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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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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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Is conscious business doomed? Quite the opposite…

One of the Performance Review Pro team was at the Meaning Conference in Brighton last week – a Conscious Business event full of people who want to make business more meaningful and kinder to the planet and the staff, while still making a fair profit. Speaking as someone who lives on this planet and is a human being, this seems like a good idea, but its critics maintain that business is business and that ‘Conscious’ might just mean ‘less controversial’.  Capital and Kindness are not the same thing, they say, so is conscious business doomed?

Happine$$ vs $$$$$$ - Performance Review Pro - Performance Appraisal Process

Well, in the blue corner we have the fat-cat capitalists, eager to flog every last inch of performance out of their wage-slaves; in what used to be the red but is now the green corner we have the old hippies, agonising about the morality of profit and going to such lengths to be nice to people that they fail to break even and end up going down with all hands. These two positions are inherently opposed to each other and anyone who says other wise is, as one reviewer said of John Mackey’s Conscious Capitalism, spouting a lot of “well-meaning rhetoric” (hot air).

But this is an oversimplification – business has always involved compromise between profits and ethics, since the abolition of slavery at least.  In practice there is a continuum of differing approaches to business, with a harder attitude to profit at one end and more concern for employees at the other. The question for every business person is where on that spectrum to position your management style, given that each point has its own disadvantages.

At the end where the drivers are margin, efficiency and profit, people become part of the machine.  We make them work harder by threatening their job security (if there is a shortage of jobs or the work is simple) or offering them more money (if there is a surplus of jobs or rare skills are involved).  Carrot-and-stick, in other words.  The hope is that these ‘incentives’ will stimulate focus, engagement and productivity.  But they actually bring stress, disputes, anger, apathy, burnout and (if there are other jobs to go to) staff turnover.  So right now, as business is picking up, people who have been managing on this basis can expect to lose their best employees.

At the other end of the spectrum, where love and peace reign and fulfilling the conscious business dream should be easy, it is often hard to get anything done.  Democratic  decision-making is agonisingly slow, and it is impossible to tell anyone that what they are doing doesn’t work.  It’s just as well everyone is on an equal share of the profit (not that there is any) because pay negotiations would last until the end of time…

So, if you want to achieve a sustainable, profitable, ethical business, how do you decide where to compromise?  Actually, you don’t have to: you really can harmonise the needs and goals of the company and the staff.  You don’t have to beat people or bribe them, because intrinsic motivation is sitting there in each individual.  The same mechanism that powers voluntary, leisure and sport activity in home life is waiting for you to enable it at work.  When you do, your staff will work because they want to, and your organisation will do well, if your business model is sound.

Doing this involves aligning the culture, conditions and communications in your company with workings of the human. That is not just ‘well-meaning rhetoric’ because we can unpack it into practical steps which are straightforward to implement.  And staff enjoy this process because they recognise it as humane and likely to make work work better for them.

This does not mean applying the same changes to everyone – people need different things to different degrees, so you have to measure the need for change from their perspective to see how to enable each team member.  The appraisal or review is a rational place to do this – in fact basing your review process around this discussion is a fantastic way to make use of a process that can otherwise be a fairly negative experience for all concerned.

And so they will want to stay, and to make it work better still, for themselves and for the higher purposes of company, customer and planet.

Happine$$ - Performance Review Pro - Performance Appraisal ProcessSo it’s not a question of humaneor efficient; it turns out that humane is efficient.

The leader who wants to use Conscious Business principles has nothing to fear from the staff, or the market, if they are implemented in alignment with the nature of the staff.  And there is a good way to be sure you’re doing that – take a look at Performance Review Pro


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Self-management?

The company famous for getting rid of management (“First, Let’s Fire All the Managers“) Morning Star has a great set of principles on the Self-Management Institute wiki:

The Morning Star Colleague Principles

1. Mission

2. Individual Goals and Teamwork

3. Personal Responsibility and Initiative

4. Tolerance

5. Direct Communication and Resolution of Conflicts

6. Caring and Sharing

7. Do What is Right. Live, speak and endeavor to find the truth.

Self-responsibility is key to business success I think, but, for me, the last is the best. Live, speak and try to find the truth.

Gandhi’s autobiography is subtitled “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” and tells exactly how that great man went about the task.

You can join the Self-Management Institute here, and get access to the wiki, and loads more content. It is a fascinating idea, and I’d recommend it.


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The Transition to Conscious Business…..

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

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

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

Sacrosanct core principles include being:

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

Interactors are:

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

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

By success, I mean:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Getting better all the time

Someone asked me last week what good management is. We were talking about people management. And  the exact question was “how will we know when we are good managers?”.

Perhaps rather glibly I said that I thought that good was a label and it was perhaps better to consider ourselves all in the process of learning to be better managers. I said that in my opinion management was very hard, and that while it was possible to get better, it was unlikely that anyone would get truly “good” at it, given the uniqueness, and the unique difficulties, of individuals and of human kind in general.

Reflecting on the question again later, I came up with three simple ways that I think I would use to measure good people management, in the context of a sustainable business, that is, one that is trying to last.

The first is retaining our self-respect as managers. “Managing people”, in my view, is a label for a particular type of relationship between two or more people. Relationships can be very hard if boundaries are not clear. Sometimes managers can be bullied, or at the very least rattled, by the results of the emotional turbulence or needs that the other person in the relationship has.

This is not good, for the manager, for the business, or for the person being “managed”. If the relationship becomes badly skewed, probably all parties will lose out.

Secondly, helping the business achieve its goals. I always try to remember that a business is not a therapy room. It may seem naive but, for me, a business is simply a group of people who have thrown their lot in together to achieve a common set of goals. Finding a compromise between using the business to help an individual to develop and grow personally, while focussing also on the good of the greater number seems to me to be essential. If sometimes the individual’s needs have to be sacrificed for the greater good, well, for me, that’s the right way to go.

Thirdly, retaining our imagination. Or at least enough imagination to believe that there is a better way, and that we just have to find it.

For me, a huge part of people management is about helping individuals in the company to learn, and to grow. Businesses are people. They are one and the same thing.

I love work and I love business. Mainly because it is grist to my personal development mill. It gives me something to work on, to worry over, to chew on. (I’d probably go quietly mad if left completely to my own devices.) And if I fail to truly engage with the relationships I have, perhaps by distancing myself emotionally from the people I work with, or by  falling back on management techniques I have used again and again, it’s just another way of quitting, of giving up on my own and the other person’s development (assuming they want it).

Having faith in people is essential to good management. Faith that working together we will find a way through. This is essential if we are to build businesses that are truly sustainable. For me, growing that faith, despite the inevitable setbacks and let downs that come from working with other people, is therefore perhaps the best success measure of all.