Conscious Capitalism Chicago: Blog
We write monthly pieces about our adventures, tours, gatherings, discussions and more.
The work day is busy. We all go through our day - driven by deadlines, meetings and schedules. We are constantly debriefing on the past or planning for the future. What about the present?
Practicing mindfulness means purposefully setting your attention and awareness on the current moment – without judgment. It means acknowledging how you are feeling in that moment and accepting those feelings without believing they are right or wrong. Mindfulness leads to stronger focus, conscious listening, happier employees and higher productivity.
Here are five tips for increasing your mindfulness at work.
The never-ending to-do list. You cross one thing off and then add two more. To be mindful about how you are spending your time and to help you be more present with the task at hand, you should prioritize your list and focus your energy on the items that fall into the Important/Not Urgent category in the Time Management Matrix below.
The activities in this category are proactive (vs. being reactive) and will help you prioritize the long-term, strategic initiatives that will make you, your team and your work more productive and effective.
Multi-tasking has never been a way to become more productive. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Every interruption decreases productivity as your focus is pulled into different directions. Don’t let the blackhole of your email swallow your day. Turn the pop-ups off. You are much farther ahead if you close your email while you’re working on a project or in a meeting and open it once you have the time to devote attention to it. In this day of instant communication, it’s difficult to refrain from the urge to respond for the sake of responding. Don’t do it! Stay in the moment and don’t be disrupted by email notifications.
Ah, the meetings. So many meetings! It’s difficult to get your work done around a day full of meetings. First thing’s first: don’t attend meetings that are not going to move your priorities forward or that will not benefit your work or your team’s work. Decline meetings that are not pertinent to you. Another solution is to only join for the parts of the agenda that are relevant to you.
For those meetings that you do attend, it’s important to be a present and mindful participant. This means focusing on the topic at hand and listening to your colleagues without judgment. Be open to their thoughts and ideas. Try to understand where they are coming from first and provide feedback and ideas second. Avoid checking your phone. Avoid side conversations. And if you’re leading the meeting, be sure to start and end on time. This will help your participants remain focused and attentive for the duration of time they blocked off for your topic.
Planning is time well-spent! All too often we dive into our day, then our week, reacting to what’s being thrown at us. Instead, it’s important to create a plan incorporating your priorities among the must-do tasks that often consume our time. The more you feel overwhelmed and/or out of control, the more you need to take 15 minutes to regroup and revisit your plan. It’s smart to invest time into getting back on track. Having a realistic, doable plan will allow you to focus on the task at hand and be more productive.
The best way to stay focused and centered is to take breaks – and often! You should take a five-minute break every hour that consists of walking, stretching, deep breathing or relaxing in some way. Getting away from your screen is key. Checking your email or social media is not a break. This sounds so simple, but is often very difficult to put into practice. Find a break buddy. Find a colleague who you can go for a walk with or an officemate who enjoys a quick chat. Work cultures that practice care have happier employees. Those who are mindful during breaks will be more mindful at work, and happier overall.
One of the pillars of Conscious Capitalism is a business’ commitment to a purpose beyond just making a profit. As Conscious Capitalism co-founder, Raj Sisodia, is fond of saying, our bodies have to produce red blood cells to survive, but our purpose in life is not to make red blood cells. Similarly, business needs profit to fuel the pursuit of their purpose, but profit is not a purpose.
I had the pleasure of attending an Executives’ Club breakfast in September that featured Allstate CEO, Tom Wilson. Tom’s message (“Building and Leading a Purpose Driven Culture”) was intriguing; I don’t often think of Allstate as a conscious company. The insurance giant, headquartered in Northbrook, is the second largest property and casualty insurer in the U.S. – and insurance does not naturally spring to mind as a conscious industry. But I was at the breakfast to learn and be curious.
Tom shared the genesis of Allstate’s journey around purpose beginning with leadership development at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando. One element of HPI’s program is exploration of personal purpose. Tom shared his personal purpose as to “help other people have more meaning and success in their lives”. As more Allstate leaders engaged in their own purpose work, Tom brought the process in-house and engaged his leadership group together to develop Allstate’s purpose. Today, their stated purpose is to “help customers realize their hopes and dreams by providing the best products and services to protect them from life’s uncertainties and prepare them for the future.” Helping people realize their hopes and dreams – I can get behind that!
