Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Conscious Business Strategy

We love helping people to build and implement their business strategy more consciously. What does that mean?

Like Conscious Business itself, Conscious Business Strategy is not a thing. It is a process. It is a way of approaching the world.

It has three stages. We call them Awareness, Agreement and Action.

Awareness

Awareness is often the first stage. Awareness means opening ourselves up to the situation in front of us. This means seeing it, understanding it, absorbing it.

That means realising that the world is out there – external. And in there – internal.

In business, the outer world is made up of people in all sorts of relationships – customers, colleagues, suppliers, investors, and other stakeholders. The products and services you offer.  Your supply chain. Your prospects and your sales pipeline. The market you operate in. Revenue, your profitability, and so on. Over time – past, present and future. Whole systems, not just patterns and events.

All these things – and many more – are connected. Opening up to the outer world means looking at it in all its glory – with all its complexity.  It is not one thing, it is a complex array of interactions and relationships. Awareness means starting to see all of that – not just one aspect of it. Seeing the whole system.

Awareness also means looking at the inner world. We know that what we see externally is moderated by how we are internally. Our perceptions are incomplete and often wrong. Thoughts, emotions, attitudes and beliefs all colour the world we see. So do our dreams and aspirations, states and moods. Our memories change to suit us.

So Awareness is also about looking at ourselves – being aware of what is going on inside us and how it affects everything – inside and out. Awareness – and self-awareness – mean waking up to that.

Aware of Purpose too

Awareness also means becoming aware of our purpose. There are lots of people out there trying to help us put our “deeper Purpose” (usually with a capital “P”) into words. This is probably a good thing. But purpose is complex too. We have many different purposes – not just one. Sometimes these are in conflict, sometimes aligned.

One way to understand purpose is simply to look at what we are doing. I am writing this blog post. Why? To communicate something? To get something out? To engage others in interesting dialogue? To while away some time on a Sunday morning? There are always many purposes, and many may also be invisible to me.

So Awareness also means looking to see what my purpose is. Using my self-awareness to understand what I am doing, and maybe why.

Agreement

We call the second stage of Conscious Business strategy Agreement.

Strategy isn’t necessarily about the long-term, but it is definitely about something that endures. Strategy is about following one course of action, sometimes despite the response from the world. That is why so many approaches to strategy refer to Principles, Policies, Precepts, Pillars etc. (For some reason they always seem to be words that start with the letter “P”).

These are all ideas or beliefs that we can hang our hats on. They endure even as we implement the strategy. We check back against them and use them to determine whether what we are doing is following or diverging from the strategy. They guide us. Following them allows us to implement the strategy consistently in a way that gives us the benefits we are seeking.

But we call this stage Agreement because it is essential to agree these Principles, Policies, Precepts and Pillars either with yourself or with other people. Once agreed, once we have committed to them, then we can hold ourselves and others to account.

Agreement means dialogue, and it means being congruent – authentic, transparent, choiceful. It means letting these ideas emerge, and then settling on them, agreeing them with oneself, or with others. Making a definite choice.

Once we have made these agreements, then we can say things like “We agreed we would hire a fair balance of men and women, and yet we are actually hiring more men than women. We are diverging from our hiring strategy. Why? And what are we going to do about it?”

Action

Finally, a conscious business strategy is really about Action.

If we do all that looking and agreeing, and then do nothing, we aren’t really implementing the strategy. It is only through action that we get to learn more and discover more. It is only through action that we get the chance to iterate and update the strategy. Strategy lives in operation.

We are always doing something. We are always acting. So acting strategically is to be conscious of those Principles, Policies, Precepts and Pillars. Making choices in the present but with awareness of those things we agreed. Reflecting as we go. This awareness affects our decisions, which affects our actions, which affects the results we get.

If we agreed our strategy is to hire men and women equally, then that is what we need to do. Our strategy affects how we advertise, how we interview, how we assess, how we speak and what we do. We change our behaviour and we get different results.

