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Spark the Change – A conference for Inspiration and action

The Spark the Change conference is happening in London July 3rd & 4th, and it’s exciting from a Conscious Business perspective.

http://sparkthechange.co.uk/

It’s all about different approaches to running businesses and there is a lot of the feel of Conscious Business about it all, so we thought we should get involved. The ‘Spark’ is the inspiration bit from the conference but I guess the ‘Change’ is where it can get a bit tricky.

So with that in mind and with our ‘Conscious Business People’ hats on we’re running a workshop on the Friday at 11.30am all about how Congruence can save your business. It will give attendees something tangible they can take away to move their organisation forwards.

But… we’re all about practice, impact and action, and given the session is only a couple of hours we thought: How can we better encourage people to go away and start some actual change happening? Would £1,000 help? Probably!

So along with the Spark the Change people we’ve created ‘The Spark Award’ and are giving £1,000 to the person that most impresses the panel with how they’ve implemented something they’ve learned from the conference.

In addition, they’ll also get:

  • An article all about the experience to be published in InfoQ
  • A speaker’s slot at Spark 2015
  • A professionally produced case study.

The Spark Award is open to participants at Spark — including speakers and the holders of workshops. This is about leading change!

There is no definition of what type of change, how big or small, whether it succeeds or fails or is still ongoing.

Your spark could be about trying a new process or structure, it could be about a change in your own behaviour. We care about why this spark was important to you and your organisation, about HOW you went about implementing, and about how much you and others around you learned in the process.

So come to the conference, get inspired, implement something and maybe win £1000 in the process.


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Women and Conscious Leadership

Taken from the forthcoming spring ‘e-Organisations and People’ journal – For more information and to purchase a copy look here. This article asks whether the time is finally right for women to take on leadership roles without needing to give up their core values, needs and behaviours.  Evidence is put forward showing how essential it is to include women in leadership roles if we want to attain a sustainable future.  Lasy Lawless explores what might prevent that from happening.  She considers how much of this problem is self imposed and how much of it relates to gender politics in the workplace.  She asks each reader to do one thing to accelerate change.Keywords: Inequality, women in leadership, gender, prejudice, diversity and sustainability

My discovery of gender prejudice

I grew up on a farm in a large family in Ireland.  There was an equal number of boys and girls in my family.  This description probably conjures up a stereotypical image of simple country folk following strict catholic doctrines, women in the kitchen supporting men in the fields.  But that’s not what it was like.  My mother was the first female to study law at Cork University.  She experienced severe prejudice from male lecturers, who assumed she chose the subject to be the only female amongst men so that she could flirt with them.Despite being awarded a first class degree, she never got to work as a lawyer.  In those days the economic policy to address unemployment was that women gave up work when they got married.  Those women who did not go on to have children simply struggled to contribute and to live full lives. This background set the scene for my upbringing because in my home we never distinguished between male and female roles along traditional lines.  Boys cooked and girls worked on the farm – if that suited our strengths, rather than tasks that were assigned based on our gender. So natural was this to me that it wasn’t until I actually entered the workforce in 1980 that I discovered gender prejudice and I found it both shocking and stupefying.  It simply made no sense to me.

Slowly it dawned on me that although women were a core part of the workforce, they rarely ran companies, sat on boards or shared equally in rewards. Throughout my twenties I watched and learned just how agonisingly slowly systems of power change, irrespective of whether they are effective or satisfying.  I have oscillated between irritation with the system, rage at men and frustration with women themselves, each playing a contributory role in ensuring that change cannot be immediate. However, in the last ten years I think I can see the roots of a sea change.  I hope that when we look back at the noughties we will all be as shocked and stupefied as I was in the 1980s.

Conscious capitalism for gender equality?

And I believe that conscious capitalism is the movement that captures the attitudes and values that will make it possible for women to take their rightful place as equals in the business world.  I believe that gender equality requires three major shifts:  a new economic structure, the buy-in of men and women being more assertive. Conscious capitalism is that system.  I will try to address the other two conditions later in the article.Conscious Capitalism by Mackey, Sisodia and George (2013) identifies some key qualities of the conscious leader.’Conscious leaders abundantly display many of the qualities we most admire in exemplary human beings.  They usually find great joy and beauty in their work, and in the opportunity to serve, lead, and help shape a better future.  Since they are living their calling, they are authentic individuals who are eager to share their passion with others.  They are very dedicated to their work, which recharges and energises them instead of draining them.  Conscious leaders commonly have high analytical, emotional, spiritual and systems intelligence.  They also have an orientation toward servant leadership, high integrity and a great capacity for love and care. (Mackey, Sisodia & George 2013, p183). While so many of these qualities are gender neutral, others (love, care, emotional intelligence, sharing passion, servant leadership and helping shape a better future) are attributes frequently associated with women.  They might even be described as nurturing or maternal characteristics.

Because of the roles traditionally played by women – supporting partners, enabling children towards independence and reaching their potential, running households and finances, it could be said that women have been in training for leadership positions for thousands of years. ‘Conscious business’ is a way to describe organisations that operate within a conscious capitalist structure. Conscious businesses positively encourage women to embrace leadership roles outside of the home, but this is only the structure.  For real change to occur we need women to step into the roles and demonstrate our effectiveness in leading.

