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Conscious Business: Senior Management Briefing


This guest post is by Paul Levy of CATS3000

The Starting Point

The starting point is this: As a senior manager, you have no eternal right to exist. It is not a taken for granted assumption in a conscious business that you are always needed. Your starting point is one of being always humble, and ready to step aside and to allow in whatever is truly needed by the organisation.

The business does not exist to serve you, nor even to satisfy its shareholders. It exists to behave consciously in order to meet the needs of its customers, the users of its products and services. Shareholder satisfaction, in a conscious business, is a by-product, an outcome of conscious business practice, not an aim.

A conscious business is an organisation that is awake and aware, alert and responsive, internally and externally, in real time.

Sometimes, dear senior manager, your personality, your habits, your self-image, your subjectivity are all blocks, limiters of the consciousness of your business. Sometimes you behave in deliberate ways that diminish the consciousness of your business, thinking that you are being “smart”.

Political game-playing, power-mongering, fear-engendering, all ultimately shatter the innovation potential of your business by stifling and suppressing the energising qualities of people that exist when they feel more free and awake. Senior management, when it is a leading example of institutional, over-fixed behaviour, defensiveness and aggression, damages the very organisation it claims to serve. Even benevolent, but egoistic acts that achieve success are short term victories that still undermine conscious business.

A conscious business has a very different role in mind for senior managers. In the emerging fields of conscious capitalism and conscious business there are many stories and examples appearing in the public domain.

Overview and Inspiration

Senior management has the often fairly permanent role of acting as the overview, the “helicopter view”, the inspirer of vision, and the identifier of what needs to be done at the strategic, “overview” level.

In a conscious business, senior management is a leadership role – a role that is sacred, a privilege for all those who step into those roles.

In a conscious business, senior management identifies the essential in what needs to be done. Senior managers focus on naming things truly, based on real time flow of information, knowledge and experience. This “Pool of Knowing” crystallizes into an up-to-the-minute knowledge base that informs where and how, as a business, we step next.

Time to Drop the Personalities

It isn’t about personalities; it is about awareness, from personal to business self-awareness. The role of senior management is to remain objective. What does that mean? It means both inner and outer observation. In a conscious business, senior managers practice introspection, (they look at their own biases as if they were objects to be studied) and they subject their opinions and intuitions to third party “devil’s advocacy”. Senior managers seek out different points of view. Senior managers prioritise

  • Sensing and serving the needs of the organisation’s customers and key stakeholders
  • Enhancing business consciousness
  • Keeping the organisation awake, aware and alert, internally and externally, in real time.
  • Changing organisational structure to meet environmental changes, including the transient need for senior management itself. Hierarchies are temporary, emergent and flexible in a conscious business.

Welcoming the New and the Useful

Senior managers develop and practice emotional intelligence, active listening, and welcome and seek out useful and new ideas and suggestions from any helpful source. Status is not a cultural default in a conscious business; respect is earned not given by favouritism or clunky vertical structures. Measurement is authentic, and focused on identifying how the business can improve its consciousness.

Senior managers see their “higher viewpoint” – awareness of risk, taking of critical decisions, and ability to hold authority over others – as something sacred, something they steward rather than own. They do not see themselves as more important; they tend to view their role as part of the whole system. Both the chief executive and the cleaner are fundamental parts of the whole system. This isn’t a form of socialism of clunky equality; it is a form of systems thinking, where senior managers see themselves as parts of the integrity of the whole. Everything needs to fit together in whatever way it needs to in a conscious business.

