Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Lowering the Waterline on the Iceberg

In a search to explore more about what it means to be authentic in the workplace (and also wider life) I recently came across Mike Robbins’ TEDx talk on The Power of Authenticity.

 

 

I am currently studying as a Person Centre counsellor and am interested in how we can apply Carl Roger’s 3 core conditions of empathy, respect and congruence in the workplace so that we can grow both as teams and personally. Congruence, aka being real or authentic, is perhaps the one I struggle with most personally, and from having spoken to others, I am not alone.

Mike Robbins acknowledges that often it seems easier to say what we think other people want us to say, rather than to say what is really going on for us. We want to be liked, to fit in, to  not rock the boat and risk rejection. What it takes is a willingness to be vulnerable and to share what is real for us “below the tip of the iceberg” of what we are showing to the world.

iceberg-poster

Image source

Icebergs can be a good metaphor for authenticity. The majority of what we really feel and what is really going on for us is down below the waterline (both consciously and unconsciously) – below the tip of the iceberg.

Mike describes an example of facilitating a dysfunctional team. As the meeting starts to breakdown he stops and introduces a 20 minute exercise in response to a “sense that there are things that we are not talking about that are not only impacting this meeting but the team.” In turn each person is invited to repeat and complete the phrase:

“If you really knew me, you would know this about me…”

The invitation is to lower your waterline. To really let people know what is going on. What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What is happening right now?

As soon as one person is really real it starts to give others permission to be real and to open up. In short it takes bravery and courage to move through the fear of vulnerability. But the results make it worth it – more satisfying relationships, better decision making, and a sense of personal and team growth, and ultimately more connection.

In a longer talk Mike suggests that many of our communication problems are only a ‘ten minute sweaty palm conversation’ away from being addressed. Can we move through the discomfort and take the risk to be authentic and the vulnerability that this often entails?

Personally, I am going to commit to having one of these difficult, sweaty palm, conversations this week. I would also be interested to hear other people’s experiences of lowering the waterline and suggestions of how to help people to be more real at work….

 

Bella Cranmore has a keen interest in Conscious Business having been a client of Conscious Business People in 2013-2014.

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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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It’s no good being conscious in your business if some topics are un-discussable…

Being conscious in business, or life in general, involves taking risks, and it is surprising how common it is for us to shy away from those conversations that, whilst hairy, may be exactly what is needed.

I spent last weekend in Phoenix, Arizona (niiiiice), where I met up with 25 other practitioners who take a complexity-based approach to organisational change and development. All of us are certified Human Systems Dynamics Practitioners, which a) lets us use extra letters after our names, and b) gives us more long words to bamboozle and confuse clients with if we don’t watch it. The purpose of the conference was to help the group develop more tightly coupled relationships in order to grow our practice, and foster collaborative working. Overall it was a success, and I walked away having both learned stuff (good), met some top people (excellent), and added a number of things to my ‘to do’ list (not so good).


One moment stands out for me as being the point at which the conversation shifted from being useful to generative. Or to put it another way, when we shifted from being polite to each other and got down to what mattered…

Playing with similarity & difference

At the heart of all relationships is a dance between sameness and difference: the more similar we are, the better the ‘fit’ and the greater likelihood we want to  work or play together; the greater the number of differences, chances are we move apart and/or end up in conflict. So far so obvious. What is less obvious, yet typical of what happens in many relationships, particularly in organisations, is what is left unsaid, unspoken, unnamed and ultimately becomes un-discussable. I have touched on this theme before (Intent(ion): the missing link?…, Is Gordon Brown’s ‘bullying’ behaviour a symptom, not the problem?, Collaboration: 10 tips for success, with a relational bias), and the un-discussable is not something that is easy to bring up. To suggest to anyone, particularly in a group context, that there may be something that they are avoiding talking about can evoke fear, anger, shame or simply plain discomfort. It requires, as a minimum, courage and curiosity on the part of the person raising the question, and a level of trust that can hold the impact of that intervention and any resulting. The rewards are huge if you can go there, and here’s why.

About an hour into the conference, we were invited to go into small groups to explore how we were same and different, and what this might mean for the relationships in the room and the weekend as a whole. My group of three contained some meaty differences, which we explored, and it led to one person noticing that she wasn’t sure how safe it was to share aspects of her self and her values that marked her out, in her view, as different to the majority. Whether this was true or not is not the point.  The discovery and potential rich learning lay in the (shared) realization that the group felt somehow un-safe and that some topics felt taboo.

