I think this is going to be a blog about contradictions and opposites. After all mindfulness is about noticing details in the ’here and now’, giving us an appreciation of the status quo – whereas change points towards the future and what is yet to be.
Mindfulness is typically more associated with relaxation and calming than it is with change – seemingly irrelevant to an organisation driven to cope with a fast pace of change in volatile markets. And yet, mindfulness is increasingly recognised as having the potential to transform workplaces; boosting efficiency, productivity, innovation and creativity.
How can this be?
The clue to understanding the impact of mindfulness lies in its opposite – mindlessness. When we’re doing mindless tasks, our brains are pretty much switched off and on auto-pilot. We lack the curiosity and awareness of small details that are so essential to mindfulness.
From this perspective, it seems obvious how mindfulness could contribute to the effectiveness of transformational change in an organisation. By paying attention to the small details of what’s happening in the present time, we can pick up on all the different aspects of behaviour and process that will be affected by a coming change.
By contrast, mindless behaviour numbs our awareness of the social, emotional and physical aspects of any process – so that we see only the outcome and pay little attention to all the steps that led to that result. Mindlessness in an organisation means that there may be little or no responsiveness to the status quo, which can block improvement and much needed change.
Mindfulness can highlight where change is needed, but it also points to how it can most effectively be introduced. Mindful organisations encourage leaders to understand not only people’s actions, but the thoughts, emotions and behaviours that lie behind them. This means that communications about change are more specific and meaningful, tapping into motivations and aspirations.
It takes mindfulness to really understand what will work well in any organisational culture, and why some processes may work better in one context than another. Without mindfulness, there’s a risk that processes are just routines that may have made sense at some point in the past, but are no longer effective and relevant in the current context or the future.
Applying mindfulness principles can be a powerful tool for effective change, and can improve an organisation’s ability to innovate and adapt in a fast moving environment (1). By being mindful and noticing the detail and context of organisational processes, leaders can ensure their thinking is focused and relevant, avoiding ’the bandwagon effect’ where people blindly follow a popular belief because others do.
A culture of organisational mindfulness prompts managers to notice the social, behavioural and emotional detail behind each process, so that every impact of organisational change can be considered.
(1) Langer Mindfulness Institute