So what are the issues that women will have to address if they choose to step into leadership roles?  I think they fall into two main categories – things that women need to do for themselves, and things that men need to support us with.  Equality for women is happening slowly, but for change to happen quickly both genders need to collaborate.  The greatest hurdle is to raise general awareness of the challenges and of the amazing opportunity if we address the issues.  We need to take the conversations out from the feminists and futurists to every layperson. The major challenges we face are: women’s preference for collaboration over competition; scepticism about how their accomplishments will be reported by journalists/men; women’s fear of being humiliated by being judged on how they look rather on their accomplishments; young girls low aspirations based on their lack of belief that they will succeed; and ignorance by female graduates of the benefits of working in SMEs rather than in corporate cultures.

Collaboration vs competition

It would be easy to idealise women and to pretend that they completely avoid conflict or competition.  They don’t. But research shows that there are significant gender differences in frequency when entering into ‘winner-takes-all’ types of competition, and yet no significant gender gap in other types of competition.   Women are averse to entering competitive forums that result in a single winner walking away with the prize and the kudos, but women are equally competitive where the agenda results in rewards for the majority (Niederle, M., & Vesterlund, L. 2007). Conscious leaders believe that the most successful and sustainable results come from including the interests of all stakeholders – employees, investors, suppliers etc  rather than simply focusing on shareholders short term returns.  Conscious businesses need leaders who favour collaborative, empowering attitudes rather than ‘shareholders-take-all’ behaviours, and women compete as frequently and as successfully when these conditions exist.

Respect for the long-sightedness of how women compete needs to be applauded, rather than their aversion for winner-takes-all outcomes to be portrayed as a weakness.  After all, we have seen the outcome of pure capitalist attitudes – the majority lose while the minority continue on in a self-serving manner. I ran a workshop this week for “Women in Leadership” that included an hour of dialogue with three significant female leaders.  I was struck by their passion to share success and power, which was reflected in these three responses: “In the Green Party we spent a long time considering how to do leadership so that it was not something that we did to people, but something that we do with them.” Caroline Lucas (First Green MP). “When I got above the glass ceiling I threw the ladder down so that other women could climb it.” Polly Toynbee (Journalist for The Guardian). “I have never knowingly turned down any conversation with anyone who wanted to talk about their career development.” Penny Thompson CBE (CEO of Brighton & Hove Council). These responses were not constructed to gain PR advantage.  They were authentic responses embedded in answers to various questions on “Women In Leadership.” It demonstrates their natural preference for “power with” as opposed to “power over”.

Scepticism about the press

I am currently working with an amazing female MD running a successful international business. The company is a conscious business moving towards employee ownership.   A year ago I invited her to speak about the company’s culture at a business event but she found the idea horrifying.  Besides a fear of public speaking, which is a common fear for both genders, she just didn’t trust the media to get that the success of the company and its culture was down to her team and not to her alone. She was not going to risk her team feeling undervalued. Since then I have introduced her to books and articles on conscious capitalism and very, very gradually she is becoming hopeful that there is a growing appetite for change in how business is done.  We need to get more information about conscious business out to women so that they know there is a system that absolutely relies on the feminisation of business.  I believe that they will take the risks necessary to step out of the shadows if they have faith that something is changing.Caroline Lucas resigned as formal leader of the Green Party after four years because she “had benefited so much from the position and she wanted to pass on that opportunity to someone else in the party”.  She told us that the press could not accept this explanation and so instead they were creating stories about an affair or her mental health.  This is the type of personal assault and misinterpretation that women risk when we openly offer an alternative explanation for our motives than the winner-takes-all model.

Fear of humiliation regarding personal appearances

Women fear the limelight of greatness because they risk being judged on their appearances rather than on their accomplishments.   68% of girls across all groups agree with the statement “ability”. At the workshop that I mentioned earlier, Penny Thompson told us that when a picture of her appeared in the paper after her appointment and announcing her amazing prior achievements she had to tolerate comments on her appearance such as suggesting she “use her huge salary to do something with her hair”. The most atrocious recent example of what women have to endure is captured here by the Financial Times about the first female prime minister of Australia: “Few politicians in a western democracy have endured such personal abuse as Gillard, whose three-year term as prime minister ended in June amid a welter of recrimination about the nature of Australian society and its treatment of women in top jobs”. (Parker, 2013)

But the Welsh-born lawyer did not go down without a fight. Gillard reflected on her role as the country’s first female prime minister: “I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other PMs in the past but then concluded it had zero effect on my political position or the political position of the Labor party.” With tears in her eyes, she talked about what her term as prime minister might mean for other female leaders: “What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that, and the woman after that, and I’m proud of that”. While this type of attack didn’t stop Penny Thompson or Julia Gillard from embracing leadership roles, not all women are resilient or brave enough to survive it.  Just as it is not every man who is brave enough to be a Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.  It takes a huge amount of self belief and faith in the underlying higher values for a person to put themselves consciously in these positions.  What we really need is the support of men, the press and all powerful thinking individuals everywhere to make this kind of ignorant behaviour a thing to be ashamed of.

Young girls’ aspirations

Women lack self belief in their ability to succeed in business.  Girls across every level of affluence are almost 10% less likely to believe they could start their own business than boys of a similar level of wealth.  (Click for link to survey results.) For me, this is the most depressing piece of research available.  When I compare this perception to how I described my beautifully, naive beliefs in my teens it feels tragic.  We need more female role models in all walks of life.  Change of this type has to begin at home. So if you are reading this article, make one little change – point people towards Guardian Women, attend an event to support women in leadership (there are loads of them), vote for female leaders, challenge the status quo in companies.

