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Report from the Field:

The 1998 Conference
on Business and Consciousness

By Judi Neal

I went to this conference with a promise to myself that I would not be compulsive about attending every session. I work hard and I thought that this might be a great opportunity to sit by the pool or on the beach or to go sight seeing. Well, it turned out that there were so many wonderful people and powerful sessions, that I hardly left the hotel, except for dinner at night. As it was, I missed many sessions that I would have loved to have gone to. I will give you the highlights of things that I experienced or that I heard from others were really great sessions.

First and foremost, everyone was talking about the session given by two people from McKinsey & Comany, Michael Rennie and Gita Bellin. They have spent the last year developing and conducting spiritually based personal transformation programs in many of McKinsey's client organizations. They gave an example of one organization that they worked with that had very high turnover in their customer service people, and as a result were losing customers. After the program the retention rate for customer service people improved 65% and there has been a similar increase in customer retention. They attribute it to people having a clearer idea of who they are and why they are doing what they do, on a spiritual level. Rumor has it that McKinsey will be publishing a McKinsey report on this program and its results in about 2 months and the consensus at the conference was that when this report hits the street, demand for people who do spiritually based consulting will skyrocket.

Richard Barrett gave two extremely popular sessions. One was on the consulting process that he uses which includes a Values Audit. The Values Audit has a measurable spiritual component to it, and Richard's clients are finding this approach very comfortable. I didn't go to this session because I've seen Richard present it at other conferences, but I know from experience that when you hear him you immediately want to bring him into your organization to find out where you stand on the Values Audit. By the way, Richard has a training session for consultants on his corporate tools and it's a good way to get associated with his organization. You can find out more about this program at Richard's web site at

Richard's second session was called Dialoging with the Soul. Again, I did not attend (I couldn't get in - the session was full), but people who did found it to be a very meaningful experience. Gita, from McKinsey & Company, actually ran a similar session that allowed people to get in touch with their deepest values and desires. It was an example of the kind of work that they do at McKinsey.

People were also all a-buzz about the sessions by Craig Elkins from Boeing. Their entree into spirituality in the workplace is through creativity, and they shared some of the tools and approaches that they are using in this company.

Laurie Beth Jones gave a wonderful talk on Jesus CEO, based on her book by the same title. It was a down to earth look at the leadership abilities that Jesus displayed and how inspired leaders can learn from him. Later she gave a workshop based on her second book The Path about writing your personal mission statement. I found this experience very deep. One of the things that she said was a quote from Jung, "Nothing affects the environment of a child so much as the unlived life of a parent." She worked with several people asking them, "What were the unlived dreams of your mother? of your father? What are you doing in your life now? How is this related to the unlived lives of your parents?" These questions had a profound impact on me as I examined them in my own life, and they seemed to affect others much the same way. Then she taught us a simple but powerful tool for writing a one-sentence mission statement. I won't go into it here, but you can find it, and many other wonderful tools and exercises in her book.

Another thing that I really enjoyed was walking the labyrinth several times throughout the conference. This is a beautiful meditative practice, and if you have never done it I encourage you to find the opportunity to try it. I found myself moving into beautiful states of altered consciousness there and this stayed with me throughout the rest of the conference.

One afternoon when there were no sessions a large group of us, organized by Laury Hammel, went for a hike in the nearby mountains. Although the hike was much more difficult than I expected, and a small group of us got separated from everyone else and got lost, this was not what was most memorable about this experience.

We had left our chartered buses in a tiny Mexican village, and when we returned, Laury carried big boxes of soccer balls, toys, and school supplies that he had purchased with part of the fees we paid for the hiking experience. His reasoning was that we were bringing our noisy, fume producing buses into their quiet life while we hiked on their land, and that we would repay them for their welcome of us with something for the children. They were having a church service when we returned from our hike, so a couple of people carried boxes to the plaza in front of the church. A few minutes later the service was over and the children approached the boxes first with cautious curiousity, and then with joyous excitement. I had tears in my eyes as we watched them go by the buses as we drove away. It felt so good to give.

I left the conference feeling a much stronger connection to our growing community, and a much stronger sense that powerful changes are happening in the world. I felt both full and empty in a wonderful way.

Judi Neal is an associate professor of management and Director of the Center for Spirit at Work at the University of New Haven. She received her PhD in Organizational Behavior from Yale University and is co-author, with Dorothy Marcic and Steve Karnik, of a forthcoming book titled Passion and Prosperity at Work. She is also editing a series of small books on spirituality in the workplace. Visit her website at

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