By John Renesch
Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs declares that self-actualization is a state sought by all human beings once we have satisfied the more basic needs of survival, gratification and belonging.
It seems quite reasonable that as we humans continue to evolve and become more conscious beings there will be a concurrent need for our organizations to follow suit. In his book The Global Brain Awakens, Peter Russell points out the coming Age of Consciousness. As this becomes more widely recognized and people continue on their path of self-actualization, the enterprises, institutions and companies where human beings come together to produce results will need to change dramatically or die.
The “Conscious Organization” is not an end-state where every worker has been certified “enlightened” and each and every element of the company, or division or bureau, or agency, or institution is spotlessly cleaned of any residual unconsciousness. The Conscious Organization, is one which continually examines itself, committed to becoming as conscious as it can. In other words, it has very low tolerance for unconsciousness. It possesses the collective will to be vigilant, the collective commitment to continuous evolution, and the collective courage to act.
Once this Conscious Organization, or anyone involved with it, recognizes a quality, procedure, or other element of its culture which is not conscious, a rallying cry goes out and the organization’s resources are marshaled toward “cleaning up” that area and making it more conscious.
For example, a secretary overhears a direct marketing person talking to a potential customer on the phone and hears the salesperson say something that is not totally accurate. It might be a benefit the company offered but no longer does, or it might be a mis-interpretation of a product feature. It need not be a conscious attempt to deceive but the result, intended or otherwise, is that the salesperson is over-promising benefits to the customer.
It is the responsibility of that secretary to call attention to this mis-information which could be an isolated incident of misunderstanding. The root cause for such an overstatement might run deeper and, therefore, require an examination into the firm’s hiring and training policies, and selection criteria for new employees. Pressure for performance or quotas which may also contribute to sales people co-opting their values.
What I mean by “consciousness” is becoming aware of something and then acting responsibly in light of the new awareness. The discovery or new awareness is likely to generate a number of reactions which should be allowed to surface. If the new awareness is about something “bad” or “wrong,” guilt, shame, anger, and other emotions may come up. A tendency to find fault, blame, accuse, or defend oneself or the organization may materialize. But avoiding discovery eliminates any chance of becoming conscious – individually or organizationally. Feeling the initial emotions about these new discoveries is essential.
Another key part of this process is to forgive yourself, the people involved, and the organization for being unaware of this problem. Even if there was some awareness of wrong-doing, it is important to recognize it and forgive.
Forgiveness is not a characteristic we normally associate with organizational life, but failing to forgive ourselves and our co-workers keeps blame and guilt “locked in” the culture, hidden among all the relationships within the company. Once awareness has been brought to the conscious level, we’ve watched and felt our emotional reactions, and forgiven whomever we need to forgive, what’s next?
Now it’s time to do something — to begin correcting. To jump to action immediately after discovering something “bad” subverts the process I just described with all its long-term benefits. Now that emotions have been experienced and forgiveness has happened, it’s time to responsibly act.
What does “responsibly” mean? It means engaging in a process of discovery and response as if you’ve seen something for the very first time. Response is a root of “responsibility,” or the ability to respond. Reacting prematurely, like rushing to action as soon as the “bad” behavior is discovered, is often not really responsible. Responsibility includes thought, choice, comparison to one’s values, and gaining consensus among the parties. Being “able to respond” with full awareness is not accomplished when we merely react to an undesired condition.
Examples of less-responsible reactions might include the immediate firing of a salesperson when it is learned that a “lie” had been told, hiring a diversity consultant as soon as some prejudice was discovered, or issuing a righteously indignant warning to all staff that the “bad” behavior “will not be tolerated.” These reactions may not be coming from a place of awareness and choice. They might be coming from a place of protecting an image – either an individual’s or the organization’s; they might also be a righteously angry reaction (not genuine anger but an intellectualized disguised version.)
Once the process of becoming aware has run its course and a conscious correction is underway, the organization’s values and core ideologies need to be examined in light of these ideals – whatever made the discovered behavior or attitude “bad.”
An organization which holds honesty and integrity high on its list of core ideals, might want to look beyond the mere “misinformation” given by the salesperson and search for where and how this happened. They might question whether or not it was an isolated incident or a mere symptom of a larger more insidious “virus” in the core body of the company.
I know from personal experience that a commitment to being conscious on a personal level is a lifelong commitment. It means a constant vigilance or a willingness to continuously examine one’s life, one’s values, and one’s relationship to oneself, others, and the universe.
Since an organization is a collection of individuals who have come together for some common purpose, it would seem to be a natural conclusion that an organizational commitment to being conscious requires the same continuous exploration and re-examination that is needed for personal transformation. Therefore, it seems to me, a core ideal of a company wishing to be a Conscious Organization needs to include this commitment to continuous re-examination throughout its life.
Since the Conscious Organization is the opposite of a dysfunctional one, its desire to explore any “shadows” that come to light is totally contrary to the less-healthy company which serves as a refuge for co-dependent behaviors. As many mental health professionals will tell you, a leading co-dependent behavior is to keep secrets and avoid whistle-blowing on any matters that the “conspiracy” wants to hide.
One way to cure a dysfunctional system – be it a family or an organization – is an intervention by people who won’t buy into the “conspiracy of silence” or who have felt enough pain and can’t stand it anymore. Such interventions are usually aimed at a person or persons or a small number of people within the group. They often resemble a sort of tough-love “ambush” since the targets for the intervention would probably avoid the circumstance if they were aware of what was planned.
People in a Conscious Organization would be open to learning about any unwanted patterns and breaking through any barriers they may have. Having a conscious and healthy relationship with their co-workers and the organization’s mission is of paramount importance, far more important than their need to maintain their image, the illusion of control, or remain in denial about something that violates their core values.
Can you imagine an executive coming to the CEO and saying, “I think we need to have a staff meeting and do an intervention on the budget committee?” In a Conscious Organization, I can imagine this happening. People in a healthy company want to see in the shadows; they don’t want to perpetuate the darkness. They’re excited at the prospects of self-discovery, moving the team or organization forward, and learning how to be more aware and more conscious.
“Ambushes” are unnecessary in the Conscious Organization since the players want to learn and grow. Therefore, opportunities to do this are welcome, not avoided. People don’t need to be tricked into being on the “hot seat.” They are eager, looking forward to it as a means to improve the team’s effectiveness and the organization’s ability to perform.
The Conscious Organization is one where the lights are always ready to shine wherever darkness is found. And everybody knows that the process is valuable and everyone takes responsibility for calling attention to it.
Copyright ©1999 John E. Renesch.
John E. Renesch is a San Francisco writer, futurist, and business philosopher. Since 1990, he has edited a series of forward-thinking business anthologies that have included the writings of over 300 visionaries from industry, business academia, and the professional communities.
Among the thirteen anthologies he has created is The Conscious Organization: Multiple Perspectives on Organizational Transformation which includes the writings of MIT’s Peter Senge (author of The Fifth Discipline), Margaret Wheatley (author of Leadership and the New Science), Peter Russell and the late Willis Harman (author of Global Mind Change).
Renesch served as editor of The New Leaders business newsletter from 1990 to 1997 and has caused more writings on the subject of human consciousness and business to be published than any other person in the world. He is also a frequent keynote speaker internationally, having addressed audiences in Tokyo, Seoul, London, Brussels, Budapest as well as many cities throughout the U.S. He’s been called a cross between a pompous pundit and a zealous evangelist when it comes to radical change in business practices.
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