Corporate careers vs SME offers

Women do better in SMEs, and SMEs do better because of women.  The number of women on FTSE 100 boards has risen from 15% in 2012, to 17.3% in 2013 (Dr Sealy, 2013 – Link). Career breaks, bias and having babies certainly account for some of the shortfall but it cannot account for all of it and gender prejudice must account for at least some of it.  In contrast, recent research also found that 80 percent of family owned businesses are more gender balanced, having at least one female director and that this diversity meant that the companies were less likely to fail than companies with less diversity (Myers, 2013 – Link). The study highlighted the fact that family-orientated goals such as preserving unity, wealth and providing employment for family members may also contribute to their survival.  The team analysed data of over 700,000 medium and large private family and non-family firms with an annual sales turnover of at least £6.5 million, a balance sheet total of at least £3.26 million and at least 50 employees. This information is available to corporate boards but because they are so entrenched in traditional thinking and averse to taking risks they often appoint women as a token gesture and to appeal to corporate social measures rather than in the full understanding that they need to do this for their own survival.  We need this kind of thinking and behaviour to change.

Some hope

I think it is significant that although conscious business culture is only recently emerging as a solution to addressing the pitfalls of capitalism, and that democratic management and empowerment are being touted as the way to run successful businesses, it was an exceptional female political scientist – Mary Parker Follet – who wrote about it almost a century ago.   Her work was largely ignored by business writers, all men, until recently. “Follet was profoundly interested in society and how one could attain personal fulfilment while striving at the same time to create the well-ordered and just society.  The answer, she concluded, lay in democratic governance, an abiding belief that was to inform all her activities and become the goal that inspired her for the rest of her life”.  (?Graham 2003, p: ?)  In ‘Prophet of Management’ (2003), Pauline Graham explores the reasons that she was so ignored by her peers – was it a sign of the times or simply because she was a woman?   Like my mother, Caroline Lucas, Polly Toynbee, Penny Thompson and the female MD mentioned earlier,

Mary Parker Follet continued to say what was true for her despite being ignored or misinterpreted by her male peers.  It is remarkable how ahead of her times she was, and it is testimony to her message that approaching 60, and without any experience in the business world, she became a management thinker eagerly sought after by the business communities of both the United States and England.   Those business leaders, mostly men, were also ahead of their time.

Summary

Conscious business is a successful, sustainable way of addressing the failure of pure capitalism.  Conscious leaders require additional qualities that have been traditionally described as feminine.  Companies that have at least one female director significantly reduce the risk of business failure and conscious business culture was originally captured in the writings of a woman over 100 years ago.  So all of this bodes well for women who are ready to aim for leadership roles.  And having a more balanced mix of the genders across business leadership roles would appear to  lead to more sustainable success for everyone. It would seem that the time is ripe for women to share more equally in leading the world towards a better way to do business.  It is now up to women to embrace the moment and aim for greatness, for the good of everyone, rather than fearing the comments of small minded individuals.  It is also up to men to support women in the journey because it has finally become clear and evidenced based that this is the only intelligent choice for us all.

References

About the author

Lasy Lawless is passionate about change and transformation. She likes to combine this with pragmatism, strategy and business focus. Her approach is person-centred – which means, she expects and supports others to take their own, full responsibility.As a trained accountant, Lasy worked for Big Finish – a conglomerate of TV and film post production companies – at a time when that world was being radically changed by digital technology. As Group FD, after 10 years sitting in over a dozen boardrooms devising strategy, she realised that the old ways of doing things were finished. Traditional power structures no longer delivered.That’s, at least in part, why she re-trained as a psychotherapist. Lasy believes that understanding what motivates people, and how to create strong challenging relationships at all levels, is the single most critical success factor for any business. Lasy is one of the founding partners, with Pete Burden and Jamie Pyper of Conscious Business People, a consultancy a business consultancy helping leaders build 21st century business cultures. She can be contacted  via  http://www.linkedin.com/in/lasylawless.


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Extreme innovations in employee welfare

Jack Hubbard, CEO Propellernet
(Extract from Winter eO&P AMED journal edited by Rob Warwick and Pete Burden)

Jack Hubbard Cartoon

The business world puts profit before people and in doing so cuts off its nose to spite its face. Inspired people and goodwill in relationships are where the true value lies in a business, but in an effort to organise and industrialise we stifle people and throttle value. Jack found that the tools and ideas of the business world were not fit for his purpose as CEO and has been on a 10 year journey trying to build a new mindset and toolset, one that recognises and harnesses human value potential. In this article Jack shares his credo and some of the thinking and initiatives that have helped him on his journey.

Having recently topped the Guardian’s honours list, Propellernet is officially the best small company to work for in the UK. Our company is also accredited with the Investors in People Wellbeing Award and made the Worldblu list of the most Democratic and Free Workplaces in the world. And because of our complete commitment to the health and happiness of our staff, they return the favour by delivering outstanding work, market beating growth and record profits. We were also recognised as the Best Agency and for the Best Campaign at the European Search Awards earlier this year.

The credit for this success belongs to kind hearted MD Nikki Gatenby, everyday genius Gary Preston and the diverse cast of wonderful characters I am privileged enough to work with. For my part, as CEO, I strive to hold a vision and space for them to do their thing. I believe the way to make a company the best version of itself is by hiring outstanding people and creating a culture within which they can become the best versions of themselves. In this article I share my thoughts on how the business world gets this wrong, and how we get it right.

 

People create the future

For the last 150 years the prevailing business paradigm has been one of industrialisation, globalisation and automation. The business world strives to do more at a lower cost. As a result, products and services that were considered high value just a few years ago have been copied, commoditised, automated and outsourced to Asia. Creating more of the same stuff for less money belongs to the robots and the Chinese, so creating better stuff is the only way to go for us.

