ACEVO Member Lesley Dixon shares her experience when they introduced Mindfulness to their managers at PSS and how it positively influenced the entire organisation. If you are interested in Mindfulness training, please see the course details at the end of this blog.
Mindfulness seems to be everywhere at the moment; every time I turn on Radio 4 it seems to be the topic of discussion; there’s even a storyline about it in The Archers. And it is getting a fair bit of coverage in the business world from articles in the Harvard Business Review, The Economist and even the FT. Although much of mindfulness is based on ancient philosophies, its inclusion particularly in the business world is a much more recent phenomenon and it almost feels as if it has sprung up from nowhere.
At PSS we’ve been on our mindfulness journey for over two years. We started talking about it back in 2012. We were about to launch a new Management and Leadership Development Programme. We wanted to ensure our managers had the management skills needed in today’s world, but also leadership skills that enabled them to get the best out of their people and themselves.
So in early 2013 we launched our new programme. It included a management skills programme with the CMI, a management by coaching course and a mindfulness programme. And that’s the bit that stood out as different. So what made us opt for a mindfulness programme? By 2013 our sector was already in choppy waters and we knew that times were only going to get more interesting. We knew that we needed our managers to be resilient and to have the skills to lead their people in the right way. Our mindfulness programme did include meditation techniques, but it went much wider than that. On the eight week programme (weekly half day sessions with a two day residential) facilitated by an external provider, Ondy Wilson, we covered a whole range of areas including ethical management, authentic leadership and emotional intelligence. Our vision is to influence health, social care and community service through innovative approaches and one of our values is to be brave enough to take risks, so taking a different approach appealed to us.
But we were aware that this wasn’t without its risks. We were concerned that our people may think that we were forcing a set of beliefs on them; a significant amount of mindfulness ties in with the Buddhist philosophy. Neither our then Director of People and Culture nor I had any background in this area, but nevertheless it was a worry. So we ensured that the language used and the whole approach was non-denominational and made that explicit to all from the beginning.
And of course despite our best efforts there were some people who were unsure. At the first session people were encouraged to discuss their concerns and to talk about what came to mind when thinking about mindfulness and meditation; you won’t be surprised to hear the Beatles sitting cross legged in India was referred to more than once! But as the programme commenced so people began to see the benefits to them; how the ability to truly clear the mind allows for much clearer thinking, how building your own resilience allows you to deal more easily with all that’s going on around you and how thinking about how you react can alter how you respond.
So what difference has it made?
Our scores in our annual staff survey tell their own story. In the year after we introduced the mindfulness programme we saw an increase in every question in our staff survey with over half of the questions receiving a score of 80%+.
And that’s not all; our absenteeism levels have reduced and whilst we can’t necessarily put all of that down to mindfulness we are clear that it has played a significant part. One benefit we can directly relate back to the mindfulness programme is the ability of our people to handle difficult situations. In the past 12 months we have carried out two major restructures. Of course they have been difficult – they always are – but I know that many of the people directly involved handled the situation so much better than they would have done otherwise because of the mindfulness programme because they told me so. They were able to see opportunities rather than problems and to deal with the situation more objectively than would otherwise have been the case.
And one of the unintended – but without a doubt most positive – outcomes has been how so many of our people have weaved mindfulness practice into the delivery of their services.
Our commitment is such that we have trained a group of our most enthusiastic people to be mindfulness trainers themselves. We will still use Ondy Wilson for the mindfulness leadership programme, but the regular meditation sessions and introduction to mindfulness will now be led by our own people.
We are clear that our managers can only be effective leaders and our team can only be effective in their work if they are looking after themselves and our mindfulness programme has enabled us to give them a whole toolkit that allows them to do just that.
Lesley Dixon is an ACEVO Member, Chief Executive of PSS, Vice Chair of Mind and Director of FRC. She is also a Chartered Manager, a fellow of the Chartered Management Institute and has an honorary doctorate from the University of Leeds.
Follow her on twitter: @lesley_dixon