Google does it. Procter & Gamble practices it too. Even insurance company Aetna rolled out what's now a very impressive mindfulness program that's reduced employee turnover, slashed sick days and improved overall business performance.
But the study and practice of mindfulness is not limited to larger corporations - smaller businesses and their employees can reap the benefits as well. At Berger Singerman, a business law firm with approximately 85 attorneys and a total of 165 employees, we have implemented an ongoing mindfulness program in the workplace since 2013. Our team members who have participated in the program report significant improvements in their professional performance, increased focus on the task at hand and markedly better listening skills. From a firm perspective, our team members' study and practice of mindfulness has resulted in increased professionalism, collaboration and business performance. All of the skills that have resulted in enhanced performance at work have enriched and improved our team members' personal and family lives as well.
The tenets of mindfulness can work in just about any small business. I'd even argue that the smaller the business, the greater the impact, because each person's role is that much more essential to executing the overall company mission.
Lead Off with Leadership Buy-In
Getting leadership or management to champion a workplace mindfulness program is the essential first step. Once they're willing to invest human and financial resources, consider your options:
· Bring in an expert. A recognized mindfulness expert can help you offer an effective program to educate and train employees. At Berger Singerman, we sought help from Scott Rogers, the founder of the Mindfulness and Law program at the University of Miami School of Law.
· Identify an internal champion. If you're fortunate enough to have an employee who is knowledgeable, skillful and willing to take responsibility for the rollout of the program within the company, take advantage of her or his experience and expertise to encourage others that investing the time in the program is "safe" and will yield a worthwhile return.
· Go online. Access reputable resources on the internet for the study, practice and training of mindfulness. Huffington Post, for example, offers robust content, including "Mindfulness - 3 Things Every CEO Needs to Incorporate."
The Power of Increased Perception
The study and practice of mindfulness promotes active listening and greater observation and data gathering skills. At our law firm, this helps us interact more effectively with each other, our clients, our referral sources and our opposing counsel. And when we hear and understand each other better, we work more effectively and less stressfully.
Most business leaders agree that knowledge is power. The more we know, the more likely it is that we can make more informed decisions. I have learned to focus on three "buckets" of data:
#1. Myself. The study and practice of mindfulness has allowed me to develop a more acute awareness of what I'm thinking and feeling in the present moment. For example, if I am better at my own "early detection system" for anger or fear by learning the feelings and sensations that anger or fear initiates within me, I can have a better chance of responding thoughtfully to the stimulus causing those feelings and avoid reacting to them in manners that are unhelpful or regrettable. I have also found that as a result of my study and practice of mindfulness, I am better able to identify when I am off task and bring myself back to the task on hand and the present moment.
#2. Other people. My study and practice of mindfulness has facilitated an improvement in my listening skills and ability to gather data from my counter-parties in my communications and interactions with others. By learning to improve my ability to stay present and in the moment, I can better gauge reactions of others to what I'm saying, really hear what others say, and observe important cues like body language and tone of voice.
# 3. The environment. The study and practice of mindfulness had enhanced my ability to observe and gather data from the environment. And in this context, my reference to the environment can mean the location in which I find myself, the dynamics of a case or deal, or even the industry that is the subject of a client matter or sales initiative. I think that the discipline of striving to be a better gatherer of data has helped me be more aware of and sensitive to the perspectives of others.
A Personal Example
Mindfulness can not only benefit small business employees in the workplace, but pays immense dividends in one's personal life too. One of my colleagues, Debi Galler, writes blog posts on mindfulness. She shared a really poignant example following a five-car accident, where she got hit from behind and then drove into the car in front of her.
She learned the woman in the car ahead of her was in a late stage of pregnancy. Although Debi was initially upset, she applied the mindfulness tools that she has learned to help her through this situation. Debi thought: "What an amazing thing that I'm healthy. I was there and able to absorb the shock of this accident and not imperil the woman and her baby in the car in front of me." Thanks to her study and practice of mindfulness, Debi was able to think clearly and respond thoughtfully rather than react in a manner that would have been unhelpful.
Mindfulness is a journey. I think the return on my investment of time in the study and practice of mindfulness has been overwhelmingly positive. But to be sure, I still have a long way to go. I believe I've already enhanced my professional performance in a variety of ways, and I believe that the same skills that have made me a better business lawyer and counselor have also enhanced my personal life and relationships. I encourage other small business owners to consider investing in the study and practice of mindfulness.