How Mindful Is Your Diversity Strategy?

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 Imagine the Ultimate Affinity Group – All of Us

With the increasing research in mindfulness, the data is beginning to catch up with the hype. Some companies are finding ways to convert the floating, bright, shiny object of mindfulness into a solid, fit-for-use, building block that grounds business strategies, leadership development, team effectiveness and productivity. But what about D&I? What do we know about the diversity of mindfulness, or the mindfulness of diversity? This is the first of a series of articles leading up to our Thursday, October 26, 2017 2:00pm – 3:00pm EDT, ATD webinar “Can Mindfulness Reboot D&I? 

Mindfulness in the Workplace

While mindfulness practices are ancient, mindfulness as a clinical practice in the west began gaining ground in the 1970’s with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR (Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction) program. In the last ten years, mindfulness has walked the path from clinic to workplace in forms from the famous Search Inside Yourself program at Google, Fortune 100 Chief Mindfulness Officers and many mindfulness-practicing leaders. Advice abounds on how to introduce mindfulness into a company, including our own published in Strategic HR Review, but how to integrate it into diversity and inclusion strategies? Not so much.

Mindfulness and the D&I Strategy

The increasing public polarization, particularly in the U.S., on matters of race, identity, and gender has brought increased focus and scrutiny to what employers are doing, or not doing, and the increasing pressure on business leaders to “do something.” Most would agree that D&I progress has been limited and that the training gets mixed results, at best. Recent events at Google highlight that, despite having great investment in D&I and also in mindfulness, not even they are immune. One D&I pro recently said to me, “If Google is struggling, what hope do we have?”

“If Google is struggling, what hope do we have?”

The opportunity before us is to strengthen the employee D&I experience by integrating practical practices of mindfulness. D&I and mindfulness share a common challenge – balancing to optimize. Like the D&I challenge of exploring and leveraging individual differences to optimize collective performance, the mindfulness challenge is to explore and refine focused attention and expand awareness to optimize the individual. But here’s something many don’t realize: mindfulness practices facilitate outcomes that are key to the success of a D&I strategy:

  1. Awareness – of self, others, and ourselves-on-others
  2. Attention – focused on what is, without distraction
  3. Non-judgment – suspending emotional reaction to what is
  4. Compassion – empathy for what is with intention to act

Marjorie Derven and I will discuss this on Thursday, October 26, 2017 2:00pm – 3:00pm EDT, in the ATD webinar “Can Mindfulness Reboot D&I? In this webinar, we will discuss the challenges to D&I today and the need to get below the surface if we expect different outcomes in the future.

What’s Sinking D&I is Below the Surface

Most D&I curricula focuses on the “we” – how employees relate to each other in the organization. The parts of curricula that deal with treating people with respect and avoiding micro-aggression are generally understood and received. At work, employees expect to be trained on how to deal with each other. The more challenging sessions to lead, and for many in which to participate, are the discussions of unconscious bias and the flash point of “privilege” (more on privilege in a future blog). These discussions are more difficult because the focus goes below the surface – from “we” to “me.”

These discussions are more difficult because the focus goes below the surface – from “we” to “me.” 

While we are experiencing a disturbing public resurgence in supremacy-cloaked-in-science, the most common and persistent obstacles to D&I in the workplace are unconscious biases, the below-the-surface beliefs each of us has about another group. They are common because every human has them (if you doubt that, take the test).  They are persistent because we aren’t aware of them and we’re embarrassed or resentful when we become aware of them. Unconscious bias is increasingly well understood to be the iceberg below the surface that sinks diversity and inclusion.

Many companies do address unconscious bias and privilege in their D&I curricula. That said, while they do create awareness of these issues, there’s little to help employees respond to or manage them. “Be aware,” is necessary but insufficient. Increasing awareness of unconscious biases is a heady, public psychological exercise that too often results in feigned acceptance and resentment. Introduce “privilege” and you can experience outright hostility and denial. While many different experiences have been designed to surface these issues in D&I training, little has been been provided to help people process them – privileged or not.

 “Be aware” is necessary, but insufficient

Research is showing that effective D&I training includes increasing the capability of perspective taking. Incorporating mindfulness practices into the curricula does that, as written about by Law Professor Rhonda Magee, JD describing the advantages of “color insight” over the nice-to-imagine-but-impossible-to achieve notion of “color blindness.” Training that increases people’s ability to focus on what’s common and leverage what’s different between each other adds competitive advantage.