And, having a clear purpose is not the end; it’s just the beginning. How do you align your business with the purpose and lead from there? Tom said it requires balancing stakeholders, and Allstate has a few: 40,000 employees, 11,000 agencies and over 16,000,000 customer households – not to mention shareholders as well as the communities they serve. He aspires for Allstate to be a purpose-driven company, fueled by purpose-driven people, such that customers come before company and people come before policies. That requires a shift to a conscious culture, and Allstate has surrounded its purpose with clear values, priorities and leadership and operating principles.
Tom shared further about his recent tenure as immediate past-Chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While there, he challenged the Chamber to articulate its purpose, and the result was two-fold: to help businesses grow and create jobs. For him, the purpose of business is to create prosperity by:
Great lessons from a conscious leader. Thank you, Tom Wilson!
“Love and Impact”, that’s how First United Bank in Oklahoma describes its values. Unusual for a financial services organization, wouldn’t you say? First United Bank’s CEO Greg Massey shared the bank’s story with us at our chapter event last month, hosted at Loyola’s Baumhart Center for Social Enterprise.
As a younger man, Greg reluctantly joined his father in leading the bank in Durant, OK. Together, they grew the bank, and Greg took the lead in creating a more conscious culture. They articulated a purpose beyond making profits – “to inspire and empower others to Spend Life Wisely” – and began to align business practices around that purpose. First United hosts financial management seminars for its customers and makes business decisions based on customers’ financial welfare. Greg shared an anecdote about an opportunity to provide a customer with large mortgage; after consideration, the loan officer discouraged the customer, explaining how it would burden his personal budget. This was an excellent example of living out the purpose – helping the customer “spend life wisely”, even though it meant reducing short-term revenue.
And yet, the purpose has not inhibited the business results. In fact, since 2013 First United’s assets have tripled from $2.4 billion to over $7 billion. Over the same period, the bank’s earnings have also tripled from $40 million to over $120 million. This is a powerful example of how purpose and profit need not be mutually exclusive; focus on purpose can dramatically increase profit.
During its journey, First United strengthened its culture by clarifying its stakeholders and articulating its values. It identified five core stakeholders in its business: customers, employees, shareholders, partners and the communities it serves. It strives to live out its purpose for each of these stakeholders, balancing their needs so that no one wins at the expense of another.
The bank also engaged its employees in formalizing its values and culture – the beliefs and behaviors that guide how it does business. The process surfaced seven core values, perhaps too many to remember and actively demonstrate. Upon further discernment, it was clear that the values aligned around two primary themes - love and impact:
These two themes energize the organization. Loving themselves, their families and their customers and making a positive impact on the lives in their communities. And, the values within the themes help to guide behavior and decision-making on a day-to-day basis.
Greg shared an unusual example of these values at work. A bank teller was working the drive-through window when a customer pulled up, crying and obviously upset. The teller inquired if she was OK, and the customer replied that she had just been diagnosed with cancer and was trying to deal with the news. Now, most of us would have expressed our concern and wished the best for her, but the First United teller asked, “May I come out there and pray with you?” The customer gratefully accepted her offer, and the teller exited the bank, came to the driver’s window and spent a few minutes praying with the customer. This example may seem over-the-top in our urban, secular life, but it was the perfect expression of First United’s values in Durant, OK. It impacted the customer through an expression of love, and it allowed the employee to be authentically connected to her faith and integrity (Greg also shared that the teller was a cancer survivor). While the example may challenge our norms or sensibilities, it’s a vivid example of how purpose and values need to resonate for the stakeholders and communities a business serves.
This quote recently went viral on social media.
I have a few modifications to it.
One important way leaders make everyone better (including themselves) is by empowering their colleagues to be their best, to try new things, to share their opinions and ideas. This leads to a win-win scenario where the employee is motivated, invested and productive while the business spends fewer resources managing staff and reaps the benefits of new, creative ideas/programs/initiatives that keep the business competitive.
