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Articles and Commentary

Quiet Quitting: Just a new term for an ongoing problem.

Quiet Quitting is a leadership issieQuiet quitting, recently popularised in the media, is defined as “not abruptly leaving a job but starting to do the minimum amount of possible work while keeping the job”. The Wall St journal ran an article “If Your Co-Workers Are ‘Quiet Quitting,’ Here’s What That Means,” on August 12th, the New York times on August 22nd “Who Is Quiet Quitting For?” and the The Guardian (UK) on “Quiet Quitting: Why Doing the Bare Minimum at Work Has Gone Global.” This feeding frenzy has spun up from a viral TikTok video on the topic. Like a lot of media coverage these days, an opinion on social media gathers momentum by attracting interest and eventually the more respected print media will make it mainstream by talking about the controversy – making the issue “real” news. Especially in the silly season.

The is no doubt that “Quiet Quitting” has been going on for years. The way its defined it is just about being disengaged or not fully engaged at work. Not giving your 100% best. This is most people btw. Gallup has been measuring this for over a decade (check out this 2013 poll)  and have been finding that most employees are not fully engaged by their work. Recent global results are still poor. The challenges relating to this for leadership and management have spawned much commentary and column inches. The bottom line is the more of your people are engaged the better will be your organisations performance, and stakeholder or shareholder value. So, leadership and management get to it!

There is a little bit of Generational bias here too. “Oh what are young people like these days!” I wrote about this in my book “LEAD FROM YOU” that the Millennials and Gen Z’s are often motivated by different things. One of them is work-life balance. One of the many reasons for this is these generations watched the behaviour of some larger organisations and lack of regulation and wonder “Why would I give my life over to those people?” They watched many of their parents ruin their health after disappearing from their families for 40 years and they think, “no not for me.” They really are not interested in getting the corner office.

I remember watching a CEO describe to a mostly millennial audience his 25 years at Honeywell and the gold watch they gave him on retirement. They were in stitches laughing at the idea that he could work for one company for 25 years. As most of them did not wear watches (they have phones) this made it even funnier.

Many of the people in the generations aged from 18-45 (ish) years want to work with teams, with the latest technology (with which they are brilliant) and they want work with PURPOSE. Purpose is what gets these people engaged. “Why are we doing this?” They want leaders to help them understand their “Why” and guide them. Leaders who work with them and give them autonomy and trust them to get their jobs done. They want to develop personally and upskill as much as possible. All of this too, aligns with hybrid-working and many of these people can see this. Can leaders?

It is often the case that organisations try to motivate their people by offering promotions and power and desire their people to be cut-throat and ambitious. But what sort of teams do you get with this culture? What sort of collaboration? The complex problems we face today require motivated teams, sometimes self-organising, to solve. We are struggling to attract and retain good people. One positive step might be dropping the idea that people who think like this are “less than,” or “getting away with it” because they see the world differently. The question we should be asking is how to we create the environment to allow these people and these teams to engage and prosper? It starts with leadership.

Aidan Higgins BE MBA is the founder of ADEO Consulting Ltd and a Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and Teamwork specialist and Coach, who has worked with leaders and teams at all levels of the private and public sectors. He has over 30 years experience working in various capacities with individuals, teams and organisations of all sizes. He is the author of LeadFromYou – We need aware, authentic and emotionally intelligent leaders. – now available in Paperback and Kindle on Amazon and in audiobook form via Audible and iTunes.

2022-08-24T12:36:24+00:00August 24th, 2022|Discussion|

Three big contributors to the Irish Rugby Team’s triumph in New Zealand.

Emotional Intelligence, Trust and Systems Thinking - Ireland v New Zealand rugbyI was overjoyed last week at the triumph of the Irish Rugby Team in New Zealand and having had a little time to think on it I see there is an opportunity to learn from it. The main elements that contributed to it are also elements needed in the organisation and the teams within it.

Looking at the size of the challenge and the enormity of the success one has to understand that this was only the fifth test series win in New Zealand in 60-something attempts in over one hundred-plus years and the first since rugby went professional. It was a huge mountain to climb for any team against the most successful international team ever and three times world cup winners. The result was akin to the Lord of the Rings (filmed in New Zealand) – it’s as if our lads went over there and managed to destroy the one ring in Mordor. New Zealand is a proud country about the same size as Ireland, and similar in a lot of ways, but everybody plays rugby (in Ireland it’s the No3 sport). The New Zealanders are not lessened by their loss on this occasion – as we shall see – the mountain remains.

