Consciousness: A Tool for Change or Mumbo Jumbo?
Consciousness is not a word often heard outside of yoga and meditation studios, let alone in the challenging world of construction. It does however introduce interesting new ideas and approaches for business leaders; to coin a phrase used by John Mackay of the Whole Foods Market “Conscious Capitalism” is not to be ignored for those seeking long term business growth.
KLH Sustainability recently presented at Conscious Lab’s session: Women’s Approach to Consciousness and Business. All the personal stories offered by the female panel were genuinely inspirational, however it was difficult to ignore that the audience was over 95% female too. It is obvious that if we genuinely believe in consciousness as a better way of doing business, we have to start using language and concepts that are familiar to business leaders, the majority of which are still male.
The challenge of engagement is one KLH Sustainability has faced before. The successful delivery of the sustainability agenda on the London Olympic Park was in no small part due to the engagement of all construction professionals, at all levels in partner organisations. The concept of sustainable development was most successful when it was approached from a technical, engineering bias; using the more familiar language of ‘risk’ rather than the more nurturing language of ‘ensuring your children inherit a future’.
The same is needed for the widespread acceptance of consciousness in business. Consciousness is a tool for change; a change that can inspire innovation, influence employee retention and as a result, deliver business value. It is a method to motivate, inspire and support individuals and project teams.
Many would argue that we are born with certain personality traits, but that does not mean we can’t develop traits that are seen as beneficial and supress those traits that serve us and others little purpose. The recognition of these traits and behaviour is the first step towards consciousness in the business environment.
Many readers will empathise with the moment an email was sent in frustration. These emails serve no purpose and often leave the sender feeling worse the following day. Saving emails as drafts and making a conscious decision the following day whether to send the email or delete it and pick up the phone to address any residual issues will always be more productive.
Applying a similar approach to all business critical decisions, whether it is the challenging task of firing someone or seeking a new business direction, can be extremely beneficial. In choosing not to make strategic business decisions whilst feeling under pressure or stressed, by taking time out to reconsider and reflect on niggling doubts, a business leader can be more confident that the final decision made is the correct one.
Most people have forgotten how to switch off and let their minds simply ‘be’ to allow creative and visionary thought and rarely can an important decision wait until a holiday (even when it can, any hope of relaxation is often stifled by the ubiquitous presence of the mobile phone!). The mind needs re-training to make intelligent and conscious critical business decisions.
A conscious approach to collaboration within projects can be as simple as explaining why someone is being asked to do something, rather than simply telling them what to do. This approach opens up a dialogue about how to achieve something, often with beneficial results.
A number of examples spring to mind from time spent on the Olympic Park. On first reviewing the Environment and Sustainability requirements of the Aquatics contract with the Balfour Beatty site delivery team, the Project Director flicked through the contract pages in front of him and exclaimed “we signed up to do what?” As a client representative, rather than simply wishing them luck and undertaking an audit function, the retort of “Yes. Now let’s discuss how we are going to achieve it” shifted the client contractor relationship into a highly collaborative one. This relationship successfully delivered a number of industry changing sustainability initiatives without ever needing to resort to the contract again.
Another example for the Aquatics project involved a phone call about halfway through the project construction. One of the site engineers wanted to know if a specific sealant for the swimming pools was compliant with the ODA Healthy Materials Policy. The Policy had a strong focus towards limiting Volatile Organic Compounds and little else. The query was followed with a seeming statement of fact that there were no other alternatives available. Following a review of the COSHH datasheet it was drawn to the project team’s attention that the product, although compliant with the ODA policy, contained a number of chemicals that were identified as carcinogens. This was highlighted to the engineer and it was suggested that although the product was in line with the ODA’s policy it did not align with Balfour Beatty’s strong ‘Zero Harm’ agenda. Within 24 hours a return phone call confirmed that an alternative had been found. The 5 minute conversation encouraged the problem to be reframed against corporate policy and created a shift in consciousness; presumably with benefits extending far beyond the direct impact on the operatives required to apply the product.
Reflecting back on a ten year career, it is has become obvious how a conscious approach to business has led to engagement and culture change within organisations. It is an approach that KLH Sustainability applies across all projects and contracts, consciously or not and the feedback from clients is overwhelmingly positive.