Outcomes of Empowerment
Outcomes for the employee
Outcomes for the business
Sense of purpose
New, creative business ideas and models
Feeling of ownership & responsibility
Cost savings from less turnover and micromanagement
Motivation & investment in the work
Motivated, inspired staff and work environment
Portfolio of successful programs/projects
Increase in sales and profit
Increase in sales and profits?
Yes. You read that last outcome correctly. It has been proven over and over that Firms of Endearment (a term coined by Raj Sisodia, David Wolfe, and Jag Sheth) regularly outperform the S&P 500 firms by large margins. In fact, the companies featured in the first edition of their book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose returned 1,026 percent for investors compared to 122 percent for the S&P 500.
The Firms of Endearment that they studied include companies such as Patagonia, Whole Foods Market, Stonyfield Yogurt, and Adobe Systems. However, you don’t have to be a national or global company to increase sales and profit by implementing a conscious culture. Companies of all sizes are seeing the benefits to leading with empowerment. Companies of all sizes can be high-trust organizations.
Empowerment leads to trust, which is another element of having a conscious culture. As a leader, once you empower your staff and realize they can do so much more – you trust them with larger projects and trust them to lead programs and implement ideas. But trust also goes the other way. As a staff person, once you have been empowered to take ownership over a project – you trust that your leader has your back. You trust that you have the support and guidance you need to do a great job – and be your best self.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that empowerment does not only have to be between a boss and a subordinate. Empowerment can come from anyone at any time. Any time you are working with another you can both empower each other – regardless of your title or position in the org chart.
Many high-trust organizations – such as Southwest, Google, The Container Store and IDEO - build in time for social events and playfulness. Similar to how families take family vacations and have family dinners, high-trust organizations create opportunities to connect. These connections lead to a deeper trust between colleagues, as well as trust between staff and the business/organization.
How to Lead Using Empowerment
The Empowerment Dynamic
David Emerald presented at a Conscious Capitalism Chicago event and shared The Empowerment Dynamic with us. The Empowerment Dynamic is a positive approach to problem-solving. The focus is on turning a reactive disposition into a proactive orientation. See the diagram below. The Victim at the bottom of the Dreaded Drama Triangle becomes the Creator at the top of The Empowerment Dynamic, taking control of his/her actions and response to problems and obstacles.
We all play each role of the triangle at different times. At times, we feel like we are the Victim. “I’m getting dumped on. I always have to do everything. Why is this happening to me?” This is the mindset of the Victim. On the other hand, the Creator understands he/she is empowered to choose how to respond to each situation and is focused on the outcome of the situation versus dwelling on the scope of the problem.
At times, we all play the role of the Persecutor. The Persecutor often times dominates the Victim’s time and energy (think project manager, boss, etc.) and is often seen by the Victim as the source of the problem and feeling victimized. Interestingly, the Persecutor often sees the Victim as the problem. In The Empowerment Dynamic the Persecutor becomes the Challenger. The Challenger is empowered to do his/her job while being focused on learning and growth, constructive criticism, and trust.
Finally, at times we all find ourselves sympathizing with either the Victim or the Persecutor and our natural instinct is to save the person. This role is called the Rescuer. We’ve all been there. We decide the Victim is right and we confront the Persecutor. Or we think the Persecutor is in an unfair position, so we try to intervene. Or, more common yet, we simply want the pain and discomfort to go away, so we jump in and offer to handle it ourselves. “I’ll just do. It will be faster if I do it. I’ll take this on so you no longer have to worry about it.” These are all very reactive responses to the situation.
In The Empowerment Dynamic, the Rescuer becomes the Coach. The Coach supports and assists the situation. The Coach may facilitate a conversation to foster clarity. The Coach asks questions and delivers options and solutions to the situation that are outcome-driven. And the Coach does this without taking the burden on him/herself.
But, how do I do that?
First of all, leadership comes from all levels of the org chart. The Empowerment Dynamic is not just for management. Every one of us can lead – and empower.
Here are some specific steps:
And remember, leadership is not about being the best. Leadership is about making everyone better (including yourself).
