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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.



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Conscious HR Part 2

Following on from Conscious HR part 1 of a few days ago, where I explained that Conscious HR is not a one size fits all and is open to individual interpretation, here are some more examples and ideas which hopefully give a feeling of what I am trying to convey. As before, please consider this as thought provoking rather than didactic. Please feel free to challenge me and reprovoke my thoughts!

 Retention

  • Happy colleagues are more likely to stay. Measure the wellbeing of your colleagues with regular anonymous polls – maintain a wellbeing index  that gives an immediate snapshot of what your colleagues are feeling – if it starts to slip, act quickly!
  • Incorporate regular two-way progress checks with each colleague – keep it informal but honest, exploring concerns on an open basis. Whatever you do, don’t go down the archaic annual appraisal route – that is simply too painful and too slow for all concerned.
  • Learning and Development is a cornerstone of  CB – agree group and individual goals and methods which reflect the needs of the organisation and its members. Be realistic and ensure there are checks and counterbalances.
  • Be proactive –  don’t simply apply the letter of the law. I remember an incident at my workplace some 20 years ago –  Paul lost his cool and stormed off site – the classic response in those days was to consider that as gross misconduct and terminate the contract of employment without notice. Instead, I took his manager around to Paul’s house – Paul was eating fish and chips and had cooled down! I offered him the option of returning to work and apologising to his colleagues which he took and ended up staying within the business for another 15 years. We all learned lessons from that which helped us in the longer term.

Redeployment

  • Think of the termination of a contract of employment as a redeployment, regardless of the reason behind it – the colleague in question will be seeking to work elsewhere if not retiring and I feel it is the responsibility of the organisation to help that person successfully redeploy.
  • Sometimes, certain people do not flourish in certain organisations – this can be for any number of reasons. Try to work together to understand why something isn’t working and then fix it. If  the fix is not possible then agree a way forward.

For example, someone may simply have a dream of wanting to work in an entirely different field to the organisation’s area of activity – if the individual has contributed well in the past, why not help them to achieve that goal by talking initiatives such as gradually releasing and even funding them to retrain in other sphere?

  • There will be occasions when a colleague and an organisation are at odds with each other and a recourse to employment law is mooted. Try to avoid this if at all possible but if unable to do so, remain fair, human and always prepared to pick up the telephone to talk – don’t hide behind convoluted documents.

 I am often asked to help in what would be termed ‘tricky’ situations – technically, I am acting on behalf of the organisation but I make it clear from the outset that I will only do what is fair for both parties. During that process I regularly interface with lawyers – regrettably, very few of them on either side of the fence really understand that it is possible in essence to act for both parties in a dispute. (My personal view is that most lawyers are conditioned to be constricted by the law and to apply it robotically and expensively without regard to the human situation in hand – hands up for Conscious Law anyone?!).

I will always encourage an organisation to be more generous than the law dictates – surely it is far better to support the colleague financially than to pay a lawyer a similar or greater amount for applying the law with pressure to avoid such a non-statutory payment?

The irony is in that in order to communicate honestly and to be generous, one has to make initial moves that some employment advisors can try to present in a hostile light – my advice is not to allow fear of the law prevent one from trying to do the right thing.

The key is that at the end of redeployment process, both the organisation and the colleague have parted with a degree of amicability and good feeling, even if both have had to compromise.

Summary

These are just ideas and tips on elements of Conscious HR – some of many ways to make the workplace and the people in it happy, healthy and profitable.

Toolkits anyone?

In a recent meeting of people keen on the principles of CB, I did sense that commencing and travelling the journey can be challenging from a simply practical perspective.

Do you think there would be interest in some  ‘toolkits’ which assist this process? I am visualising some checklists and flow diagrams which provoke thought and simplify action.

This is something that  a group of  us are thinking about creating over the coming months for use in our consultancy lives – would be good to know if there is any interest!


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Conscious HR Part 1

Conscious Business (CB) strives to work for the benefit of all stakeholders, or as I have called them previously, interactors.

