4 Steps Towards Conscious Business

Can We Create Economic Value Though the Intelligent Pursuit of Happiness?

In this piece, we articulate our contention that in order to be profitable, and achieve long term sustainability, we need to stop putting all of our attention on the bottom line.

At Wisdom 2.0 2015, Jeff Weiner and Fred Kofman, of LinkedIn talk passionately about what makes their business successful. As an economist and OD Specialist, Fred is clear about what he believes leads to a highly productive workforce, and ultimately profitable business. In his 2009 book Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values, Kofman explains that conscious business means finding your passion and expressing your essential values through your work.

It’s not about soft fluffy stuff, rather it’s about creating an environment that promotes the intelligent pursuit of happiness in all its stakeholders.

Why a Conscious Business?

While it is of course absolutely necessary to understand if a company is financially viable, what if measuring the level of joy and fulfilment every employee gets from their role was the focus? Trusting that if the organisation gets this right, then the financial performance will take care of itself?

To help us illustrate this point simply – imagine a retailer who only looks at what’s in the till at the end of every day, without thinking about what it is that creates customers loyalty. We have all walked into a shop or café that has clearly lost its energy to be the best at what they do. The goods are average, the staff are forgettable, and the atmosphere is bleak.

Besides having products that meet customer needs and offering value for money, at a profit, the less tangible factors that buy our loyalty are;

  • Staff who make us feel welcome, because they themselves are happy to be there
  • Staff who seek and respond to feedback because they actually care and feel pride in the product or service
  • Companies that are eager to find solutions, seeking to innovate and improve instead of resisting change and progress

These factors are all influenced by the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment – be it a corporate vision or more personal factors such as feeling proud of what you do. They have everything to do with what is in the till at the end of the week, month and year. Without focusing attention on these attitudes and behaviours that advocate the vision for the shop, the business will ultimately suffer.

Similarly, in a large organisation, is it not the attitudes and behaviours behind the multitude of tasks performed by all employees that leads to the success or otherwise of the organisation?

When we look at motivation, we see from our experience that the higher a person climbs on the corporate ladder the more rigid their focus becomes on the financial performance of the organisation.  However, in non-managerial roles, performance is more focussed on the evaluation of the competencies and behaviours that drive activities.  Where financial targets do play a part, employees often feel little or no ownership or responsibility.

This creates a disconnect between front line staff and management, and ultimately leads to;

  • An ‘us and them’ attitude
  • Highly political dynamics with plenty of ass covering, and
  • Demotivated, frustrated workers  

If we apply the Pareto Principle, most organisations are made up of 80% ‘workers’ and 20% ‘managers’.  A disconnect or divide in attitudes and motivations creates a fragmented culture and ultimately dysfunction that runs so deep, that small efforts to improve things by an inspired worker, leader or HR are like a drop in the ocean. Worse, efforts are greeted with cynicism by those it’s intended to help. 

Does any of this sound familiar – irrespective of what side of the equation you are on?

A Way Forward

Do you remember the fabled story when President Kennedy asked a janitor at NASA, in 1962, what he was doing – the Janitor replied that he was helping to put a man on the moon.  He saw the direct link between his role and NASA’s mission.

What would your organisation look like if your reward structures reflected the ingredients that go to making an organisation a conscious one, where all stakeholders were measured based on their attitude, behaviours, and embodiment of the organisation’s vision? 

Kofman speaks about organisations that fail as a result of having employees who are locked into optimising their sub-systems – they ultimately destroy the system itself.  Success is where employees are concerned with their own performance, their relationships with others and with the larger mission.

We accept that moving organisations towards a conscious business model can feel like crossing a chasm – there is a sense that the challenges and perceived risks are too great. However, many are already implementing practices that speak to Conscious Business, maybe just not in a fully conscious or connected way.

In our view, change of this nature has to start at the top, and cascade through the organisation.  It’s much to do with logical steps.  We suggest of all the possibilities, the following four steps may be a good start.

  • Four-Steps-toward-Concious-BusinessStep 1 – Having a dynamic strategy that serves the organisation’s vision. Many employees don’t expect to feel real joy in their work, because no vision of something bigger has been created.
  • Step 2 – Measure and reward performance in a way that really matters – the behaviours and attitudes of teammates, the satisfaction of customers and the passion with which staff, individually and as a collective, live your vision.
  • Step 3 – Create non-hierarchical structures for staff development and progression. Flip the promotional ladder to reflect and reward lateral growth.
  • Step 4 – Co-create the organisation’s cultural values through experiences. Engaging staff in a way that makes them proud of what they’re part of.

The good news is that there is already a body of evidence that the challenges and risks of working towards a conscious business are not as great as we think. There is a sense of change happening, led by organisations like LinkedIn, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, Cisco and others, as well as many world renowned authors and thought leaders, like Dan Siegel, Eckhart Tolle and Otto Scharmer.

All supporters of the Wisdom 2.0 movement, which expresses that “It is becoming increasingly clear to more people that integrating wisdom into our modern, digital lives – learning to focus, to truly connect, to empathize – is not a nice extra, but an absolute necessity to a vibrant and sustainable society.”

So, is ‘Conscious Business’ a buzz word or have we found a term that reflects where we are going as a society? …towards self-improvement, seeking meaning and purpose in work and life. This trend is certainly reflected in the latest research on Generation Y, which shows that Millennials, who will make up to 50% of our global workforce 2020 (Pwc 2011), are motivated by feeling as though they are working towards something…developing, growing, and having purpose, over status and financial reward.

The evidence suggests that, sooner rather than later, a decision to NOT adopt the practices of Conscious Business will be a competitive disadvantage. Conscious people and businesses will seek to work with other conscious businesses.

Does any of this sound familiar? Or Perhaps you are already among the enlightened and work in an organisation that works towards and values the intelligent pursuit of happiness of all its workers. If so, what might you share, and in doing so help others cross the chasm? Your thoughts, experiences and feedback are essentials to help bridge the divide. Please share and add your comments below.

One thought on “4 Steps Towards Conscious Business

  1. Hi Guys
    What a great artice on what is a fascinating subject area!
    I found it full of insight and full of integrity

    Looking forward to reading many more!
    Kind regards
    Marketing Manager, AXA Ireland

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