Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


10 Comments

Shut up, and listen

Last night I attended an RSA and University of Brighton event on the question ‘What is the role of men in supporting women into leadership?’

This was a follow-up to a larger event a few months back entitled ‘How women lead’. That was a great session, with a lot of energy. Creating a follow-up must have seemed a very logical next step.

All the panelists seemed to agree that there is a problem: there are not enough women in leadership positions – in both public and private sectors.

And as Simon Fanshawe, OBE, pointed out ‘complex problems require difference and diversity’. Many of our most significant problems today, from the social to the environmental to the economic are complex problems, problems that require different ways of thinking and acting.

Some good points were made.

Fairly obviously, ‘structural problems’ prevent women acceding to leadership positions.

James Rowlands, Violence against Women Commissioner, illustrated the importance of language by telling us about ‘mansplain’ – the phenomena when a man in a group takes it upon himself to explain what a women just said.

There was talk of the ‘fat, white middle-aged man trap’ and of re-framing what it takes to be a senior leader.

Giles York, Chief Constable of Sussex Police, pointed out the importance of holding people to account. Walking the talk is more important than talking the talk?

So why didn’t we, the audience, hold the panel to account? What might have been the structural problems that prevented that?

Structural Problems?

Firstly, it was an all male panel. That was interesting. Don’t women have a say in answering the question ‘What is the role of men in supporting women into leadership?’?

Secondly, with one exception these appeared to be very traditional leaders: a consultant, two CEOs, and a Chief Constable. We didn’t get to hear much from James Rowlands.

Thirdly, the room was set up in traditional lecture style. Chair and panellists at the front, (hiding?) behind a table. They had water, and microphones, we didn’t. Were these signals of power, showing us exactly who was in charge?

But if we had been brave enough to deal with those ‘structural problems’ what might we have held the panellists to account for?

Reframing Leadership?

Might we have asked what does ‘reframing leadership’ mean?

One possible reframing is towards a more enabling style of leadership, one that involves listening more than speaking.

Business theorist Chris Argyris, amongst others, has spoken of the difference between ‘advocating’ and ‘enquiry’.

Advocating is when we hold a position and tell others about it, and essentially recommend what others should think.

Enquiry is radically different. Enquiry, as I understand it, is a place of vulnerability – of not knowing. Starting from that place of vulnerability and exploring a topic. Engaging in dialogue, back and forth, while really listening. Trying to empathise,  to understand another’s point of view.

And possibly, just possibly, updating our own.

A lovely Argyris quote: ‘People don’t listen, they reload’.

Not only were there ’structural problems’, but there also seemed to me to be a lot of advocacy. Again and again, the consultant, the CEOs and the Chief Constable, assisted by Penny Thompson (CBE, CEO of Brighton & Hove City Council) told us how it was, leavened by a few jokes, statistics and stories to help keep us entertained and in thrall?

Questions from the Floor?

Yes, there were some questions from the floor. But might we have asked whether these were part of the enquiry? Or just further advocacy?

I am not saying this happens with every question. But sometimes it is worth looking for the advocacy hidden in a question. ‘Does the panel think X, where X is what I think, and what I really want is for you to agree or expand upon what I have just said, confirming it and making me feel good’. Advocacy or enquiry?

Or ‘I’d be interested to know what the panel thinks about Y because that demonstrates how knowledgeable I am and I would love for you to talk to me later and even perhaps employ me to help with your problems.’ Advocacy or enquiry?

Yes, enquiry is difficult. For all of us. Families and school teach us about power, and they teach us about the importance of advocacy. Sometimes with force. Sometimes with violence.

When we’re anxious, in front of a crowd, maybe advocacy seems the easiest path? Perhaps it’s especially difficult for men in traditional leadership roles to be vulnerable? Maybe it means giving up power, and status, and position?

Reframing Leadership?

And maybe it takes real courage to ‘walk the talk’ – to reframe leadership, and to hold each other to account, to be vulnerable? Perhaps it means allowing vulnerability – in ourselves, as well as others?

Someone in the audience asked the question ‘What is the change we’re all afraid of?’ That is a great question, and I’d have loved to have heard a real discussion, and heard people’s views.

But I couldn’t see the chance, that particular evening. I was sad about that. It felt like a missed opportunity.

Where were the young women – Gen Y or Gen Z – in all this, I wonder? I would have liked to have heard from some younger people. Maybe they would have been able to give us some pointers, some good ideas?