This is the business of innovation and it is done best by companies who invest in their people because the requisite qualities for innovation (curiosity, creativity and adaptability) are fundamentally human attributes. Innovation is done best by people who embrace the uncertain future with a spirit of adventure, compelled to design a better one. A culture of fear kills this spirit.

Business at its core is about people working together to meet their needs and improve their situation. It is a tool to serve people, not the other way round, as is often forgotten. Employees and customers are human beings and the things that really matter are how these people feel, think and relate. Business is a design tool for improving the things that matter in life, and we should use it for this purpose; to improve life for employees and customers.

 

We are Superheroes

When we start a job, we are given a job description. How we perform this list of tasks is measured through our appraisal process, which forms the basis for how the company values our contribution. Our employer only places value on our ability to perform a narrow set of tasks. We are encouraged to limit our potential, which is why Clark Kent hides his cape at work.

Billions of years in the making through nature’s great evolutionary design, we human beings are pretty special creatures. We are amazing in ways that are beyond our own comprehension and have many superpowers we don’t even know about yet.

At Propellernet we encourage full use of super powers. Every one of our superheroes has a rich tapestry of history behind them and a world of possibilities ahead of them. As individuals they are vast reservoirs of energy, alive with experiences, ideas, contacts, dreams, opinions, emotions and abilities just itching to find a creative outlet. We are discovering new superpowers all the time, and as a team we’ll save the world from the clutches of evil.

 

There’s no accounting for people

The business world is run by accountants but accounting is not about people, it’s about numbers. Accountants regard people as unpredictable liabilities. We have lives, get sick, change jobs and exercise rights. We are an obstacle to profit and a cost to be minimised. HR departments too often exist to protect companies against the legal repercussions of treating their employees badly. Is it any wonder people get sick or leave in search of a better life?

I believe people should be accounted for as assets who appreciate in value over time as they develop relationships, goodwill, knowledge and ideas. The more a company invests in each person, the more of themselves they invest into the company and the more valuable they become as an asset. This value is not recorded in modern accounting practice and until it is, bad decisions will be made at the top, destroying value and creating a mess on the shop floor.

Financial reward is an important but small part of investing in people. People need to rest, to learn, to be inspired, to be challenged and to grow. We all have different needs at different times in life, the most important thing is to be interested in people beyond their job role and invest time to get to know them.

 

Growth isn’t always good for people

Small businesses want to get big enough to be bought out by big businesses so that the founders get rich. Big businesses want to get big enough to become PLCs so that their executive team can liquidate their stock and check out before it all goes tits up. The unsuspecting public then acquire what’s left through pension schemes and wind up holding worthless shares in something they know nothing about, have no control over but are dependent upon for retirement. We blindly chase arbitrary targets around a hamster wheel to serve a system that will ultimately screw us over. Ask your mum or dad if their pension was as good as they were led to believe.

Companies chasing this dream often grow too fast and go pop. More clients increase service headaches, more employees increase HR headaches and more products increase administrative headaches. I don’t know anyone that likes headaches, so why does the business world dedicate so many resources to producing them? Ironing out these issues is easy for an agile gymnast, but impossible for an unwieldy juggernaut. Growing a business of value and happiness is a worthy pursuit, but scaling a business full of suffering is toxic and should not be allowed. Stay small, iron out the pain and scale the joy later.

 

Employees make great shareholders

Many businesses give away big chunks of equity to outside investors, particularly in the early years, because they believe they need money to hire staff, develop products and find clients. They invariably regret it and there’s no going back. If you are creative and keep things lean the money from your early clients will finance cash flow. This way you learn valuable discipline, stay in control of decisions and see a greater share of the rewards.

If you want to sell shares, sell them to your best employees. If they can’t afford it, get creative, there are ways. These people understand your business better than anyone and know exactly what to do to grow the value of it. If they have a stake they will drastically increase the value of the company, along with the value of any remaining shares you hold.

Employee owned companies perform brilliantly because the people who best understand the company retain control of key decisions and share the rewards of good performance.

 

Pay your Fun Taxes

When you have fun, the tax man assumes it can’t be work and taxes you on it as if it were salary. If a business expense can be seen to provide a level of enjoyment to employees it is deemed as a benefit in kind and subjected to an extortionate fun tax. The Inland Revenue assume that work is meant to be miserable and don’t understand that you might be inspired to create something of value while climbing a mountain, dancing in a forest or gazing upon the northern lights. Their perverse logic leads them to believe that the most valuable work gets done in drab offices under fire of angry bosses and RSI injuries.

Most companies ban fun because the fun tax makes it too expensive. Christmas party budgets are slashed, benefits are scrapped, employees become miserable, they leave, then profits start looking miserable. We think it’s worth paying fun taxes and go to great lengths to maximise fun levels despite the cost. We create beautiful workspaces, throw outlandish parties, take adventurous holidays and feast at fine restaurants. And guess what, we boost the economy, attract and retain top talent and do world class work.

 

Champion Wellbeing

When we feel great we do great work and so we are always looking for new angles on health and wellbeing. Meditation, yoga, Pilates, reflexology, head massage and mind clinics can often be seen taking place around our offices, and we regularly invite experts to talk to us on a wider range of wellbeing subjects. As a result we have a caring, healthy and happy culture. If our people experience adversity in life, we are there for them and try to signpost them to appropriate support networks such as doctors, counsellors and legal aid, often picking up the bill.

We encourage the creative arts and have sponsored employees through courses as diverse as glass blowing, improvisational comedy, street dance, pottery and learning to draw. This has strengthened the foundations of our culture and unleashed a wave of creative energy which has driven many innovations. The learning to draw course, for example, sparked a revolution in visual communication which has transformed the work we do with clients.

