Mindfulness as an organisational strategy

Whether it is Newton and the apple or Fleming and mould or Roentgen and the X-Ray, ground breaking results are gained by intelligent people being conscious of their surroundings and applying a new perspective to observations.

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist wrote in 1946, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

How can we create an environment where this thrives? Can the principles of mindfulness be applied to a corporate context? Here are five ways that I believe they can:

1. Focus on the present

Very often, employees within an organisation are so focused on the future that they fail to look at the present. For example, in some organisations the intensity of the pursuit of a deal wanes as soon as the deal is won, and delivery is not a focus. Even in client conversations the focus shifts to the future - the next project, the next phase, the next step.

To enable better focus and ‘big picturing’ organisations should look to break up projects into smaller, quantifiable, billable outputs. Looking at value-based pricing as that forces the organisation to look at value rather than input elements. If the organisation were to goal and incentivise teams to focus on the present, many more opportunities to help the customer may be spotted. Structurally the strategy teams may be divided into two - “run the business” and “change the business” to ensure that equal value and weight is invested in both. 

Similarly client account management teams can be structured into two teams - one focused on client success in the present and the other on client success (and the firm’s success) in the future.

2. Letting go of the past

Organisations often throw good money after bad. Once there is a sunk cost the ability to let go is greatly diminished. This is visible in the form of white elephant acquisitions, unused assets and a long tail of clients that are no longer profitable.

An organisation should periodically review past investments and determine what has run its course and needs to be shut. This usually requires an environment safe from recrimination and where the focus is on the present not the past. This can be achieved for the participants using simple mindfulness techniques. And structurally, the organisation will be equipped to deal with the past systematically.

3. Empathy

The best cultures are those where the requirements of various stakeholders are balanced and managed. Relentless focus on the needs of a single stakeholder - even that of customers - will lead to a lopsided approach. What makes a mindful organisation is a reward, recognition and reporting structure that recognises the needs of the various stakeholders - customers, employees, shareholders, local communities.

An empathetic approach also means that one-size does not fit all. The processes are inherently flexible and capable of being customised to suit the present needs. This can be achieved either by quarterly reviews and changes or through a simple and easily accessible escalation matrix.“Going beyond the contract” for stakeholder success should be made as simple as possible by putting in financial and legal safeguards. Given the speed of change in both the marketplace and in employee expectations, this flexibility will stand the organisation in good stead.

4. Less interruptions

This may seem like a trivial matter in the larger context, but how can one focus in the face of constant interruptions? Attention deficit is an organisation-wide problem. There are too many interruptions in our always-on open workplaces to enable a conscious focus on any issue. Everyone is time-poor and unfocused - chasing the last email or whatsapp note or intranet message or Slack alert.

How can organisations address this? By encouraging team members to be mindful of the time and attention of others. Some organisations have gone to the extent of enabling batch processing of emails or enforcing ‘no-phone’ zones to improve productivity. Other measures include providing “Quiet Zones” and encouraging people to use signage to indicate when they do not want to be disturbed.

At a structural level, organisations can understand what type of requests constitute the most frequent interruptions e.g. “Does anyone know …” kind of queries can be solved by having a robust knowledge management system. “May I….” queries could move to a self-management rule-based approval system. These initiatives by the organisation will enable their workforce to be more mindful and in the moment.

5. The Big Picture

To ensure that the organisation understands the eco-system on a real-time basis, it needs to have a dedicated approach to creating a view of the present and future. Organisations need to constantly visualise threats and opportunities and their response to them. They also need to understand the forces impacting their clients to better propose ways in which they can serve them.

A good scenario-planning exercise can reduce the stress of senior management as they know that whatever the crisis, the response is already in place. 

Salil Godika, President and Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, Happiest Minds Technologies

Image source: Shutterstock/Sudowoodo