Ten Features of Senior Management in a Conscious Business

  1. Senior managers are much more “present” in the processes of the business. Consciousness is high – meetings are more emergent, alongside more regular “rhythmic” processes such a monthly strategy reviews etc. Senior managers are both “overview” and “out there”.
  2. There’s an ability to quickly undo decisions, reshape key processes and structures, identify technological paths to innovation of products, services and processes, learn from mistakes and be humble with that learning.
  3. Roles morph and change, even pass away. Senior management is drawn from whoever and wherever, whenever and however it is needed.
  4. Reward is based on self-motivation, a wish to serve professionally, and there is no place for primitive “motivation by bonus” which warps commitment and consciousness.
  5. Information systems are seem, not as “below” senior managers, feeding upwards, but “above”, feeding down. Information is real-time, useful, accessible and accurate, truly informing overview reaction, proactivity and direction-finding.
  6. Senior managers are ethical, emotionally intelligent, able to listen, dialogue, inspire, and challenge. Truth is seen as vital to “clear-seeing”.
  7. Senior managers are self-aware, practice introspection, aware of their own biases, and open to devil’s advocacy and different points of view. Cronyism is banished. Freedom of thought, without fear, is a core value.
  8. There is a culture of seeking out the real needs of those who are served by the business. Shareholders are also aware of the business purpose and in tune with the business’ culture of practising conscious business.
  9. The business is led by managers who are an example – transparency, openness and honesty are core values, lived in practice.
  10. Promotion is based not on years worked, nor on any favouritism and delivery of narrow measures. Promotion marries business need with capability, motivation and “fit” with the integrity of the business.


And, Yes – It is still about Leadership

Senior managers are leaders. Leadership is a role and process in a conscious business that enables inspiration, motivation, strong decision-making (when needed) and strategy-making to happen. The role never fixes for too long or in one particular way. Leaders emerge, from different parts of the organisation. Permanent leadership roles are only created if needed (for example, if stability of a role is needed).

Leadership is largely associated with process rather than personality in a conscious business. Leadership can, and should happen anywhere in a conscious business, even in its realm of digital working. Leadership may arise out of digital processes as much as physical ones. Leadership involves direction-finding, true-naming, inspiring others, fitting parts together into a bigger picture, and unblocking conflict and difficulty.

Senior managers in a conscious business are “senior” for different reasons. Sometimes that seniority is bestowed because the senior person is wiser, and has experience and wisdom that helps guide the wider organisation. Sometimes it is born of the unique position of ownership of the business. Here leadership is only assumed if the owner has a unique contribution to make to the organisation and may also carry the inspiration and passion that will later be shared across the organisation. Sometimes the senior manager will be a temporary specialist, with temporarily needed skills and oversight. Sometimes the leader will emerge because a leader is needed, a hero helping the organisation on a “quest”. The leader’s role then coincides with the post of a senior manager.

In all cases, reflection is practised and permanence is never assumed. Rewards are never for the position in the hierarchy, but for the quality of the work done for the business.

Daring to be Different

Senior managers are often very different in a conscious business. Their career isn’t to climb up the organisation, but to serve it with a unique and important skill set and experience base.

Senior managers in conscious businesses are not  the same people as the senior managers at an earlier stage of that business’ development, when it was more traditionally structured and managed. They represent and reflect the organisation radically transformed.

Conscious businesses perform excellently, because senior management is a role that practices excellence. And excellence is born of consciousness. Senior managers have the vital role of occasionally acting as the eyes and ears of the enterprise, but not always. Often they interpret and articulate the essence of the organisation’s will. But they are one of the means to the business’ consciousness, not the sole cause of it.

In a conscious business, as a senior manager, you might just have to wave goodbye to yourself and become less attached to the word “senior”. Yet it also might be the hello to the authentic, genuinely useful and fulfilling next step you’ve been wishing for.




Thoughts on Managing Employees in a Conscious Business

The company I work for is in the business of producing software that automates employee performance appraisals and other talent management processes.

As such, I work every day with companies who are trying to improve the way they do performance appraisals. What often strikes me though is the fact that companies seem to have lost touch with “why” we even do performance appraisals. Many managers and companies do them primarily out of habit, to justify pay rises, or to document employee performance so they can legally support terminations. Some managers use them as a tool to wield power over their employees.

And I think these are the reasons why many employees, managers and companies are questioning their value.

