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Bringing faith to the boardroom and cubicle
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Corporate spiritual consultant Jim Neppl says in earlier "secular" consulting jobs, employees would latch onto certain points that struck him as spiritual in nature. That led him to consider making faith-based advising the focus of his work. (MPR Photo/Jeff Horwich)
In St. Cloud, one man has big plans to take religion into the world of business. Mainstreet Radio's Jeff Horwich sat down with a new breed of business advisor -- the corporate spiritual consultant.

St. Cloud, Minn. — Jim Neppl made news earlier this year with a new idea to bring business and religion together. He helped his Catholic parish establish a presence in the local mall by renting a vendors cart.

Neppl makes his living advising companies on their workplace environment. There, too, he sees a place for faith and business to meet, and he's carving out a special consulting niche: bringing spirituality to the office.

For the past year, Neppl has worked with a Minneapolis water pump manufacturer. A retreat this fall included massages for everyone, and a reading assignment.

Jim Neppl: I suggested we read a book on the leadership of Jesus, practical lessons for today. We sat around a table very informally and just discussed how people felt about that, and what did they get out of that particular chapter, what did that mean for them.

MPR: Can you give me an example of how people in the workplace would be able to incorporate those teachings into how they relate to one another, and ultimately lead to a more healthy business?

JN: As I understand Jesus's ministry, he was very compassionate, nonjudgmental, listened to people and affirmed them and spent time with them and helped them understand their own gifts. If we could do that with our fellow employees it would create an incredible environment where we could live together and learn together.

MPR: And for the people who hire you, ultimately this is about the bottom line, right? Explain to me how that kind of corporate culture ultimately contributes to business success.

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Image Neppl says unhappy workers may be lacking something spiritual

JN: Turnover, recruitment, (and) employee retention cost a lot of money. So I would approach it from the premise of having a good environment where people would want to stay. You'll have fundamentally, and in theory, less turnover.

MPR: What happens if an employee is not particularly interested in being spiritually consulted, if they find something objectionable about that?

JN: That could very well happen. I haven't experienced that yet, but frankly I'm prepared for that. There's no real book, if you will, about how this goes. There's a lot of ambiguity in spirituality and you have to be willing to kind of understand or be comfortable with that particular journey. So it's really a walk together with people. A consultant is one who really doesn't know all the answers, but can help others draw out the answers from themselves.

MPR: Does this involve taking some time out of the business day for spirituality?

JN: I would advocate that, Jeff, I think that it could. One example would be over a lunchhour. I've been able to schedule some things around lunches. So I would visualize even some one-on-one time with employees in the midst of their workday. During a break, perhaps, or even let's set that (appointment) up (for a specific time) so it's more deliberate.

MPR: Is there a larger need for this nowadays than there has been in the past, for spiritual consulting?

JN: I believe, Jeff, the timing is very good right now. We have to continue to refer back to 9-11, we have to refer to other events we hear about in the news. Just the corporate responsibility today, the ethics today, all of this just seems to (suggest) people are very interested in, "There must be more to this, there must be something else here."

MPR: You come from a Catholic background. Suppose you work with a Jewish or a Muslim employee?

JN: It has not happened yet, but in my preparation for that my goal is to learn as much as I can about other faith traditions. My approach would be very ecumenical. It's not for me to go in and redirect people in terms of their particular tradition. I'm not there to recruit anyone, but it's my hope just to be present for them, and to learn as well. It's really a very reciprocal relationship.

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