One afternoon in 2004, I received an unexpected call from a man in Switzerland. He explained, ‘I’m Head of Learning and Development in the Zürich office of PriceWaterhouseCoopers and I wondered whether you’d be interested in coming over to talk to our Swiss auditing team about the importance of inspiration in the workplace.’
It took me a couple of seconds to absorb what I was hearing. I’d never expected to hear the three words ‘Swiss’, ‘auditing’ and ‘inspiration’ in the same sentence. Part of me wondered whether it was April Fool’s Day, or whether I was on ‘Candid Camera’, being filmed to see how I would respond to this unusual request. I composed myself and was able to come up with a question to check whether it was for real: ‘That sounds really interesting,’ I said. ‘Can I ask you what the business case and justification is for wanting me to run a session on inspiration for you?’
He replied, ‘The team we want you to talk to are auditors with several years’ experience, who are about to become managers and leaders of other, younger auditors. We know that these younger auditors have different values and it’s a competitive market. These young people want to work for someone who they find inspiring and they want their work to be meaningful. Otherwise, quite frankly, they’re likely to leave. So we want you to talk about why inspiration is so important. Can you help?’
Wow, he really had thought this through. I asked a few more questions, and then said, ‘Yes!’
A couple of months later, I travelled to Zürich and ran my session. It went very well, so I was invited back to run a module on their in-house course for the next two years.
Why was this experience pivotal?
For many years, I had found it difficult to reconcile the spiritual side of myself with my more worldly business side. They didn’t always seem to sit well together. I told myself stories about business only being interested in results, not in inspiration, and I was just too naïve to think that business might be interested in other ways of looking at the world. However, as I prepared and then delivered that programme in Zürich, I could feel the dots joining up. Some sort of inner reconciliation and integration took place between those two sides of myself. The idea of inspiration seems to satisfy both my commercial and spiritual sides.
Earlier in the year, I had read an article in the Sunday Times newspaper about ‘Top 100 Businesses to Work For’. The writer of the piece concluded: ‘Inspiration rather than perspiration is the key ingredient for a successful company with a motivated workforce.’ Maybe somebody at PriceWaterhouseCoopers had read the same article?