The colleagues working within an organisation are a key set of interactors  and Conscious HR is therefore a key element of  a sustainable CB – in my last blog, ‘The Transition to Conscious Business’, I undertook to write about this so here goes.

So, what is Conscious HR other than the HR part of an organisation which embraces CB values?

Like any element of a business or an organisation, Conscious HR benefits from an organisational structure but one that allows flexibility, change and the application of ‘conscious sense’.

I like simple, clear systems and prefer to break the HR cycle down into five distinct areas:

  • Recruitment
  • Remuneration
  • Retention
  • Record processing
  • Redeployment  (a much more positive word than ‘termination’!)

It’s helpful to everyone if  all of the procedures and protocols are detailed in a Colleague Handbook which is kept updated – in a format which sets out everything from a perspective that is equally valuable to anyone in the organisation, regardless of their perspective – as an ‘us’ document not an ‘us and them’ document.

Set your stall out at the beginning of the handbook and document: ‘why’ and ‘how’ the organisation has chosen the CB journey – these can just be a series of simple statements but will become entwined in everything that the organisation achieves.

Conscious HR is not a one size fits all and is open to individual interpretation. Let me give you some examples and ideas which hopefully give a feeling of what I am trying to convey – I have stated ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ quite a bit – please consider this as thought provoking rather than didactic. Please feel free to challenge me and reprovoke my thoughts!

Recruitment

  • Use a job description detailing the role and how it can develop, a list of definitely required skills but not a person description – how can one possibly determine in advance what type of person is best at a particular role?

Ask the interviewee how and why they are the person for the role and you may be surprised by the candidate with the most interesting insight.

Diversity within departments and organisations is a proven key to success unless you are running a private army, in which case CB won’t be high on the list!

Celebrate the fact that we are all different and bring something different to the table – the extrovert, the introvert, the white Anglo-Saxon, the ethnic minority, the clean-cut individual and the alternative dresser all bring valuable values to the table.

Remuneration

  • Transparency (internally publishing all colleagues remuneration) may be too much too early on for most organisations but there is a strong argument that a less than opaque system removes a barrier in what is undoubtedly a subject sometimes fraught with petty jealousy and rumour.
  • Perhaps start by seeing individual remuneration as a monetary token of exchange which allows a colleague to live their life outside of work. We all need money but try not to set it as an incentive in its own right – if the ingredients are mutually beneficial, an individual will want to achieve their best for the right reasons, not solely for reward.
  • Group rewards based on the overall performance of the organisation are a fair and transparent way of encouraging a team ethos and perhaps healthier than an individual bonus system.
  • Additional Innovative Remuneration (AIR) is a fun and motivating for all recipients – come up with something which helps to breath the AIR with joy – can be anything –  restaurant vouchers, days out, sports events, ‘free’ afternoons off, books, event tickets etc

 I think that this is probably enough for one post, so will publish some examples and ideas about Retention and Redeployment in a few days time.

Toolkits anyone?

In a recent meeting of people keen on the principles of CB, I did sense that commencing and travelling the journey can be challenging from a simply practical perspective.

Do you think there would be interest in some  ‘toolkits’ which assist this process? I am visualising some checklists and flow diagrams which provoke thought and simplify action.

This is something that  a group of  us are thinking about creating over the coming months for use in our consultancy lives – would be good to know if there is any interest!


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Institutional corruption?

Remember institutional racism?  This term was coined in the 1960s in the US and widely adopted in the UK in the 1970s to describe a situation where an entire organisation, rather than just one or two individuals within it, collectively fail a particular group of people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. In the UK the term was used to describe the police after a number of high-profile events such those at the Brixton riots, Broadwater Farm and so on.

The idea is that, at least to some extent, the inappropriate behaviours and attitudes of individuals are so widely adopted within the group that they become social norms. Because they are so prevalent, no one questions them. Of if they do question them, their questions fall on deaf ears.

I guess it’s another example of group conformity in action.

Sometimes I wonder whether some organisations today suffer a form of institutional corruption. We all know the extreme examples: Enron, BCCI, Satyam, and so on. Companies where, ultimately, criminal behavior crashed the companies to the ground.

