The connection between awareness and positive change is deeply embedded in many philosophies and is at the core of mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is also viewed as an effective technique for managing stress and achieving meaningful long-term goals without compromising key elements contributing to the quality of life. In my practice, I have also found that it is an effective technique for leading organizational change.
I am an accountant. Accounting as a discipline has traditionally been seen as focused on the past and the preservation of the status quo. My personality could not be further from this. Consulting is often seen as helpful advice based on past experience, such as contributing best practices and insights gained from seeing how things have been done in the past. Personally, I agree that there is a lot of value in it. Every time I have achieved a new level in my life and career, the foundation for change was laid in past experience. However, it was also in how I thought. How I thought changed how I acted. Changing thoughts, for me, was not possible without non-judgmental awareness of how and why the past was no longer serving me.
Accounting has advanced with the times. This ability to grow, not only through experience, but through connecting the dots at the core in a fundamentally new way, is unique to life. I have not explored the application of this notion to artificial intelligence because frankly, I am still not done learning how to be human.
Returning to the topic of organizational change. We recently worked with a midstream company that had a portfolio of very complex contracts, each one unique. In our accounting analysis, two fundamentally different interpretive options were identified that suggested two different philosophies for the company’s vision and engagement with its customers. As the company’s leadership became aware of the options, more internal and external stakeholders engaged including the CEO, the CFO and the lenders. This awareness impacted the organization’s alignment; it impacted core decision-making.
This is what I love about what we do. The privilege of observing, in a non-judgmental way, and having the opportunity, without distraction and with patience, to connect the dots, to learn from others, and only then act. When I studied mindfulness, I was taught that I should eat when I was hungry and sleep when I was tired. I found, after I had become aware of my needs, that I often did the opposite. Looking for better ways to help our clients engage, act on their organizational needs and solve problems while pursuing balanced lives is part of fulfilling our purpose as a consulting practice.
Organizations are (still, at least for now) full of people and people have needs. Competing needs and priorities create complexities and distractions. Organizations can lose awareness, focus and direction just like individual people can. The key aspects that I have learned in mindfulness practices that I have also found to be helpful to lasting organizational improvement are:
- Non-judgment. We are wired to critically assess everything, especially something that is different. Many people also tend to accept more easily something that is proven in a defined way. Lasting and meaningful change, at the core, is the acceptance of something that is fundamentally different from what we know. What we judge, we resist. What we resist, we don’t accept. What we don’t accept, we won’t embrace. I am an immigrant from a country with a fundamentally different core ideology. I moved to North America as a young adult, after my core value system had been set. One of the most significant leanings that has contributed greatly to my quality of life and professional engagement is the ability to suspend all judgment. (Another core learning has been the importance of being able to “execute on ideas”, on in plain language, to act in accordance with what we think, and derive real value from theoretical thought. This however is not the topic of today’s article.)
- The awareness-acceptance-embracement-action connection. This is the sequence that I have found must occur before change can be embedded. Notably, action here is last. Throughout this sequence, there is a process of core transformation that modifies the outcome, such that the outcome at the beginning of the sequence is not the same as at the end, because the past is no longer possible due to the change in mindset. Our human will becomes engaged in a different way, and our faith changes direction. We have all heard that we can’t achieve a different result if we keep doing the same thing. We know it, so why is change difficult for most, even if we want to be in a different place? One reason may be that we sometimes are not aware what it is we are doing that is the “same thing”, and we may also not be aware of why we are doing it.
- Communication. I’ve been told a few times earlier in my career that I was not aware of who I was, was too self-absorbed, and could never achieve what I wanted. I found this to be upsetting at first, interesting and educational for a while, and then distracting. One of the aspects that I found interesting was that I was at times told I was not self-aware when I did something that others did not expect. I also learned the importance of understanding and listening to myself before I could meaningfully focus on and deeply listen to others. Fundamentally, what I have learned though is the importance of clarity in communication. Clarity cannot occur without deep awareness and understanding. Clarity can also not happen without a state of calm. Communication happens through pathways. This is true for our internal brain communication and for external communication. New pathways are built and created, not followed. The ability to persuade is fundamentally a practice of clear communication, through words and actions.
- Creativity. Creativity needs patience and the freedom from the expectation of perfection. I have found that often, creativity is the reward of the practice of change. It happens naturally when the conditions are right, and creating the right conditions is the challenge. Creativity is the magic that happens in the space free from fear and judgment.
- The value of past experience. The past and the future are deeply connected and respecting our past is important for respecting the future state.
In my experience, positive change comes from awareness and non-judgment because it allows people the freedom to choose without distraction and the expectation of perfection. In our practice, we work with awareness. It is our teacher. When we are aware of what is happening, in ourselves, in our communities and organizations, we can recognize the need for change as well as the direction and the operational model for change. We strive to connect the dots without criticism. When all the pieces fit together, what does the picture show? Where does the emotion of those we talk to fit in? How do we create a unified vision for change and lasting positive engagement? And then, how do we act to create the most value?