Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Putting People at the Heart of Business

The other day I read a great paper by Chris Rodgers. The paper was written for the Centre for Progressive Leadership and was then submitted to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Management Commission on the future of management and leadership.

What I liked most was how the paper makes clear the difference between the dominant discourse about leadership/management in our society and alternative views.

As someone who has been trying to stand up for a somewhat alternative view – conscious business – for some time, I found this greatly steadying.

Just to summarise quickly, Chris’s view is that we are part of the conversations that surround us: when we say something, another person responds, and we respond in turn. What we say – and what we hear – depend on the context, and this context is constantly emerging as we speak.

Chris also points out that it is easy to forget we are immersed in this ‘system’. If we mentally step outside of it and start to talk about it as something we can mend or improve we may be deluding ourselves.

I took the title of the paper – “Taking organisational complexity seriously” – to mean that we need to ‘believe’ in complexity and all that goes with it. One of the things that comes with complexity is a need to give up the idea that we can control outcomes. Complexity comes with unpredictability.

Now that is very hard for many managers and leaders to hear, as I pointed out recently. We’re asking them to give up control.

And that is perhaps why this remains the dominant discourse about leadership in our society. Nearly everything is built on the very male idea of ‘power-over’, and this includes the idea that we ought to be able to fix or change a system, be it a business, or a society.

If this still seems unclear, please take the time to read Chris’s well reasoned and well referenced piece.

But there are three practical take-aways I would like to leave with you.

The first is that there are serious implications of not adopting this more ‘immersive’ approach to leadership.

As Chris points out – using the example of the Francis report into the Mid Staffs NHS scandal and the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (and I’d add another: Leveson) – we end up blaming individuals, or disempowering them by demanding improved systems and processes to guide and control their every move.

But there’s a danger we do this every time something scandalous happens: we scapegoat people, and we demand better processes and procedures. And yet these scandals – banking, health, media, education etc – keep coming.

So maybe, instead, as Chris suggests, we should focus on the ‘dedication and commitment’ of the people that work in organisations and businesses and encourage them to use their natural (systems?) intelligence.

This is what I think conscious business is really about – it’s about putting people at the heart of business and trusting and allowing them to be their most creative, most innovative selves.

Secondly, Chris gives a great list of some of the implications for leadership practice. These include:

  • helping managers ‘see’ better
  • focusing on enabling, rather than directing or delegating
  • acting – some would say stumbling – into the future, rather than planning

He suggests we need to move

  • from controlling to contributing
  • from certainty to curiosity
  • from diagnosis to dialogue
  • from colluding to confronting

and so on.

And mostly we need to recognise that leadership is not an activity for elites, nor should they get all the kudos or blame. It is something we all do, all the time. At least every time we enter a conversation consciously.

These are all things we believe in and are exploring in the conscious business community in the UK. I think we’re ‘positive deviants’, taking an alternative position outside the mainstream discourse, with the intent to improve things. So if, as Chris suggests, we can find ways to form coalitions with others who share similar views we may be able to make more progress, more quickly.

And finally, I’d just like to add something else that came to mind when I read Chris’ paper.

There’s a lot to do, and a probably a lot of resistance to come before these ideas are more widely adopted. In business we’re taught to find benefits, and build a case for things. So would it help to further explore some of the benefits of adopting this kind of approach?

That is tricky because benefits are usually promised, and then delivered in the future. They’re also usually defined by those who write the stories. For example, business people are heroes when their story is being written as a success. And they can be criminals when it is written as a failure.

So if we are to know we are making progress, we probably need to focus not on some distant ‘output’ but on something tangible, something that is here right here, right now.

I’d suggest the major benefit of the kind of approach that Chris proposes is being ‘in it’ – building the relationships, building the coalitions, being a member of a community of people who are trying to do something useful. Learning to get along, learning to stay in the conversation, and perhaps even having fun along the way.

Hopefully, that is also what it means to be involved in some way in conscious business – immersed in the process of ‘putting people at the heart of business’.


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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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Conscious Business: Senior Management Briefing

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This guest post is by Paul Levy of CATS3000

The Starting Point

The starting point is this: As a senior manager, you have no eternal right to exist. It is not a taken for granted assumption in a conscious business that you are always needed. Your starting point is one of being always humble, and ready to step aside and to allow in whatever is truly needed by the organisation.

The business does not exist to serve you, nor even to satisfy its shareholders. It exists to behave consciously in order to meet the needs of its customers, the users of its products and services. Shareholder satisfaction, in a conscious business, is a by-product, an outcome of conscious business practice, not an aim.

