Where does your organisation go for its marginal gains?

“If you go into every aspect of what you do and break it down and improve those things by 1%, it all adds up,

Sir Clive Woodward, former world cup winning England Rugby coach.

Earlier this week I posted an article on Linked-in about a global legal firm, Dentons - the first legal firm to employ a Chief Mindfulness Officer within their company. Having previously worked as a solicitor (briefly, I admit!) it was a story that genuinely caught my attention. The industry would be considered pretty conservative, with a challenging working environment, demand long hours and tough assignments for staff.

A recent report in the USA found that 23% of lawyers in the USA report they are suffering from stress and an even higher number from depression. So moves like the above should be applauded and whatever the motives, the directional move towards innovative, personalised support for employees continues. The message is clear - support your people so they can grow, learn and produce great work. Empower them to perform at their best. That’s a win-win and a brave new world for many organisations.

'“Despite widespread acknowledgment that talent is integral to competitiveness, HR still struggles to gain clout in the C-suite"

Harvard Business Review, March 2011

The idea that there would be a c-suite executive whose mission as Karina Furga-Dabrowsk in Dentons puts it, “to make mindfulness an integral part of Dentons vision to be always the law firm of the future” would have been unheard of only a few years ago. Appointments like this are happening because leaders are placing a much greater focus on their people and the role of HR is paramount to this shift. The HR role has long been viewed as largely administrative (except in the most forward-thinking companies) and its leaders have mostly been relegated to managing policies and cultural initiatives. Many senior leaders failed to understand the strong correlation between their people and company performance, and the huge role they need to play in developing and shaping their people.

Yet from this slow beginning, people strategy has increasingly become a focus area at BOD level and the role of HR has changed and grown in responsibility. “The discipline I believe so strongly in is HR, and it’s the last discipline that gets funded. Marketing, manufacturing—all these things are important. But more often than not, the head of HR does not have a seat at the table. Big mistake.”

Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, from a piece in the New York Times in 2010.

There is no doubt that the changing world of work and the digital revolution has placed a huge pressure on organisations to be more agile and flexible with their people strategies. New employee demographics, the ongoing war for talent and more demanding work environments have forced HR to look differently at their talent pools. We have seen the emergence in recent years of terms such an employee engagement, culture, employee experience, and employee wellbeing move into the vocabulary of not just HR leaders but also the C-suite. Employee engagement figures are now the global scorecard for the pulse of my employees. New roles such as Chief Culture Officer, Employee Engagement Officer and Wellbeing Officers have become increasingly popular and Dentons are simply taking this trend one step further into the more focused area of mindfulness. Yet they are not the first.

SAP, Google, Aetna and IBM all have Chief Mindfulness Officers. If you google the job title you will see 16 results and growing. Mindfulness has gone from groovy, tree hugger to a performance and personal development tool. And the interest continues to grow backed by both science [insert] and personalities.

High performance athletes have been practising mindfulness for years with athletes such as Kobe Bryant placing huge emphasis on it. Apps such as Headspace and Calm have become huge success stories and made the concept accessible and easy to understand for a new generation.

Kobe Bryan on Meditation

Last year, Reuters news agency ran a headline At Germany's SAP, employee mindfulness leads to higher profits. The piece went on to detail how Peter Bostelmann, an industrial engineer at the technology giant, discovered meditation during a personal crisis a decade ago and convinced the organisation to give it a go. Since 2014, SAP has sought to measure the impact of factors such as employee engagement and health on operating profit, arguing that staff with a better work-life balance are more resilient to stress and, therefore, more productive.

The company estimates that a 1 percentage point increase in employee engagement translates into a rise of 50 million euros to 60 million euros (43.7 million to 52.5 million pounds) in operating profit, while a 1 percentage point increase in its business health culture index can add 85 million euros to 95 million euros.

What we are seeing in terms of the world of work is a two fold desire for mindfulness. One area is around stress reduction and relaxation and can centre around breathing techniques. A breath (even just one deep breath) connects you to the part of your brain that manages emotions. Our co-founder and Dublin footballer, Bernard Brogan talks extensively about his practice of box breathing before pressurised events in GAA and work.

‘It helps me slow down his mind and make better decisions’.

Bernard Brogan, Dublin Footballer

Try it for yourself here :

The Dublin team, as they prepare for this weekend’s final will no doubt utilise the mindfulness training they have worked on in previous years with Anne Marie Kennedy. See here a very interesting article from just this week on her revolutionary work with the team.

Click Here to read all about it.

The second focus area is around presenteeism and helping people to focus better on the task at hand. Our attention spans are diminishing, we are constantly bombarded with distractions by the minute and hour. So, how do we train the brain to make sense of a noisy world. Mindfulness can make people more focused, more productive. The role of mindfulness coaching would therefore seem to make business sense in this context and may be a better investment in your people than some of the more traditional employee engagement/training activities.

The trend for more specialised expertise at the top level of organisations will will not stop here. Watch out for an emerging trend of high performance directors (traditionally used in the sporting context to provide the wellbeing support structures and advice to help athletes perform at their best) will permeate in the corporate world - a human performance director. I am already aware of two companies in London who have hired personnel specifically in this area, whose roles are focused solely on building a culture and tools to develop this concept of ‘whole people’ - Mind. Body. Spirit. Career. Undoubtedly there are huge marginal gains for progressive organisations as they seek to support people in this development of the whole person!

James Brogan

CEO @ PepTalk

Let's make work better …

At PepTalk, engagement is at the heart of all our wellbeing platform. Our platform is about energy, passion and fun while being grounded in key business outcomes.

To find out more about this area and our wider PepTalk offering book a demonstration at www.peptalk.ie or email james@peptalk.ie

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