Pick a door, any door…

This moment was a beautiful decision point for us. Many groups/organisations face these without realizing it, and, I believe, more often than not opt for safety. I can understand why, but we didn’t. Back in the big group, our feedback was framed around a central question:

“What is un-discussable in this group?”


Heart in mouth, I illustrated this by sharing how I felt (feared) my (Brighton, UK, liberal) values might mark me out as different from my US hosts, and how our relationship would change the more I revealed those differences.

Nothing is un-discussable, the only thing that changes is consequences…

From that initial risk-taking, something amazing happened. Person after person revealed questions/thoughts that they hold been holding back. In our case – and it will not be the same for every group or context – the territory we ended up exploring was primarily the questions and issues people felt unsure about raising in the context of the work we were there to do. There was some talk about how we were different individually, but as a group our focus was on the work. The trust in the room, and relational awareness of the people involved, was such that we held our differences lightly, and respected them. This particular exchange set the tone for the weekend, and got us quicker to where we wanted to go than would have been possible otherwise, in my opinion and it is important to say that.

Do I believe there were places we didn’t go, questions that were not raised? Yes, I suspect there were, if for no other reason than I get curious when a group of people spend so much time together without getting into any decent arguments! And that may say more about me than the group.

So the question for you is …

What are you not discussing in your organisation, team, group, board? How are your similarities and differences driving the conversation, and what is stopping you from saying what is really on your mind and gets in the way of work? For me, a relational approach leavened with models and methods from complexity works wonders. What works for you?


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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.

 

 

 


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Sensing Passion

As a rule of thumb I won’t eat in a restaurant where the people running it are not passionate about what they are doing.

Instinctively I don’t go back to places where it feels like the people just don’t care.

My grandmother was a formidable Hotelier and Restaurateur, and she often said: ‘If you want to know how clean the kitchens are, look at the toilets’.

This is going back a long time, and maybe things have changed since the advent of food hygiene laws. But her point is still valid: people often betray their principles in areas where they think you are not looking.

And many assume that if they say, for example, that they are a ‘caring business’, that you’ll accept this statement over your own direct experience.

But if the people making the product and guiding it to my table do not seem to care about it, or indeed about their very own role, this attitude gets projected on to and infects the product, and I guess it has been produced without care. It “feels” substandard to me.

I may be wrong, but perception is everything.

I will also intuit something about a business that hires and keeps people in roles they don’t enjoy. Or a business that fails to create an environment where its people can thrive and are enjoying their work. I will generally assume their priority is not a quality product or an excellent service.

I will then make a further assumption: that they are more focussed on making money than pleasing me. This might clash with my principles, and I stop wanting to give them my money.

Quite a big leap perhaps? But it’s all lurking there on the edge of my subconscious, affecting whether I eat there again – or not.

Now for an old counselling trick: If I get this negative feeling with the above business, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that I might get the reverse feeling from turning that experience on its head.

So what am I likely to intuit from a conscious business? Well, first of all if the people are genuinely interested in the product or service, and in me, their feeling and enthusiasm is projected onto and thus infects the product and I feel good about it.

I feel good about them because I detect their genuineness, or “congruence”. I also feel good about an organisation that values its staff and culture. One that picks people with passion and creates an environment for them to thrive in. If they are applying care to their environment then the product must be fabulous, surely?

This instinctive feeling is usually borne out by my experience. Another place might be cheaper or have a better location but I still prefer to be at the place where the staff care. To quote a line from the Cheers’ theme tune: ‘You want to go where everybody knows your name’.

Or to borrow the basic principle from the famous book “How to win friends and influence people”, we like to do business with people that we like, and who appear to like us.

This has to be authentic liking, but if it is, it wins every time.


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Selling with congruence

As I start to write this I wonder if I am simply recycling old material. After all I have written about the conscious business approach to setting up new business relationships before and before that.

But I recently came across an old article by Neil Rackham, of SPIN fame, called Avoiding the Traps in Selling Profesional Services (available here or email me if you can’t find it). Neil talks about the need for people selling professional services to be competent, concerned and full of candour.