A conscious business is an organisation that is awake and aware, alert and responsive, internally and externally, in real time.

Sometimes, dear senior manager, your personality, your habits, your self-image, your subjectivity are all blocks, limiters of the consciousness of your business. Sometimes you behave in deliberate ways that diminish the consciousness of your business, thinking that you are being “smart”.

Political game-playing, power-mongering, fear-engendering, all ultimately shatter the innovation potential of your business by stifling and suppressing the energising qualities of people that exist when they feel more free and awake. Senior management, when it is a leading example of institutional, over-fixed behaviour, defensiveness and aggression, damages the very organisation it claims to serve. Even benevolent, but egoistic acts that achieve success are short term victories that still undermine conscious business.

A conscious business has a very different role in mind for senior managers. In the emerging fields of conscious capitalism and conscious business there are many stories and examples appearing in the public domain.

Overview and Inspiration

Senior management has the often fairly permanent role of acting as the overview, the “helicopter view”, the inspirer of vision, and the identifier of what needs to be done at the strategic, “overview” level.

In a conscious business, senior management is a leadership role – a role that is sacred, a privilege for all those who step into those roles.

In a conscious business, senior management identifies the essential in what needs to be done. Senior managers focus on naming things truly, based on real time flow of information, knowledge and experience. This “Pool of Knowing” crystallizes into an up-to-the-minute knowledge base that informs where and how, as a business, we step next.

Time to Drop the Personalities

It isn’t about personalities; it is about awareness, from personal to business self-awareness. The role of senior management is to remain objective. What does that mean? It means both inner and outer observation. In a conscious business, senior managers practice introspection, (they look at their own biases as if they were objects to be studied) and they subject their opinions and intuitions to third party “devil’s advocacy”. Senior managers seek out different points of view. Senior managers prioritise

  • Sensing and serving the needs of the organisation’s customers and key stakeholders
  • Enhancing business consciousness
  • Keeping the organisation awake, aware and alert, internally and externally, in real time.
  • Changing organisational structure to meet environmental changes, including the transient need for senior management itself. Hierarchies are temporary, emergent and flexible in a conscious business.

Welcoming the New and the Useful

Senior managers develop and practice emotional intelligence, active listening, and welcome and seek out useful and new ideas and suggestions from any helpful source. Status is not a cultural default in a conscious business; respect is earned not given by favouritism or clunky vertical structures. Measurement is authentic, and focused on identifying how the business can improve its consciousness.

Senior managers see their “higher viewpoint” – awareness of risk, taking of critical decisions, and ability to hold authority over others – as something sacred, something they steward rather than own. They do not see themselves as more important; they tend to view their role as part of the whole system. Both the chief executive and the cleaner are fundamental parts of the whole system. This isn’t a form of socialism of clunky equality; it is a form of systems thinking, where senior managers see themselves as parts of the integrity of the whole. Everything needs to fit together in whatever way it needs to in a conscious business.

Ten Features of Senior Management in a Conscious Business

  1. Senior managers are much more “present” in the processes of the business. Consciousness is high – meetings are more emergent, alongside more regular “rhythmic” processes such a monthly strategy reviews etc. Senior managers are both “overview” and “out there”.
  2. There’s an ability to quickly undo decisions, reshape key processes and structures, identify technological paths to innovation of products, services and processes, learn from mistakes and be humble with that learning.
  3. Roles morph and change, even pass away. Senior management is drawn from whoever and wherever, whenever and however it is needed.
  4. Reward is based on self-motivation, a wish to serve professionally, and there is no place for primitive “motivation by bonus” which warps commitment and consciousness.
  5. Information systems are seem, not as “below” senior managers, feeding upwards, but “above”, feeding down. Information is real-time, useful, accessible and accurate, truly informing overview reaction, proactivity and direction-finding.
  6. Senior managers are ethical, emotionally intelligent, able to listen, dialogue, inspire, and challenge. Truth is seen as vital to “clear-seeing”.
  7. Senior managers are self-aware, practice introspection, aware of their own biases, and open to devil’s advocacy and different points of view. Cronyism is banished. Freedom of thought, without fear, is a core value.
  8. There is a culture of seeking out the real needs of those who are served by the business. Shareholders are also aware of the business purpose and in tune with the business’ culture of practising conscious business.
  9. The business is led by managers who are an example – transparency, openness and honesty are core values, lived in practice.
  10. Promotion is based not on years worked, nor on any favouritism and delivery of narrow measures. Promotion marries business need with capability, motivation and “fit” with the integrity of the business.