Element 1 – Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is often about keeping control of emotions, sometimes under great pressure. Rugby requires the players to be “up for it”. You have to be mentally ready to put your body on the line, to run into and make hard contacts with the opposition. Its not a place for slow thinking except during restarts and when the game is full on then emotions and instincts come to the fore described by Kahneman as system one thinking. Keeping the emotional intensity at the right level without getting penalised or making errors was a huge part of the success. It’s a learned skill. As is keeping your head when you’re winning and the cognitive dissonance kicks in (“We cant be beating New Zealand!”). Ireland over the years always had the bravery and the bottle. Sometimes too much. This was cooler and calmer and playing away from home and using the pitch just as if you were playing at home – this required a very positive mindset. Think of the benefits this kind of emotional Intelligence can bring to the workplace especially in times of change.

Element 2 – Trust

Farrell is a direct and honest coach and leader. He is described as caring for his team, he leads the way and watching his media interviews he neither gets overexcited with the wins or too down with the losses. He did have a certain glint in his eyes after the New Zealand win though. I was struck by the Keith Earls story of Farrell stepping in at a team meeting when he thought Earls might be embarrassed by something. To protect his man. When a leader is authentic and you feel he or she has your back you can focus on what’s in front of you. When trust and honesty is there then it frees the mind to make choices in real time. If it works it works, if not try again next time – there is no fear of failure.

Think about getting the ball and having to make one of four decisions in 1-2 seconds. Meanwhile a 20 stone man who looks like he’s made out of granite, wants to cut you in half. If you don’t make the decision, he will. There is no time for fear of failure, thinking, or strategy. Its system one all the way. Mike Tyson once said that the plan goes out the window once you get the first punch in the mouth. Field Marshal von Moltke said similarly that “No plan survives contact with the enemy”.  Trust brings agility (quick response) and often innovation (try something different). Think how this applies in the workplace.

Element 3 – Systems thinking

Systems thinking is about the interaction of parts and this is what leads to outcomes and to success. So the Ireland team were using systems and interchanges that were precise, accurate and which led to success. One example is the formation of runners when taking the ball up. I have seen it before when Pat Lam’s Connacht won the Pro12 and runners would come together only making decisions in real time as the defence adapted. So Ireland, running up the ball don’t have a plan to give it to one player or the other – the decision maker can see where the gap is in the defence and in the last half second gives the ball to the right player on his shoulder or keeps it or spins it wider. Systems are used for rucking, set pieces, becoming available for a pass etc and different systems achieve different goals in different parts of the field, as part of the greater whole. All these little systems are focused upon, in real time, rather than the overall outcome. If something fails, they go back to the appropriate system in real time. Reset. Start again. No blame. We are all in this together. They also retain the flexibility to change systems if opportunities opened up.

So I am still delighted by the performance and the win. Incredible odds and incredible sportsmanship by New Zealand after the event. Their consensus is that Ireland were very good we need to get better. Another great mindset.

Aidan Higgins BE MBA is the founder of ADEO Consulting Ltd and a Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and Teamwork specialist and Coach, who has worked with leaders and teams at all levels of the private and public sectors. He has over 30 years experience working in various capacities with individuals, teams and organisations of all sizes. He is the author of LeadFromYou – We need aware, authentic and emotionally intelligent leaders. – now available in Paperback and Kindle on Amazon and in audiobook form via Audible and iTunes.

Equality and inclusion requires leaders to be aware of their subconscious bias.

Diversity in the modern organisation is regarded by management theorists and academics alike as a positive for performance and financial results. After a diversity literature review Marquis et al (2008) observed that the business case for diversity was strongly supported adding that a diverse workforce does improve performance and boost the bottom line”.

However, diversity is impacted by the biases we all have, some conscious and some unconscious. Even the most egalitarian of us use stereotypes to make our way in the world. A complex world, getting more complex daily, requires us to breakdown and categorize things and people around us. This is OK so long as we are aware of what we are doing. Many are shocked to find that they are operating under the illusion that they have no biases. These biases can be unearthed using psychological tests where congruence and reaction times are measured.

Take one example. Try for a moment to think about a regional accent that you are aware of, and the characteristics that you associate with that accent, either good or bad. If you list those characteristics, you might find that you have a belief or an assumption about people who speak with that accent. Do you think that this could influence your hiring practices or your promotion practices within your organization? Taking the regional accent as one example of bias try to think of similar examples. Many leaders, often with the best will in the world, have biases about gender, race, skin color, nationality, age, or educational background. Sometimes we are positively biased, but this can also lead to an imbalance as the leader unquestioningly behaves more positively towards the individual or individuals in a group towards which he or she is positively biased.

Remembering that when people think too similarly then groupthink is a challenge (blamed by many for the financial crisis of 2008), leaders must continue questioning their biases about those with whom they surround themselves. Diverse opinion leading to positive conflict is very good for leveraging the best from leadership teams.

According to Hofhuis et al (2016) what is termed a positive diversity climate (culture) does enhance outcomes in the workplace through improved trust and more honesty in day to day team communication. Van Knippenberg et al. (2004) observed that diverse teams are better able to access a greater resource of knowledge and experience, which also enhances team effectiveness. In terms of your biases, moving them from subconscious to conscious through awareness helps a lot especially for the trustworthy and morally minded leader.