Maybe they would have said that the role of men in supporting women into leadership is to make sure that a genuine dialogue takes place, to make sure that as well as appropriate language, there is equivalence of opportunity to speak? For all – the young, the old, the extroverts, the introverts, the women, and the men?

That’s obviously what I think. I’m advocating that position. But I’d genuinely love to hear some other views. I’d love to be contradicted, to hear I was wrong. Or maybe just not quite right, not in command of the full picture? Maybe I could add some new ideas, maybe I could throw out some old ones? Only then can I learn.

I am really encouraged that these conversations are taking place. But I agree with Giles York, we need to ‘walk the talk’, and hold each other to account.

Creating that kind of dialogue requires real leadership – it can seem hard to rearrange the furniture, to make a circle, to stop, and to listen.

Maybe that’s where the (young) women were? Talking together? And waiting for the men to shut up and listen?


7 Comments

Are you living your Purpose?

There’s a current resurgence of interest in the idea of Purpose, as it relates to business. Aaron Hurst with his book the Purpose Economy and company Imperative, and Jeremy Heimans over at purpose.com seem to be hammering social media with the idea that purpose is not just good for people, but that it is also good for organisations and the way we run our businesses.

I am pretty unlikely to disagree with that. I also think purpose is important, for both people and organisations

Of course, purpose itself isn’t a particularly new idea in business. It has existed in the form of ‘Mission’, ‘Vision’ and ‘Values’ for a long time, and while people like Umair Haque have brilliantly lampooned these more traditional forms (in his book Betterness, for example) it continues to be something that comes up regularly with clients. “Help us clarify and communicate our purpose” they ask.

But the more of this work I do the more I realise that the really critical thing with Mission or Purpose, or whatever you want to call it, is ‘living it’.

Again this isn’t a particularly new idea – people have called this ‘walking the talk’ for as long as I can remember.

But I am not sure that particular injunction – ‘telling’ people to live it, to be it – really helps that much. I may want to “walk my talk”, but I still find it hard.

So here are some simple things you might choose to do that I believe will help you live your purpose.

Have a Purpose

First of all, it’s is good to have one, obviously.

But there’s a dilemma in that. I am going to focus in this post less on finding or discovering a purpose because I think there may be nothing to find. I don’t think purpose is a thing, and therefore we cannot find it like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Stafford Beer, the great cyberneticist, talked, I believe, in terms of POSIWID. “The Purpose Of a System Is What It Does”. This suggests that purpose is more ’emergent’. Like a rainbow it isn’t really there. But under certain special circumstances in combination with the way our eyes and brain work we can surely see it.

For example, my purpose today based on an observation of what I am doing, is to get out of bed and write a blog post.

I seem also to be in the throes of trying to raise a family, build a business, be a good citizen etc. Later I’ll make breakfast, go to meetings etc.

Notice that my purpose depends on a number of things, including the time of day, my role as viewer, as participant and so on.

The purpose gurus I listed above will, I am sure, provide useful methods to ‘capture ‘ your purpose as if it is a thing to be captured. There are audio books and books galore (contradicting myself, I have to say I rather liked Richard Jacobs’ attempt), and generally consultants and coaches love to do this kind of work.

And if you really want to clarify your purpose then I can recommend nothing better than a week-long silent retreat in the mountains of Wales or some other beautiful and remote place.

Maybe it is just me, but I think the assumption behind many of these ‘processes’ is that purpose will emerge as something tangible, words that you can, for example, engrave on a tablet of stone. A ‘calling’ that you can take along with you for the rest of your life, to steer you, to drive you?

But maybe purpose as a thing is hard to ‘capture’? Maybe it is too temporary, too contingent on circumstances for that?

Simply Noticing

So instead of a long search, or following a complex process, I suggest simply noticing. Being aware. Not just of our thoughts, but also of our feelings and our instincts. Noticing what you do and how you do it. Noticing is a conscious business practice and one we can do at any time.  It is especially best done, while we are acting – we sometimes call this reflexivity.

If you spend a little time on that then you’ll probably quickly notice that purpose changes. It changes from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute and even second to second.

If I am eating lunch with a friend my purpose is probably something to do with enjoying the food and conversation. Or maybe I am trying to get something across, or share something, or get some support.

At a business meeting an hour later, my purpose might be completely different. I may be trying to build a very different kind of relationship.

Yes, I may be able to see a pattern in my purpose. I seem to want to build a business day after day after day. My need to feed and clothe and educate my children does not go away.