Business as a force for good on Chicago’s South Side was celebrated on Wednesday, Jan. 16 as business leaders from all over the city gathered at Chatham’s Studio Movie Grill (SMG), on West 87th Street for a panel discussion hosted by Conscious Capitalism Chicago.
Moderator La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, General Manager of Urban Broadcast Media and Founder of the Girls Like Me Project led a panel discussion that included Brian Schultz, Founder & CEO of SMG; Aaron Thomas, General Manager of SMG Chatham; Michelle Kennedy, Founder of the South Side Film Festival; Cydni Polk, Owner of Xposeur Photography; and 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr.
“We’re here to recognize the efforts to grow the South Side business community,” said Gray-Sewell. “We’re here to push back on how Chatham is portrayed in the media and to show that we are a vibrant middle class community.”
Fully renovated and reopened in February 2017, Studio Movie Grill serves Chatham and the greater community by combining first-run movies, alternative and family programming with in-theater dining from an extensive American Grill menu and full-service bar. As an advocate of community building and conscious capitalism, SMG offers programs such as The One Story Movement™ to open hearts and minds one story a time, capturing authentic stories from amazing people; SMG Community Outreach which is committed to contributing to issues impacting SMG teams, their families, and friends; Special Needs Screenings designed for families raising children with special needs; and Chefs for Children where SMG donates 5% of proceeds to local non-profits serving Special Needs Children in the community.
“I’ve been in the movie business for more than 20 years, and worked at the theater for years before the renovation, starting when I was 16,” said Venisha Johnson, Midwest & East Coast Sales Manager at Studio Movie Grill. “It’s gratifying to see the resurgence in the community that our space has fostered. As a conscious business, we feel it is our responsibility to contribute to the community and serve our neighbors. We host special events, parties and corporate functions as well as provide a safe and fun place for people to enjoy a first class movie-going experience. We are so proud to be a member of the Chatham community.”
Panelist Michelle Kennedy had a dream of showcasing South Side filmmakers and needed a venue. After several unsuccessful attempts, she came to Johnson, and her immediate response was positive. “Venisha immediately said ‘yes, let’s make it happen’, and then I knew that the dream of a South Side film festival would become a reality”, said Kennedy. “I’ve travelled the world attending film festivals, and creating a festival showcasing local talent has been a dream of mine. South Side filmmakers want validation. Now we have a home to do just that.”
Schultz acknowledged the critical role Alderman Brookins played in realizing his goal to bring a Studio Movie Grill location to Chatham. “Alderman Brookins was instrumental in paving the way for us,” said Shultz. “My mom grew up across from Marquette Park and I am a Chicago native, so I knew the area. I was on a noble quest, and I fell in love with the community. I had to sell the idea to the community and we couldn’t have done it without them. When we took over the theater, it was only serving 120,000 guests per year. This year we are on track to serve one million customers. I’m very proud of what we have built together.”
“We want it all, added Brookins. “We want businesses to locate in Chatham, we want to see development on the South Side, we want to people across the city to know that we are a vibrant community of people with disposable income who are willing to spend it. We want to feel pride and shift the culture. We are well on the way to doing all those things. Chatham is an underserved area, but we’re worth the risk. The entire 21st Ward is delighted that Studio Movie Grill took a chance on us”
Conscious Capitalism is a worldwide non-profit organization dedicated to elevating humanity through business and making a positive impact on the world. Over the past ten years, the Chicago chapter has formed a web of more than 1,500 people across the Chicagoland area who believe that trust, compassion, collaboration and value creation in business are vital to our future. And the more than 100 business owners, CEOs and leaders involved in Conscious Capitalism Chicago are dedicated to driving change from the top.
I’ve become a relatively frequent flyer on Southwest, so I’ve learned a bit about their ways. For instance, passengers board in groupings labeled A, B and C, depending on how quickly you check-in online (or whether you’ve purchased an early check-in privilege). The running joke is that C stands for “check bag” (because there won’t be enough overhead space) or “center seat” (because that is all that will be left).