 

Art for Inspiration

The ever curious Sophie Tanner was astounded by how interesting her colleagues were and saw this as the company’s primary asset. She set about interviewing everyone and documenting their life story, what kind of childhood they had, their philosophies, hobbies, ambitions, favourite music, what animal they saw themselves as. She hired a local artist to draw a cartoon scene capturing each person, commissioned the build of a beehive room and placed a cartoon world for each of our people in a honeycomb cell. Sophie’s “Honeydrome” is a powerful metaphor for our collective intelligence and a great example of art for inspiration.

For a new starter it can take years to get to know just a few people, now they can get to know everyone on day 1. Employees can see that the company places value on the fullness of who they are in life, not just what they delivered at work today. And when we lack empathy for a client project we have a visual signpost to the parents, the skiers, the travellers, the foodies, the musicians, the fashionistas and the yoga teachers.

 

The richness of the Honeydrome

rich honeydrome

 

Will it make life better?

Nikki Gatenby and I were inspired by Olympic gold medallist rower, Ben Hunt-Davies. His crew in the 8 man boat were average at best and without the natural talent of Pincent and Redgrave. They had toiled away for years and gotten nowhere. They had to try something new so they replaced their training programme with a single question, “Will it make the boat go faster?”
They all came up with ideas, and every idea was put to the test. Over the months, bit by bit they discovered many ways to make the boat go just that little bit faster. On the big stage their boat went the fastest and the underdog crew each picked up an Olympic gold medal.

It wasn’t a lengthy plan or set of arcane principles. It was a simple mantra that drove their behaviour every day in a way that would achieve their desired goal. We loved its simplicity and wanted our own one: “Will it make life better?”
The real purpose driving us, the motivation for getting out of bed, turning up every day, hungry to run a great business and deliver great work over and over again, is to make life better. Now if we are ever unsure, we simply ask “will it make life better?” and the way becomes clear. Consequently life keeps getting better.

Instead of making happiness a goal for a tomorrow that may never come, we design it into our everyday experience. And we become more successful tomorrow because we are happier today.

The glorious Dream Machine

The dream machine

 

Revenue-per-person

To calculate revenue-per-person we divide revenue by the number of people in the company. It is this number we are driven to grow because it indicates the relative resources available to make life better for everyone in the company. If we doubled revenue and doubled staff numbers, revenue-per-person would remain the same and there would be no more money to make life better with pay rises and perks. More of the same growth means more work for the same reward. Revenue-Per-Person is aligned to our true purpose of making life better and powers innovation to create more value, not grow more volume.

 

The Dream Machine

When we achieve our revenue-per-person target we make a dream come true by drawing a dream ball from our giant yellow 80’s bubble gum dispenser, our very own “Dream Machine”.

We ask everyone to consider their dreams in life, the things that would really make life better for them and we help them understand how they can influence company performance in a way that will make theirs and other people’s dreams come true.

Our business plan is to make everyone’s dreams come true. It gives us a reason to dream and puts us in control of achieving our dreams. Steve and Jim are off to the Rio World Cup next year, Alan is riding a motorbike across Africa.

 

Making life better begins at home

Only by discovering the fullness of what life has to offer am I in a position to share it, and by living as an example I give the people around me permission and inspiration to explore life and pursue their own dreams.

 

Steve and Jim are off to the Rio World Cup

dream machine

As a mere mortal, time is not on my side. So I seek extreme experiences which help me learn about life in an accelerated way. I’ve scaled the Matterhorn, danced on pirate ships, driven the getaway car from a jail break, challenged CEO’s in their boardrooms, eaten 30 courses in a single day and performed on the main stage at Glastonbury.

This of course is the ultimate in work life balance, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. There is an oppressive assumption in the business world that if we enjoy something, it isn’t work and doesn’t create value. It’s as if we equate the level of suffering we endure to the amount of value we create. When business leaders behave in this way, sacrificing health, family life and happiness for the cause, they set a destructive precedent for everyone around them and create a culture which sacrifices people on the altar of profit.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally love making life better for myself on company hours, but because it’s not the normal behaviour the world expects from a CEO, I find myself swimming against the tide to make it work, and this can be exhausting. As long as I stay positive and focus my intentions on holding a vision, living the values and making life better for people, I can trust that I’m doing my bit in holding the right space for everyone to do their thing.

Staying positive is an essential part of it, and here are a couple of the practical brain tools I use.

 

Curate Positive Beliefs

We attribute meaning to our experiences through our belief systems. We all have different belief systems, which is why different people experience and perceive the same events in different ways.

For example, I choose to believe that everything happens for a reason and that it serves me in some way. So when something doesn’t go my way, instead of affirming the negative “bad things always happen to me” which will only help you make more bad stuff happen, I instantly think the infinitely more helpful “OK, that wasn’t meant to be for a reason because there is something even better that it would have prevented happening.” Then my mind searches for something better, finds it and makes that happen instead.

I curate my beliefs like a football team and field the team I know will score goals. I’m always scouting for talent and will regularly try out a new player. If they perform badly they’re out. Only consistent performers maintain their place in the squad.

The act of believing tricks the mind into perceiving our experience in ways that are consistent with that belief. I also choose to believe the mind is just another muscle to be put to work for the benefit of my greater self, so I have no problem deceiving it.

Developing an awareness of a conscious self beyond simple mind function in this way enables me to understand people and situations from a broader and more objective perspective. This is a vital skill for business leaders with responsibility for vision and culture.

