Minding Mindfulness

It’s About Performance (and Wellness)

You can’t open an edition of HBR or Forbes without reading an article on it. Arianna Huffington’s gone and crafted an entire business based on it – what’s the deal?

In short, the increasing change pace, information volume, and attention demands have combined to increase our ambient stress level, which increases the frequency of how often we feel we have to “get away.” And since, thanks to technology and competitiveness, we can’t or won’t “get away,” our ability to effectively manage our reactions to stress is reduced – suboptimizing ourselves not only in the moment of highest stress but also in the chronically higher ambient stress level. These higher stress levels mean our natural de-railing tendencies surface more frequently and with little warning – so it’s a team and leadership performance issue and not just a wellness issue.

 it’s a .. performance issue not just a wellness issue.

If you require research to prove that stress is costing you, simply ask yourself how true it is for you and the people around you. But if you need some ammunition, note that the research on the value of mindfulness for individuals is extensive and some research on ROI for companies goes back about fifteen years. One such study found over five years that mindfulness practitioners had lower overall healthcare costs ($4,300 each) despite higher pharmacy utilization, “potentially indicating greater self-management of care” as noted by the study abstract. So, mindful people are more aware of how they feel, take their medicine like they should, and drive lower healthcare costs.

lower overall healthcare costs ($4,300 each)

If you are responsible for others as well as yourself, all this means you can and should begin converting the bright, shiny object of mindfulness into a solid, fit-for-use, building block that grounds your company’s performance and wellness strategies, including leadership development, team effectiveness, and employee productivity.

What’s It Good For?

Pioneers as diverse as Google, General Mills, Intel, Target, and Aetna have each taken different paths to arrive at the intended benefits of mindfulness and, by some estimates, up to 20% of large companies had some form of mindfulness initiative underway in 2016. Some do it for wellness, but it sticks where it’s done for both performance and wellness and is better measured when it’s introduced to solve a specific challenge.

Leadership Performance

Beyond the abundant clinical research on the mental, physical, and emotional benefits of mindfulness, there’s also recent research showing mindfulness also improves collaboration, resilience, and leading in complexity when practiced at least ten minutes a day. For leaders, formal and informal, mindfulness not only improves self-awareness, but also awareness of others, and, critically, awareness of self-on-others. As Sun Tzu famously wrote in The Art of War, if you know both yourself and your enemy, you will win every battle. Specifically, leaders with a particular behavioral or attitudinal blind spot can benefit from a mindfulness practice and some coaching.

Leaders at risk of burning out – physically, mentally, or emotionally – can also benefit from a mindfulness practice. It may be meditation, but it may also be a breath or intention-setting practice that makes the difference. The introduction of mindfulness for leaders is best done as part of a development experience that might include 360 feedback or personality assessment.

Team Performance

Google’s well-known Aristotle project highlighted the tangible value of empathy and shared talking time for team performance. As mindfulness practitioners know, we’re not sitting eyes-closed, cross-legged, and chanting Aum waiting for something to happen. Group meditation is a bridge too far for many people, but mindfulness practices for teams include simple practices like pausing and sharing air time and deeper practices of purpose and intentionality in chartering and decision-making.

The most-often-talked-about-most-often-ignored team practice is also a mindfulness practice – establishing and keeping norms. A less-obvious but equally effective mindfulness practice for teams is increasing self- and other-awareness through a personality inventory like Hogan or MBTI. It’s in increasing and maintaining the balance of awareness and attention, in the moment, and without judgment that mindfulness improves and sustains team performance.

So How?

I was talking with a CHRO the other day, “We tried this mindfulness thing last year – total flop. No one showed up for the sessions!” After nearly 30 years in HR and chasing many a bright, shiny object, I know how that happens. So here are three bits of advice:

  1. Ask yourself – what (or whose) specific problem do you intend mindfulness to help solve? How will you know it’s gotten better? Know before you go.
  2. Out of sensitivity, some companies have introduced “quiet rooms” and breath training, as well as meeting norms of “intentions” and “pausing” without using the world “mindfulness.” Call it what works for you, or, as we say in yoga, “You do you.”
  3. If you build it, “they” (who need it most) will not come. Yoga sessions, meditation groups, and even healthy food options are attended by those who were doing it anyway. It’s all good – but you won’t be moving the needle with open access. Focus on a specific issue.

In my past life, I led or was responsible for more “change” and “culture” initiatives than I can count at companies like Allstate, Pfizer, and Aetna. I learned more about what not to do that what to do, but when it comes to mindfulness, there’s some good news and bad news.

The good news – mindfulness has great potential and you can be as successful as you are introducing any other initiative.

The bad news? See the good news…

Altizer Performance Partners works with leaders and teams to mindfully integrate performance and wellness at work and in life. Check out our 2017 International Book Award Finalist book Mindfully Mobile on Amazon or The Way of the Road Warrior at Bookboon.com

Second image credit:  image: shutterstock/Kawin Ounprasertsuk

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Author: Chris Altizer

Chris Altizer, MA, MBA, is a 30-year senior, global HR executive turned performance and wellness consultant. A certified teacher of yoga, karate, and diving, Chris and his partner Anne Altizer work with executives and teams to integrate performance and wellness.

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