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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Inner and Outer

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours yesterday with the entrepreneurs at the Fusebox, an exciting Brighton-based project. Tom Nixon invited me and a crowd of other mentors to meet the participants – a great bunch of people all round.

Whenever I meet entrepreneurs with new ideas I am struck by how their ideas reflect their personalities and passions.

This is a very good thing – for me, a big part of the joy of meeting entrepreneurs is seeing their creative process in action, watching them express, and flex, their ideas.

There’s a lot to be learnt from even a short chat – as someone tells you why they are interested and passionate about a subject, what got them involved, why of all the millions of things they could be doing they have picked this particular one.

I learn something about the subject, and the approach they are taking is often stimulating and new too. Again and again I am inspired by people’s individual passion and how far this has taken them, and will take them on their journey.

But people are complicated, of course. Entrepreneurs’ creations tend to reflect their personalities perfectly. So each creation, each venture, while containing their passion and personality, also contains the full breadth of each entrepreneur’s nature. The twists and turns, and perhaps even the ‘flaws’, are there too.

Over time aspects of personality that may hold the entrepreneur back become clearer, hopefully to the participants, and also to those around them. These are the personal challenges each may need to overcome if they are to realise their dreams and hopes and aspirations. Entrepreneurs, like all of us, have often suffered hurt and pain. Sometimes this is still unresolved.

From the point of view of Conscious Business, completing this inner journey is as important as the outer one.

The inner journey itself can offer a sense of success. Some of these hurts may be resolved and overcome. People grow fast when immersed in the cauldron of a start-up.

Often, of course, such a venture will not take the entrepreneur where they expect – they’ll be surprised by the lessons they learn and the ways the learning is delivered. But with luck they’ll end up as a different, and hopefully fuller person.

And in terms of external success, I believe looking inwards, discovering and resolving these issues is as much the solution to a business problem as external work such as clarifying the value proposition, developing the business model, and finding partners and investors.

The challenge for the Fusebox programme, and for the systematic development of entrepreneurial ventures in general, is to create an environment that makes it possible for both kinds of development – inner and outer – to happen simultaneously, and in mutually reinforcing ways.

The mentor model is great – connecting people with different sets of experience, knowledge and skills together. But good mentorship also develops real trust between mentee and mentor. Often this is the trust to share really valuable personal feedback, about our personal blindspots and flaws. That feedback can make the difference between continuing in a ever-repeating cycle, or breaking out of it to new ground.

Our world is sadly lacking such opportunities. The combination of personal defences and high levels of anxiety in organisations make genuine, untainted feedback a rare commodity in many businesses.

It’s great to see the Fusebox programme identifying this and trying to do something about it.

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Is truthfulness a competency?

As human beings, we tend to ignore the elephant in the room because we fear the consequences. Truth is a time bomb; the fuse is lit, and when it goes off we’ll all get blown to bits. Really?… It could just be that when it blows there’s nothing more than a lovely colourful (and perfectly harmless) foam fountain. Why do we fear the worst?

Duncan Brodie, a former NHS Director I interviewed for Undiscussables.com a while ago, questioned the logic of a health service that effectively works a Monday to Friday schedule when those who depend on it (i.e. require medical treatment) typically do not conform to an office hours only schedule when falling ill. I’ve also talked before about the notion that what is undiscussable in an organisation is, in and of itself, often undiscussable, and idea that stems from the work of Chris Argyris.

Reading a pointed (as ever) and thought-provoking post by Roy Lilley at NHSManagers.net recently, what struck me is that the two states of undiscussability that Arygris describes may need defining separately.

The undiscussable undiscussable

A subject that is taboo and has yet to reach the stage that it can even be alluded to.

Sexual and physical abuse, whether that alleged to have taken place by Jimmy Saville or within the Catholic Church, often seems to fall into this category. The difficulty that those who have been abused have in having their stories heard, let alone believed, might suggest that this pattern is particularly difficult to break. In organisational/work contexts, they can arise also.

The discussable undiscussable

The taboo alluded to, hinted at, ‘known’, tantalisingly out of reach

Writing that heading I question my logic momentarily, and it is this category that Roy Lilley describes powerfully in another post re mortality rates in the NHS. Analysis of three years of data and four million patient outcomes have revealed a statistically significant increase in mortality rates the nearer to the end of a working week you have elective (i.e. non-emergency) surgery.

It’s a bit like ‘Area 51’, the US Military…. It’s an open secret. Everyone knows it’s there but the US Government pretends it isn’t. Just like MI5. Everyone knew about it but it took the British government until 1994 to admit it existed. And, The Stig, BBC’s Top Gear test driver; apparently everyone knows who she is.

Elephant in the Room, Open Secret.

This is the ‘classic’ elephant: the thing we all know is there but do not want to acknowledge and/or discuss, yet there is tacit agreement that it exists. The undiscussable undiscussable is different: there is no agreement, tacit or otherwise, of existence because the consequences of doing so are too high for some of those involved. Or because those who witness what is happening cannot bear the consequences of even acknowledging it (the bystander effect)?….