One goal of D&I training that mindfulness can deliver is to reduce cognitive rigidity, the tendency to be blinded by past experience or perception – and a major driver of unconscious bias. Skills that increase awareness and insight can bring the unconscious to the conscious, which is necessary for recognizing these uncomfortable biases. But that’s not enough. We also need skills that enable people to process and face what’s uncomfortable without increasing resentment or denial. This makes it possible to truly leverage differences that create competitive advantage while being united on what matters.

D&I: Mindful, or Mindless?

With a few decades of D&I initiatives behind us and insufficient progress, we should be asking ourselves what we need to change rather than why we aren’t getting bigger budgets. Practicing D&I the same way and expecting a different result feels pretty mindless at this point. Practices of mindfulness – awareness, attention, non judgment, compassion – however, may contribute to what’s been missing in common D&I curricula. It may be time to bring a stronger skill and practice set to the “me” if we intend for the “we” to be stronger.

More to follow in upcoming articles on Awareness, Attention, Non Judgment and Compassion, all leading to the Thursday, October 26, 2017 2:00pm – 3:00pm EDT, ATD webinar “Can Mindfulness Reboot D&I?.

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3 (More) Strategies to Help Your Team Increase Resilience and Avoid Burnout

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While “balance” is a mindset and a practice rather than a goal or a condition, there are some solid, practical things in a HBR article to increase resilience and reduce burnout – and a few things to watch for. If you want to increase your own and your team’s ability to manage challenge over time, try what’s in that article, but also practice these three things.

1. Mindfulness Meditation

Yes, meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the buzz these days because of its proven effects of reducing stress levels and improving health outcomes – but not just sitting with crossed legs, closed eyes, and mudra-hands (though that, too). Meditation practices come in many forms – the pause before the meeting starts, the undisturbed walk around the building, paying attention to what’s for lunch, and also sitting at a desk, back to the glass door, following a 7 minute guided meditation from your smart phone. Having taught meditation to employees and executives alike, I’m certain that no one practice works for everyone. But I’m also certain that there is at least one practice for anyone.

Strategy 1: Develop your own mindfulness meditation practice that works at work and practice it. Bring in someone who can teach some simple practices to your team and, more than anything else, practice the practice.

2. Work Hard, Recover Hard

I was amazed and aghast at a recent HBR article. 54% of American employees didn’t take all of their earned time off last year. Why not? Fear for one reason. Fear of being seen as replaceable or not necessary. Another reason? Being the “ideal worker.” Ideal workers consistently put the company ahead of themselves – and do get benefits from it. Ideal workers are relied on and tasked more than others, meaning they get more opportunities and rewards than others. This can apply to vacations or off-hours availability. To some degree, this is a matter of wiring more than programming, but whether it’s fear or ambition, most people who don’t recharge – however they would choose to – inevitably burn out. The irony is that the failure to be present to life outside of work makes it impossible to be present to life inside of work – presence doesn’t do “boundaries.”

presence doesn’t do “boundaries”

However, insisting that team members be present to their non-work activities can be tricky. The keystone to that arch is you. If you are always available, always call-in from the soccer match, always promptly reply to emails from vacation, your expectation is clear, even if your message says otherwise.

Strategy 2: The first HBR article title above includes the words, “Even when you can’t.” Make no mistake – if you can’t, they won’t. This is the discipline of no – and it begins with you. Practice being present to whom you’re with and to what you’re doing away from work.

3. Breathe

One of the most valuable leadership lessons I learned from martial arts and yoga was how to breathe – it has stood me well in situations worthy of (and sometimes actually in) business magazines. While we’re not teaching our CEO or business clients punching or headstands, we are focusing on breath practices for focusing, energizing, and relaxing. Developing individual and group breath practices are one of the simplest yet most grounding things a team can do to manage debates, decisions, and even discipline. “Let’s all just take a breath,” is something we say when the going gets rough, but ironically it’s not something we do – at least not well. Learning a practice like breathing together is a great way to increase familiarity and empathy – proven building blocks for effective teams.

Strategy 3: You’re breathing anyway – optimize it. Learn and practice up to three classic yoga breathes, share them with your team, and practice them together to settle into meetings, manage tension, and build energy.

Yes, You Can

Even if what’s in this article is medical science (it is), it’s not rocket science. What you need to learn about these three practices you either already know or can easily learn. If you are concerned that you or your team are` at or above capacity and it’s all on you to deal with it, the good news is yes, you can. Get some help if you need it, but do it.