Its ok not to like some people of course but try to be aware and try to be fair.

2022-06-27T12:19:26+00:00June 27th, 2022|Discussion|

The great resignation: three leadership blindspots

Four million resignations in the US in July 2021 and 10.9 million jobs unfilled. One leader of an international US business says 55% of his workers refusing to come back to work. Similar problems have appeared in Ireland and the UK.

If you’re a leader sitting there wondering about why people are resigning or leaving your organization, consider these three things. Check in with yourself.

Your issues with control

Why are so many leaders insisting people come back to the office? Why so much resistance to allowing the continuation of remote work? A leader who insists on an unnecessary office return has issues with trust. In some cases, it’s a practical requirement of getting the work done, but there are many cases where the pandemic has proved that remote work is workable and yet these people are being asked to return to the office. That’s adding back the necessity and stress for child-care and of course the horror of the commute.

When your people know that they can get their job done as well as or even better than they used to while in the office, and you continue to insist that they return full time to the office, this makes no sense to them. So it’s a control issue, with presenteeism your focus, do these people feel that you trust them? Do you?

I have worked with leaders who nearly faint at the idea of being out of control. And funnily enough it’s really only the illusion of control. Leaders who get to grip with the idea that being out of control is not the end of the world, succeed as they allow agility and flexibility and innovation to prosper in their organization. But many leaders are not aware that they need control to feel safe. How do you feel about control?

Your assumption people should be happy to have a job

It wasn’t so long ago that there was a celebration when somebody got a job in a bank or a similar large institution. They were set for life. In the modern environment the idea of spending 25 years working for one company is often seen as a “boomer” thing. Certainly the later generations with their high tech skills and their ability to work very well in groups and remotely, realize that loyalty to organizations is a thing of the past. They consider this truth to be self-evident having watched the layoffs, corruption, and environmental terrorism taking place over the last two decades.

Success in this modern world and in the future relies on winning the war for talent. That talent resides in the hands of the people that actually do the work for the organization, and is a key organizational capability. A harsh truth is that without the ability to attract and retain the available talent your organization will not survive. So, the idea that people should be happy to have a job, particularly the key talent in your organization, is long past its sell-by-date. Leaders need to stop thinking like that and so stop acting like that.

Whether the leadership style you use is current or inherited from a different world.

So where did you learn your leadership? Did you learn it over the last 20 years and base it on a model which was developed and used in the last century, or are you up to speed with the fast moving, ever changing environment we all now operate in. In this environment leadership is always leadership of change. Here we are stuck in the middle of a huge change driven by global events. Some are trying to go back to the way things were. To put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Innovation, agility, flexibility and adaptability are words that have been in free flow in management and leadership theory for the last 10 years. So now here we all are, and when all of those capabilities are needed our tendency to is to resist change, to go to the old ways of doing things or to go with what we know. When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.

There’s a lot going on, and many of us feel like we’re trying to right the boat and get it up and sailing again and then get it moving. But the boat has changed and the wind is coming from a different direction. You need to recognize this and deal with the ambiguity, while being agile enough to try new things as you feel your way forward in this new environment.

Aidan Higgins BE MBA
Leadership and Teamwork Specialist and
Founder and Director at Adeo Consulting Ltd
Author of Lead From You

2021-11-16T14:04:31+00:00November 16th, 2021|Discussion|

The trouble with Marks Meta-verse

If you were hanging around in 2006 you would have come across an idea called Second Life which offered an online universe in which you could meet others, build, buy and sell and explore. Some used it as a meeting point, as you could sit around a table beside a waterfall and conduct a virtual meeting. It was the next big thing. It wasn’t though. Second Life is still going however many figured out that interacting with real people was a superior experience.

Roll around 2022 and we have Mark Zuckerberg’s “new” idea to create an alternate universe, a metaverse to interact with others. Perhaps he is assuming that the people who did well with Zoom and similar through the pandemic will take to the Metaverse.

Perhaps its Mark’s robotic persona or his brilliant but perhaps impractical mind, or maybe it’s me. I don’t get it. Sure, it’ll be fun to try out. But then? If the vision is that people want to live their lives on-line, then this is mistaken. If the vision is to hook people into spending their lives as an Avatar then this is dangerous.

Zoom fatigue is a thing. But some people prefer Zoom – those not confident with people or who are sensitive to interactions with others can prefer to be at the other end of a screen if possible. However, while Zoom and the other tech did well through the pandemic when it was necessary, it’s not ideal. It negates the power of person to person interaction and the human connection so necessary to happiness and our feeling of belonging that drives a team to be greater than the sum of its parts.

We also communicate mostly through body language and a lot of this is missing with remote interacting. From a leadership perspective, belief and passion that power purpose, trust and motivation are diluted considerably by remote connection. This is why hybrid models of working must include real connection time in the schedule for teams and groups that work together. All of the problems of remote working will be made much worse by using avatars to communicate.