But isn’t corruption sometimes more subtle, and more pervasive?

A while ago, and this is going to begin to sound like an episode from Money Box, my insurance company sent me a renewal notice for my household insurance. Something made me check – and I discovered that they had increased the premium by 30% compared to last year.

When I called them, as soon as they heard the problem was “price”, they put me on to their “loyalty team”. When the salesman (sorry “loyalty consultant”) heard the price he quickly recomputed it and said they could offer the same service for a 0% increase instead.

Now my guess is that probably quite a few customers can’t be bothered to check what last year’s premium was and just renew automatically. Personally, I think that is pretty dubious behaviour for a business. Imagine how I might feel if I went into a shop and they tried to short-change me by 30%?

Wouldn’t I right to be aggrieved? Might it even be fraudulent or criminal?

When I enter into a relationship with a company I expect to be dealt with honestly – I want to trust that company and have them reward my trust. Would the shopkeeper who short-changed me by 30% retain my trust?

So going back to the idea of institutionalised behaviour, is it possible, then, that an entire company can be institutionally corrupt?

Is it possible that the salesman thinks of his role as an upstanding member of the “loyalty” team – when actually he’s in the “covering up our corruption” team?

That his managers and others in the company think that this kind of behaviour is so normal that it’s “commercial best practice”?

Is it possible that even the senior management and the CEO are so institutionally blind that they believe it right and proper to accept favourable compensation packages even while their employees are behaving in ways that are dubious or verge on the criminal?

Could this institutional corruption extend beyond the company to the whole industry? To other companies? To its regulators? To the media? Sometimes there’s not a critical voice to be heard, anywhere, of what some might think are corrupt practices – “this is just the way it is in this industry, it is just the norm”.

When the UK police were accused of institutional racism I can still remember the confused, questioning voices from their representatives: “You can’t be talking about us? We’re not racist”. It took a long, long time to really sink in.

The irony, is, of course, that as with the police force, or any other organisation, the public recognise this institutional racism, or corruption, or whatever it is, much sooner than those inside the organisation.

It feels wrong. But often the fact that everyone else is telling you its right makes it harder to put a name to it. It requires bravery to stand up and make that kind of statement.

Consciousness, even?

But businesses that are institutionally corrupt will lose customer loyalty in the long-run. My insurance company has already lost mine.


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Why Consciousness

People sometimes ask me why am I involved with Conscious Business?

I have been involved in business for over 30 years. During that time I have worked with some marvellous people, and in some marvellous groups and companies. And we’ve done some great things.

So the business bit is easy – business is, in my view, simply the best and most powerful way to get good things done.

But why ‘conscious’?

I’ve often noticed that the things that seemed to work really well in those successful groups weren’t the stuff of conventional business or management. It was as if I was operating in a parallel world – that, to me, seemed very different from the conventional one outside.

About 10 years ago I moved to Brighton and helped create the MDhub, a collaboration of local MDs. Working with this group I realised that a lot of them wanted to do things in more innovative, more collaborative, more successful ways, but that they too could only find the one business and management book – the conventional one.

So I started working with some of them to do things in slightly different ways from how they are usually done. Business, but different.

Digging this up is a bit like archaelogy. It is only through uncovering artefacts I can date certain of these activities and things that I started to do differently.

For example, I know it was it 1987 that I learnt some of my first lessons about self-responsibility at work. On my first day of work in my new job at DEC, I was left to my own devices. On the next day too. And the next. It took a while for me to realise that I was meant to figure out what I was meant to do – for myself. Without instruction.

I know that it was during 1997 that I started doing stand-up meetings with teams, because I know that is the year that BBC News Online launched. And I remember the first large team meetings – held in an abandoned studio that had no chairs. Hence it was a “Stand-Up”.

I know it was in early 2007 that I started measuring happiness in my favourite organisation – my family. I got the idea from Paddi Lund – an Australian dentist – and my wife, kids and I measured our happiness daily for some months. I know because I still have the spreadsheets.