Seeing purpose as changing makes me want to explore it all the more. I can learn more about my purpose by enquiring into it, enquiring into all these facets, discovering what it means, and what I am about.

Am I Living My Purpose?

But when I do that, and I guess it is the same for many people, I notice that there are also plenty of times when I don’t seem to be following my purpose. I find myself distracted. Or I find myself doing something completely at odds with what I think I want to achieve.

This happens most often in groups and teams. For example, my purpose, as I might name it when entering into a meeting is to be unconditionally constructive, collaborative, and help people, including me, find the best solutions to whatever issues they face.

But what happens? Sometimes, almost the opposite. I might notice myself behaving destructively. Perhaps causing as many problems as I solve.

Again noticing, I believe, is the key to unpicking this. By observing what I am doing, I can ascertain a new facet to my purpose, something I may have been previously unaware of.

Maybe I am more competitive than I thought and I am engaged in a bit of sibling rivalry. Maybe I have learned some habitual ways to get my need to feel outraged met, and I am exercising this by blaming other people and their failings.

Again, simply noticing will probably give me all the clues I need.

Beyond noticing – community and conflict

So noticing is great. But for me, noticing also isn’t enough. When I become more aware of what is going on it helps, but it doesn’t necessarily help me break out of the habits I have formed.

This is one reason why I like the Do Something Different system – because I believe it can help us break those habits – of mind and body – which keep us in our comfort zone.

And the other thing that I believe is completely necessary if I want to live my purpose is trust, and conflict. Echoing Patrick Lencioni, we have found again and again that a group of people won’t enter into conflict unless there are high levels of trust amongst the group.

A healthy form of conflict is necessary for someone to do me the huge favour of pointing out my failings. If you are going to point out to me that I am not living my purpose, and, believe me I do want you to do that, you risk me fighting back.

We risk conflict every time we point out to someone the difference between their espoused position (what they say they will do) and what we actually observe.

But being open to this feedback and being in a group of people brave enough and caring enough to give accurate feedback is, I think, really the answer to living my purpose. Few of us are saints – few of us have the awareness to always notice when we stop living our purpose. And even fewer, myself included, have the willpower to do much about it.

We need other people, we need a community around us that will give us that ultimate gift of clean, unencumbered feedback.

Being personally open to that feedback isn’t easy, of course, but the skills and conditions that allow trust and healthy conflict to arise in a group are fairly easy to learn and practise. There are better ways to converse than those we learned in the playground or in our first families.

As a group, we can learn to break collusion, and see reality.

I’d love to hear what you think? Does this make sense? Is your purpose more easily fixed than the way I describe it? Are my assumptions correct, or way off base?

What is your purpose?
And are you living it?

Pointers

Aaron Hurst – Purpose Economy book company Imperative

Jeremy Heimans purpose.com

Betterness by Umair Haque

Richard Jacobs – Find your Purpose

Patrick Lencioni

Do Something Different


2 Comments

Conscious Business? Hmmmm….

Nice one Paul. Would be very interested to hear others views about the phrase Conscious Business, which is also in my mind associated with spirituality. Nothing wrong with spirituality (or CSR/social enterprise), but I think we are speaking about something else.

Paul Levy

wpid-380b6ed7-452a-490b-a844-55cb81b87dfe.jpg

We aren’t really happy with the term “conscious business”, we being the group here in Brighton discussing and exploring it.

It’s a term very much tied up with “conscious capitalism” which has a history and an ongoing close link to CSR – corporate social responsbility.

It also sounds a bit weird. It hints that a business can be conscious and this suggests it is like a person, a biological entity that can be more or less “awake” and “aware”. Yet as soon as everyone has left the building to go home, what is really left? Can a business ever really be conscious? It isn’t really just the people who represent the quality of its consciousness? So, perhaps there is no such as thing as a conscious business, just the people who work in it.

Simple! Or perhaps not so. In organisational research, we often talk of the “synergy of groups”…

View original post 933 more words


2 Comments

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’.


1 Comment

Climate Change – a Conscious Start

Climate Change Questions
Climate change matters?
Does it effect me? Let’s see.
Ask the right questions.

Conscious business is a very powerful way of working. Any management course will show the benefits of working as a team over working as an individual. How much more powerful is this collaboration in the smart interconnected world we live in today?

Taking a conscious business perspective, it is relatively simple to consider the role of stakeholders on your business or the impact that your business can have on others. But how can we encourage more businesses to take this systemic approach?