I was a fan of Facebook. The original idea was to connect people and allow them to stay connected over long distance. This was a good idea. But its been skewed now by misuse, bad algorithms and intentional polarisation. It replaced “the internet” which has become a search engine but also a purveyor of porn and similar. Is Facebook saveable? I don’t know. But creating a Metaverse to replace it is doing the opposite of connecting people.

Aidan Higgins BE MBA
Leadership and Teamwork Specialist and
Founder and Director at Adeo Consulting Ltd
Author of Lead From You

2021-11-10T15:02:18+00:00November 8th, 2021|Culture, Discussion, Leadership, Motivation, Team Performance|

Leaders. Post Pandemic Stress will need time and empathy for many.

Stress is like holding a glass of water at arms length. Its ok for a little while when necessary but it gets painful over time and you will need to put the glass down and take a rest. You can pick it up later of course. This is a popular adage and quite accurate.

This last 12-18 months there are many who have been holding too much for too long. Assuming your organisations are well run your people were operating close to a stress line before the pandemic hit. The change, constant worry and media misery will have caused many to stiffen up in resistance while doing their best to carry on contributing. We have also seen workload increases and resources dropping so many are doing far more with less.

I am hearing from people that many are at the end of their rope. The last thing your people need now is pressure from you and your organisation to “catch up”. What your people need is time under less pressure, to recover, to get their bearings, to feel safe again. Some recognition too of effort and loyalty would not go amiss. The last thing they need is a leader trying to fill the hole in his or her year end figures.

Think long term and think sustainably. Get your mind into 2022 and beyond. What will happen if you think about spreadsheets and burn out what’s left of your people? On the other hand what will happen if you take care of them and show that you and your organisation genuinely care about them in the aftermath?

Your care needs to be tailored to the individual – some will have suffered more than others due to many factors – personality, financial, home life etc. Some will be dying to get back to work and some will have crawled along the street, exhausted, just to get to the office. There’s an opportunity here, don’t miss it.

Our Leaders need some joined-up thinking to implement the new greener program for government.

Delighted to see a new government forming at last. I am hoping the words match the deeds in the coming months and years. However there seems to be a lack of joined up thinking about actually getting a Green Plan for Government done. Laudable and way overdue targets will be difficult to achieve without coordinated system change. There is a huge amount of good will but a lack of ability get the good work done. Business that has a positive environmental impact keeps getting blocked by poor regulations and inefficiencies in our public bodies. Look at these examples.

Do you know how many Croke Parks full of clean water we dump into storm drains every time it rains? This with regular drought emergencies and a proposed pipeline from the Shannon? Do you know how much it costs to pump and then treat a litre of water from, say, a well in South Wicklow, to the reserve in Blessington and then to a home in Dublin? I worked as a consultant for a few years with a company that provided rainwater harvesting and stormwater management solutions. Our high quality solutions were cheaper, easier to maintain, made from recycled materials and bio-filtered stormwater before returning it to the water table in pure form. There were loads of other benefits like reduced flooding etc etc. Blocking both solutions were projects specifying only concrete tanks which were blocked within a year, (so environmentally friendly!) and some councils refusing to deduct the charges for water supply when the client were collecting their own rainwater – effectively blocking investment. Other technologies such as porous concrete (that lets rainwater through into the ground) and similar also get no traction in this country. Is it lack of interest or vested interests?

Did you know that right now that the people who plant forestry in this country are sitting idle at this moment because of regulation. The current regulatory and licencing system has presided over the worst year for planting nationally since 1949 with less than 3,000 hectares planted in 2019 – and 2020 may even be worse. Ireland already intends to increase its level of forestry by 8,000 hectares a year. This is vital in terms of achieving our carbon reduction goals of 7% per annum and was designated to offset some of the increase in CO2 from agriculture. The figures are way too low and the current rate of approvals of forestry projects is 50% of the required rate with, for example, 60,000 tonnes of timber stalled in one week alone in April. Farmers who are interested in swapping say, beef production, for more profitable long term carbon reducing forestry cannot get their requirements met!

The Covid19 crisis has forced a lot of people work to from home. The roads are empty, there are no CO2 /NO2 generating traffic jams and our carbon output has dropped. Why not make a visible effort to keep some of that benefit post Covid19. An initiative should be driven by government – rather than by announcements from big tech companies – incentivise people and companies to keep people working from home (if they wish it). Do it now. Provide a minimal level of broadband capability even if it means grant-aiding or subventing the provision of 5G and ramping up its rollout. Give people tax breaks to stop commuting and use broadband instead when possible. Companies are reporting improved performance, people are reporting improved life balance – why are we not supporting and encouraging this CO2 friendly approach when its in the national and international interest???