As this awareness becomes more habitual, I find I can switch off my mind, relax and allow the world to make good things happen in my space. Less effort seemingly delivering better results.

 

Star in your own movies

The media promotes a belief that life is happening somewhere else, and we can only observe it from the sidelines. This gives us a feeling of powerlessness over our lives. When I came to realise this I stopped reading newspapers and watching TV and started paying more attention to my own world, the physical one that I actually live in and can influence.

A friend recently joked that I was too busy starring in my own movie to have time to watch the ones on TV. I thought that was a powerful metaphor which captured it nicely, so now I choose to see myself as a screenwriter and producer for my own life. I write the scenes in my mind then watch them unfold through my eyes. It’s great, I get to play all my favourite roles and cast all my favourite people in all my favourite places.

When you get really good at producing reality it’s essential to stay positive because our moods and emotions control the sort of films we make. If we feel negative we might make drama and horror, if we stay positive we can enjoy action, comedy and romance.

 

Whatever next?

I said earlier that putting people first isn’t an altruistic principle and that’s because for 20 years I have had my own dream that has motivated me to overcome the countless challenges along the way. I close my eyes and this is what I see.

I’m living in a large chalet, surrounded by lush green forests and snow-capped mountains, the faint sound of a waterfall crashing in the distance, wild deer grazing in the valley and eagles soaring high up above in clear blue skies. This is my base of operations for a lifetime of adventures. I select the mission, assemble the team, consult with experts, gather intelligence, pour over maps and check equipment. We set out, the fires of excitement in our bellies. We return, enriched by new experiences and treasured memories. Then we feast.

Tomorrow I fly to the Alps where I am viewing 8 chalets in the valley of dreams. Next year my team will be joining me on a host of new adventures designed to make our lives better. Feel free to join us.

 

Heroes and influences

Here are some of the great people and ideas that have helped me along my journey.
Endless inspiration for conscious business – Karen Smithson
World class mentoring – Simon Conroy
Inspirational Spaces and Dream Machines – Nicola Gobat
Will it make the boat go faster? Ben Hunt-Davies
Freedom and democracy in the workplace www.worldblu.com
Wellbeing and creativity courses www.evolutionarts.org.uk
Business as an enabler of dreams – The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly
On lifestyle design – The 4 Hour Working Week by Tim Ferriss
A spirit of adventure – Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Right brain business – A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
Embracing change – Who moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson
The importance of values – Built to last by Jim Collins
On hiring – Who by Geoff Smart
How the mind works – Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Effective brain management – Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins

 

About the author

Jack Hubbard is CEO of Propellernet
info@propellernet.co.uk

 

About eO&P

eO&P is an e-journal published by and available from the Association for Management Education and Development (AMED), a charity and membership network for business people interested in knowledge, innovation and networking in the digital age. The Spring 2004 edition of eO&P, guest edited by Pete Burden and Rob Warwick, will be published in April. AMED are always looking for guest contributors.


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CASS Report shows Employee Owned businesses more resilient

This is a great piece of research from CASS Business School. It shows that employee owned companies are at least as resilient as non-EOB’s in good times but have a huge advantage in hard times such as recession, outperforming non-EOB’s in growth, turnover, profits, productivity, etc.

UPDATE-Employee-Ownership-Report-January-14-2014

It’s short, to the point and there are graphs and picture to make it easier to digest. So why not have a read…


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Research and Practice in Organisations and People

If you’d like to get a handle on some of the deeper thinking around Conscious Business, you might find it useful to buy and download a copy of the latest issue of eO&P.

We think this is probably a world first – an issue of an academic journal dedicated entirely to Conscious Business.

e Organisations and People is the quarterly journal of AMED – the Association for Management Education and Development. If you download a copy you’ll be supporting its work:

“AMED is a long-established membership organisation and educational charity devoted to developing people and organisations. Its purpose is to be a forum for people who want to share, learn and experiment, and find support, encouragement, and innovative ways of communicating. Our conversations are open, constructive, and facilitated.”

What I really like about AMED  is its focus on research and practice.

Remember Everett Rogers’ bell curve – the diffusion of innovation? If you’re at all interested in Conscious Business you’re probably an innovator or an early adopter. Conscious business is still very early in the adoption life-cycle – indeed the term only really emerged a few years back.

Rogers' Bell Curve

Rogers’ Bell Curve – Source wikipedia

Now research is really useful, but I believe that research combined with testing, practice, experimentation is the way to really get to the heart of a new innovation.

To find out what it is good for. It’s strengths and weaknesses. How to mitigate those weaknesses. How to refine it – and pivot if necessary.

I believe it is only through real immersion in the practice of something that we can properly get to know it.

eO&P is not a peer-reviewed journal. I like that too.

Peer-review has its strengths. But Kuhn’s famous work on paradigm change has shown us that there are dangers too – that elites can, for example, suppress the emergence of new ideas. And that this can slow innovation and hence paradigm change.

And boy do we need a new paradigm for business 🙂

Most of the academic publishing houses seem to be very conventional businesses. Where will the energy to overturn the existing paradigms come from, if not from us?

Not being peer-reviewed doesn’t mean that we (@smilerob and @peteburden) didn’t work very hard to ensure the quality of the pieces. We did.

And the authors did a fantastic job too. Some had written for journals before but for others it was a  totally new experience. All brought their practical, hands-on experience as well as critical thought to the project. We’re really proud of every piece, and of the overall outcome.

I’d also really like to thank the publisher of eO&P, Bob MacKenzie and everybody at AMED (especially David McAra) for their massive help and support during the publishing process. We’re currently starting work on the next edition and we’re looking forward to that collaboration too.

