Mind The Gap: What Change Management & Mindfulness have in common
Many of you who know me will know that in recent years I’ve become a real advocate and ambassador on the subject of Mindfulness and Mindful leadership and it’s increasing importance in the workplace, as well as our wider lives.
I’ve worked in the field of Change Management for many years now. I’m passionate about it and its value to unleashing great outcomes for businesses, because it’s all about people and they are without a doubt, the secret (or not so secret) weapon to getting ‘kick ass’ results.
I’ve had many colleagues ask me about why I’ve shifted away from change, but I don’t feel it’s a shift at all, more an expansion. I believe the area of Mindfulness and Change Management go together like cheese and crackers and as I’ve deepened my knowledge of Mindfulness I’ve built up my toolkit as a Change Consultant too.
I initially went on a Mindfulness course 7 years ago to help me manage some chronic pain I was suffering from, along with a bout of post natal depression. It did indeed help me with both those things, but in the process I realised how the techniques and philosophy of Mindfulness complimented and synergised with my work as a Change practitioner and leader.
The magic to managing change successfully all lies in providing awareness, knowledge, guidance and support to the people affected by change, so that they can successfully navigate their way through it, to get the best possible outcome (with the least amount of lumps and bumps along the way). When I considered this it’s very similar to the goal of mindfulness.
Still confused or not convinced?
Here are 6 things Mindfulness and Change Management have in common and why combining the 2 practices will mean you really land change with applause.
- Nothing is permanent – One of the key foundations of Mindfulness is that nothing is permanent. Things change on a daily basis, as long as we are breathing we are changing, sometimes in a good way and sometimes, hmm… well, not so much! In the corporate world the same is true, things have always moved along but up until the last decade at a slower pace. The pace of change is now relentless, it will not stop and businesses that do not accept this will line themselves up for a whole heap of suffering. Doing the same initiatives that got you a stellar result last year won’t necessarily set you up next year, or even next month in some cases. There is no ‘unfreeze, change, refreeze’, the change is constant and organisations willingness to accept this and proactively manage the constant flow, is what will keep them either in the race or ahead of it. The same goes for creating a change-open culture within organisations; we want people to come into work with a “show me the change” attitude (ala Jerry Maguire style) rather than “la la la I’m not listening”.
- Intention matters – Having a clear intention for your mindfulness practice increases the likelihood of getting benefits from that practice. When we set clear and personal intentions, it sets our priorities and our actions tend to follow. This isn’t rocket science and indeed the corporate world love to set intentions, they call them mission statements, visions and objectives; but as clear, motivating and personal as they may appear at the top, this excitement doesn’t always ripple down and the change that happens as a result doesn’t directly connect to it. The intention set at the top, is either too intangible or lost in translation across the many people impacted. Therefore it’s crucial to translate the strategic intention into a common statement on why the change is happening and how it links directly to the company vision or mission statement, so that all people impacted can understand and feel a personal connection to it. This way they are more likely have that fire in their belly to make a shift.
- Getting perspective on true perspective – We tend to see the world from our version of events, stories and thoughts in our head which are based on our past experiences as well as our current position. It’s called perspective. Being mindful is all about noticing that perspective at a distance and then also noticing the wider realm of other perspectives it sits within, because the thing is our reality is usually not the reality of others. They have a background of different experiences, values and beliefs and see the world from a very different perspective, often viewing the same event in a totally different way. Differing perspectives is a big obstacle for successfully landing change; what seems like a great idea by executives and senior leaders can be perceived just the opposite to many others across the organisation. It’s rare a change will benefit everyone, but by making the effort to engage with others and understand the many view points and perspectives, we can ensure there is robust thinking and rationale behind the change being rolled out.
- You need to be conscious – Mindfulness is all about being conscious and awake in the present moment. A study done by Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth showed we spend 47% of our waking hours thinking about something other than the than what’s happening right now. Yes really, which means almost half our time we are some where else other than the moment; daydreaming, reminiscing and maybe regretting what happened yesterday, or stressing and predicting what will or won’t occur tomorrow. It’s in that moment, when our mind is somewhere else we miss stuff, often important stuff. That lack of grounding in the present means we aren’t equipped to deal with all the change that is going on around us because we simply aren’t paying attention. To approach and deliver change well it’s important to think of ways to create a culture that grounds people in the present. It’s great having visions and aspirations of the future, the world is changing and we need to keep up, however life is happening right now and our inability to be in it means we are missing what we need to do in the present to make our intention for the future a reality.
- Take time to focus on what matters – One of the reasons it’s so hard to focus in the present is due to this crazy busy world we live in and all the expectations that come with it. I like to refer this as a ‘Vegas on our senses’, because the non-stop pace, endless distractions and constant activity is just like walking the Las Vegas strip. It’s so easy to be distracted by the bright lights and enticing attractions, our cellphones pinging, endless emails, new ideas, social media, the promise of the new and wonderful things that will make our life better. All this noise makes it hard to concentrate. Our brain has literally forgotten how to focus, it’s like a little magpie that sees shiny new things every few minutes or even seconds. Point 4 talks about the need to be conscious and present, but it’s also critical that when we are in the moment we go about focusing on what really matters the most. In organisations we are given so many mixed messages on what important, in fact most of the time it’s that EVERYTHING is important and it all needs doing yesterday, which makes it’s impossible to know what to truly focus on. Organisations embarking on major change often overload their people with so many priorities that the result is nothing becomes a priority as there is no one point of focus and in the process they create apathy and burn out. Driving change well is about being clear on the top priority and everything there after.
- Attitude is everything – Segwaying nicely from the focus theme in point 5, there is a phrase that has become a mantra to me which is “Tell me what you focus on and I’ll tell you what you are”. When I first heard this statement what struck me about it was not so much the word focus, but the word that instantly came into my mind as a result, which was ‘attitude‘. The attitude at which we approach things is everything. For example when you were at school did you ever have a subject you really disliked, and did you find it harder to do well at it as a result? The answer is probably yes and the reason is probably down to attitude. Attitude matters – it can make life easy or it can make life hard. It can make life boring or it can make life fun. What’s more the attitude we put out normally comes right back at us. When we are patient, kind, friendly and positive we usually get that attitude reciprocated. However, when we are untrusting, negative, aggressive and dismissive then ta daaaa – the world is against us. We hear a lot these days about growth mindset – it’s not rocket science, it’s all in the attitude. Our attitude to be open, curious, embrace being a beginner over being an expert, to listen and look for opportunities to learn and grown, now that’s a growth mindset. This is mindfulness in action and to successfully embed change the attitude of those leading and delivering it is are as paramount as the attitude of those receiving the change. In fact it sets the tone. Transparency, kindness, curiosity, honesty, taking time to listen and learn from those impacted by the change, are a ticket to the game and are ABSOLUTELY key. If this winning attitude is not there from those leading and driving the change don’t expect it from those receiving the change.
So those are my 6 things that Mindfulness and Change Management have in common and why I believe they are such a great union to ‘mind the gap’. A mindful approach to change is an improved approach to change and life in general. This is not to be sniffed at, because managing change is a critical success factor to getting the outcome you desire, or not, if it’s given little attention or done poorly. Good change is invisible and seamless, bad change is a headache and potential memo to the board and shareholders. Approaching changing in a mindful way cements it’s success and seizes the deal.
The buddha said ‘Life is suffering’ but really it doesn’t have to be and neither does change.