Mindfulness and business, is it always a peaceful blend?

23rd September 2015

We are meeting an increasing number of people and businesses who want to talk to us about running mindfulness sessions for their staff. Many existing mindfulness training providers talk about destressing, improving quality of life and finding greater peace in an ever more chaotic world. That sounds lovely. I think we’d all like some of that. At the same time, my suspicious side wonders why we are not looking at our chaotic world more closely, and in particular how it shapes our behaviours and responses.

Definitions of mindfulness invariably refer to states of consciousness, accepting thoughts without judgement, maintaining a moment by moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations and increased awareness of the immediate environment. If I have missed anything out, it must be because I was distracted.

People have said to me ‘Your business is called In The Moment, so you must be all about mindfulness’. Well, yes and no.  We do focus is on what we think, feel and do in the moment and its impact on the people around us and the organisation as a whole. That comes from us treating the organisation as a ‘thing’ in its own right.

Many organisations are introducing, or want to introduce, mindfulness initiatives because of the increasing evidence that it can lead to reduced burnout and improved performance. The truth is that the evidence is shaky at best, and the evaluation criteria for mindfulness programmes are often flaky. Many organisations also ignore that simple fact that training people in mindfulness in a ‘non-mindful’ organisation is teaching people to behave counter-culturally. Most businesses have enough rebels without creating more, so why do they undertake this work when it can actually undermine their core values?

Before I talk about what a mindful organisation, let me address the issue of mindfulness and stress;

  1. Stress doesn’t exist. It’s a whole batch of symptoms with the same label that doctors can prescribe against, and therefore businesses believe they have a problem with.
  2. Burnout is the result of prolonged stress. Find the causes and you can kill the stress.
  3. Mindfulness has many faces;  awareness training, meditation, breathwork, calm conversation, Tai Chi, Reiki, Yoga, Biofeedback, and many more besides. Some may work, some may not. The only way to find out is to try several and evaluate them properly.
  4. If mindfulness is the answer, then what was the question? Mindfulness is not a mental aspirin. If your business has a problem with a lack on mindfulness, then you’re on the right track. If it’s something else, see 2 above.

In our view, you start with the organisation first.

Mindfulness in an organisation . It would likely display the following behaviours;

1) A clearly articulate mission, vision and purpose. Conscious awareness of a shared purpose brings clarity to the organization.

2) Flexible and responsive to changing situations. Accepting changing situations more easily requires greater awareness of self and others.

3) Energy to spare. Recognising that energy is not limitless means choosing when to put more effort in and when to let go, and making a conscious effort to maintain and build organisational resilience.

4) Reflexive learning. An organization that supports learning from mistakes and recognises that development never stops is one that is continually improving. Stagnation is decline, and ultimately death.

5) Culture = Organisation. What your people do creates your culture. Don’t be fooled by anyone who claims otherwise, no matter how much they are prepared to charge you for the privilege. A shift in mindset from two teams (us and them’) to one team (us’) can unleash huge amounts of creative energy to grow and develop the business.

Mindfulness means getting on with it.

All that most businesses need from their leaders, according to Slavoj Zizek, are for them to do their job properly. Someone needed to say that. Often the cause of the stress that so many feel in business is the conflicting goals, tasks and initiatives set by their own leaders. A mindful business is aware of this and takes the necessary action to prevent problems at source.


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