To my mind, the reason any manager should conduct performance appraisals with their employees is because it’s their job. Now hear me out before you object too strongly.

A manager’s job is fundamentally to accomplish work through others. That is, a manager is supposed to:

  • give their employees direction and support for their tasks/accomplishments,
  • communicate and reinforce organisational priorities, values and goals,
  • give employees feedback and direction on their performance,
  • support employee development and career progression, and
  • recognise and reward employees’ accomplishments.

Put more simply, managers are supposed to help their employees and the company be their best, and succeed.

And that’s what good performance appraisals are supposed to do:

  • review the accomplishment of previously set and agreed to objectives,
  • review the demonstration of core and job-specific competencies,
  • identify and address areas needing development,
  • set objectives for the coming year,
  • align those objectives with the organisation’s goals/mission/vision/values, and
  • support career advancement and upskilling.

In so doing, we address most of our employees’ basic needs for engagement.

And it helps us provide a safe place for human development and growth. It supports increased transparency, communication and awareness. It helps frame individual performance, behaviours, values and needs in the context of a larger collective – the larger group of employees and stakeholders who form “the company”. It lets employees know what we as an organisation value, and helps them see how they can influence the organisation’s success, driving accountability. All of these are hallmarks of a conscious business.

Now for this to truly happen, a manager should really function more as a mirror, guide and coach for their employees; not an authority who judges and corrects. I think we all need others to help give us perspective on ourselves and our circumstances, to help challenge us and broaden our views, to help us take stock and set goals.

Performance appraisals really need to just be the culmination of an ongoing, two-way dialogue about expectations, performance and development. The whole process should ideally be collaborative and collegial.

It’s when we lose sight – or “consciousness” – of the basic role of the manager and the performance review that we often go off the rails. Managers and companies become concerned with forms and processes, ratings and rankings, etc. They forget that performance management isn’t really something you do once a year during the employee’s performance appraisal. It’s something
managers and employees do every day; and it’s really just good basic management.

Sean Conrad is a senior product analyst at Halogen Software, where he helps customers automate and improve their talent management processes. He is passionate about improving the way companies manage and develop their employees, and writes and speaks frequently on the topic.

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Conscious Business Embodied – Part II

This post is by Mark Walsh of conscious business training providers Integration Training.

This is Part II of my blog post on embodiment and conscious and integral business.

I ended the previous post with a question: “So, how does all this relate to the body?”

Well, the disconnection from values in business is directly related to disconnection from ourselves – disembodiment. We live in a dissociated world where people are cut-off from themselves and lacking the body awareness necessary for effective health, emotional intelligence, leadership and relationships of all kinds. Disembodiment – living from the tie up – disconnects us from ourselves (including what is good for us and our ethics), others, and the planet.

The body is where emotions, connections to others and ethics happen. The body is the substrate of these “things”, which are not things but embodied experiences and parts of ourselves.

Values (and morality if we want to be old-fashioned) aren’t lofty theoretical concepts but full-bodied “yum!” or “yuck!” responses. Remember the last time your values where strongly expressed or compromised – what happened in your fundamental “operating system” (the body)? Even remembering can become a visceral act.

The body is not just a “brain taxi” and the reduction of the body to something mechanical is a sad loss indeed. When I talk about the body I’m not so interested in someone’s physical shape, size or attractiveness but how they live in and as bodies.

The body is the how of life and the how of business. Our stance is our stance towards life, how we move is how we move in business.

Working with stress management, leadership and team building in the corporate world I see time and time again that when people get in touch with the embodied reality of being fully human their behaviour changes. This is not always comfortable and it does lead to greater health and happiness, improved relationships and effectiveness. With embodiment comes a renewed interested self-care, authentic considerate relationships and ethical action that contributes to the world. These things are actually one and the same.

By being more conscious of our bodies – or of ourselves as embodied, to be more accurate – we make our business more conscious. The two cannot be separated and I believe that trying to be more conscious in business simply from a dry, cognitive, theoretical point of view will not succeed.