When you pick up a stick you get both ends. Decisions have consequences. It is often difficult or impossible to predict the consequences. Strategy isn’t about somehow forseeing the the future. No one can do that. It is about acting consistently over time, despite the immediate response, and thus eventually getting something that is more aligned with what we wanted in the first place.

Sometimes this stage is where we make a plan. Strategy is definitely not planning. But planning – building lists of actions, to be completed in a particular order, and at a particular time – sometimes flows from strategy.

But of course, we need to iterate, to pivot, to be agile and lean. Maybe we need to abandon our plans. So all the time as we take action, we look to see what response we are getting. We stay aware. And we choose whether to continue, or whether to update our Principles, Policies, Precepts and Pillars. So really Conscious Business Strategy is a cycle, not a linear thing.

Awareness, Agreement, Action. That’s it.

(If you want to read more about Conscious Business as a way of doing business, take a look at this).

 

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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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Keep it clean

JR Ewing is dead.

Actually Larry Hagman is dead, and I always had a soft spot for him. But I understand the JR character for many epitomises the amoral, covetous and above all selfish worst of the archetypal fat cat business leader.

Selfishness is a theme than seems to be the back story behind much of the discourse around business and capitalism. Surely ‘fat cats’ are selfish? Isn’t the entrepreneurial dream of success a selfish journey? Isn’t business about selfishly taking what you want for yourself?

Indeed, selfishness may seem downright wrong to those who think that Conscious Business is all about doing things for others.

But contrary to this, talking to a friend the other day, I was reminded of how much I do things because I am trying to please. There’s a sense, nearly always at the back of my mind, of trying to help, to support, and to put right, to mend, to solve. I suppose that’s understandable given how I make a living, and perhaps explains it.

That statement – “I am trying to please…” – raised a question for me. Exactly who am I trying to please?

The answer was not immediately obvious. It has taken a lot of soul searching for me to realise that very often I am seeking to please other people. Parents, siblings, old friends, and various derivatives thereof.

And that has been big for me – to realise that much of my effort goes into giving to others who are actually long gone. Who might not want that particular burden anyway. And, therefore, that my selfless giving may not be quite so noble after all.

So, in praise of selfishness, I will from now on do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it. I will ignore the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ of the typical day. I will enjoy the moment. Give myself what I need, when I need it.

In the words of Joseph Campbell I will follow my bliss.


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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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Hard, Harder, Hardest

Inspired by a good post by Steve Hearsum about Stephen Covey’s recent book, I felt the need to post my own personal comment.

Apparently Covey’s “…most recent book – The 3rd Alternative – is an articulation of how “soft stuff is the new hard stuff”. So says Douglas R. Covant in an introduction to an extract from the book on Strategy & Business:

In my 35-year corporate journey and my 60-year life journey, I have consistently found that the thorniest problems I face each day are soft stuff — problems of intention, understanding, communication, and interpersonal effectiveness — not hard stuff such as return on investment and other quantitative challenges…..The soft stuff will forever be the hard stuff, but leveraging 3rd Alternative thinking can make the soft stuff significantly easier to resolve productively.”

As a long time Covey fan and careful re-reader of his work this doesn’t seem to me to be such a big shift in Covey’s thinking. But I’d join with him in wanting to re-label the “soft” as the hard.

It is an unfortunate twist of fate I think that we call the “soft” stuff that because it is anything but.

ROI and other quantitative things are hard too, of course. If you think anything else you are kidding yourself.

But I’d go even further. There’s one bit of the so-called soft stuff that is even harder.

That is understanding that our own development is the real key to growth.

Not the ‘soft skills’ required to get other people to do things (which is, sadly, how many managers understand ‘soft skills’). But our own self-understanding and awareness.

So, how about a complete re-categorisation of all things to do with (conscious) business:

* hard – ROI and other quantitative things
* harder – ‘people skills’
* hardest – one’s own personal development and a relationship of growth with oneself


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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.