On one recent trip, I ended up with a high C number. So, I scanned for a center seat near the front of the plane, and – lo and behold – there was one. Except it had two Southwest pilots sitting in the aisle and window seats, chatting together with great animation. The last thing I wanted was chatty neighbors, but it was a choice seat. As I did the customary nod with raised eyebrows, they immediately acknowledged me, and the pilot on the aisle rose to allow me to sit. Once seated, I said, “OK, fellas, I’m looking forward to a quiet flight, so please don’t think you’re going to talk to each other over top of me.’ They laughed, and we settled in.
As we prepared for take-off - and realizing I had a captive audience - I said, “So, all the commercials and advertising for Southwest show happy employees. Give me the inside scoop: what’s it really like to work for Southwest?” Without missing a beat, one of the pilots said, “AWESOME!” (I have to acknowledge that I hate that word – it’s so overused and inexact – but it’s the word he used, and the caps do reflect his spontaneous enthusiasm.) I swiveled my head and looked at the other pilot, who was nodding vigorously. “Exactly what I would have said…”, he agreed.
So, I probed deeper – why was it so awesome? The first pilot said that his objectives were clear and that he felt empowered to take the necessary actions to accomplish them. As you might guess on your own, the objectives were to: leave the gate on time, make customers happy and save money. “For example”, he said, “when I’m sitting at the gate, I choose to have only one engine running to serve the electrical and airflow needs of the plane; but, at the same time, I’m saving gas. And, no procedure manual tells me to do that; I just do what makes sense.” The other pilot chimed in, “And, it’s in our best interest, since we’re shareholders, too.” The conversation continued, but you get the idea.
These employees had clear success criteria, felt a very real sense of ownership for results (and costs), appreciated the importance of the customer, and felt empowered to make decisions and act on them.
Southwest has a stated purpose to “democratize the skies”. In pursuit of that purpose, it has recognized the importance of all stakeholders in its ecosystem, not just the shareholders. This value orientation requires them to balance the needs and welfare all stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers as well as investors and shareholders. None can win at the expense of others, and all need to align on the overall approach.
If shareholder return is depressed, this model would not fix that problem on the backs of employees or customers. We’ve seen this discipline reflected in countless business decisions by the company, ranging from their customer treatment to employee empowerment to fuel purchase and flight pattern design. And, their shareholders trust this balanced approach – or they can choose to take their money elsewhere.
Interested in engaging further with stakeholder orientation?
The Chicago chapter of Conscious Capitalism is hosting a panel discussion on January 16 from 6:00-8:30 at Studio Movie Grill (SMG) at 210 W 87th St. in the Chatham neighborhood. SMG’s purpose is to “open hearts and minds, one story at a time”. They are committed to delivering on that purpose to all of their stakeholders – customers, employees, the community, shareholders and partners and suppliers. The panel will include representatives from those stakeholder groups here in Chicago along with SMG’s CEO Brian Schultz. Join us for a rich evening of connection and learning. You can register here.
What’s the cost of drama in the workplace? First of all, what do I mean by drama? Come on, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the pervasive, life-sucking gossip, blame, criticism, overt (or covert) destructive conflict, passive-aggressive guerilla tactics that we’re all too familiar with. Some call it simply “politics” for short. Why does it seem so commonplace when it comes to our organizations? Let’s take a closer look.
In the early ‘70’s, Stephen Karpman developed a model of human dynamics called the Drama Triangle. Evolving from the study of family systems, it portrays how we can get caught in a web of three interlocking roles that feed off and reinforce each other:
Victim – “I’m not responsible. There’s nothing I can do about it. Why me?”
Persecutor – “You screwed up. It’s your fault. You’re wrong.”
Rescuer – “I feel bad for you. Let me fix it. I’ll handle it.”
As you can imagine, these roles are in a constant dance, triggering each other with no apparent way out of the vicious cycles they produce. I know I find myself in the Drama Triangle frequently throughout my day.
These mindsets or roles show up in the workplace – in spades! When we’re under stress or pressure, or at risk – not even physical risk, but just the risk to our ego of being wrong or failing or missing out – we tend to fall into the Drama Triangle. And, the costs are significant: from the daily grind of suppressed ideas, hurt feelings and conflict avoidance to the truly toxic conditions of misguided leadership and cultures of fear. This results in low engagement, increased attrition, and decisions get undermined once the meeting is over – all draining human energy and organizational results.