 

And, Yes – It is still about Leadership

Senior managers are leaders. Leadership is a role and process in a conscious business that enables inspiration, motivation, strong decision-making (when needed) and strategy-making to happen. The role never fixes for too long or in one particular way. Leaders emerge, from different parts of the organisation. Permanent leadership roles are only created if needed (for example, if stability of a role is needed).

Leadership is largely associated with process rather than personality in a conscious business. Leadership can, and should happen anywhere in a conscious business, even in its realm of digital working. Leadership may arise out of digital processes as much as physical ones. Leadership involves direction-finding, true-naming, inspiring others, fitting parts together into a bigger picture, and unblocking conflict and difficulty.

Senior managers in a conscious business are “senior” for different reasons. Sometimes that seniority is bestowed because the senior person is wiser, and has experience and wisdom that helps guide the wider organisation. Sometimes it is born of the unique position of ownership of the business. Here leadership is only assumed if the owner has a unique contribution to make to the organisation and may also carry the inspiration and passion that will later be shared across the organisation. Sometimes the senior manager will be a temporary specialist, with temporarily needed skills and oversight. Sometimes the leader will emerge because a leader is needed, a hero helping the organisation on a “quest”. The leader’s role then coincides with the post of a senior manager.

In all cases, reflection is practised and permanence is never assumed. Rewards are never for the position in the hierarchy, but for the quality of the work done for the business.

Daring to be Different

Senior managers are often very different in a conscious business. Their career isn’t to climb up the organisation, but to serve it with a unique and important skill set and experience base.

Senior managers in conscious businesses are not  the same people as the senior managers at an earlier stage of that business’ development, when it was more traditionally structured and managed. They represent and reflect the organisation radically transformed.

Conscious businesses perform excellently, because senior management is a role that practices excellence. And excellence is born of consciousness. Senior managers have the vital role of occasionally acting as the eyes and ears of the enterprise, but not always. Often they interpret and articulate the essence of the organisation’s will. But they are one of the means to the business’ consciousness, not the sole cause of it.

In a conscious business, as a senior manager, you might just have to wave goodbye to yourself and become less attached to the word “senior”. Yet it also might be the hello to the authentic, genuinely useful and fulfilling next step you’ve been wishing for.

 

 


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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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Book review: Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia

Here’s a review I wrote for Amazon. I think I could probably write several reviews of this book – there’s such a lot in it. But here is a snapshot:

This is a great book.

I must declare a bias: I am a real fan of the ideas presented here, and I have met one of the authors.

But trying to put that to one side, I still think it is a great book.

It is very thorough, very complete, and like my colleague Will McInnes’ book Culture Shock: A Handbook For 21st Century Business it is full of practical advice and suggestions on building a different type of business.

It is clearly written, full of good stories and quotes. It also seems to include a good measure of honesty – as when John Mackey describes the problems he had with the SEC.

It is ideological, yes, but I think that is what we need right now. There’s a lot of talk in business about disruption, and how business should respond, but this book sets out the beginnings of an intellectual and emotional framework for business in the 21st century.

Umair Haque’s Betterness: Economics for Humans (Kindle Single) also comes to mind.

After an introduction, which aims to reset the narrative of business, the book is broken into several sections on making practical changes to the way a business works:

– Higher Purpose
– Stakeholder Integration
– Conscious Leadership
– Conscious Culture and Management

The book pulls together a lot of thinking from a range of very diverse sources. That is the whole point I suppose: to bring topics such as economics, sustainability, business management, psychology and systems thinking together. Indeed, the authors aren’t afraid to mix words like love and care in with the kind of terminology (innovation, collaboration, decentralisation) you will read in many modern books on business management.

There are lots of practical examples and stories from Whole Foods Market. That company is obviously better known in the US than the UK, and there is a notable lack of any European examples (John Lewis, the Co-op, Cadburys etc). But as founder and CEO, John Mackey has been through most of the major decisions that need to be made in setting up and growing a large, listed company.

Once or twice I had a bit of a sharp intake of breath.

The term “free-enterprise capitalism” personally reminds me of “free market capitalism”, in the style of Reagan and Thatcher. Something to which I have an instinctive and somewhat negative reaction. But, after a moment, I reminded myself to suspend a little, remember that I am not an economic theorist or expert, and read on.