Much of the problem lies in cross departmental communication and co-operation as well as the culture and sometimes bureaucratic nightmare that exists within parts of our civil service. We have seen real leadership from our government in the last few months, can we please see more of it to address the climate crisis with good green business opportunities. All it needs is some joined up thinking.

Aidan Higgins BEng MBA of ADEO Consulting Ltd is a Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and Teamwork specialist and coach working with Leaders and Teams at all levels of the Private and Public sectors in Ireland. He has over 25 years experience working in various capacities with individuals, teams and organisations of all sizes.

2020-06-17T13:35:42+00:00June 17th, 2020|Discussion|

Leadership: preparing for the recovery.

Getting back together - take time to reflectThe leadership you show in this crisis will impact your recovery.

As we get through this crisis its important to remember to stay compassionate and keep humanity at the forefront of our decision making as much as possible. Remember sometimes very hard decisions have to be made for the greater good but there’s no reason to remove caring and empathy from the procedures. I remember meeting a woman whose best friends were people she had fired at one time because she kept the human connection even working with them to find new jobs. Its the right thing to do and you need to remember that there will be a recovery and a tough one at that and you will need trust in the bank to use a fuel to empower this recovery. Do the right thing, always.

Before the recovery there will be a reckoning.  Thats ok – just be ready for it.

These are tough times – for some far more than others. The stresses of the change of environment, the uncertainty of the future, the worry about mortality of self and loved ones and the coming economic tidal wave will generate an environment in the near future involving both fiscal hardship and PTSD. We are all doing our best to limit the fiscal damage but its only one element. The stresses which many have not experienced before will leave their mark long after the acute part of the Pandemic has passed. Think about the stresses of two parents trying to work in a house with several bored children. Arguments and harsh words. And stress – there’s still a mortgage and bills to pay. As schools resume and many go back to their place of work the stress, repression of emotion, anxiety and other elements will surface and we let go of the metaphorical breath and try to get oxygen back into our system. Think of those healthcare workers as every day they go to work with tension and worry at the risk of not only contracting Covid19 but of bringing it home to the people they love. I have seen the worry and bravery up close. Its hard to watch. Again there will be a price for this. Like radioactivity – you can be exposed to so much, after which there will be long term effects.

Help your resilience.

Ignoring this problem will not make it go away. Leaders need to prepare for its impact. Bring empathy and compassion to your people. Remember they are mostly not the same as you. They will all suffer and express suffering in different ways. They will have been through this with various levels of coping skills and experience of this sort of thing. Some will skip back to the workplace, some will run, and some will come in smoking from their experience. They need help now with their resilience to reduce the levels of their stress. No need to wait for it to blow up. Bring support, reassurance, care and realistic optimism to them now. Take the time to listen, to share experiences, to empathise, to get some oxygen in and to recover before you start into it again. Remember to also look after yourself. Taking time to think, breathe and energise yourself. Like the aircraft oxygen mask get your own on first so you can help those around you.

We have a short video we put together at ADEO Consulting with mindfulness tips to help resilience. I hope it helps.

Take Care

Aidan Higgins

2020-12-16T10:55:32+00:00May 15th, 2020|Discussion|

The Authentic Leadership we need in times of crisis.

Leadership in a CrisisAuthenticity in troubling times like these is key to engendering trust in those that depend on your decisions and perspectives. This trust is key to keeping your people focused and positive in a crisis and to reducing stress in times of uncertainty. Post crisis this trust will be key to rebuilding and in leading the recovery.

Authentic leadership is composed of four distinct components.

Self-Awareness (“Know Thyself”). A prerequisite for being an authentic leader is knowing your own strengths, limitations, and values. Knowing what you stand for and what you value is critical. It’s important to understand that self-awareness underpins the development of the other components of authentic leadership.

Relational Transparency (“Be Genuine”). This involves being honest and straightforward in dealing with others. An authentic leader does not play games or have a hidden agenda. You know where you stand with an authentic leader. Because of this you can be trusted – if you say its going to be ok people are going to believe you.

Balanced Processing (“Be Fair-Minded”). An effective authentic leader solicits opposing viewpoints and considers all options before choosing a course of action. There is no impulsive action or “hidden agendas”—plans are well thought out and openly discussed. They are shared with and include followers. A fair leader can build consensus in the right way and bring people with him. People pulling together can make all the difference in a fight for survival.

Internalized Moral Perspective (“Do the Right Thing”). An authentic leader has an ethical core. She or he knows the right thing to do and is driven by a concern for ethics and fairness. The roots of authentic leadership come from ancient greek philosophy that focuses on the development of core, or cardinal, virtues. These virtues are prudence (fair-mindedness, wisdom, seeing all possible courses of action); temperance (being emotionally balanced and in control); justice (being fair in dealings with others); and fortitude (courage to do the right thing).

Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring out your authentic self.

