August 30, 2013
In today’s “always on” workplace, it has become increasingly difficult to separate “work” from “life,” especially if you own and run your own IT business. For one group of SMB IT providers, embracing the spiritual component of their lives is part of a holistic approach to achieving a work/life balance.
HTG Peer Groups is a community of IT solution providers, founded in 2000 by Arlin Sorensen, fosters business as well as personal growth. That has evolved to include morning devotions and prayers at HTG events.
“As part of our peer group program people are asked to write a life/legacy plan,” says Sorensen, who also runs Heartland Technology Consultants (HTC). “You can’t do that without addressing the spiritual aspect of life. We’ve helped members have those conversations with spouses and business partners. We challenge folks to think about where they’re spending their time, and are they making the right choices.”
He adds, “There’s no such thing as life/work balance—there’s always too much of both. It’s about managing the tension between work and life and making intentional choices about what’s important. There are lots of different aspects of what that looks like.”
The work/life concept is focused on the whole person, says Kyra Cavanaugh, president of Life Meets Work Inc., a workplace innovation consultancy in Park Ridge, Ill. “People bring their whole self to work, and religious expression is a component of people. Prayer is no longer the ‘third rail’ for enlightened organizations.”
Brad Schow, a senior consultant for HTC, says, “Our motto is business and personal growth. Personal growth is a number of things—relationships, physical fitness, and we have a big emphasis on legacy planning. [Faith] is a natural part of the personal part.”
HTG members who choose to can participate in prayer services and devotions at HTG conferences. “They get together and share in a social way what God is doing in their life, their challenges and successes, sharing stories and encouragement,” says Schow.
HTG tries to walk a fine line of making sure people know these faith-based opportunities are available, “but not feeling it’s obligated or there is any pressure,” Schow says. “We always list it on the agenda as optional. Some people said, ‘We get together and go running, can we put that on agenda,” and we said yes. We’re very careful to make sure not it’s anything that will give you more status or that you will be looked at differently.”
CONNECTING AND SHARING
Since its inception, HTG has included faith as a component of its offerings. Sorensen explains that when he was first in the business in the 1990s he would attend large events like Comdex and feel overwhelmed, and felt the need to connect with like-minded people. “When HTG was founded, it became a mission of mine—don’t hide your faith.” The devotional opportunities “are an informal time to encourage each other to walk in our faith, not just at home but in the marketplace serving our customers.”
For the past five years, HTG has also been involved with an event called Partners in Christ, held in conjunction with some Microsoft Gold Partners at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference. Sorensen says the annual prayer breakfast hosts speakers who share how their faith has impacted their lives.
This year’s speaker was Margo Day, vice president of U.S. Education for Microsoft Corp. She spoke about her one-year personal leave of absence from Microsoft. During that time, she raised funds and awareness for the Kenya Child Protection and Education Project, partnering with World Vision.
Chris Chirgwin, owner and CEO of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Lanspeed, an IT company with 17 full-time employees, has been involved with HTG for seven years, and a Microsoft partner. His company has helped sponsor the prayer breakfasts at WPC. “It’s an opportunity to share how God is working in [attendees] lives and learn about what others are doing.”
The spiritual component of HTG “without a doubt helps with the stress of running a business,” says Chirgwin. “It helps me to refocus and recognize that business isn’t the only thing in life, that there are other things more important, like family and spiritual relationships. It grounds me and helps put things in perspective.” Knowing that there are other peers from the group he can call on for help “is powerful as well,” he says.
Jeff Wood, owner of Wood Networks, based in Tyler, Texas, adds: There’s always something fundamentally good about core fellowship … there’s a camaraderie that develops that makes business easier. HTG in general at the business level has made such an impact on Wood Networks. It’s been a key component in our success. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about business. Add to that some of those peers where we share the same faith and the same building blocks, and you get deep relationships. Successful business is always based in deep relationships with employees, customers, and peers.”
MAKING ‘ROOM’ FOR EXPRESSION
While Woods says it’s “no secret HTG is Christian based,” adding “any CEO out there would be unwise to leave unacknowledged the role of faith in their employees’ lives and own lives. It’s a fundamental piece of caring for employees, even if faith is not important to you.”
Cavanaugh adds, “In the current political climate there are some organizations not hiding from their religious affiliations. It aligns with your brand, attracting talent that supports and recognizes that. That’s all fine as long as there is opportunity for expression of multiple religious traditions.”
In her work, Cavanaugh says she’s not seeing a lot of discussion or new research about the spiritual component to work/life, and she says businesses are not “hopping on the prayer bus,” but she does note that enlightened organizations are making room for religious expression and diversity.
“What I’m seeing mostly is the creation of a general-purpose room, maybe for yoga, meditation, prayer, lactation. … Today organizations are mostly focused on what to do about stress and overwork. And organizations are really concerned about how to keep employees. So creating spaces for religious expression makes sense in work/life strategy, but it’s part of a much bigger issue.”