As one of my teachers likes or say, “Knowledge is only a rumour until it is
in the body”. Change must be visceral or it is no change at all.

Some Things to Consider

  • How often are you “in your body” at work? – What is the potential cost of this?
  • What are you practicing in your way of being? If your posture now was recorded and projected on the sky for the world to see what would it be saying?
  • How can you “change the climate” of your current embodiment?

Mark Walsh leads conscious business training providers Integration Training – based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK. Specialising in working with emotions, the body and spirituality at work they help organisations get more done without going insane (time and stress management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training) and help leaders build impact, influence and presence (leadership training). Clients include Unilever, The Sierra Leonian Army and the University of Sussex.

He is the most followed trainer on Twitter and Youtube and has the Google no.2 ranked management training blog. Offline, Mark dances, meditates and practices martial arts.

His ambition is to help make it OK to be a human being at work.

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Conscious Business Embodied – Part I

This post is by Mark Walsh of conscious business training providers Integration Training.

The world has a problem, business is psychopathic, and this is strongly related to how we relate to our bodies. This is a bold statement to open with so I’d better first clarify that I don’t mean that all business people are amoral axe-murderers – I am a business trainer myself and know many compassionate people working in the field – the problem is that work and “life”, including values and emotions, have been split.

Let’s take the fact that most businesses are essentially dictatorships, yet as a society we value democracy. That’s odd when you step back and think about it.

Or that many people feel that you should be a nice guy at home, but not take the very values that make them human to work as “it’s business”. “Businesslike” is now a synonym for disregarding emotions, relationships and the values that are at the core of our shared humanity.

“Work” is defined as that which is not fun, connecting or good.

Structurally, a limited notion of shareholder “value” (i.e. short-term profit for a few) means that businesses are required by law to behave amorally and in the US corporations are given the status of people to protect them from the interests of real humans. We work “for” a company but not for ourselves or for the world.

This is all a bit odd, and more than a bit terrible with personal stress and ill-health, damaged relationships and an increasingly unjust and environmentally damaged world being the result. From heart-attacks to global warming it is literally killing us.

Happily, there is a movement towards a more integrated world, where business is aligned with what people care about and has more than one bottom-line.

Emotional intelligence was one of the things that kick-started this, in my opinion.

Once it was realised that emotions are a critical part of management, three times more likely to predict career success than IQ (source: CIPD) they started to be taught in business. Mindfulness, systems theory and spiritual intelligence have all played their part and a new view of what work is emerging.

The “multiple bottom line” model where people, planet and profit are all considered of value is becoming popular in the conscious business or conscious capitalism movement.

There is no one definition of what conscious business is but it may involve a focus on higher purpose, considering stakeholders of all kinds, leadership and a culture of respectful and transparent communication.

Here’s a short video introduction to conscious and integral ways of doing business if you’re new to the concept. There are also conferences in the US and a meet-up in Brighton if you’re local.

To me, and borrowing from philosopher Ken Wilber, conscious business has an “I” (happiness and growth at work), “we” (good relationships) and “it” (it not only gets the job done, but gets it done better than unconscious – a.k.a. “stupid, effective and evil” business).

Personally, running a conscious business is about health and growth – my business is my main practice, having relationships that match my values and doing something effectively in the world. So I don’t go to work to make money, I make money to learn, have fun, connect and make the world a better place.

So, how does all this relate to the body? I’ll cover that in part II.

Mark Walsh leads conscious business training providers Integration Training – based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK. Specialising in working with emotions, the body and spirituality at work they help organisations get more done without going insane (time and stress management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training) and help leaders build impact, influence and presence (leadership training). Clients include Unilever, The Sierra Leonian Army and the University of Sussex.

He is the most followed trainer on Twitter and Youtube and has the Google no.2 ranked management training blog. Offline, Mark dances, meditates and practices martial arts.

His ambition is to help make it OK to be a human being at work.