Having prototyped (!) the approach the only sensible thing to do was to start trying it out with the businesses I worked with.

The financial crash of 2008 certainly isn’t too far back to remember. The crash accelerated the number of MDs, and people from other fields, calling out for different, more effective ways to do business and management. The trend was already clear by then, and it wasn’t just financial. Bigger social trends such as the feminisation of the workplace were already well underway.

So working with my partners we’ve continued to develop and deliver new and different ways of doing business.

But why consciousness? Looking back the key to change in all the outfits I have worked in has always been a change in the level of consciousness, first with individuals, and then with the group.

By a change in level I don’t meant anything esoteric. Or spiritual.

I mean something quite simple to understand. But hard to achieve in practice. I mean a change in my assumptions, a shift of paradigm.

I don’t know how many levels there are.

But I do know that my experiences of 1987, 1997, and 2007 were all about increasing my consciousness and those of others.

In 1987 I learned first-hand that business worked better when I and others chose what to do.

In 1997, standing up, I and others learned that meetings weren’t the be-all and end-all of getting things done.

And in 2007 I realised that measuring happiness every day – paying attention to it – actually seemed to change my level of happiness.

There are many ways to ‘do’ change in organisations. Change is often approached like a technical problem, as if a company was a machine that could be prodded and pushed into action. Much is ‘technological’, believing that new technologies will somehow drive changes in behaviour.  Some change is ‘structural’ – change what is connected to what and things will get better.

In my view all of these work to some extent. But the thing that makes most sense to me is increasing consciousness. To me changing, and developing and growing, in fact, maturing, seems to me to be the only thing that really changes things sustainably and reliably.

I am not saying it is easy. It has taken me these three decades to make even a few real steps forward. And I often step backwards too.

But, personally, I find the process of growing my consciousness terrifying and fascinating in turns, and ultimately deeply rewarding. We get better things done, and it is more enjoyable.

That is why I choose to work in Conscious Business.


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The Transition to Conscious Business…..

I am a management consultant who has always tried to do  ‘what is right’ rather than what is conventionally accepted and I treat people as I would want to be treated myself rather than as corporate entities. The moment I became aware of the Conscious Business concept, I immediately identified with it and wherever possible, incorporate it into my offering.

This is what Conscious Business means to me today. I am looking forward to better developing the meaning, understanding and application on the journey ahead.

A Conscious Business enshrines a series of core principles which allow it and its interactors at any level to prosper on a simple, rapid, enjoyable and mutually beneficial basis.

Sacrosanct core principles include being:

  • Conscious
  • Empathic
  • Engaging
  • Innovative
  • Ethical
  • Honest
  • Empowering
  • Transparent
  • Seamless
  • Fair

Interactors are:

  • Shareholders
  • Colleagues and their families
  • Clients  / End users of the product or service
  • Suppliers / Service Providers
  • Competitors
  • Local and wider community

The core principles are the building blocks at the foundation of any Conscious Business, regardless of its area of operation – if they are firmly in place in relation to all of the interactors, then the result is a highly successful, sustainable organisation that knows no boundary and can achieve literally anything.

By success, I mean:

  • Products / services judged as market leading by clients and peers
  • Happy and fulfilled colleagues
  • Perception and proof that the organisation is a force for good
  • Shareholders satisfied with their ROI
  • Surpassing of all interactor expectations
  • Long term sustainability

No need to include the ‘P’ word as it is an automatic by-product of Conscious Business!

So, what’s the catch?  How difficult or easy is it to make the transition to a Conscious Business? Well, it’s like anything worth achieving, it does take time and effort and is a continuous process. But there is nothing to fear.

The biggest challenge to established organisations is wholeheartedly committing to the principles, some of which can at first appear to contradict traditional business practices and personal behavior in the workplace.

Firstly, we have to talk the talk and then we have to walk the walk. Nothing to fear though, the tiny steps morph into long strides and it’s an entirely liberating process.  The result is a way of business and life that melds together far more then ever before. Participants feel good about themselves and their organisation. All interactors benefit.