Becoming an authentic leader is not easy. Hopefully you established your credentials before this crisis and so your people can trust you and you in turn can get the best from them. But sometimes it takes a crisis to bring out your Authentic self. Are you like Hal Moore, the “first onto the battlefield” and “the last to leave the battlefield” sort of leader? How do you show this?

When your people are operating in anger or anxiety they are, of course, not as effective. This at a time when a survival mode mindset and maximum effort is required. It takes a calm trustworthiness in a leader with a steady hand to help people with this. Remember you may not know all the answers but you don’t pretend to – you work with others to find them and then make the best decisions you can. It is as always, about caring for and empowering your people and showing humility and compassion in everything you do. Even the hard decisions.

It takes a great deal of self-reflection (getting to know oneself), and the courage to do the right thing. It involves a degree of selflessness. We are seeing during the Pandemic many authentic leaders stepping forward. And we are also seeing the opposite.

Soon you will be leading the recovery and how you lead now will prepare for a much more successful outcome.

2020-04-27T15:59:29+00:00April 27th, 2020|Authentic Leadership, Discussion, Employee Engagement, Leadership|

Unleashing the Power of Mindfulness in Corporations

MindfulnessVolatile markets, challenging consumer demands, and the technological disruptions resulting from digitization and Industry 4.0 are producing unprecedented rates of change. In response, companies have worked to increase organizational agility, hoping to foster innovation and shorten go-to market cycles. Yet organizational experiences and sociological conditioning often impede true agility. As a result, many of these efforts fall short of their objective to manage the uncertainty generated by change. But another movement—mindfulness—will help companies overcome these challenges.

Mindfulness is a centuries-old idea that has been reinvented to address the challenges of our digital age. In essence, mindfulness describes a state of being present in the moment and leaving behind one’s tendency to judge. It allows one to pause amid the constant inflow of stimuli and consciously decide how to act, rather than react reflexively with ingrained behavior patterns. Mindfulness, therefore, is perfectly suited to counterbalance the digital-age challenges of information overload and constant distraction.

The benefits of mindfulness are both clear and proven. Mindfulness programs help leaders and employees reflect effectively, focus sharply on the task at hand, master peak levels of stress, and recharge quickly. On an organizational level, mindfulness reduces sick days, increases trust in leadership, and boosts employee engagement. What’s more, mindfulness helps to unlock the full potential of digital and agile transformations. New processes and structures are just the starting points for these transformations.

Not surprisingly, interest in mindfulness is growing, especially among digital natives: in the past decade, the rate of increase in Google searches for mindfulness has outpaced that of all Google searches by a factor of four. Furthermore, years of scientific research and modern forms of teaching have fueled its popularity. Now, mindfulness apps even come preinstalled on smartphones and tablets.

Yet integrating mindfulness in the corporate context can be challenging. Some companies encounter vocal skeptics; others struggle with entrenched ways of working. Even leaders and employees who are eager to try out mindfulness find it hard to get started. To unleash the power of mindfulness, companies will have to embrace a holistic approach to corporate agility.

AGILITY REQUIRES COPING WITH UNCERTAINTY

To support their agility efforts, many companies have applied “cosmetic” digital-age solutions, such as hackathons, agile meetings (for example, short daily standup meetings to discuss progress and obstacles), and new visualization techniques and creativity tools.

However, most companies have not yet created an environment that truly prepares them to reap the rewards of agility. Often, their ways of working have been shaped by a tradition of emphasizing functional excellence over agility, as well as systems that favor expertise over open-mindedness. Two inhibitors stand out:

  • Resistance to Change. As the pace of change increases, employees will have to continuously adapt to evolving circumstances. In most organizations, however, the existing ways of working leave employees unprepared to do so. They may therefore respond with reflexive resistance, a defense mechanism to avoid the discomfort of psychological uncertainty. Organizational politics and poor communication about the purpose of making changes only strengthen this resistance.
  • Overvaluing Expertise. Many employees think and interact at work by applying expertise that they gained before the digital age, when efficiency, not agility, was the overarching objective. Such an approach encourages closed-mindedness.

To overcome these inhibitors, leaders and employees need to abandon traditional management styles and linear ways of working. They must rewire their established mindsets, cultivating the open-mindedness and clarity required to navigate through unpredictable environments. They must acknowledge that their business involves elements beyond their control and develop the capacity for self-leadership in an unpredictable environment. And to gain mastery over uncertainty, they must learn to walk in the fog, open their eyes wide to detect signals from all directions, and feel empowered to trigger rapid action.

MINDFULNESS FACILITATES NAVIGATION THROUGH UNCERTAINTY

Mindfulness enables people to radically strengthen their ability to adapt quickly to evolving circumstances and ambiguous situations and to increase the speed with which they learn new things. It creates mental agility and helps people look inward to find answers.

