Having worked with companies around the world I can assure you: everybody is very busy. People are always in motion responding to everything from buzzing phones to pinging newsfeeds to social media streaming something or other…
But most of that activity does not yield the results, or achieve what we intend.
Add to that the challenges of change and sustainability and most companies find themselves overwhelmed. Hiring more people to manage the noise just increases the bluster.
A mindful approach to business and the management of busyness can help. By slowing down, defining focus and working towards a purpose, companies, organizations, teams and individuals can much more effectively realize their goals.
Take for example an executive team with whom we worked: the executives were convinced that they spent all, or most, of their time on important work. However, when we conducted an analysis, together with their own classification of tasks and their assistants keeping track of work on a daily basis, we found something different.
Almost all of the team’s time when to urgent work regardless of importance. And of that urgent work, only 15-20% was considered “important”. And, they spent next to no time on anything they might have considered important, but wasn’t urgent.
We have since conducted this exercise with a number of teams with similar results. Managers do realize what is important, but the pull of urgency is just too strong. Without even realizing it everyone is pulled into a reactionary cycle, losing sight of what is important.
This is where mindfulness can play a role.
Not just an idea for the beaches of California it is a powerful way of thinking in an age of unrelenting noise.
The idea is pretty simple. On a personal level, mindfulness deals with interrupting our automatic responses to triggers. The idea is that there is some trigger in the world, a phone rings, and I respond to it, jumping up to answer the phone. This response is automatic.
A mindful approach puts thought in the middle. The trigger is still there, but it leads to a thought which allows us to choose how to respond.
This breaks the automatic reaction in a person, allowing for a mindful action. A mindful person responds on purpose.
A company focused on mindfulness encourages this type of behavior throughout the day, thus “thinking” before it acts.
The strategic advantage a mindful approach brings is allowing businesses and organizations to set and achieve objectives and goals, elevating the level of dialog in the company. It also empowers people in the organization to focus on the important work that needs to get done.
Beyond achieving goals, it allows the organization to raise the standard of what important means. Since a mindful company will focus more intently on achieving its goals, the organization can add more meaning to those goals and encourage its people to meet higher standards.
Mindfulness is important not just to profitability but also necessary for promoting sustainability and meeting the complex needs of the environment and stakeholders. Rather than just rushing off and acting, we pause, consider the effects, then take action.
Creating a mindful organization, like developing mindfulness in oneself, takes practice. It is something that the leadership needs to endorse and live as well as encourage.
How do cultivate mindfulness:
In our experience there are three key steps that leadership can take to cultivate mindfulness:
Establish goals and create a plan. Define clearly the company’s purpose and its “why”. Define what you want to achieve from a business perspective and a sustainability perspective. Creating a scenario strategy can be very helpful because it allows the company to plan in uncertainty and be ready for surprise events. Importantly a plan is never set in stone and it should evolve over time.
Learn to recognize triggers and create processes to deal with them. Managers and employees can focus on identifying distracting triggers and developing the thought patterns that allow for a mindful response. Some noise may need to be dealt with, a customer with a problem needs attention, so make that somebody’s focus.
Managers should encourage mindfulness. Leadership is important and the way managers act is key to how their subordinates act. Managers should demand thoughtful responses rather than immediate responses and challenge knee jerk reactions to ensure they are aligned with the goals and the “why” of the company.
A mindful approach isn’t rocket science; one benefit is its simplicity. But it does take a conscious effort and practice. The executive team in my example above still spends time on urgent issues, more than they should, but they also spend a lot more time on important ones. And over time, working on the right, important, issues will reduce urgency in general and lead to more prosperous outcomes.
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