23 March 2023

What Does Consciousness Have To Do With Organizations?

Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon.

The term consciousness is defined as the ‘the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings or something within oneself’. This definition is quite straightforward and one that most of us can associate with. I think most of us would agree that we want to become more aware. We all intuitively know what this means and can say, yes, we want be more conscious. However, as a general topic, consciousness tends to seem complex and hard to grasp.

A British psychologist, Stuart Sutherland said,

Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon…nothing worth reading has been written on it.

The ability of humans to self reflect means that they are capable of becoming more conscious. Discovering who we really are is questionably our most important journey on this planet. By becoming more aware we can make free judgments about things and thoughtful and deliberate ways to behave.

Some courageous questions an individual can ask themselves on this journey are:

  • “Why am I doing this?”
  • “What do I really want?”
  • “Why is my life this way and not the other?”
  • “What can I do about it?”

Many people do not take the time to self reflect and truly understand themselves and what is happening around them. Without this awareness, personal development is not possible.

And What about Organizational Consciousness? What does that mean? When an organization has a deeper sense of connected-ness, that is what we call organizational consciousness. People need self- reflection to become more aware and conscious and so do organizations.

Most people and organizations will focus on what they want to have and what they have to do, what problems they need to fix. The solutions are therefore still in the same space which the problems arise and problems can NOT be solved in the same space in which they show up. If A + B = C and you want a different outcome, then clearly something in A and/or B needs to shift or change.

Organizations are more than structures. They are living communities with living assets. Some organizations may need a new structure to elevate to the shifting and raising consciousness in people – but more importantly they need a new culture and mindset. The focus on a conscious organization needs to be a focus on the BEING. Once we focus on the BEING and how to make this more whole and complete then the DOING will automatically be shifted. The shift needs to happen not only at the individual level but also at the organizational or collective level. The essence is shifting to a more empowering, connected culture where people are inspired to achieve their unlimited potential and contribute towards the collective unlimited potential of the organization.

The Barrett Values Centre has come up with a model called the Seven Levels of Organisational Consciousness which I think is quite relevant.

Level 1: Survival: Pursuit of profit and shareholder value: Creating an environment of financial stability, and focusing on the health, safety and welfare of all employees. Focus on the reduction of excessive control and caution, short-term focus, corruption, greed and exploitation.

Level 2: Relationship: Relationships that support the organization: Building harmonious relationships that create a sense of belonging and loyalty amongst employees and caring and connection between the organization and its customers. Focus on the reduction of internal competition, manipulation, blame, internal politics, gender and ethnic discrimination.

Level 3: Self- Esteem: High performance systems and processes:Creating a sense of employee pride by establishing policies, procedures, systems, processes and structures that create order and enhance the performance of the organisation through the use of best practices. Focus on the reduction of bureaucracy, hierarchy, silo-mentality, power and status seeking, confusion, complacency and arrogance.

Level 4: Transformation: Adaptability and continuous learning:Giving employees a voice in decision-making and making them accountable and responsible for their own futures in an environment that supports innovation, continuous improvement, knowledge sharing, and the personal growth and development of all employees.

Level 5: Internal cohesion: Strong cohesive culture: Enhancing the organisation’s capacity for collective action by aligning employee motivations around a singular mission, an inspiring vision and as shared set of values that create commitment and integrity, and unleash enthusiasm, creativity and passion.

Level 6: Making a difference: Strategic alliances and partnerships:Building mutually beneficial alliances with other organisations and the local community to protect the environment, while deepening the level of internal connectivity inside the organization by fostering internal cooperation between business units and departments.

Level 7: Social Responsibility: Working with other organisations and the stakeholders of the organization in pursuit of societal objectives that enhance the sustainability of humanity and the planet, while deepening the level of internal connectivity inside the organization by fostering compassion, humility and forgiveness.

So where is your organization in terms of these levels? The levels 1-3 focus on the basic needs of business, the fourth level is transformation from fear-based to open and inclusive and levels 5-7 focus on cultural cohesion and alignment, long-term sustainability and social responsibility.

At the present, there are very few organisations functioning at the full spectrum. I believe this is the direction we are moving though and as Richard Barrett says,

A precondition for success at this level of consciousness is self-less service, displayed through a profound commitment to the common good and to the well being of future generations. To be successful at level 7, organisations much embrace the highest ethical standards in all their interactions with employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders and the local community. They must always give consideration to the long-term impacts of their decisions and actions.

So what are you doing as a leader to take your organization to the next level of consciousness?

Written by Nancy Hughes


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