In their recent book, Altered Traits, Daniel Goleman, a Harvard psychologist, and Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provide a scientific view of personal mindfulness benefits. They synthesize three proven benefits of mindfulness that, in combination, allow people to act more effectively in unpredictable environments:

  • Staying Calm and Open-Minded. Mindfulness practices, such as breathing meditation, are associated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, the region of the brain that initiates a response to stress. This reduces the inclination to interpret an uncertain environment as a threat and thus react defensively. In this way, mindfulness improves mental agility, allowing attitudes to shift from “But we have always done it like that” to “Let’s see what happens if we try a new approach.”
  • Cognitive Ability. Mindfulness improves short-term memory and the ability to perform complex cognitive tasks. It also frees people to think outside the box, which helps them cut through complexity. In the context of workplace performance, proven results include a higher quality of strategic decision making and more effective collaboration.
  • Focus and Clarity of Thinking. As Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon observed, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” This insight, first articulated in 1971, is more accurate today than ever before. Maintaining a strong focus in this time of digital information overload, therefore, is essential. The regular practice of mindfulness routines can reduce mental wandering and distractibility. Mindfulness strengthens the awareness of both one’s activities in the present moment and one’s mental processes and behaviors (known as meta-awareness).

By delivering these individual benefits, mindfulness boosts the potential of corporate agility initiatives and agile transformations. It helps people to inspect and adapt their behaviors in short cycles, relax so that they can rewire established attitudes, and think clearly in the midst of overwhelming digital stimuli. In short, mindfulness facilitates navigation in the context of uncertainty and ambiguity.

THE CORPORATE WORLD HAS TAKEN NOTICE

East Asian corporations, such as Panasonic and Toyota, have long understood that the personal benefits of mindfulness can support business objectives. Indeed, mindfulness is the “zen” in kaizen,the lean-management concept of continuous improvement. Zen, one form of mindfulness, emphasizes deep insight through observation over know-how. It is about discarding preconceptions and developing fresh ideas to achieve continuous self-improvement.

For example, open mindedness through Zen underlies Toyota’s employee suggestion system and quality circles. The quality circles empower employees to adopt a “beginner’s mind” when observing work-related problems and to independently develop innovative measures to drive improvement. Unlike self-perceived expertise, which encourages closed-mindedness, a beginner’s mind is open and curious, with no preconceptions. The more quickly change occurs, the more employees need to adopt a beginner’s mind for problem solving.

A leading pioneer of corporate mindfulness is Jon Kabat-Zinn, who facilitated its democratization by designing a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. The course provides a simple and structured introduction to scientifically proven meditation practices. Similarly, Chade-Meng Tan has developed Search Inside Yourself, a course that combines meditation practices with emotional intelligence training—an approach he pioneered at Google.

More recently, companies in the West have turned to mindfulness to promote employee well-being and productivity. The movement began among startups in Silicon Valley and has been implemented by long-established companies across the US and Europe as well as by government bodies. These include Aetna, Beiersdorf, Bosch, General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Intel, Royal Dutch Shell, SAP, Target, the UK’s Parliament, and the US House of Representatives.

Many of these organizations embrace agility and aspire to cultivate a new form of leadership. Among the top executives who meditate and encourage their employees to follow their example, for instance, are Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Google cofounder Sergey Brin. In fact, attending a meditation class is a popular way to begin the workday at many Silicon Valley companies, including Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Over the course of many years, Bosch, a multinational engineering company that focuses on automotive components and consumer goods, has increased its agility through a variety of initiatives. These include creating flexible organizational structures, introducing agile development methods, and experimenting with new business models and technologies. In order to promote the success of these initiatives, the company realized that it needed to fundamentally change its approach to leadership. According to Petra Martin, who is responsible for leadership development at Bosch Automotive Electronics, “Mindfulness is an essential lever to shift from a culture of control to a culture of trust. Communication has fundamentally changed since we introduced our mindfulness training to more than 1,000 leaders in the organization.”

At software company SAP, mindfulness has become a key ingredient of corporate life for employees and executives alike. More than 6,000 employees have taken two-day mindfulness courses that focus on meditations complemented by the practice of self-mastery and compassion. In addition, internal mindfulness trainers offer guided meditations during working hours and a multiweek mindfulness challenge, including meditation “micropractices,” such as tuning out of a busy workday for a few minutes to focus on one’s breathing. “For many managers, it has become the new normal to open meetings with short meditations,” says Peter Bostelmann, the director of SAP’s global mindfulness practice. Participants in the mindfulness program report increased well-being and higher creativity. What’s more, mindfulness has promoted significant measurable improvements in employee engagement and leadership trust indices. Bostelmann has seen a significant shift in how corporate mindfulness programs are perceived. A few years ago, some leaders ridiculed the concept of mindfulness at work. Recently, however, executives of other companies—including Deutsche Telekom and Siemens—have sought Bostelmann’s advice about how to adopt mindfulness concepts at their companies.

