How Mindfulness Transforms Organizations
Employees need help with finding ways to get in touch with organizational reality as it is; work-life as it unfolds before them in real-time, unencumbered by the way their past experience informs and directs their judgment. In contrast, the process of seeing only what we want to see limits a fuller view of any situation required by leaders. Developing mindfulness practice can help to usher in diverse perspectives, promote transformative learning and leadership, and culminate in wise interaction with the organization and the vast system in which it is embedded. This is also critical because innovation is a significant competitive advantage for organizations. Below I include a brief narrative about the evolution of my research in seven studies.
Study 1: Determining Core Applications of Mindfulness Based Consulting
Mindfulness is noted in most world religions as a core aspect of wisdom, but seldom is it introduced as a practice itself (as with Mindfulness Practice) in the classroom or in OD efforts. This important issue, as to what it means to act wisely in organizational life, prompted the following question: is there an actual field emerging, wherein mindfulness practice is being utilized to drive meaningful organizational change? This question was the impetus of my first study while at UST and the findings serve as a guide for all of my subsequent research. This first study was comprised of case studies of four mindfulness based consultants located throughout the world, including the US, Great Britain, Germany, and Uruguay to determine predominant applications of mindfulness practice in the field of Organization Development. The results of this research were published in a book chapter titled Mindfulness Based Consulting in a book titled ͞Consulting for Organizational Change Revisited.͟ My findings suggest the following aspects of this new OD application:
- Five main applications Mindfulness Based Consulting (MBC) exist in order to benefit the common good within organizations: Leadership Development, Strategic Innovation, Transformation of Organizational Culture, Employee Satisfaction, and Performance Improvement. You will notice that each of the studies that follow have examined how mindfulness impacts each of these areas.
- Two Dimensions for critical reflection became apparent across all four consultants: level of presence (attention) and their mode of purpose (intention).
- Way of Being: These findings led to the conceptualization of an employee’s Way of Being and later a tool to gauge it, called the Presence and Purpose Inventory.
Study 2: Impact of Mindfulness Practice on Leadership Development & Strategic Innovation
As indicated in my first study, both strategic innovation and leadership development were shown amongst consultants to be two significant applications of MBC. Encouraged by this knowledge, I led a study to determine the direct impact of regular mindfulness practice on 40 professionals in the Twin Cities area, half of whom participated in a Leadership Course (control group) and half in a once-weekly meditation session (treatment). This findings of this study, were published under the title Developing Leadership Dharma in the Journal of Management Development and was featured in the September, 2016 issue of Mindfulness Research Monthly. The findings demonstrate several correlations of mindfulness practice upon wellbeing, tolerance for ambiguity, and their preponderance for strategic risk-taking in the name of innovation. It was the first study of its kind to study these attributes in professionals (vs. undergraduate students). Findings include the following:
- Perceived Stress:Significant negative correlation between mindfulness practice and the degree to which situations over the past month outweighed a leader͛s ability to cope with stress. [t (17) = 2.18, p =.018].
- Trait Anxiety:Significant negative correlation with a feeling of stress, worry, and discomfort that is related with more general situations that leaders experience on a daily basis [t (32) = 2.88, p =.007].
- Creativity Promotional Focus:Significant positive correlation with a motivational outlook where leaders set their sights on accomplishments and aspirations, generate more distinct alternatives to a given task, and are more likely to persevere when faced with setbacks than individuals with a prevention focus [t (34) = 2.50, p = .018].
Study 3: Impact of Mindfulness Practice on Attitudes that influence Organizational Culture
In my original study, transforming organizational culture was shown to be a common application of MBC. To better understand the landscape of healthy attitudes toward a common good, which might be transformed as part of organizational culture, I set out with the help of my Graduate Assistant (Sangwon Byun) to study demographic differences in these attitudes (patience, non-judgement, non-striving, and beginner’s mind) in 100 professionals distributed equally for gender as per the latest census bureau demographics. The benefit of this study to MBC practitioners is an understanding of how application can benefit specific demographic pockets of organizations. I have since concluded and currently I am developing the initial statistical write-up of this study. Our findings include the following:
- Accept vs. Fix Conflict:10% w/ 3-5 years of work experience compared with 2% (6-9 years) and 26% (10+ years) accept the conflict for what it is.
- Non-Striving vs. Striving:27% of men compared with 14% of women are comfortable being themselves, content with sense of accomplishment at work.
- Beginner’s vs. Expert Mind:16% with high school diploma compared with 21% with bachelor͛s degree + solve challenging problems by first taking a stance of expertise vs. beginner͛s mind.
