A Search for Consciousness in Business
That wave of pride you feel when crossing the finish line of a hard-trained-for marathon. The swooning epiphany that you’re in love while holding hands in Italy. The rush of excitement that hits when you walk into a concert to see your favorite band play for the first time.
The most beautiful “aha” moments of our personal lives are marked by consciousness—a state that taps into our very reason for being and allows us to experience the joy of living. For most of us, that feeling of being totally present and aware in our day-to-day professional lives is less common. It can be cultivated, however, and when consciousness is embraced in the place where you spend most of your waking hours, it will set your business apart from the masses.
Understanding Consciousness, and its Business Potential
According to Merriam-Webster, consciousness is “the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself.” Taken further, it can be likened to a state of awareness, which is the “knowledge or understanding that something is happening or exists.”
In my view, consciousness is the ability to take in every single sensation and feeling in the moment, while using those insights to bring about actions that drive results. Living consciously allows you to be aware of what is transpiring around and within you, creating possibilities of forward movement. However you define consciousness, it is fundamentally a personal and purpose-directed mindset.
In business, consciousness can be a game-changing approach. According to a study conducted by Imperative, “58 percent of companies with a clearly-articulated purpose achieved growth of 10 percent or more over the past three years. 85 percent of companies with clearly-articulated purpose showed some growth overall, while 42 percent of companies without it sowed negative growth.” It will probably come as no surprise to you that the discussion of consciousness in business is very uncommon.
In my 17 years working with thousands of people in the billion-dollar automotive industry, I never once heard a leader describe consciousness as a focal point. Why? For the simple reason that consciousness through purpose-driven effort is not an everyday conversation for the majority of profit-only focused companies.
While consciousness may be perceived as too touchy-feely, the reality is that automotive leaders are missing out on a huge opportunity to get more from—and give more to—millions of employees craving a new ethos in an industry riddled with historical guilt, mistrust and greed. Though these individuals joined the auto industry to create a life for their families, many are conflicted by the need to overcome a hundred-year-old mindset led by profit-driven treatment that taught customers how to block and tackle as soon as they walked in the door. I’ve learned from speaking with numerous employees who say their jobs make them sick or that their leaders do not care are hungry for a shift and desire this “mythical” purpose approach that stretches beyond profit.
Specifically, they are hungry for consciousness, and they are not alone. Industries across the world are experiencing what I call the need to Shift Awake.
The D(Evolution) of a Conscious-Less Corporate Culture
Nowhere is the need to shift toward consciousness more apparent than in an organization where the top priority is shareholder profitability. In many organizations, the ultimate goal is shareholder profitability which drives quarterly and annual targets, which drives department objectives and employee projects and responsibilities. In an effort to increase profitability, typically these targets are solely focused on cost-cutting measures or revenue-generating efforts. I’m sure many of you are nodding your head. These efforts, when running as planned and market demands are met – companies hit their targets, resulting in more money in the pockets of the shareholders and voila, the company is still in business. Yes, there are a variety of other scenarios that play out, but for the basis of my next example, let’s keep what I’m about to say pedestrian.
During these moments, when organizations are profitability-focused have you ever wondered what is happening to the employees at a deeper level of the business? What they typically hear is – more, more, more. Sell more. Cut more. Create more. Also, let’s add in – sleep less, care less, and work with less. At the sake of hitting their targets, there is less focus on keeping the employee engaged and more effort expended toward filling the pockets of those at the top.
This is one example of a conscious-less organization which is the basis for most of our free-enterprise corporations and the reason capitalism gets such a bad rap. The consequences of a conscious-less led company do not happen immediately, but quite the reverse. You will often see high profits, high productivity and market domination out of the gate. Their success overshadows any need to reevaluate the way business is done.
Due the pressure, it is only a matter of time that a fissure in the foundation will start. Silently and slowly it begins to erode the growth they’ve had for years. A company may see their turnover creep up, maybe it’s just in one department at a time, so the effects are not widely visible. Once employees become disengaged, their customers begin to feel it. A dip in customer loyalty happens and the company thinks it’s a one-off. Inevitably there is a downward spiral that occurs, and the company comes to a point where they need to evaluate.