One of the beauties of  the concept is that it is developing on a continuous basis and there is such scope for personalisation  – each business can achieve overall consciousness but with a unique personal twist.

Some companies make the decision from a position of equilibrium but others are prompted by some type of crisis, perhaps a massive downturn in their particular sphere of operation or a succession or strategy issue.

Ironically, it’s easier to persuade companies in crisis that a major structural change is the way to go as there are not so many alternatives. For those companies in equilibrium it’s about helping them to see that sustainable organisations are highly conscious of the changing world around them.

To make a successful transition, everyone within the organisation needs to commit to the principles but this will only happen if the organisational culture is seen and felt to be changing.  It can only change if the people currently in senior management roles understand and desire the transition but there will almost certainly be a few who are afraid and protective of their position.

(As the process unfolds, poor performing senior managers will lose the protection of any fake fortresses they have created and will either improve their performance or find new challenges elsewhere – more about that in a later blog post on Conscious HR.).

As a consultant, it is critical to work closely with the existing management team on an individual and group basis, to empathise and reduce fear together by discussing any elephants in the room.

Start with the core principles, the building blocks, and spend significant time exploring with the management team what the acceptance of these principles means in practical terms for themselves and their business.

This process will soon result in draft  mission, vision and values which can be applied to all aspects of the organisation.

There will be some funny looks at times but as the group discusses the concept from a perspective that all interactors will benefit then the light bulbs in peoples’ heads will start to come on.

It is now time to internally publicise the desire and reasons for becoming a Conscious Business. Involve everyone within the organisation, this time the management team working with their departments on an individual and group basis, in the same way that you worked with them.

The finalised and agreed versions of the mission, vision and values statements will be a truly joint effort and can now be lived by the entire team.

Yes, there may still be some skepticism by certain members of the workforce that good things will truly  happen but the basis is in place and it is now time to actually change the organisational  culture of the organisation, to become a truly Conscious Business.

In my follow-up posts, I am going to explore how Conscious HR and Conscious Sales benefit the equation.


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Systems Thinking and Conscious Business

Today one of my sons told me he had been trying out the text-to-speech option on the Kindle. He thought it funny it couldn’t speak properly – all it does is read the words with no intonation or sense of meaning.

This led to a discussion of the difference between a series of words and a sentence. The computer can read each word individually but has no sense of the bigger thing – the sentence. Nor of the next bigger thing, the paragraph. Nor the next – the chapter, or indeed of the whole book.

It is very clear that a book is much more than all the words in it added together.

Take a piece of paper and draw 5 boxes. Arrange them in the rough shape of a circle. You can see the boxes. You can also see the circle. But where exactly is the circle? It doesn’t really exist in one sense – there are no lines on the paper which make up a circle. The circle only exists as an emergent property of the individual boxes arranged in a particular way.

2 + 2 = 5. Or in this case, 1 + 1 + 1+ 1 + 1 = 6.

These examples illustrate something that is central to thinking about business in a “systems” way.

This has little to do with IT systems, by the way; nor systems in the sense of processes that are used to deal with issues methodically or “systematically”. We’re using a different meaning of the word – this is systemic not systematic thinking.

These examples illustrate that businesses are complex systems. They are made up of “just” the individuals that work in them, but they are also much more than that. They are all the relationships between the people as well. And the relationships externally too.

And they are even more than that. They are wholes, and also part of a bigger whole. They’re integrated and connected into that bigger whole in ways that may even be difficult for us to comprehend.

This may all sound rather ethereal.

But it has some very practical implications.

For example, when trying to improve profitability in a company managers are often tempted to play around with metrics or KPIs. Adjust a few simple things like how hard people work, and surely profitability will increase?

I’m afraid it just isn’t so. A business is a complex system, and playing with one low level metric is just as likely to make things worse as it is to make things better.

Much better to think systemically. I have blogged before about Donella Meadows and her (fairly) famous list of the best points to intervene in a complex system. Be it a business or any other system.

According to Meadows, the least powerful are the ones we most often think of, presumably because they are easy to grasp and grapple with: constants, parameters, and numbers. Often we rearrange these “deck chairs” while the ship is sinking.