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Meaningful Work – 3 Simple Things a Meaningful Manager Does

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If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware of the value of meaningful work. The research tells us that the value to those performing the work is that they feel better and actually are better – at work and in life. The value to those paying those performing the work is better performance, better teamwork, and better retention. Some studies conclude that managers can’t make work meaningful, but they can make it meaningless – so NOT destroying meaning is the (low) bar.


Others, like experts Dave and Wendy Ulrich in The Why of Work (McGraw Hill), lay out a strategic framework for leaders who ask themselves “Why aren’t my employees working harder?” by asking instead, “Why are my employees working (at all)?” In Harvard Business Review, Lewis Garrad and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic dive even deeper by outlining four key personality characteristics that, in combination, enable a leader to make other people’s jobs more meaningful. I highly recommend both of these for leaders of leaders and those familiar with personality assessment.

But, if you don’t know how meaningful work contributes to business performance, go back and read the hyperlinked studies in the first paragraph. If you do, and are wondering how to be a meaningful manager, do these three things.

1. Ask Theirs

In simple terms, ask, “What makes your work meaningful?” People sometimes answer directly, sometimes they offer a textbook (or snarky) reply before they realize you really want to know. When they realize you really want to know, they often wonder WHY you want to know. Tell them – asking helps you avoid assumptions, get at what matters, and gives you a chance to share how having meaningful work improves business and individual performance at work and in life. It also gives you a chance to contribute to their meaningfulness. Three things you can do with what you learn:

  • Recognize performance that matters to both the individual and the business;
  • Make space for them to do a little more of what gives them most meaning;
  • Frame their development toward what’s most meaningful to them.

2. Share Yours

Sharing what’s meaningful to you comes after asking of others – don’t be that person who shares first and asks later if ever. But, sharing yours (really sharing yours, not something you read or the company’s vision statement…) provides people with insight into who you truly are and are about. The more personal you make it, the more authentic hence more credible it is. My professional mission since 1996 has been to “Cast light on the path to salvation by developing people and the organizations in which they work.” I don’t say what salvation is, but whatever it is for someone, I hope to help them toward that individually and through the right environment. When I explain that (and they always ask), it not only shares and makes me more accountable for who I intend to be, it also invites them to be equally candid in reply, or as candid as they choose to be.

Now you don’t need a super personal statement to give insight into what gives your work meaning, but you must share something real. If you are all about advancement and economic gain, it’s better to share that and the mutual benefits for those around you than try to cover it with some altruistic pablum or company motto – that’s what a meaningless manager does – and people see through it – eventually always.

3. String It

There have been many contradictoryinteresting and even entertaining articles and books written about doing what you love – you can/you can’t, you’ll be broke/the money will follow, etc., etc. Let’s not confuse having meaningful work with loving what you do. I volunteer patient care at a local hospice – it’s meaningful work, but I don’t always love it. But like any other role or job, some parts of the work provide immeasurable meaning to me, while other parts are just what has to get done to allow those more meaningful parts. (The mindfulness practitioner can find value in every task including dishwashing, but that’s a different article).

Let’s not confuse having meaningful work with loving what you do.

At times, everyone needs a broader perspective to shift their attention and increase their awareness of how seemingly meaningless tasks contribute to a more meaningful outcome (CEOs and dishwashers). The meaningful manager can “string it” by illuminating the line of sight from task-to-outcome that makes the connection. This isn’t always easy because it assumes two things – 1. the tasks are valuably aligned and 2. the outcome is itself meaningful to someone. If this isn’t the case, the meaningful manager addresses that first. When that’s clear, the meaningful manager educates and reminds people how what they do contributes to what gets done.

Meaningfully Realistic

The meaningful manager knows how to compassionately empathize without being naively positive or pessimistically negative. Meaningless managers use quotes like, “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die,” or the more current version, “It is what it is…”. Meaningful managers don’t confuse pessimism with realism or believe workplace misery loves company. They do, however, realize that they have an impact on the meaningfulness of those around them – for better and for worse. A simple, regular practice of asking, sharing, and stringing can make the difference between meaningless and meaningful at work.

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Minding Mindfulness

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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

Second image credit:  image: shutterstock/Kawin Ounprasertsuk

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Debating Your Telecommute Policy? Stop Wasting Your Time

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The research means little – and you’re solving the wrong problem

Geoffrey James at Inc just published a piece on the “bonehead” decisions by Aetna, IBM and Yahoo, to reduce telecommuting options for employees. Commuting costs employees money, pollutes the environment, and takes a psychological toll. “Employees love the option to work off-site and it makes them more engaged and productive when they can do so.” That’s five links to pro-telecommuting articles – you’ll find 500 more if you look.

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