Walk this way to a better business

Shamanism, chanting and meditation are no longer regarded with suspicion - people are using them to improve their personal lives and performance at work, reports Helen Jones.
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"Walking across 30 feet of hot coals was fine but jumping off a 50-foot telegraph pole and catching a trapeze was terrifying," says Rosalyn Palmer, manager of a successful PR consultancy. Ms Palmer, who learned fire walking and trapeze skills on a personal development course in Hawaii, is just one of a growing number of individuals who are embracing "new age" practices to improve not only their personal lives but also their performance at work.

It's not just individuals but also companies who are using techniques such as chanting, Feng Shui and the ancient art of shamanism to get the most out of their staff.

But does it work? Ms Palmer believes so and has encouraged four of her staff to follow her example. "Fire walking certainly gives you a sense of perspective. It gives you a great feeling of empowerment and a belief that you can do things which you previously thought impossible. I'm now much more likely to say `let's think of a way this can be done' rather than think something is impossible, and since I did the course the turnover of my business has doubled," she says.

Maria Thompson, formerly a highly successful solicitor who was subsequently struck off for allegedly poaching clients from other lawyers, now teaches motivation techniques including fire walking to groups of business executives. "It's all about overcoming fear and it opens the floodgates to new ways of thinking and all sorts of possibilities. It is how I maintained my level of confidence when the unthinkable happened to me. I work with teams of business people because walking on hot coals is a unifying experience and they can take that experience back into the work place," she says. Ms Thompson also uses hypnotherapy, music and movement to break her clients' cycles of self-criticism and self-doubt.

Michael Lock, a chartered occupational psychologist and part-time lecturer at Sheffield University, is exploring the impact of hypnotism and "mental imagery techniques" among test groups of workers. He says, "We have seen how self-hypnosis can enhance sporting performance and I believe it may be equally successful at work." However, he admits, staff may be suspicious that any employer who used hypnosis techniques would be attempting to get more work out of them for the same money.

Another performance enhancement technique used by both individuals and companies is meditation.

Once practised only by rock stars and those for whom the Sixties never really ended, meditation has become respectable. Conservative leader William Hague declares he gets more from five minutes' meditation than from a good night's sleep. Other high-profile exponents of concentrated breathing and chanting are media chief Bruce Gyngell and PR supremo Lynne Franks.

Steve Jones, a City worker, uses meditation to focus more clearly on his job. "I work in a very high-pressure environment and if I know I'm going to have a really heavy day then I meditate before I go into work - it keeps me calm and clear-headed. It's not something I make a big deal out of with my colleagues but it works for me."

He adds that when he worked in Hong Kong he and his colleagues would sometimes perform the `Haka' - the Maori ceremonial war dance made famous by the All Blacks rugby team. "A lot of the people I worked with were from New Zealand and it really fired us up if we did the Haka before doing a big deal."

But perhaps the most popular alternative management tool is Feng Shui - a Chinese belief which asserts that our surroundings must be in harmony to deflect negative energies.

Feng Shui is a part of everyday life in countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore, and until fairly recently only companies with eastern origins such as HSBC would bring in a Feng Shui consultant, but now everyone from advertising executives to dentists are getting their work places Feng Shui'd.

Sarah Shurety, a Feng Shui consultant, author and director of the Feng Shui Company says, "I have worked with financial companies, people in the media industry, and even vets - in fact all sorts of businesses are interested in the benefits of Feng Shui. It can have a dramatic impact on a business, including its profits."

However, Lama Ara of the Feng Shui Association warns that many businesses are expecting too much and that Feng Shui will not make them more profitable. "People seem to think if they have a wealth corner that they will be prosperous but that is rubbish. If it were true all Feng Shui practitioners would be millionaires," he says.

Ms Shurety says that Feng Shui does not necessarily entail huge upheaval in the work place but says some may find that their desks have been moved to another more harmonious part of the building. To get the maximum impact, desks also have to be tidy - the first rule of Feng Shui is no clutter.

One advocate of the benefits of Feng Shui is Jay Pond-Jones, executive creative director of advertising agency Bates Dorland. "I've had it done in my office and at home. The principle of Chi as an energy force around us is something that I am aware of, and the option to use it to design a comfortable work or living environment seemed worth looking at," he says.

Ms Shurety says that five years ago companies found Feng Shui embarrassing and thought it was too alternative, but now views have changed. However, there are still some techniques which many businesses may consider too outlandish - shamanism for example.

Heather Campbell is a shamanic guidance consultant and author of a book called Sacred Business - resurrecting the spirit of work. Ms Campbell studied anthropology and spent 10 years with native American Indians learning the shamanic arts. She now works with a number of companies including Hasbro and Britvic, putting staff in touch with nature to help them explore their intuitive feelings.

Those who take part in her workshops may find themselves talking to trees or making a collage which represents their passions. "I'm working with some very large companies because they are the ones that are wealthy enough to take risks and to try something different. Some of them are too embarrassed to admit that they use me, and others just keep me in their secret weapon box," she says.

While a range of "new age" techniques are becoming increasingly popular in the work place, Dr Jane Sturges, research fellow in organisational psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London does not believe that they can compensate for poor leadership. She says, "These techniques are all very well but what matters most is how an organisation is managed. If you have a terrible manager, whether you have had your office Feng Shui'd or whatever, won't make a bit of difference, you will still have a terrible manager."