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  • AutorenbildFriedhelm Boschert

Transforming corporate culture with Mindfulness

Aktualisiert: 4. Feb. 2019

33% of more than 2,100 managers interviewed by McKinsey consider their own corporate culture and the employees' behaviour to be the largest barrier in digital transformation (“Culture for a digital age”, McKinsey). Wow! Corporate culture is back again! This has been recognised also among investors: "It's time for some action!" Jens Wilhelm, director of Union Investmentreminds us, and continues "corporate culture requires more attention ... since the topic has been neglected too long - by managing and supervisory board members and even by investors". And this does not only apply to "digital culture", but even more to a culture that reflects corporatesocial responsibility"!

Corporate culture itself is resistant against change.

And actually. For a long time, managers have shirked this topic. "We will deal with the soft facts later. Now, we are starting with the strategy," a manager once told me before a merger - that finally failed. He didn't understand the relevance of cultural change. This might also relate to the nature of corporate culture. It has a quite specific property that makes it resilient to changes: "Culture is everything that is self-evident in an organisation"(I wrote about this issue just someyears ago). And we do not normally question, what is self-evident. And even less, we do not want to change it, because it conveys a cosy security.

Well, here we already have the two main reasons, why corporate culture resists changes:

  • First, it must be able to be recognised, perceived and questioned itself. But this is often not the case.

  • Involved persons must then (be able to) give up familiar assumptions, put aside established ways of thinking and behaviour in cognitive and emotional terms. Not quite easy

This is the reason "that McKinsey (finally) concludes that cultural change is always much slower and more complex than technological change"(fromChristiane Pütter, McKinsey survey, Digital mindset mostly lacks). I think that this is obvious to all responsible business people from own personal experience. Therefore now the decisive question h o w to start the cultural change, where are the parameters to begin?

The bad news first: Corporate culture cannot simply be changed that way. Simply adjusting some screws? Not like this. It's quite tricky, because culture cannot d i r e c t l y be changed. Change is only able to be managed, when "playing the game indirectly". This is the only way. Don't try to start cultural change with a catalogue of values, corporate principles or by appointing a cultural affairs manager. This will make the involved persons feel bored, waste time and money in unproductive discussions ("value groups") and does not lead anywhere. The good news: there is always a mindful solution as well – Mindful Solutions. And for implementing this, you don't need oversized change projects.

Mindful Transformation: Changing culture "from inside" and "from above"

You will change corporate culture, when first the boss and his/her management team, then employees start to systematically use some of the personal mindful principlesin everyday day business routine of the company. This is meant by "from inside":

  • Providing for the open mind of a beginner

  • Only perceiving, not judging immediately

  • Viewing own thoughts and feeling from a distance

  • Being able to let the things go

And this all starts with the senior management team, thus "from above". Stop dreaming that a few advisers and cultural affairs managers would be able to do the work of the boss and his/her managers and make cultural change happen in the employees' minds by means of team building methods. Something that I've already heard in practice as well. Forget it! The boss himself/herself and his/her closest management team are the first cultural ambassadors. Nobody else. And where they put the emphasis of their attention (= mindfulness!), corporate culture will then be focused on that orientation as well. "Energy flows, where attention goes," Americans put it in a nutshell. This is how it works. Let's thus have a look at how you can start changing corporate culture.

Providing for the open mind of a beginner

It's not that difficult. Simply remember the first day, when you started work in a company. Everything was new, there was nothing familiar, nothing self-evident. You had to observe again and again. In order to find out, what and who was important, what assumptions were behind, how you should "behave correctly". In short: What people consider to be self-evident. "Why do they forward a copy of each email to their boss?", "Why do they leave the meeting one after another before the end?", How do they talk about customers so derogatorily?", "What is a get together like?". You actually made a personal cultural analysis, in order to find your way at all. Why then not using this systematically in this way today again - for the cultural change? And let's start with the question concerning the "purpose": "What is actually the purpose of our company?" In order to give an answer, you need mindfulness, a small team and a well-prepared list of questions. But certainly not a large group of advisers.

Only perceiving, not judging immediately

Very difficult! Because we think that we have to assess everything and everybody all the time. "She is again looking at me so dismissively today" - a judgement. "The discussion with the boss will be as always" – a judgement. "He writes totally irrelevant stuff" - a judgement. Although we cannot actually know, what is really behind, what causes such statements. They only reflect ourassumptions, they are only ourview. Not necessarily the view of other people or the "right" view. It's the art of mindfulness to recognise this! To recognise that you've judged once again. Not more. With that in mind, going through daily working routine, through the company "only perceiving", in an unbiased way. Observing oneself from a mindful perspective. Like this, you will learn a lot about yourself - and about the corporate culture around you at the same time. Use that systematically for analysing your corporate culture.

Viewing own assumptions, thoughts and feelings "from a distance"

Yes, this is possible, actually. A quite central capability that you can enlarge by means of mindfulness. Because how else can you detect your own self-evident facts? "I shouldn't commend the employees so much." Why actually not?" "The customers feel comfortable with us." Really? "I show leadership by talking." Oh? Have you ever tried anything else? It's a matter of the so-called "meta competence" - learning to see oneself from above. And to understand in this way that the large number of self-evident facts add up to automatic thinking and acting. Well: Providing for self-awareness - individually and as team. "We thought that our employees consider us to be an assistance - but that they perceive us as obstacle, we would never have imagined," a management team surprisingly recognised after honest reflection.

Being able to let the things go

Yes, exactly. Unfortunately, this is frequently forgotten, these days. Zeal is often shown for new projects in the company - such as the strategy or an acquisition. But still carrying the heavy burden of old thing in addition. Is this the way, how you want to win the marathon race? Being able to run easily? Certainly not. The previous steps made you recognise your old thinking patterns. You are already able to view them from a distance - and now, you "only" have to learn how to let the things go.

Oh dear! How does this work? With the naked eye, still rather simply. Mindfulness methods teach you how to "leave old patterns simply". But this is unfortunately not the whole story. Because you have to know in addition that every thought is linked up to an energy in the body (we also call that "emotion") and it's also anchored there. You must therefore approach this part as well. Otherwise, it would be very easy to implement good resolutions into life - you decide "I will eat less from tomorrow" and starting at the next day, you will actually do that. Really? You know exactly that this doesn't work in real life. But why not? Because you mostly forget the emotional part of the resolutions (I've already described this phenomenon in the January blog). But only in this way, you have the chance to get rid of your old corporate culture.

From purpose to spirit, from values to performance.

When practicing mindfulness with yourself and in the team, you prepare the ground, where the new corporate culture will grow. The mindset of all parties involved will be open, flexible, easy-going. Open for reflection, prepared for changes. Then, new seed can be sown. "Who demands performance, has to provide sense," this was one of my management maxims(the quotation comes from Böckmann from the Management School St. Gallen). Well: Why does the company exist, what is the difference? These are some questions that have to be able to be answered by the management team for themselves first of all. And: What is driving us? How do we work and communicate? How do we produce sustainable effect? In a multi-level transformation process based on mindfulness, sense and purpose, mission, values spirit become apparent. Head, heart, and mind of the persons involved are included as well. Well, the mindful solution. This is how change in corporate culture will be successful.

With mindful regards.


Friedhelm Boschert

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