There are many businesses operating in a more traditional manner, who find working in a linear way obvious and easy. Acknowledging the merits of working more consciously requires a shift in mind-set.

One way to bridge the gap is to focus on a single issue and explore the impacts on your business and stakeholders. Consider climate change as an issue with potential impacts on almost all aspects of business.

There are two critical observations:

  • Climate change may have risks or opportunities on your business, your suppliers or customers, now or in the future – or maybe not.
  • By asking these questions you have started the process of examining the interconnectedness of the stakeholders; becoming more conscious.

Even if the answers show that climate change has a minimal impact the exercise is very likely to find efficiencies, savings, reduce risks and maybe to find some new opportunities. And will certainly be a step towards a more conscious business approach.

Some may see this focus on the single issue of climate change as a retrograde step, away from the systemic approach of conscious business – the single issue tail wagging the dog. Some tail. Some dog!


1 Comment

The balance of power

Conscious Businesses are usually businesses that rely on the ‘full empowerment’ of the people who work in them.

By full empowerment I simply mean a situation where people are treated as free, autonomous, responsible human beings – able to decide everything for themselves, without being told what to do, or coerced in any way.

There are good business reasons for this:

  • people who are fully empowered are more motivated, and stay more motivated
  • this leads to more innovation, better products and services, and better quality

And there are good ethical reasons too: people in conscious businesses are treated as humans, and an important human right is to be free – to make one’s own choices and decisions.

Despite these obvious benefits, we find many managers are worried by the idea of fully empowered people. We regularly comes across two sets of interconnected fears:

  • The first is that a business where people are fully empowered will spiral into chaos. The fear is that nothing will get done, or if it does it will be happening randomly and not aligned with the ‘strategy’.
  • The second is more personal: that the manager will suffer personally if they lose status, control and power.

I’ll come to the second fear in a moment.

Dancing with freedom and structure

The answer to the first fear is to balance freedom with a minimal amount of supporting structure. By balance, I don’t mean having some of each, in a dead, static kind of way.

I mean choosing whichever is right, in the moment, depending on circumstance. Choosing freedom when it helps, and structure when it helps. Here’s an example:

Most traditional businesses already have some key documents like mission statements, sets of values, roles and responsibilities, KPIs, employment contracts and so on. These rather old ideas can be very useful in a Conscious Business, but only if they are understood in a new way.

The difficulty is that typically the content of these documents has been handed down from on high. Developed by senior management and cascaded throughout the organisation. The content is often driven by ‘what the owners/shareholders want’.

Conscious businesses rely on the notion that shareholders’ needs, and those of all the other stakeholders – customers, suppliers, employees and the public – will all be met better if everyone works together without coercion. Willingly creating value for each other.

So if you wish to get the benefits of empowering people, and avoid chaos, you need to ‘flip’ all of these key documents, and encourage people to write them themselves, and as if they really belong to them. To write them for themselves, not for someone else.

Suddenly you have a supportive framework that can be genuinely useful to each individual, and which will also provide some structure to contain chaos.

Role descriptions as traditionally written limit people. Role descriptions written based on personal purpose, what people are good at doing, and what they love doing will remind and give motivation, especially when things get tough.

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) have a bad name in many businesses. But again, if written by the real owner – the person who is going to fulfil them – then they will guide and remind people to be themselves, to be their best.

A personal development plan (PDP) becomes a dream, something someone really aspires to, for themselves, and those who are important to them. It will inspire and allow people to get feedback that will feed into development and growth. And, after all, in a knowledge economy, and indeed in life, development and growth is very important.

An employment contract will tell everyone what an individual is responsible for. This is an ‘opt-in’ – it is voluntary – and it allows everyone including the individual to assess and check progress: creating real accountability.

And is everyone aligned?

And how will alignment be achieved in this kind of environment? How do we ensure that everyone is heading in (broadly) the same direction?

Corporate purpose in a fully empowered organisation emerges from, and is built on, the individual purposes of everyone involved – all the stakeholders including employees. That shared purpose is something everyone can stand behind and work towards – creating alignment. And generally people perform much better when their personal purpose and needs are aligned with what the group is trying to achieve.

And if some people really don’t fit in or agree with the purpose that the rest rely on to motivate them, then they’re likely to vote with their feet.

That is a good thing, because coercion just doesn’t work.

Challenge, mastery and making a difference are amongst the most important motivators, as people like Dan Pink have ably communicated.

