It also takes on board modern political and environmental concerns, such as sustainable development and social capital and the value to organisations of treating their employees with dignity and respect.

But given that such ideas have been around for millennia, why the sudden interest in spirituality in the workplace? Among the trends driving our curiosity are the search for a better work-life balance; disillusionment among the workforce after large-scale redundancies; stress at work; trends towards employee empowerment and engagement; and increased prosperity in developing countries.

New Age modern movement

Concern about the environment, terrorism and high-profile corporate scandals are also prompting some in the business community to look beyond pure profit. At the same time, individual staff may be looking for meaning and purpose in their working lives.

So should spirituality be used as part of the business, rather than just a private matter for individuals?

Author Danah Zohar thinks so and believes HR can play a key role. Zohar was the first to use the term SQ in print and has espoused its benefits in a series of books, including Spiritual Capital – Wealth We Can Live By. She aims for nothing less than a modern movement of business leaders spreading ‘spirituality’ around the globe.

Zohar says HR is central to extending the use of SQ in business and points out that most of the initiatives she has been involved in with global corporations have been initiated by HR people.

“The decision has to be taken by the chief executive, but it is up to HR to do the work to implement it,” she says. This could prove to be a tall order.

Big-name converts

Many progressive HR approaches – particularly those aimed at boosting employee engagement – are compatible with SQ. However, HR leaders who are serious about SQ must align their processes with ‘spiritual’ goals. This includes rewriting company mission statements to cover more than profit and market share.

Some big names are sizing up the challenge. The roll-call of organisations Zohar has addressed about the topic includes many of the world’s largest companies. She was on the faculty of Shell UK’s Challenges for Change senior management training programme and has recently worked with the McKinsey consultancy’s new global spiritual intelligence training initiative.

Zohar’s background in physics (she studied physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did postgraduate work on philosophy, religion and psychology at Harvard University) may help to dissuade sceptics from dismissing SQ as a woolly, feelgood idea and leaving it to languish on the margins of management thinking.

Winning ways

Pure capitalism based on profit for profit’s sake is unsustainable, says Zohar: “It is an economic theory, not a moral or social philosophy” – a view that chimes with Handy’s speech to CIPD delegates at this year’s conference. He urged them to ask themselves why their organisation exists. “It is terribly important,” he said. “Winning is pointless unless it is for some good.”

Zohar acknowledges that it will be a challenge to persuade managers to deal with “the deep stuff”. But some companies are dipping their toes in the water. She cites Unilever’s experiment in selling packets of cheap soap and shampoo in developing countries that started as a charitable gesture but led to big profits. Now 70% of the company’s income comes from Asia.

She acknowledges that some companies would have to fundamentally rethink their products and services. She abandoned work with William Morris, the tobacco manufacturer, not because the company’s leaders lacked spiritual intelligence, but because the product itself was pernicious.

For those who want to develop some spiritual capital in their own organisations, Zohar is about to offer an IT tool. Her SQ assessment tool is being used at Unilever. The next stage will be to develop what she calls “total intelligence”, which combines IQ (intelligence quotient), EQ (emotional quotient) and SQ.

Critical mass

But can SQ ever be taken seriously as a mainstream HR strategy? That will depend on whether its proponents can win over enough business leaders to the conviction that profits are not sustainable unless organisations take into account the wider impact of their activities.
In the face of short-term pressures and the already complicated range of HR systems and strategies the modern practitioner has to deal with, you might ask where the converts to SQ will come from, particularly in a world where most of us are in thrall to wealth, celebrity, consumerism, sport and mindless TV.

On the other hand, a recent discovery might make you think again. Scientists have located a mass of neural tissue in the brain’s temporal lobes, now known as the ‘God spot’, which research suggests is the seat of human longing for higher purpose and a sense of spirituality. That’s one G-spot it might be worth looking for.

Three tiers of intelligence

If emotional intelligence (EQ) enabled us to move beyond IQ as a basis for leadership, then spiritual intelligence (SQ), allows us to go even further, says Danah Zohar, who has written two books on spiritual intelligence.

She likens the relationship between the three types of intelligence to a tiered wedding cake, where SQ is the bottom layer, supporting EQ in the middle, while IQ is the smallest tier at the top.

“Emotional intelligence is about what we feel – trust and empathy, understanding our emotions and responding appropriately to others,” says Zohar. “It’s about learning to behave appropriately in the situations you find yourself in.

“We human beings don’t just want to adapt to situations we’re in, but to transform them. The way to do that is through our deeper meaning, values and aspirations – our spiritual intelligence. EQ is about what I feel. SQ is about what I am. It’s the fundamental basis that enables you to use your IQ and EQ more effectively.”

Even the likes of EQ expert Daniel Goleman are starting to recognise the role of SQ as the next step on from EQ, says Zohar.

“The EQ people have started to see that if you really want to motivate people and transform them, you need to have a noble cause, and when you start talking about noble causes, you are in the realm of spiritual intelligence.”

To find out more on meaningful management, go to

Spiritual Quotient in a nutshell

What is it?

Spiritual intelligence is considered by its supporters to be on a par with the logical reasoning measured by IQ and so-called emotional intelligence (EQ). Spiritual intelligence draws on our higher motivations, relates what we do to the greater good, and aims therefore, at sustainable development. SQ refers to the degree to which an individual can demonstrate spiritual intelligence and ‘spiritual capital’ refers to a company’s ability to generate wealth through spiritual intelligence.

Who is doing it?

It is early days, but big companies such as Unilever, Nokia and Shell have introduced the concept into their talent management processes and business practices.

Is it part of the HR remit?

Experts agree that SQ has to be driven by chief executives. But, as the function responsible for employee performance, HR has a role in raising awareness of the idea and will be the function charged with implementing SQ projects. SQ has major implications for most HR processes, particularly assessment and development of staff. It directly relates to HR issues such as employer brand.

What are the benefits?

Supporters of SQ claim it can secure long-term sustainable development of companies, can develop new markets, improve staff motivation and engagement, improve the employer brand and keep customers happy. Oh yes – and make the world a better place.

How can I find out more?


  • Spiritual Capital – Wealth We Can Live By, Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall. Bloomsbury. ISBN 07475 7048 5.
  • The Diamond Cutter – The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life, by Geshe Michael Roache. Doubleday.
    ISBN 0 385 49791 1.
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work, Jack Canfield (ed). Vermilion. ISBN: 0091825490.
  • Jesus CEO – Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership, Laurie Beth Jones. Hyperion. ISBN: 0786881267
  • The Living Dead, David Bolchover. Capstone Publishing. ISBN: 184112656X.
  • The Tao of Leadership, John Heider. Humanics Publishing Group. ISBN: 0893340790.


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