- Judging vs. Non-judgmental:34% with high school diploma vs. 18% of those with a bachelor͛s degree + are non-judgmental when listening to others.
Study 4: Impact of Mindfulness Practice on Organizational Performance
In this two year Action Research Study, 33 UST professors generated and committed to 26 new mindfulness practices to improve their skills as educators, researchers, and advisors, which grouped into four strategic categories, including: improved grading and assessment, awareness of students in the classroom, teaching mindfulness in and out of the classroom, and self-awareness in teaching.
- In addition to developing new habits, participants demonstrated three deeper forms of transformation. The first includes an expanded belief system: that one can create a space and shift between expertise and beginner’s mind for greater creativity, appreciation for subject matter, and genuine communion with students.
- The second transformation is evidenced by a profound confidence in creating an authentic sense of community across academic silos.
- The third transformation is evidenced by an ongoing effort to support a mindful university culture, as participants have further codified their insights and launched six university-wide strategies over the past two years.
Study 5: Impact of Mindfulness Practice on Employee Satisfaction
In this study I sought to understand how regular mindfulness practice would influence related components of employee satisfaction. For this study I randomly selected and assigned 85 professionals to treatment and control groups. I then measured the impact of once weekly practice on the following attributes that effect well-being at work. The analyses shown below are currently being written up by myself alongside Dr. Sarah Hankerson as second author. Results have recently been featured in the July, 2016 Federal Executive Board Newsletter.
- Creative Efficacy:significant positive correlation between mindfulness practice and the belief that one can succeed at being creative in order to improve things such as job performance, overcoming conflict, and getting things done under pressure [t (52) = 2.28, p =.027]. Creative Efficacy is also positively correlated with higher scores on a yearly employee satisfaction survey (r = 0.54, p<0.001).
- Organizational Citizenship:significant positive correlation between mindfulness practice and helpful behavior at work and a dedication to self-improvement and a healthy work atmosphere. [t (52) = 2.24, p =.03]. Also found a significant correlation between an increase in an employee͛s Organizational Citizenship Behavior and their ability to forgive others (r = 0.52, p<0.001) and experience gratitude at work (r = 0.59, p<0.001).
- Rumination:significant negative correlation between level of mindfulness and how much an individual focuses their thoughts on depressed mood as well as the possible causes and consequences of that mood (r = -0.52, p<0.001).
- Gratitude at Work:significant positive correlation between level of mindfulness and how much an individual appreciates the good will and help given to them by others. (r = 0.32, p=0.018); lending to a much healthier working climate.
- Sense of Purpose:significant positive correlation between level of mindfulness and greater sense of purpose, vs. being stuck in ͞everydayness͟, at work (r = .79, p<0.001).
Study 6: Validating a Measure to Determine Levels of Mindfulness & Meaning Orientation in
Also guided by my original study of MBC, I became interested in how the field could measure the two dimensions that are core to the work: developing leadership presence and greater sense of purpose in organizational life. Over the past four years I have set out to develop and validate a measure that I developed called the Presence & Purpose Inventory (PPI); designed to help consultants evaluate and guide dialogue around a leader’s sense of presence and purpose. Following its original validation (understandability, exploratory factor analysis, and correlation with similar instruments), this instrument has been tested with over 200 employees from Target Corporation, 85 federal government workers, and 250 MN lawyers at an annual summer workshop.
Study 7: Developing a Cohesive Pedagogy for Mindfulness Based Leadership Development
While previous studies looked at the impact of regular mindfulness practice on leadership development, I thought it would be important to meld what we knew from these studies with existing OD literature on leadership development. What would an integrated pedagogy look like according to literature, the state of the field, and a robust transformative learning framework? To propose such an approach I led a study with the help of Dr. Carmela Bennet of Columbia University, to determine how reputable organizations are currently experimenting with holistic leadership development methodologies, including mindfulness and somatics practices. We also conducted an extensive review of the literature to better ground these approaches in adult learning and leadership best practices, empirical research, mind-body principles, and leadership performance. This study titled Learning to Embody Leadership through Mindfulness and Somatics Practice has been published in Advances in Human Resource Development and received mention in the August, 2016 issue of Mindfulness Research Monthly.
Additional Collaborative Publications
I have also been working side-by-side with Dr. Candace Chou in exploring ways of guiding reflection around our narratives – and the way they intersect with narratives of others in organizations – through Collaborative Digital Storytelling. Together, we have combined our knowledge in areas such as narrative, transformative learning, and web-based learning applications to create a system for uncovering shared and divergent perspectives around things such as organizational strategy, change, and teamwork.