There is no easy answer, although I am drawn to two suggestions, both sparked by Lilley.

Data, data, data… Give me more data

The mortality rate issue above was revealed and discussed in sharper terms because not only was there data available, it has been used to make sense of complexity to reveal an underlying pattern. With data, you get to a conversation that takes you closer to a decision based on reality rather than the shifting sand of opinion.

Truthfulness is a competency

In the post on mortality rates, Lilley laid out a challenge for leadership in and around the NHS, in the context of the recommendations in the Francis Report calling for a new approach to leadership practice.

Truthfulness emerges as a key competence when an organisation is faced with the unachievable. Soldiering-on, to protect reputations and careers, not confronting the real issues leads to an environment fertile for fraud, fictions and fabrications. Obsfucation, cover-ups and smokescreens disguise the actualite and defer the inevitable.

Relative to the NHS, and given my own experience working with people within the UK health sector, I would agree. What is more, I am not aware of any psychometric tests, competency frameworks or similar that explicitly seek to inquire into the capacity of individuals in organisations to speak the(ir) truth, relative to role and context (suggestions welcome if there are). And…

A challenge to leaders and leadership development practitioners

My experience of working with(in) organisations and with leadership teams is that the desire for simple answers and certainty undermines those who make the case for slowing down to seek more data in order to establish what is real and not real, what is fact and not opinion. This desire for simple answers and certainty, delivered in as short a time as possible, places a primacy on an illusory form of truth. ‘Directness’ and ‘honesty’ are not the same as truthfulness, the essence of which is grounding in fact or reality, and means you are exposed to the possibility that reality may not be how you imagine it. So a couple of questions, relative to the taboos and challenges in your organisation:

  • To what extent do you know what is true (real), and based on what data?
  • To what extent are you prepared for the truth, whatever it is, or to speak a truth?
  • To what extent is your organisation ready for the truth?
  • What are the consequences, all of them, of speaking out and not speaking out?

Your move.

(Ed: This post was initially published on Undiscussables.com)


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The Sustainability Opportunity

The horrendous Jimmy Savile story has recently entered a new phase: towards criticism of the institutions – the BBC, the hospitals, the Department of Health – that allowed him to operate with such impunity.

All across those organisations I imagine people are now asking themselves how they let this happen. And I can hear the reply: “it was just how it was back then” or “I didn’t know what I could do” or “I just went along with it because it was the ‘culture’ of the day”.

This issue of conformity has come up before in this blog – reflecting similar examples from different fields: for example, institutional racism. The ability of any organisation – like the police, for example – to confuse itself, to collude amongst its members, to “sleep-walk”.

History provides, of course, many even worse examples of self-delusion amongst groups.

The Solomon Asch studies – video here – are shocking to watch. They demonstrate, to me at least, how powerful these effects are. I am pretty sure that if I was the young man in the second video, I too would have gone along.

I have also often seen this kind of sleep-walking in the businesses where I have worked.

In large and in small businesses alike I have seen management (and the staff) sleep-walk into a worse and worse situation. “Wake-up” I want to shout. Sometimes I do shout that 🙂 Sometimes it works. And sometimes not. The zombies sleep on. Walking over the cliff.

And I also worry that I am doing it right now.

Perhaps twenty years from now someone will finally blow the whistle on the biggest scandals of our generation, in a way that sticks. The things we know, but now ignore, will suddenly rise painfully into consciousness.

How, for example, at the beginning of the 21st century did we collectively dream our way through one of humanity’s greatest disasters – the completely avoidable deaths of millions and millions of people – through the wanton destruction of our environment, and by allowing starvation and curable disease to kill men, women and children at unbelievable rates?

Today, in case you were asleep, 30% of the world’s population don’t have access to essential medicines. 13% of people in the world are undernourished. (Source: Oxfam.)

That day, when we all wake up, I, like all of us, will probably try to justify my behaviour and say “it was just how it was back then” or “I didn’t know what I could do” or “I just went along with it because it was the ‘culture’ of the day”.

There is an argument that this is just part of the human condition. That our failure is inevitable – because we, as humans, are flawed.

But, personally, I think that is only one side of the argument. I do think it is important to accept that we are human and we do make these mistakes. All the time. We are weak.

But it is also, in my view, important to recognise that we are strong and able to do something about all this.

Of course, lots of people are doing things. I really like this recent approach by Oxfam – the doughnut – a simple, graphical model that allows us to contemplate the complexity of a world threatened by multiple environmental disasters and by multiple social and human ills.

I like the model because it is simple. But I also like what it doesn’t show: that as long as businesses operate within the doughnut there is huge scope for innovation and creativity of all kinds. For prosperity and a meeting of needs.

That to me is to the great opportunity presented to business in this sometimes difficult world.


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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!