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State of the Organization: How Mindful are we as we head into 2013?

January 22nd, 2013

This article is the second in a series of annual looks at the state of mindful leadership and organizational practices. So where are we now and how have things changed since last year?

Mindful State of the Organization 2012

Great news! Despite an ailing economy, a potential fiscal cliff, unemployment and other challenges, organizations and their leaders are more mindful than before.  Scores improved across almost all of the 18 statements rated on the Mindful Practices Survey.  In the few instances where scores decreased, the decreases were so small they were not significant.

The three highest rated items on the survey where 1) We are great performers who consistently deliver, 2) We bounce back from setbacks, and 3) We are driven by a noble purpose (a long-term aspiration to make positive difference in the world). Interestingly the first two of those three were among the most improved.

The three lowest rated items:  1) We are risk takers, 2) We confront each other, obstacles and “undiscussables” in order to unlock progress, and 3) We excel at helping people tap into their hidden talents and potential.

Of the four broad capacities measured “Attention to Results” was ranked highest, moving from fourth place to first.  It was followed by “Attention to Purpose,” “Attention to Alignment,” and finally “Attention to Discovery.”

So what does it all mean?

Any data is open to interpretation. That being said, here’s our take on the findings.  It’s all about delivery (hence all the high scores in the Results arena).  When times are tight and organizations are lean, those fortunate enough to still be employed are those with the capacity to deliver.  Imagine how much more might be achieved, if that focus were coupled with the courage to take risks, confront others/obstacles/undiscussables and truly reach out to coworkers in order to help them excel.  Courage is at the foundation of the three lowest rated items.  Interestingly, that topic was covered in last quarter’s newsletter before these results were available Click Link.

If you want to tap into the power of courage, consider the tips that follow.

If lack of skill is keeping you and others from taking the gutsy steps that make a difference, consider:

  • Developmental experiences that stretch as well as those that allow people to reflect on real-life experiences from their past (both successes and failures) to uncover insights relative to how they can lead more courageously in the future.  By encouraging people to share stories of both successes and failures, others can draw lessons about gaining the courage and self-confidence needed to step more boldly into the future.
  • Strengthening people’s ability to confront.  Provide skill-building that enables people to surface issues in a neutral way, engage others in problem solving while asserting their point of view, and generate joint solutions.  There are numerous how-to books in this area including Courageous Conversations and Crucial Conversations, just to name two.
  • Ensuring strong emotional intelligence capacities.  There’s a world of difference between being courageous and being cruel.  The capacity to tell it like it is without demeaning the other is a skill grounded in emotional intelligence. Most people benefit from using the basic I-rational approach:  I feel…when…what I would prefer or suggest is….  An example:  I feel uncomfortable when we jump into action planning without a more thorough discussion of the issue at play.  What I would like to request is a 15 minute exploration of the issues before we move forward.

If strategy, process and/or method are keeping you from doing an even better job in the courage arena, consider:

  • In most work cultures, there’s a norm against telling it like it is.  That norm is so pervasive and long-standing that it’s the basis of the children’s book The Emperor’s New Clothes.  Anonymous suggestion boxes are a first step in surfacing things that need to be said.  A better way that makes it safe for things to be said in an open setting follows. Utilize a series of discussion starters that surface the undiscussables…responses can be provided in person, in meetings, or via an anonymous inbox.  Three of our favorite questions (which come from the book e-Leadership by Susan Annunzio):
    • What are the “unspeakable” subjects that people talk about after meetings, in halls, and behind closed doors?
    • What are the concerns about senior leadership that are on everyone’s mind, but never get addressed openly in meetings?
    • What are the most frequently told lies at this company?
  • Mission, vision and values communicate what’s important, ensure clarity relative to decisions, and set the framework for the stretch performance required to make those things a reality.  Are yours in need of an update so that they better communicate the kinds of gutsy steps necessary for success?  If so update, them.  Second, regardless of whether they’ve been updated, refresh them by asking managers to discuss them with their groups, to provide examples of appropriate and courageous steps in making them a reality, and to engage their groups to define the courageous steps they’ll take to ensure bold future progress.
  • Consider the multitude of ways that you can share the rule (an act that requires courage)—ask people to act in your place, lead your meetings, and share governance for the operations of your department.  Adopt at least one new method per quarter.  Communicate your intent to all when you start.  Meet with the individual(s) who will be taking charge to talk about the discussions they will face, the means by which judgment calls should be made, the criteria that should drive/promote risks, and your expectations relative to gutsy calls. Then, while they are busy doing that, you determine what bold steps you can take to move the enterprise forward—and get to work in doing them.