So please take the trouble to download a copy, or better still if you are really interested in supporting the development of management and leadership education please consider joining AMED. There’s an annual subscription option at their website.


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Conscious Leadership: The Challenges of Empowerment

Laziness is my primary motivator when empowering others. If a thing is worth doing, I believe it’s worth getting someone else to do it.

This, however, is not as self indulgent as it might seem. I know that as a leader one of the first things I need to learn is to let go and trust others to get on with it.

I have not always been very good at this. However, over the years I have learnt why my old, more controlling ‘I’ll do it for you’ ways don’t really work and why empowering others is essential.

First off, lets look at confidence. My mother’s “Let me do that for you darling” – while I’m performing some simple task like making a cup of tea – is probably meant as an act of kindness. How I actually feel it is: “I am an idiot that can’t be trusted to make tea, despite the years of apparent evidence to the contrary.”

This not only irritates me but it also kicks my confidence, as it’s a tacit implication that I’m incompetent. There’s a subtlety to it though because cognitively I know I’m not, however I still irrationally feel it at some level and feelings tend to beat thoughts.

Learning is another key benefit of empowerment. In today’s fast moving, customer-centric world it is essential that everybody learns, and learns fast. Best of all is when they are so confident and engaged they take responsibility and drive their own learning.

When it comes to learning new things Mum is very much of the school of “probably shouldn’t try as it’s likely to be too difficult”. For me this is less than ideal. When I’m learning, what I really want is lots of encouragement and belief, as this helps me push through the self doubt.

Challenge is also very important to us. Solving something like a crossword puzzle or winning a video game is all the evidence we really need for this. Overcoming challenges helps us grow our self belief (or confidence) and it usually gives us a little frisson of excitement, and a sense of deeper resilience.

So why is empowerment so important? In my quest for a work free life, it is fairly obvious that once I let someone do something little – like a task I have handed them – then I  can give them more and more responsibility – until ultimately they are acting more like a leader themselves.

Effective leaders actively offer responsibility by distributing leadership power among the people that need it, allowing leadership to occur where it is needed most, often in the front line of business.  Most importantly this helps get a lot more done. It’s also likely to help teams be happier, more engaged and show more initiative.

It’s also probably helpful to think of leadership more as how you enable others to do what they need to do and then get the hell out of the way.

Although this is obvious in theory it can be quite hard to get right in practice. If you’re a control freak, for example, not only are you likely to be killing off your team’s motivation and innovation but you are likely to need more than a little help overcoming this urge.

A good and challenging place to start is delegation, and to get good at that. The more you are able to do this the more you are getting closer to allowing others around you to lead.

Inexperienced or untrained managers are most at risk of sabotaging themselves and their attempts to delegate.

The problem is, even if you are a ninja level engineer with technical insight gifted seemingly from the gods, management requires a totally and utterly different skill set and will exercise very different personality traits and emotional muscles, including some you might not have developed yet.

Many organisations miss this obvious fact and expect people to just figure it out, without proper investment in management training or personal development.

Not knowing how to be effective as a manager (common in those newly promoted to management) and without any help from those around them, before long the freshly challenged become frustrated and revert to what they do know – in this case “engineering”. They then start interfering with the “engineering” people in their teams are trying to do – showing them how they are doing it wrong and how the new boss can do it better.

As I said above, the thing most likely to undermine my confidence, motivation and general goodwill is poorly veiled criticism over my shoulder. Every “suggestion”, implies that I’m doing something wrong and thus can’t be trusted to perform the simple thing in front of me. And so I disengage.

Psychologically, I’m in a “double bind”: I’m feeling things are wrong even though I can see my way is working or valid. So I stop trying – because I’m wrong either way. I’ll go and look at what my friends on Facebook are doing instead.

Challenge is also removed – if my manager does take over and do my work for me. I lose the opportunity to learn. And, of course, I now believe he thinks I’m an idiot, so trust between us is destroyed.

It is worst of all when this exists at the top of hierarchies. Perhaps we are genetically predisposed to look up the hierarchy for tips on how to behave. So if someone senior is guilty of micromanagement, this crime can infuse the organisation below them like an unwanted inheritance.

An antidote follows. Let’s imagine the team player we’re delegating to is called Bob and he reports to me. Here is a way to set up delegation, broadly in line with the approach espoused by the late Stephen Covey. This is a mechanism that should catch any possible derailment and put the task back on track.

Bigger picture: I help Bob understand where he and what he’s doing fits into the bigger picture. What the organisation he is part of is trying to achieve. This taps into Bob’s sense of purpose and connects the task he’s achieving with that broader purpose. The context also helps him understand the implications if he does not get it done.

Ownership: I give Bob total ownership of the task. It’s up to him to get it done. This is so he is clear that no one else is responsible for achieving the desired outcome. No one is going to pick up his toys or tie his shoelaces for him. The buck stops with him. Essentially this is an invitation for him to “step up to the plate” of responsibility.

Expectations and Results: I also make sure Bob is very clear about what kind of results are expected. This will be helped if Bob already understands the bigger picture. It’s even better to ask Bob to consider the position of the other stakeholders and figure out what a good outcome for all might be.

For example, Bob might decide he needs to finish the project on time with a high quality, technically robust solution, and on, or under, budget.

Booby Traps: If there are some big obvious pitfalls in front of Bob then it’s only fair to warn him of these in advance so he can try to avoid them.

Support: If Bob is experiencing any problems, is unclear or struggling with the task, or if the delivery of the project is in jeopardy, I make it clear I am available to support to him to get through it, or to re-agree expectations. But I definitely am not going to do it for him.