Two of Conscious Capitalism’s core tenets are Conscious Leadership and Conscious Culture. By “conscious”, we mean leading and working together from conscious choice rather than reactive stress - choice that is informed by our values and commitments. When leaders catch themselves being reactive – fixing and solving from fear for safety or survival – they create the opportunity to be more intentional and aligned with purpose, vision and values. When all team members embrace the norms and commitments that make up the culture, they can work together in ways that forward the organizational direction as well as their own growth and success.
So, how can we shift from reactive drama to more conscious choices?
David Emerald developed an “antidote” to the Drama Triangle called the Empowerment Dynamic. In his fable TED: The Empowerment Dynamic, his main character explores the possibility of breaking free from the vicious cycle of reactivity. He discovers three roles or mindsets that complement, but transform, those in the Drama Triangle:
Creator – “How can I be responsible for the outcome? How can I choose to act?”
Challenger – “I believe in you, and I know you can do better.”
Coach – “What do you see as your options? What do you really want?”
Being aware that we are playing the role of Victim allows us to shift to a Creator mindset. I may initially feel helpless, but how can I take steps to move forward? Similarly, if I reflexively begin to blame (as a Persecutor), how can I stop myself and challenge from a place of commitment (as a Challenger). And, when I step in to fix or handle things (as a Rescuer), how can I act as Coach and support the other person to be responsible and follow-through?
These are critical questions for the Conscious Leader in creating a Conscious Culture. How can I notice my own reactivity and shift to a space of choice and commitment?
Well, guess what? David Emerald will be in Chicago at the end of November, and he’ll share his wisdom with us. This conversation is essential to shifting our leadership and cultures toward greater engagement and results. Join us on November 29th from 6:00-8:30 PM at GEMS World Academy Chicago for a conversation with David as he leads us in an exploration of 3 Vital Questions: Transforming Workplace Drama. Learn more and register here. If you are a CEO, David will also be presenting at our quarterly CEO breakfast on November 30th from 7:30-10:00am. You can learn more and register here.
Come to find out, quite a bit.
Personally, it makes sense that when we receive and give care to another human being we feel more energized, connected, and loved in return.
Yet, that’s not so obvious in the workplace - at least not to most.
Recent studies, however, show that those who perceive greater affection and caring from their co-workers perform better.
Professors of Management, Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill have conducted a number of studies on this idea of creating a culture of “companionate love.”
Companionate love includes shared experiences of affection, concern and compassion amongst co-workers. Asking about an ill parent. Offering a kind word during a hectic project. Listening to concerns vs. gossiping.
Their early results, within a non-profit, long-term healthcare facility, revealed that in this caring culture employees showed up to work more often and reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork.
Further, the companionate love culture directly influenced patient mood and outcomes, their felt sense of quality of life, and resulted in fewer trips to the ER.
Ok, you think, it’s already a “caring culture,” so why the surprise?
Thought you’d ask.
These two professors then extended their research going on to survey 3,201 employees across seven industry groups from financial services to real estate on the idea of creating a culture of companionate love.
And, guess what? Love’s got a lot to do with it!
Seems that people, across business industries and within cultures where the freedom to express affection, tenderness and care for one another is valued, end up expressing greater satisfaction with their work.
Additionally, they hold solid commitments to their organizations, and show increased accountability for their overall performance. Solid business outcomes!
What’s not to love?!
Organizations leading the way in creating cultures of companionate love include the likes of Subaru, Starbucks, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and Whole Foods.
In fact, Whole Foods was founded on the question, “Can you build a company on love and care, instead of fear and stress?”
Care, compassion, and, yes, even love feature prominently in Whole Foods’ day-to-day work. Even when making hiring and promotion decisions they ask, what’s this candidate’s capacity for love and care?
The rest of us?
Companionate love or business as usual? What action will you take?
The phrase ‘employee engagement’ always lands on me flat, lifeless. There’s distance inherent in the phrase that, well, doesn’t actually feel engaging at all.