In other words, sometimes attained targets and full pockets for the leaders at the top come at the expense of employee engagement, customer satisfaction and, ultimately, success.
This is where the shift happens…or it doesn’t. Either the company will continue to overwork their people, drive customers away and reduce product quality to make profit miraculously appear—or they will wake up and recognize that something has to change. Even if they do wake up, many companies don’t know where to start because the idea of leading in a different way is so foreign. As a result, not all companies in our capitalist society survive the need to Shift Awake.
The Case for Conscious Capitalism
Believe it or not, there are already companies thriving in a conscious state of mind with a purposeful business model that factors in all stakeholders in addition to profit. They have an ethos strategy that creates a feeling of belonging and empathy, considers all people involved and empowers them to grow and develop. It’s a strategy that will come full circle as they give back to the company and the world around it.
This is known as “conscious capitalism,” a term coined by Raj Sisodia and John Mackey that begins to explain what these companies are doing differently to drive results and keep their people happy. According to the two authors, “in business as in other aspects of life, being conscious means taking responsibility for all the consequences of our actions, not just the ones that reflect well on us. The wonderful thing about thinking in a conscious way about business is that it enables businesses to make decisions in such a way that they have positive impacts in multiple dimensions for all stakeholders. This is far more fulfilling than simply striving to create financial wealth for shareholders.”
It’s an approach that yields much more than just a good feeling. Many companies that operate under conscious capitalism—including Amazon, Patagonia and the Container Store—have experienced growth beyond their expectations. In fact, it’s been found that using a holistic viewpoint to guide direction and desired outcomes has enabled conscious companies to score big. A study called “Firms of Endearment” took a deep dive into understanding the qualitative and quantitative metrics that made up these renowned brands, and researchers found that conscious companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 14 to 1 and even outperformed the companies from Jim Collins classic’ “Good to Great” by 6 to 1.5.
Evidence in support of conscious capitalism continues to grow. In 2012, Motley Fool Founder David Gardner went out on a limb and selected a grouping of twelve conscious, purpose-driven businesses’ stocks. He then asked a group of 200 executives at a conference to watch and see if they outperformed their traditional, bottom-line driven competitors. He said, “Let’s watch these 12 stocks over the course of the next five to 10 years and see if these companies do a good job—not just of living up to what we expect from conscious companies, but of how they score for shareholders.”
Gardner hit it right on the money. Earlier this year, he reevaluated those same stocks and found, “If you take the stocks I picked and average them, the average stock is up 400 percent. The S&P 500, by direct comparison over the same period, is up 97 percent.”
What is it about conscious capitalism that led to their success? It’s the factoring in of all stakeholders involved—including shareholder interests as well as the interests of customers, employees, suppliers, the community and the environment. In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek says it very well. “Happy employees ensure happy customers. And happy customers ensure happy shareholders—in that order.”
Making the Shift
It’s clear that many companies still have this wrong—including many in the automotive industry. When discussing 2017 automotive trends, Price Waterhouse Coopers mentioned, “Over the last five years, the annual rates of return that the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average achieved for investors (including dividends) were 14.8 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively. In that period, average auto maker TSR was only 5.5 percent.”
If you were to take a guess on a scale of 1 (being the lowest) and 10 (being the highest), where would you rank the consciousness of the auto industry? I’ll go out on my own limb and say it is close to the bottom of the barrel—and the numbers demonstrate the industry’s contrast with the conscious companies evaluated above.
It is worth considering what the auto industry could look and feel like if it were to embrace conscious capitalism. From my insider perspective, I envision an industry elevated as a whole by countless beautiful “aha” moment occurring at headquarters, in offices, dealerships and showroom floors—all while producing enviable profits. I see an industry with the potential to give meaning to the millions of lives it touches.
Jacqueline Jasionowski is the founder of Shift Awake Group. Her “soul” goal is to share with the world how connecting with your purpose through a higher level of consciousness will both drive results and enable you to innovate along the way.