Is selling professional services the same as selling generally? I think so: as we move towards a meaning-based economy, where more and more traditional, and tangible, products are commoditised, then each day service becomes more and more the only true differentiator.

Professional services involve helping the client understand their needs, as well as meet them. Again, in a meaning-based economy, helping someone understand their needs is increasingly a key part of any service.

So lessons that apply to selling professional services increasingly apply to selling anything.

And what are those lessons? For me, good selling is fundamentally about creating better relationships. Long-lasting, meaningful relationships.

To do that the first step is to get away from some of our own assumptions about the buyer-seller relationship.

For example, I think many business relationships start off on the wrong footing because there is a perceived imbalance of power.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that a corporate buyer has all the power. They may believe this, but do they really?

Think about it.

They can say yes, or no, to your offer.

But so can you, to their terms.

Perhaps you think you need them; but do you really? And do they also need you?

They can hurt you or help you – damage or build your reputation. But can they really? Or is it just that you imagine they can?

My experience is that the powerful corporate executive isn’t really as powerful as they may pretend.

They can strut. Show off their toys. They can shout and storm. But at the end of the day they’re simply an employee. They don’t own anything. Instead, sometimes their lives are owned by the corporation.

To achieve anything they need the buy-in of their colleagues, their bossess, their shareholders.

Often they need to follow a process. Simply to arrange a cup of tea or buy a paper-clip.

So, first, can you reset your perception of the relationship?

I like to assume that the person I am dealing with is simply another human being. Just like me, trying to make their way in the world. Living within the constraints of their world, and trying make things better, for themselves, and for others.

In other words, I’d rather approach this person with unconditional respect. Whatever their initial behaviour.

Working inside a corporate organisation is difficult.

It is frustrating: it isn’t easy to get things done.

It is scary: there’s a lot of pressure – and a lot of misused power.

So approaching this person with empathy – putting oneself in their shoes – can be a real help. We all know what frustration is like. And fear. Empathy is about seeing the world from their eyes, walking in their shoes. Experiencing that frustration and fear and seeing the world through that lens.

In selling, as Neil Rackham points out, candour is also essential.  In conscious business we might use a different word: congruence.

In selling, as in all relationships I value, I must be honest. If I don’t know something, or if can’t do something I must tell the client. Congruence helps build relationships – not least because we all detect its opposite: inauthenticity.

Being honest and open is also essential so that my company can be held to account for delivering the service I am selling. When I am selling I am responsible for helping the client gain the value they need from me. If I set things up wrongly at the beginning, I will surely jeopardise later success. Theirs and mine.

I also need to tell clients what I think and how I feel about our relationship, especially about this power imbalance if it exists. That last may be very hard. Certainly, it may not be something we are used to doing.

By I think it is the secret to successful selling – to creating that real, long-lasting relationship.


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Becoming a Conscious Business

Fairly regularly I find myself trying to explain what a Conscious Business is.

I have answered this in terms of strategy before; and also in terms of what CB is not.

But this time I thought I’d try to answer a variant of the question: “What does a Conscious Business look like from the inside?”

At the core of a Conscious Business are people, of course. In my view, every business is simply a bunch of people, when you boil it down.

And in a Conscious Business these people are – well – conscious.

By that I mean self-aware. They reflect regularly. They assess themselves. With compassion for themselves – and with respect, empathy and congruence for others.

They’re also as open as they can be to change. They learn all the time, and a lot of that learning is about themselves.

And they work together in certain ways: for example, they challenge each other’s ideas, decisions, and behaviour. They’re open and honest – about strengths and failings.

They believe in possibility, not certainties. They’re humble. They have fun. They take responsibility – and are able to hold each other to account.

And they take joy in working with others – trying to create something valuable for themselves and others.

Having all this at the core means the business has a clear identity and is suffused with meaning and purpose. It is transparent and open to the outside world.

It is resilient and flexible, profitable, does less harm, offers truly valuable products and services, is highly attractive to customers, and is better able to attract and give a great home to key employees.

Of course, there are many businesses that are already like this. I’ve worked in some, and you may have too. (We’re not “inventing” anything new here. We’re just trying to help businesses as they grow and become more conscious.)

And a conscious business isn’t really a thing at all; it isn’t any of these things in a static sense. It’s a process – of growth and development – something that is always changing, always becoming.