And their real point is that capitalism generally has given itself a very bad name with the people who should be supporting it – those of us who believe in freedom for individuals and also in sharing, giving etc.

The other slight intake of breath came when Margaret Thatcher is listed amongst a list of leaders with high integrity, including Gandhi and other personal heroes. Again personally, I found this hard to take.

But again the truth is this is probably more about my biases and prejudices than anything else. And a good book, I believe, should challenge one’s thinking, not just confirm one’s prejudices. I resolved to dig out a biography and do some deeper research.

The book ends with sections on starting a conscious business, and transforming to become one.

An appendix covers the business case for Conscious Capitalism – including reference to Raj Sisodia’s work on Firms of Endearment and a comparison with the “Good to Great” companies. This, in my view, is a very strong and compelling financial case.

Another appendix gives a very useful list of similar, related approaches (such as sustainable business, B-corporations etc), and explains why conscious capitalism is different.

In a final section, which contains a call to action, I was pleased to see a reference to Tom Paine, author of Common Sense and the Rights of Man. These, at the time, were seditionary works. They stirred people up.

This book is similar – some will hate it, but the mixture of emotion and intellect is powerful. Which is important, because, as the authors say, there’s no time to waste.

Overall, this is a manifesto for a new type of business. Or, if you simply want to find out what Conscious Capitalism and Conscious Business are all about, this is a great starting point.

It is a big book as well as a great book. It will take you a while to read. But in my view it is really worth the effort.


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Systems Thinking and Conscious Business

Today one of my sons told me he had been trying out the text-to-speech option on the Kindle. He thought it funny it couldn’t speak properly – all it does is read the words with no intonation or sense of meaning.

This led to a discussion of the difference between a series of words and a sentence. The computer can read each word individually but has no sense of the bigger thing – the sentence. Nor of the next bigger thing, the paragraph. Nor the next – the chapter, or indeed of the whole book.

It is very clear that a book is much more than all the words in it added together.

Take a piece of paper and draw 5 boxes. Arrange them in the rough shape of a circle. You can see the boxes. You can also see the circle. But where exactly is the circle? It doesn’t really exist in one sense – there are no lines on the paper which make up a circle. The circle only exists as an emergent property of the individual boxes arranged in a particular way.

2 + 2 = 5. Or in this case, 1 + 1 + 1+ 1 + 1 = 6.

These examples illustrate something that is central to thinking about business in a “systems” way.

This has little to do with IT systems, by the way; nor systems in the sense of processes that are used to deal with issues methodically or “systematically”. We’re using a different meaning of the word – this is systemic not systematic thinking.

These examples illustrate that businesses are complex systems. They are made up of “just” the individuals that work in them, but they are also much more than that. They are all the relationships between the people as well. And the relationships externally too.

And they are even more than that. They are wholes, and also part of a bigger whole. They’re integrated and connected into that bigger whole in ways that may even be difficult for us to comprehend.

This may all sound rather ethereal.

But it has some very practical implications.

For example, when trying to improve profitability in a company managers are often tempted to play around with metrics or KPIs. Adjust a few simple things like how hard people work, and surely profitability will increase?

I’m afraid it just isn’t so. A business is a complex system, and playing with one low level metric is just as likely to make things worse as it is to make things better.

Much better to think systemically. I have blogged before about Donella Meadows and her (fairly) famous list of the best points to intervene in a complex system. Be it a business or any other system.

According to Meadows, the least powerful are the ones we most often think of, presumably because they are easy to grasp and grapple with: constants, parameters, and numbers. Often we rearrange these “deck chairs” while the ship is sinking.

Transparency – who sees which information – comes in at number six from the top.  Transparency is a core part of developing a conscious business. It does work to radically change behaviour – and is certainly much more powerful than changing low level metrics themselves.

But the really powerful levers (in Meadows’ view, and mine) are:

  • The goal(s) of the system.
  • The mindset or paradigm out of which the system arises.
  • The power to transcend paradigms.

Consider that a business that chases short-term profitability has a different goal from one that is interested in profitability over the long-term.

Asking questions like “what is a business for?”, or “what does competition actually mean?” is the kind of activity that can lead to a shift of paradigm or mindset.

And realising that how we see things changes everything is the ultimate lever. That, of course, is what consciousness is all about.

PS To get started in systems thinking I’d really recommend the late Dana Meadows book Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Or try the Systems Thinking wiki. Or more recently I really enjoyed The Gardens of Democracy if you want to explore how (eco) systems thinking relates to areas beyond business.