Not the need for lots of money. And certainly not being told what to do.

Few modern organisations spend much time telling their people what to do directly. It’s inappropriate outside of a very small number of situations, such as when the building is on fire, and life is at risk.

But many organisations subtly coerce their employees by taking advantage of their needs. The need for money, or status, or power. Or the very common need to do what others want us to do – because we fear displeasing them.

The problem is that coercion is never going to help people deliver their best. So we really don’t want people in our organisations if they are being coerced in any way. If they are there only for the money.

That’s why Zappos (and now Amazon) famously paid people to quit during its selection process. Founder Tony Hsieh, who eventually sold Zappos to Amazon for around $1bn in 2009, said they didn’t want people who are there only for a paycheck, and they didn’t want people who feel they are trapped.

And for those who struggle to give up power?

By putting in place this minimal amount of ‘structure’ – through these key documents (roles/responsibilities, KPIs, employee contracts etc) – an organisation will maximise its innovation, collaboration, and quality. It’ll gain the best people, working together in the best way.

With this approach other elements of traditional structure like hierarchy or network might still be useful, but they will mean much less. Titles, for example, become less statements of position and power (“Senior Executive Vice President Marketing” ) and more informational (“Partner, Public Relations Department”).

So, what about those managers who fear losing their power, or status, or control along with their fancy titles?

This is very hard. Many people currently running organisations gained their positions because of their ability to use power over other people: control. Their ability to coerce others to get things done. The ‘best’ are subtle, and may get away with it for a (long) while. The worst already have bad reputations and are known for how they behave.

We spend some of our time trying to help people in that situation see that, like King Canute, they will never stop a rising tide.

Especially for a younger generation full empowerment is essential. Companies that fail to understand this will never attract the best people, and therefore lose the best advantage they have.

Letting go of control is a difficult journey of personal development. We’d all rather be right than happy, and changing the habits of a lifetime is never easy. And letting go often means facing our inner demons directly.

But letting go in that way – and becoming a ‘post-conventional’ leader who helps others develop and grow and be the best they can, for themselves, their organisations, and the broader set of stakeholders – can also be extremely rewarding.

 


Leave a comment

Pragmatic Strategy – links to conscious capitalism and conscious business

The practice and ideas of conscious capitalism are not restricted to a few high-profile names; one of the joys of the subject is to look for ideas elsewhere and make connections. With this in mind Pragmatic Strategy – Eastern Wisdom, Global Success makes for an interesting and highly relevant read. The book is written by the knowledge management guru, Ikujiro Nonaka, and UK-based management scholar Zhichang Zhu (Nonaka & Zhu, 2012).

At its intellectual root is a weaving together of Eastern thought and ideas from the US philosophical tradition of Pragmatism, which is both convincing and relevant. The highlight of the book for me was towards the end in Part IV, Think When We Learn.  Here the authors explore, with convincing examples, why our current paradigms of strategy are failing and go on to offer a radically different perspective.  This is based upon:

  • The hazard of focusing only on profits and shareholder value, exploring this from a variety of novel perspectives
  • The problems and hidden assumptions that accompany traditional views of strategy, for example one person’s advantage coming with another’s loss
  • How we extend this to how we treat people as assets with little or no stake in the organisation who can be owned, utilised, discarded or replaced.

In itself this is a clear illustration of the problems we face, but it is in the response to this that they offer something substantial. This can be summarised as being less of a ‘God’s eye view of strategy’ and more that we are all participants in the process in which we all have a stake. In other words we are not mindless parts of a machine subject to the levers, pistons and pulleys of other’s intentions.

Here they argue that we all have at least some influence and control as part of an interconnected world, not in terms of grand abstract plans but rather in a contextually rich reality of everyday life. For both the pragmatists and Eastern way of thought there is a focus on:

  • Practical knowledge, rich in context
  • An iterative process of knowing based upon experience and reflection
  • Attention being given to both the head and the heart of organisational life.

This means however that there can be no certainty, that of the ‘magic bullet’, or the perfect ‘model’. Such an approach would be a contradiction, meaning that we would not have to do the very task demanded of us – to think, pay attention and to act with awareness into the moment.