Aetna, a US health insurer, has trained 13,000 employees on mindfulness practices, resulting in a reported reduction in stress levels of 28%. Annual productivity improvements, a secondary effect, are estimated at $3,000 per employee. Aetna launched the mindfulness initiatives gradually, starting with brief meditations in executive-team meetings and then continuing with yoga and meditation classes for all employees. “We have demonstrated that mindfulness-based programs can reduce stress and improve people’s health,” says Mark Bertolini, Aetna’s chairman and CEO.

HOW COMPANIES CAN INSTILL MINDFULNESS

To fully capture the benefits of mindfulness, companies should customize their mindfulness programs. While it is valuable to begin by determining the objective of mindfulness interventions, many organizations have also achieved good results by starting with a small pilot program, such as providing a mindfulness course to senior leadership.

For some companies, mindfulness will become a paradigm for organization design and employee well-being. In terms of adopting mindfulness generally, organizations can start by experimenting with four types of interventions: leadership training, meditation training, mindfulness micropractices, and mindfulness coaching.

Leadership Training. As management guru Peter F. Drucker observed, leaders need trained perception fully as much as analysis. Well-designed leadership courses address this need by combining actionable mindfulness and emotional intelligence practices.

Even customized mindfulness leadership courses share common elements. Leaders should learn how to integrate formal and informal mindfulness practices into everyday life. Formal practices are often guided meditations, while informal practices include mindful listening exercises and simply paying attention to the task at hand.

By instilling self-awareness, self-regulation, and compassion, mindfulness courses address the psychological root causes of multiple leadership challenges. And because these courses also encourage the natural development of skills for managing time, change, and conflict, training programs dedicated to establishing these skills might become obsolete.

At Bosch, a one-year agile leadership-training curriculum involves three modules: leading oneself, leading teams, and leading the organization. The self-leadership training focuses on mindfulness and involves regular guided meditations, conscious-communication exercises, and courses to help leaders avoid the pitfalls of multitasking.

At a multinational engineering company, some leaders openly expressed skepticism about the value of mindfulness. The company converted these skeptics into believers by explaining the concept in layman’s terms, sharing scientific research about its effectiveness, and inspiring senior leaders to become change agents. Today, mindfulness is the new normal for the company, and leaders pause for meditation in the designated silent room before making major decisions or having difficult discussions.

Meditation Training. In addition to training executives, organizations should evaluate whether to offer training opportunities to all employees. Many individuals are willing to try out meditation but struggle to understand where to start. A half-day to full-day course can introduce basic practices, such as breathing or body scan meditations, so that employees can subsequently continue on their own.

To reinforce their training courses, some organizations—including Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter—offer guided meditations during working hours. Google has also established silent lunches and silent rooms, where employees can go to readjust their mindsets in the midst of an intense working day.

Mindfulness Micropractices. Repetitive practice of basic skills is essential to promote mastery: think of pianists playing scales throughout their careers or baseball players taking batting practice before every game. Similarly, employees who complete a meditation program need to continue practicing, through micropractices, to truly master mindfulness. Seasoned meditators report transformative mindfulness benefits once they have mastered the seamless integration of mindfulness practices into everyday life.

Organizations should invest in creating a culture in which meditation micropractices are not just tolerated but are actively disseminated by mindfulness change agents. Small workshops can also help to integrate mindfulness in a nonintrusive way. These workshops can teach approaches such as Elisha Goldstein’s STOP practice, in which participants learn to stop, take a breath, observe (thoughts, feelings, and emotions), and proceed. Beyond promoting mastery for mindfulness practitioners, micropractices can serve as an easy starting point for skeptics, who often experience surprising benefits after a few sessions.

Mindfulness Coaching. The principles of mindfulness can also help teams collaborate more effectively. For example, if team members master the ability to listen to one another with undivided attention and without interruption, they promote freer and more creative thinking. And a team culture that values appreciation over criticism helps to build transparency and openness. In her 2015 book, More Time to Think: The Power of Independent Thinking, Nancy Kline proposes that people offer appreciative comments five times as often as they do critical remarks.

Facilitation by a coach is essential to capture the benefits of mindfulness in teamwork. Agile teams typically already have scrum masters or agile coaches, and these individuals can become mindfulness coaches as well. Similarly, executive teams could benefit from mindfulness coaches to enable authentic communication and effective teamwork.

UNLEASHING THE POWER

Companies that undergo a transformation through mindfulness are seeing positive returns both on an individual level and on an organizational level. As leaders and employees develop the open-mindedness and clarity required to navigate through unpredictable environments, the organization becomes well positioned to unlock the full potential of agility. For companies that have not yet successfully embraced mindfulness, the imperative is clear: follow a well-designed, holistic approach to implement this centuries-old solution to digital-age challenges.

Original article from BCG’s Christian Greiser and Jan-Philipp Martini is  here

2020-03-06T11:35:38+00:00February 15th, 2020|Discussion|
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