Transparency – who sees which information – comes in at number six from the top.  Transparency is a core part of developing a conscious business. It does work to radically change behaviour – and is certainly much more powerful than changing low level metrics themselves.

But the really powerful levers (in Meadows’ view, and mine) are:

  • The goal(s) of the system.
  • The mindset or paradigm out of which the system arises.
  • The power to transcend paradigms.

Consider that a business that chases short-term profitability has a different goal from one that is interested in profitability over the long-term.

Asking questions like “what is a business for?”, or “what does competition actually mean?” is the kind of activity that can lead to a shift of paradigm or mindset.

And realising that how we see things changes everything is the ultimate lever. That, of course, is what consciousness is all about.

PS To get started in systems thinking I’d really recommend the late Dana Meadows book Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Or try the Systems Thinking wiki. Or more recently I really enjoyed The Gardens of Democracy if you want to explore how (eco) systems thinking relates to areas beyond business.


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Building trust must not become a gimmick – it’s a necessity

Our distrust towards authorities is rife – and justified, whether it’s the MP expenses scandal, the phone hacking scandal, the Catholic Church scandal or the inauthentic reactive style of our political leadership, such as the sudden annulment of ex-RBS chief’s knighthood in a hasty attempt to appease public outrage at his successors’ bonuses.

Frantic cover ups or perpetual dishonesty are either exposed or suspected, in a digital age where social media and the availability of information fuel our scepticism.

Distrust extends to the corporate world too; a recent Edelman survey found that whilst only 29% of people believe the Government is doing the right thing, only 38% trust businesses and surprisingly only a few more – 42% – trust non-governmental organisations.

If this is a time where a top-down approach to communication and leadership is proving ineffective, how can those at the top gain trust?

The answer lies in changing the question slightly – leaders will only be trusted when they are seen to lead with authenticity and trust themselves. After all, how can trust be built when the authorities don’t seem to entrust and respect us with the truth, or truly believe in their actions? The emphasis must be on leading by example, so leading with trust, from the top.

This is a tough time for managers too, particularly middle managers; new CIPD research found that 49% feel they are under excessive pressure either everyday or once or twice a week, only 44% are satisfied with their work-life balance, and 29% consider it likely they could lose their job as a result of the economic down turn (compared to 21% of non-managers and 15% of senior managers). Considering such findings, it’s perhaps no surprise that middle managers are also the category most likely to be job hunting, with 29% looking to move organisations (compared to 21% across the workforce).

Managers under pressure can be scared of unleashing their staff, micromanaging instead of trusting, criticising instead of giving constructive feedback, or believing that being overbearing is the way towards respect and productivity. This environment can lead to quick fixes and cost cuttings over a genuine long-term commitment to staff engagement and development, with strong management at all levels.

Managers may be tempted to pin their staff engagement efforts onto gimmicks, such as prizes and competitions, employee of the month awards, daily feedback reports or fun morale building activities. Whilst nothing is wrong with any of these, if they aren’t accompanied by honest, engaged and effective management they’ll seem cynical and empty; disengagement will only be reinforced.

An organisation that wants more from its managers, needs to trust and empower its managers. This will in turn lead to managers leading by example, able to affect trust and empowerment across the workforce.

  • Do managers take pride in their work and the business?
  • Do managers understand the business’s goals and vision?
  • Are managers provided with the information and resources they need to understand their role and manage their team effectively?
  • Are manager’s feedback and ideas sought and genuinely heard?
  • Do managers have formal development programs (rather than training and coaching merely used to firefight problems as they arise)?
  • Are managers carefully selected for interpersonal skills as well as technical ability? If not, is development provided?
  • Are managers’ flexible working requests granted, or at least welcomed?

Managers visibly and actively engaged in the organisation have already made the first step to earning their team’s trust. Whilst other measures – such as those above, adapted to non-managers – are legitimate steps to engaging and motivating teams, they’ll fall flat if unaccompanied with motivated managers.

Trusted and empowered managers are not only the first step to building the trust of the workforce as a whole. They are the foundation needed for motivation, creativity and innovation to grow.

