Self-Awareness as a Foundation of a Successful Corporate Culture

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By Ben Pickup
Conduct & Consumer Protection Risk Specialist

On the 25th March 2018, I will be heading off to India for 2 weeks. The main purpose of the trip is to attend a retreat in Dharamsala (Home of the Dalai Lama) at the Tushita Buddhist Meditation Centre. The main subject of the 10-day (mostly silent) retreat is ‘Dealing with disturbing emotions’.

Now, some may be curious as to how an English born, Australian raised and Irish domiciled individual comes to find themselves in the foothills of the Himalayas? Some may also challenge why something as personal as this should be shared on LinkedIn. Hopefully, you will understand my intent by the end of the article.

For those who have read my posts on LinkedIn, you will know I am passionate about two things: 1) Consumer Protection; and 2) Culture – more specifically what drives individual behaviour. It is the second area that we will concentrate on.

As I have mentioned before, trying to build a collective culture in any area of life is challenging. Bringing together individuals from across different backgrounds, gender, ethnicity, age and belief systems AND then expecting to harmonise these elements into a cohesive organisational culture would appear almost impossible.

But for me, the common thread that binds these eclectic differences is that we are people first, without the labels, and at our core, desiring a culture based on compassion, equanimity, kindness and interconnectedness. People are looking for a ‘human’ culture in which to believe, one that allows them to fulfil a purpose larger than themselves. People want to be happy!

For some, these terms may seem fluffy, intangible and aspirational at best, especially when attempting to bring focus to the more common corporate values of ‘customer centricity’, integrity, courage etc. (Note that many of these are also intangible and have proven to have had little effect in the past e.g. VW, FIFA, Oxfam).

Yet I would challenge those same people to research historical corporate scandals and not reach a conclusion that most occurred due to two main reasons: 1) Greed; and 2) Fear.

If we reflect further about the subject of my upcoming retreat, and think to those two core drivers of corporate scandals, you cannot help but be curious as to what was going on for the individuals concerned e.g. managers, employees, families etc. What drives people to behave this way in the face of obvious consequence? What emotions are they experiencing? What is life like behind closed doors?

It’s individuals who make the culture

On a daily basis, we all bring to life/work the sum-total of our experiences. Some days are bad and can affect our focus and interactions with others. For some though, outside life is far more challenging, and when confronted with a challenging or toxic culture, feelings of anxiety, stress and depression can be magnified.

Mental health has become a real issue for organisations and society more generally. and one that is experienced by far more people on an ongoing basis than any survey or statistic could justify. Organisational cultures focused on pressure sales, targets and fear-based leadership, only serve to exaggerate this serious issue.

So, Ben, what has this to do with meditation and retreats? Now I would like to tell you that my retreat is part of a bigger career plan to combine my corporate experiences into helping bring focus to these key issues and the foundations to good culture. To an extent, that is true. Yet it is not the whole story.

Between the ages of 25 and 42, I personally battled with these feelings. I was able to rely on a strong work ethic to survive (thanks to my parents), yet behind the scenes, I was riddled with fears that manifested into an ongoing battle with addiction and permeated all areas of my life e.g. relationships, work etc. As you can appreciate, this is a very personal disclosure I am making, yet one that is driven by a desire to bring focus on this subject and hopefully to help others who may be experiencing the same or similar challenges in life.

Whilst I have managed to overcome my addiction (5 years and one day at a time), I also understand the importance of maintenance (Now you better understand the retreat!!). I am also conscious of how critical it is for each of us to have more awareness for what goes on for people in their minds and personal lives that sometimes finds its way into the workplace. And where it doesn’t, that there are some who will struggle and suffer in silence. This is also true for customers. It is human.

It is also important to consider how we measure people and performance in general – when you factor in the human element, you can appreciate that it is not the binary exercise we would like to believe it is.

I will continue to share my views on this subject. However, it is my hope, that with more self-awareness of our own thoughts, words and actions, we will be better placed to apply empathy to others. A culture built on these principles is a human culture, representing all involved (Consumers, Managers, Employees etc.) and best placed to withstand the elements of fear and greed common to corporate scandals.

Finally, I would like to invite anyone who wants to talk on this subject or its contents to email me at charganack@gmail.com or send me a LinkedIn message. Your communications will be kept confidential. And for anyone in need of help, sometimes the hardest step is asking for it. In my experience, taking this leap of faith was the beginning of my own recovery.

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