4 Steps to Making Mindfulness Work in Business

06/23/2015 10:05 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016

Mindfulness is trending in the business world, but that doesn't mean every manager has bought in. The biggest obstacle to changing corporate culture is getting leaders to see the value of such programs. I know about this challenge first-hand, as we recently added a new global mindfulness program at SAP.

So how did we make it work? We hit 'em with the facts, and then we implemented the program one step at a time, careful to get buy-in along the way. Even if your company is like mine, and the culture remains on the conservative side, by taking these steps, you will find that a mindfulness program is attainable:

Step #1: Identify a leader that believes in the program and can sell it to the corporate team, and engage employees.

Here at SAP, one of my colleagues, Peter Bostelmann, had taken the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program that was offered at Google and. was so taken by the practice that he decided to bring SIY to SAP. I admit I hesitated when he approached me at first. I didn't see the business impact, which I require for any course at SAP, and I hadn't heard other executives talking about it.

But our employees were -- and that made it worth considering. They called it life changing, inspiring them to be happier and more productive. I gave Bostelmann the green light to take his program to our offices worldwide, and we gave him a new title -- Director of Mindfulness Programs.

Step #2: Educate corporate leadership on how mindfulness will help retain quality employees and establish a workplace where they could thrive.

Smart businesses aren't going to invest in something that doesn't work, so mindfulness programs need to have proven their worth. The movement is relatively new, but recent research looks promising.

One study of 102 restaurant servers found improved job performance and engagement after mindfulness training. Another study followed 89 employees of Dow in Midland, Michigan, after a seven-week online mindfulness program. Those who participated demonstrated everything from healthier eating habits to lower burnout at work.

Of course, any program can go off the rails if you're not careful about how you implement it. Simply adding the word "mindfulness" before a training isn't going to win over your conservative business types. And it's not just managers that need to buy in - programs won't make if a difference if employees aren't engaged.

And managers can't force workers to meditate, as one coach notes. Also, becoming so Zen that you essentially stop leading serves no one.

Step #3: Test it out, and share research that demonstrates how this program can improve employee output and satisfaction at your company.

We knew that the best way to convince the executive team that a mindfulness program would work company-wide was to demonstrate its effectiveness with our own employees. So we tried a few small sample groups -- and the results proved so overwhelming, they made our case for us.

The 180 people in a pilot program in Germany rated it 6.65 out of 7 - a roaring success. Even better for SAP, employee stress, well being and "change agility" (so critical for any tech company but especially a cloud leader) improved by about 10 percent just four weeks after the program. There's now a wait list of 900, and we've farmed Bostelmann out to some of our clients, including Daimler Chrysler. No small victory.

Step #4: Create a thoughtful, fully vetted program that can be adjusted to your specific company needs.

There are ways to create a mindfulness program that appeals to the masses at your company and works. Managers at Google created the SIY program to engage employees and encourage them to become more mindful. It's now a corporate training practice, and a book, that the originators bring to other firms.

SIY focuses on:

  • Self-awareness: Staying balanced within yourself, focusing your attention and learning to create a vision in order to lead better.
  • Self-management: Being in the moment, dealing with negative challenges and handling stressful situations.
  • Communication: Learning empathy and positivity to avoid relationship burnout, and tuning into the kind of leadership signals you're sending.

A mindfulness expert who consulted at Google said that at first, no one signed up for a mindfulness stress-reduction program. But when they rewrote the description to focus on interaction and emotional intelligence, they quickly had 140 takers. Creating that buy-in made all the difference.

At SAP, mindfulness doesn't exist in a vacuum - it's part of our larger commitment to considering both financial and non-financial components of ROI. And so far, it looks like we've found an approach that works for us -- and maybe your business too.

Have you created a mindfulness program at your company? Leave a comment and share what worked and what others should consider as they bring mindfulness into their organization.