With both the ability to respond to competition and talent retention ever important, businesses must remember that – just as customers will generally change loyalties due a company’s representative rather than the company itself – staff leave managers, not companies.


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Coherence and decision-making

On January 16th Professor Ben (C) Fletcher and I launch our new book:
Flex: Do Something Different.

How to use the other 9/10ths of your personality.

Here’s an extract on the topic of personal coherence, a concept that’s critical to conscious business.

Many people go through life saying one thing and doing another. Living one life but wishing for something else. Personal coherence is the mark of someone who has all parts of their life aligned. What they do and what they say are connected.  They are not held back by habits or personal limitations, and are totally at ease with themselves and their world.

Nonetheless, incoherence seems to be part of the human condition and the hallmark of the incoherent person is doing one thing and saying another. Here are a few everyday examples:

  • Craig chooses a foreign holiday but is upset when he can’t get his favourite beer and there are olives in the salad.
  • Pauline says she hates living in a mess but watches TV instead of doing the housework and is permanently untidy.
  • Julie was desperate for children but now that she has them she constantly complains about them and secretly prefers it when they’re not around.
  • Roger wears a safety helmet when cycling – then stops and has a cigarette.
  • The obese Simons family wear the latest sports clothing but never exercise.
  • Marty is obsessive about recycling but flies long-haul.
  • Almost 50% of the UK population buy fresh fruit and then throw it away.
  • Jim has renewed his wedding vows and is sleeping with his secretary.
  • Kath always tries to park as close as possible to the gym where she is going to an exercise class.
  • Sally and Richard worry about their children’s health but feed them a diet of junk food.

When people are incoherent there will always be some fallout or damage. Either to the individual or to others around them. Some of the examples above may seem rather flippant, but you get the message.

In reality people’s incoherencies can run far deeper than just a few surface behaviours. One consequence of a lack of personal coherence is that it leads to poor decisions and choices. The reasons for this include:

  1. Emotions. Emotions cloud logic and judgements. Reasoning powers seem to go out of the window for some people when the subject matter or conclusions involve emotionally laden outcomes. Emotions can also account for many of the flaws in thinking and reasoning that humans show.
  2. Habit. Inertia predisposes people to make the same choices they have made before instead of questioning their own choices. People may also have a stock of excuses to justify their decisions and behaviours.
  3. A narrow behavioural repertoire means a person will be insufficiently flexible and lack essential behaviours,and so is more likely to be distracted by the wrong options.
  4. Worrying about doing the right thing.  Being over-concerned about the reactions of others, or the ramifications a decision, can cloud judgment and make for poor choices.
  5. Fantasies of thinking. Some people live in a world of fantasy about themselves, their capabilities and how they behave. Fantasies obscure the best choices because they replace real information and insight with pretence. There are various kinds of fantasy that can get in the way of proper choices including:
  • The pretend-only fantasy. This happens when the person is not really 100% committed to a goal, decision or behaviour that is necessary to obtain the optimal outcome. Their words are empty and devoid of action. So the personal incoherence is compounded.
  • The commitment-without-expectation fantasy. A person might show all the signs of being fully committed, but does not really believe or expect to be successful. Their low expectations are usually met.
  • The hidden-effort fantasy. This is a very common cause of incoherence. It is the failure to fully consider the actual effort required to reach the goal. It is a failure to  take account of all the consequences of decision. Many people will apparently commit to a goal because they do not consider the unseen costs. So the person might commit to and expect to realise a goal but is not realistic about all that is going to be necessary to achieve it.
  • The others’-effort fantasy. This is a tendency to make a decision contingent upon other people instead of yourself. It is requiring others to do things to make something happen. This fantasy is very common with people who have low levels of self-responsibility.

Choices and decisions become easier and more obvious the more coherent you become. Coherence is about knowing all aspects of yourself – and having them all in harmony.  Our behaviour change technique, do something different, helps the harmonisation process and improves our choices. Decision-making is much easier, because it is only a lack of personal coherence that obscures the right choice.