The Neuroscience of Organizational Culture
Mindfulness Applied as a Set of Techniques for Changing Behavior in Corporate Culture Initiatives
Aikens et al describe the process of mindfulness as a series of steps focusing and “exercising” the mind in a similar way that one would exercise the body in a gym setting. The authors describe the first component as taking time during the workday (but also with regular practice at home) to focus one’s full attention on one’s “immediate experience”. The second phase is focused attention on acceptance, curiosity and openness (i.e. non-judgmental) to the experience. For example, this might include the issue I raised in the Introduction to this essay, namely one of fear and anxiety in the workplace. In this context, the experience could be one of having experienced a limbic system response to a fearful event, such as an intimidating encounter with a leader, and possibly feeling paralyzed and unable to respond effectively. Phase two in this scenario might include a non-self-judgmental consideration of the experience of this fearful experience. It’s important to note that in this description, the focus is on the experience itself and the sense of “distancing” oneself somewhat from the experience and being more objective and non-judgmental about it. What this description does not provide is the step of changing one’s response and behavior to the stimuli. Muesse (2014) provides a graphic example of this “distancing” in practice, in which, while conducting a wedding ceremony, a bee landed on his face and proceeded to crawl between his glasses and into his eye lid. Instead of the instinctual response of screaming and flailing around that most of us would have exhibited, and most likely being stung, Muesse describes utilizing the mindfulness technique to be objective and inquisitive of the event demonstrating significant control over typical limbic “fight or flight “response.
One of the significant barriers to implementing mindfulness in the workplace as a process for driving culture change in organizations is that of leaders expecting results – fairly quickly. Much of the mindfulness literature describes the process as Smith (2014) describes as follows:
Going into a meditation and mindfulness practice you want to have the least amount of expectations as possible, but after some weeks or even months of practice you may find yourself expecting some sort of revelation and peace in your everyday life. When this doesn’t happen you will probably give up on the practice all together because it “doesn’t work.
In my experience with companies requiring culture change, the need emerges from a competitive threat and for rapid change. Rather than expecting the “least”, corporate leaders have the highest level of expectations for any intervention – they want the most in the least time.