Mistakes: Bob will undoubtedly make plenty of mistakes, we all do. This will help him learn and become more resourceful and do his job better, especially if all “mistakes” as are treated as learning opportunities. Not with punishment or disapproval, but with encouragement and support.

Feedback: Feedback should be a gift not a weapon. If given as a gift your teams will grow, develop and make you look good. If used as a weapon then your groups will regress, be generally unhappy and perform badly – they will be fearful of taking risks or “getting it wrong”. This kills innovation, creativity and energy.

Finally, having set all this up, you now need to live by the rules you’ve created. Again this is  basically because “monkey see, monkey do”. Other people will do as you do, not as you say. Any ambiguity also creates “wriggle room” – space to allow people to wriggle out of their responsibility. However, if you are consistently well boundaried and do what you’ve said you will do, the opportunity for others to wriggle will be minimised.

Good luck!


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The Real Value of Totems

We often get asked: “How do I know if a business I am working in is conscious?”

There are plenty of posts here, and on other sites, which attempt to answer that question by giving lists of attributes – behaviours, processes, statements of principles etc.

These ideas are very, very useful. But they also have limitations.

Our BHAG is to create more conscious businesses. That means change. Such analytical and diagnostic methods can help bring about change in organisations. But there are other ways to assist change – and to increase consciousness in a business.

For example, in our consulting practice, we often encourage our clients to create what we call ‘totems’. Another contributor to this site, Rob Warwick, has written about this topic too, but from a slightly different angle.

A totem is an object to which a society or group attaches a particular significance or meaning. It may become emblematic of that society or group.

For example, one of our clients created a pack of Top Trumps cards representing the strengths of employees. Another has a large banner which represents the future vision of the company.

A totem can be something physical, or it can be a ritual.

For example, at another client in the ’90s we started holding stand-up meetings. These meetings became an emblem of how things were done. Since then many other companies have come up with the same idea – it’s not a unique practice. By what it represented was unique to that group at that time – in that case innovation and the ability to do things differently, and better.

One of our long-term clients, NixonMcInnes, has at least two obvious totems. One is a ritual: The Church of Fail, which came directly from some workshops we ran for the company. The other is Happy Buckets, which was born a little more indirectly, but still by design.

The idea of measuring happiness in a business has been around for many years. Paddi Lund, for example, first wrote about it 1994. In fact, I borrowed the idea from Paddi’s book “Building the Happiness-Centred Business”. There’s lots of interest in the idea today, post-Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, and there’s even a Chief Happiness Officer!

Happy Buckets is very simple in principle.

When people leave the office they simply drop a ball into a bucket to show whether they are feeling happy or sad, or something in between. The number of balls is counted up every day. At NixonMcInnes the figures are reported back weekly to the whole team, and monthly to the management team for further consideration.

People often ask: “What do you do when the numbers go down?” “How do these numbers correlate with other business measures, like profitability?” “Do the numbers really measure happiness?” And so on.

Unfortunately, these questions miss the real point of this and many other totems.

The important thing from an organisational development perspective is what simply having Happy Buckets means. What does it mean to the group – the business team – and how will that meaning help effect real, lasting change in the organisation?

Clearly something like Happy Buckets means different things to different people. Meaning is constructed on the fly, and is related to context, our personal state and probably other things.

But we can make some guesses for the meanings people might construct. For example:

  • To some, measuring happiness every day signifies that the company cares about employees and their happiness.
  • To some it means that employee happiness is an objective of the company beyond simply making money.
  • To some it might simply mean that the company likes to measure things.
  • To some it might mean that the company values experimentation and piloting things.

And so on.

All these different meanings give people a story to tell, a narrative to follow. By telling the story and listening to it, we create meaning together. And we gain something to hold onto, something to ‘anchor’ around.

As long as it stays foregrounded, the totem begins to emblemise something about the company – something semi-permanent about the ‘culture’. As we construct the ideas in words and language, we start to ‘live’ it, and the ‘culture’ emerges.

At best that aspect of culture becomes ‘embedded’. Something is now different from how it was. A short cycle of change is completed. Or so the theory goes.

Of course, there’s probably more to it than that.

For example, I can also read Happy Buckets as a transitional object.

Businesses and society generally are stuffed full of such objects. It has been argued that work itself is something that we use to manage separation from our parental figures. Work, just like a teddy bear or a security blanket, helps us grow up, and gain our own adult independence.

So, perhaps, for some, totems like Happy Buckets operate in a similar way. We attach to them, and hold them as important, because they signify something that is important to us about a particular company.

When they represent a particular kind of relationship – a caring relationship between an organisation and an employee, for example – they allow us to foreground that relationship, and perhaps eventually integrate it.

By that I don’t mean move away from it, nor do I mean cosy up to it. I mean to bring the parts together and make a connected whole.

Over time, therefore, that object might allow us to step beyond a simplistic and dependent relationship into a realisation that we can choose to build caring relationships with other adults, in adult ways, in the company we work in, and beyond the company or corporation too.

That also takes us beyond a rather mechanistic view of company culture as something we can ‘build’ or ‘create’ or ‘design’ and into a more complex one – where culture is continually constructed by adults relating to each other. In complex and continually evolving ways.

That to me seems much closer to how life is.

As a way of thinking and being it also generates a ‘living flexibility’ that from a business and a human perspective seems more likely, at least to me, to give us the immediate and longer-term results we need.

What do you think? Does your business have totems? What do they mean to you, and your fellow employees? What are the obvious meanings, and the more subtle? Do they help or hinder people in ‘growing up’ and becoming more conscious?