Yet, what makes employees actually want to greet their work and their co-workers with energy and focus, now that’s easy to get behind.
And that can all be summed up in one word. Care.
In a culture where people feel cared about they respond with all sorts of energy, enthusiasm, and passion. So much so that they’ll even go the distance when it’s required, what the experts at Gallup call ‘discretionary effort.’
Like those times the office is buzzing under a tight deadline and the IT staff person happily stays late. Or, when the office manager comes in with everyone’s favorite coffee because it’s crunch time and he/she knows the impact of a great cup o’ joe.
Organizations with higher levels of employee engagement enjoy higher net profit margins with less turnover, absenteeism, and safety incidents.
And beyond the basics of compensation and advancement opportunities, engaged employees reveal the impact of care:they trust their leaders, they have good relationships with their bosses, and they care for themselves by managing their own work-life balance and stress levels.
When people know you care about them, they care back. They commit their energies and loyalties toward forwarding the organization’s vision and goals, not just their own.
In a Conscious Culture, the care involved in employee engagement underpins the very social fabric of the business. This, in turn, permeates business decisions, connecting not only the employees but all stakeholders to one another and to the company’s higher purpose.
So, what if we simply called it care – and committed to practicing it. Every day.
In today’s fast-paced, message-heavy digital world it has become difficult to focus on understanding each other’s needs, desires and viewpoints. Interpersonal communication has become a culture of interruption and impatient verbal cues.
Despite all of that, the art of listening is not dead. In fact, the art and skill of conscious listening is growing. Let’s discuss the seven ways conscious listening will improve your company culture.
What is conscious listening?
Conscious listening is the act of being intentionally present during communication between yourself and another while being aware of your own and the other’s feelings and needs. Conscious listening is related to mindful listening, which is allowing another to express him/herself without interrupting, judging, refuting or discounting.
The “conscious” part of conscious listening is key to effective communication. We spend 60% of our communication time listening, but only retain 25% of what we hear. So, it’s not that we’re not putting in the time, it’s that we are not consciously internalizing what the other person has to say. For example, how many times have you caught yourself in a meeting roleplaying in your mind what you want to say once the person who is talking is finished? We all do it. Conscious listening is realizing you are doing it, pausing, and turning your attention back to the speaker.
Conscious listening is a skill that will assist you in any setting – business, academic, social, personal, etc. Of course, you are reading this on a Conscious Capitalism blog, so I’m going to focus on how conscious listening will improve your company culture no matter where you sit in the org chart.
What is Conscious Capitalism?
Conscious Capitalism is a fast-growing global movement dedicated to elevating humanity through a business philosophy that has four key pillars:
It is without doubt that conscious listening will positively impact all four areas, but it is the fourth pillar of Conscious Culture that I am going to focus on here.
It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or an entry-level staff member starting his/her first day on the job. Leading by example in the area of conscious listening will dramatically improve your work environment and your team’s dynamic, as well as your company’s profits and impact on the world.
7 ways conscious listening will improve your company culture
Numerous studies have shown that high trust organizations are 2-4 times more profitable than low trust organizations. We’re talking about employees’ trust in each other, stakeholders’ trust in the company, leadership’s trust in the mission. Conscious listening helps build trust in all of these areas.
The goal should be to build a culture where everybody matters. To do this, start listening. Listen to your employees when they tell you they are overloaded. Listen to your investors when they tell you the company needs to innovate. Listen to your customers when they tell you they expect changes in your product/service. Truly hearing and internalizing their perceptions and opinions (even if you don’t have the solution just yet) is the start to building trust among your most important audiences.
A culture that embraces authenticity is a culture in which people can be themselves. This is a culture where people don’t hesitate during brainstorm sessions, people aren’t afraid to ask their questions first during the Q&A, people can disagree with one another without getting defensive. This is a culture you want to build, and you can do so through consciously listening.
What does this look like? It looks like a conversation where pauses and silence are not immediately filled, where one person speaks at a time without being interrupted, where people ask questions without judgment and where everyone around the table is first seeking to understand and secondly seeking to be understood.