Nonaka, I., & Zhu, Z. (2012). Pragmatic Strategy – Eastern Wisdom, Global Success. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

 


Leave a comment

Spark the Change – A conference for Inspiration and action

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

http://sparkthechange.co.uk/

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

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

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

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

In addition, they’ll also get:

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

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

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

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

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


Leave a comment

Outside in – bringing intelligence into the corporation

I found this great post by Lee Bryant of Post*shift the other day. Lee describes the clear divide between how social media inside and outside many large organisations is run. How, often, these activities are run by different departments, who may be pulling in different directions. As Lee points out, social on the outside is often run by marketing, while social internally is run by ops, HR and IT.

Marketing, of course, is about giving customers what they want and need.  So a core marketing activity is understanding those wants and needs and communicating them internally – so that the business can respond, and continue to fulfil those needs over time, even as the market changes. That is, in theory at least, how businesses respond to their markets.

But in practice few businesses seem marketing-driven. In a marketing-driven company everything the company does is driven by changes in the market. This means the real power sits with marketing.

Looking around, it seems to me the alternatives are more common. In most cases the power driving the business sits with:

  • engineers and R&D – this explains an apparent proliferation of product features at the expense of benefits that people actually want and need;
  • sales – this explains a short-term focus on increasing sales revenue – regardless of the longer-term brand damage and the like;
  • finance and ultimately the stock exchange – how else can we explain the way  the banking sector seems to be ignoring customer sentiment?

Who or what drives your company?

But Lee’s post is about how (social) marketeers can be part of the solution – helping the business transform so that it is more aligned with what the market truly wants and needs. Even when marketing doesn’t really have all the power it might like.

He rightly points to the need for changes in organisational structure, and the benefits of socialising key processes and workflows.

Content can also be very useful – thought leadership inside an organisation can form the basis of a real dialogue with customers. Leverage the content that people inside businesses work with every day – and use it to start meaningful conversations with customers and potential customers. The result is an increase in trust – and you start to build real relationships across the critical company/customer boundary.

Such relationships form the basis of gaining real intelligence about what the market is saying – what it wants and needs.

Market intelligence isn’t enough

But our experience suggests that even credible (business) intelligence simply isn’t enough to change organisational behaviour. If knowledge and intelligence was sufficient for behaviour change we’d all stick to the speed limit, get enough exercise and happily eat our 5-a-day .

And there are far too many stories of companies that knew perfectly well what was happening in their markets but did nothing about it for us to believe that intelligence is enough.

This is because telling people what to do (based on your superior knowledge/intelligence) doesn’t work – they resist.

Neither does educating them (giving them the benefit of superior knowledge/intelligence) – they still resist.

And actually, despite what some idealists would claim, neither does getting people to ‘buy-in’ through dialogue or the like – real dialogue is a very rare thing indeed.

These approaches don’t work because they tend to ignore the elephant in the room: power. Organisations are all about power – we all know it and yet we hardly ever speak about it.

Good solutions need to take power into account. In fact, leadership, in my view, is about helping people and groups find ways to understand and ‘align’ their power. We all have power – but we are often pulling and pushing in different directions. Leadership is about helping people align – even if only temporarily.

And just how does the marketing leader, or the leader of any kind, build that alignment? There are many ways but one good way is to start by treating other people well. By being respectful and empathic. This is the foundation for any good relationship, and I believe a good relationship is the starting point for finding ways to align power.

But to build good relationships it is also essential to learn to ‘speak up’ – to say what we believe to be true, when faced by other people, not just in the privacy of our own minds or homes. No one respects someone who just tries to please all the time, by keeping quiet, or by agreeing.

Unfortunately, speaking up  is really difficult – the pressure to collude, to fit-in, especially inside a business, is enormous. It is all too easy for the marketing leader to see what is going on but to keep their mouth shut when facing a skeptical ‘superior’.

The good news is that people can learn to speak up more. We use the term ‘congruence’ with our clients because there’s a bit more to it than just speaking-up. In fact, there’s a way of speaking up that enhances relationships rather than harming them, and that is what we are seeking: deeper, more meaningful relationships.

Self-awareness helps. As we grow in awareness we may start to see how much we collude.

A supportive culture helps. One that promotes ideological challenge, open dialogue, and risk-taking in service of a bigger purpose.

But ultimately this is a choice – about putting the goal of helping your business survive and thrive in the digital age ahead of personal fears and limitations. About learning to speak up – in service of others.

There are a couple of events coming up where some of these issues may be discussed: Tomorrow’s Company Today on the 2nd June 2014 (a Conscious Business UK event hosted at Post*shift’s great London offices). And Post*shift have their own event Organising for Social on June 12th.

 


8 Comments

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.