A Conscious Culture is a caring culture. And how can you care if you don’t understand the person and/or dilemma? Conscious listening creates understanding.
Our work occupies most of our waking hours. Why are we all in this mindset that self-care happens outside of business hours? The reality is – it doesn’t have to. Work can improve our health. And the first step in creating a culture that improves the lives of its people is consciously listening – leading to a true understanding – of what their needs are and how to care for them.
There is a lot of talk about transparency, mostly about being transparent to our shareholders or customers. But what about being transparent with ourselves.
According to Tanya M. Odom, global bias and tolerance consultant, we all create unconscious biases towards others. An unconscious bias is a short-cut that our brain takes based on previous information. Many unconscious biases are triggered by race, gender and age. So, before the person you’re meeting with has even said a word, your brain has run a filter and made decisions about what this person has to say.
The reality is – this happens to all of us. The difference is – conscious listeners understand it’s happening. Conscious listeners recognize the bias, remove the filter, and center themselves to be intentionally present in the conversation and actively work to be aware of the speaker’s feelings and needs.
Integrity means being honest, being driven by values, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and being your word.
We all have a desire to be right, to come up with the next big idea, and/or to have the last say in the matter. So, how do these desires fit with integrity?
I believe that through conscious listening you are acknowledging these desires and making the decision that others’ voices and ideas are just as important and valuable as your own. Even if you don’t agree, by listening you are communicating that you appreciate and value the other person’s perspective.
Additionally, to be truly honest means that you acknowledge that you don’t always have the answer or the solution. Even if you are the company’s fearless leader – you don’t always have the answer or the solution.
Saying “I don’t know” is honest and demonstrates integrity. Being vulnerable and listening to others’ perspectives is authentic and the right thing to do.
The second definition of integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided.” Conscious listening will allow your team to diversify, unify, and prosper.
Conscious listening is learning on so many levels!
First, it is a skill that can be learned. We should be teaching listening just as we teach speaking and writing and reading. It is NOT to be overlooked or taken for granted.
Second, imagine all you can learn from listening!
Third, stemming from section #5 Integrity, when you admit that you don’t know the answer or don’t have the solution it opens the door to learning about what those solutions are or could be. At that point, conscious listening is an opportunity to learn and collect ideas. You don’t have to use those ideas, but it will only embolden the decision you do make by being well-informed.
Finally, we get to empowerment. The cornerstone to leadership and building/sustaining a Conscious Culture.
Through conscious listening, you can empower others to share their true thoughts. By carving out the time and attention for your colleagues, you are empowering them to speak their minds and be thoughtful in their words. And the information you receive as a conscious listener will help you understand where the person is coming from and that will lead to stronger, more empowering interactions.
For example, through conscious listening you may learn your colleague has new ideas about how to implement a program/initiative. You can then empower him/her to take a leadership role in bringing those ideas to life. The initiative will be more effective, your colleague will be empowered, and your relationship will be stronger. Once you start listening to people, you will begin to think of others as thought partners versus task masters.
Conscious listening is a generous gift. It is the difference between personal broadcasting and the art and skill of conversation. Through conscious listening, you build trust; become authentic, caring, and transparent; demonstrate integrity; and learn about yourself, others and the world. Through those first six elements of TACTILE, you will find yourself empowering those around you to be their best selves.
Again, it doesn’t matter where you sit in the organizational chart (at the very top or the very bottom), you can empower others through conscious listening. Leading by example in the area of conscious listening will dramatically improve your work environment, your team’s dynamic, as well as your company’s profits and impact on the world.
How to practice conscious listening?
“Ok, that all sounds good, but how do I get started?”
Here are three actions you can take today:
Conscious listening requires being intentionally present. Learn how to conduct a short Presence Practice exercise through this audio clip by Conscious Capitalism Co-Founder Raj Sisodia.
2. Practice using the RASA method.
International speaker and communications expert Julian Treasure has coined the RASA method. Learn more about his methods from this video on conscious listening in a fast-paced world.
Consider investing in your listening skills and take a class to become a more conscious listener. Learn more here about a conscious listening course offered through Udemy.
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