A few weeks ago, I introduced Organizational Consciousness as the future of work – a needed movement now more than ever. To briefly recap, Organizational Consciousness is the work within companies to intentionally evolve the humanity of both their business and their people. It’s the essential mindset and practices needed for individuals, organizations, and humanity to thrive – in this century and beyond.
At this pivotal moment in time, companies have both an opportunity and a responsibility for creating environments of profound human growth for their people. Unfortunately, many people do not have access to this type of personal development at work – which is why Organizational Consciousness is especially important right now. With this approach, companies can provide the environment and tools that support profound growth for their people, thereby enabling a positive ripple effect in the lives of their employees, their communities, and beyond.
There are three parts to the Organizational Consciousness approach – awareness, connection, and purpose. Each of these parts involves your culture and people’s inner work as well as the outer work of your business and your company’s impact on the world. In this article, I’m going to share more about the importance of awareness and some practical things you can do to increase this foundational strength in your organization.
The Inner Work of Awareness: Your Culture
Awareness is an essential skill for helping people develop a greater understanding of themselves, others, and the wider world – but it needs intentional and consistent development.
To illustrate the importance of awareness in your company culture, think of your organization as a petri dish. In this organizational petri dish, take all of the strengths and values of each person and mix it together with the collective pain and suffering that each person brings. Just picture it – thousands of these different (and in many cases polarizing) qualities constantly colliding with each other, causing a range of positive and negative reactions. This creates countless opportunities for different strengths and challenges to trigger each other, like when someone interrupts us in a meeting, or when we think our idea isn’t valued, or when we feel passed over for a promotion
With an Organizational Consciousness lens, the inner work of awareness is focused on understanding and embracing the cacophony of strengths and challenges in your organizational petri dish. To do this, you need to create a culture that recognizes and values the strengths each person brings – and aligns those strengths with the work that they do. But this isn’t enough, as you also need to give people the tools to deepen their understanding of their challenges, blind spots and triggers so they can transform them, and cultivate greater compassion and curiosity towards the people that trigger them. By doing this, we can unlock innovation and collaboration and turn unhealthy tension into productive tension that leads to breakthroughs.
Another important component of the inner work of awareness is helping people uncover their unconscious biases that get in the way of them truly seeing and appreciating others’ diversity and differences. There are so many ways that organizations intentionally and unintentionally support biases that are not only toxic to workplace culture but devaluing for many of the incredible people working in the organization. With an Organizational Consciousness approach, companies can strengthen the individual and collective awareness around inequality and unconscious bias, and create cultures where everyone feels valued, seen, and heard.
Here are some specific things you can do in your company to cultivate greater awareness in your people.
- Journey Line Activity: At Ultragenyx, we use this activity to deepen awareness of self and others. With Journey Lines, employees share their life story as a series of inflection points – the positive “high” points, and the challenging “low” points. We encourage them to reflect on the connection between these: how each challenge led to learning or growth. This process fosters awareness as participants can see the beliefs, mindsets, and values that shape who they are, and how they show up in work and interactions. Additionally, the act of sharing their story and listening to others’ stories creates more awareness and understanding. The result each time is that people feel seen, heard, and valued for their journey that brought them to where they are today.
- Working Style and Personality Assessments: There are a range of assessment tools used in the workplace, like Enneagram, Insights, Myers-Briggs, and many others. These tools support people in understanding their individual preferences and challenges, so they know what to leverage, and what to adapt and address. At Ultragenyx, we use the Insights assessment tool in our People Manager programs. We also use it with in-tact team and department offsites, where it helps people develop greater appreciation and understanding of each other and learn practical and helpful tools to work most effectively together.
- Unconscious Bias Workshops: Unconscious biases (appropriately named) will go unnoticed for years until we develop awareness of it. But when we deliver programs that intentionally shed light on the things we do, intentionally and unintentionally, to exclude others, we can shift the behavior. Further, it helps us implement programs and policies that actively address systemic inequality and create inclusion and belonging cultures. We have launched unconscious bias awareness building in various formats at Ultragenyx over the past year, and will be doing much more of it over the next year as well.
- Awareness-building Employee Development Programs: Strengthening awareness should be a foundational component for every employee development program. At Ultragenyx, we do this through activities that highlight how we overuse our strengths, to the point where they become a liability, and through exercises that highlight our triggers. We also brought in The Energy Project to deliver workshops with practical tools for sustaining energy, in and outside of work. After almost three years of focused energy management efforts, we have seen great results at both the individual and organizational level with a 35% increase in those who reported feeling energized after the program, and an overall 18% decrease in those who were feeling close to burned out. Additionally, our ongoing focus on energy management and self-care has led to organization-wide improvements in our annual employee engagement survey, with scores increasing by a much as 32 points in some key areas.
- Mindfulness and Meditation Programs: These skills are foundational for awareness and will strengthen your organization’s individual and collective awareness muscles. Furthermore, there is now great research and data from organizations like The Potential Project andGoogle’s Search Inside Yourself Institute that connects meditation and mindfulness to individual and team performance, as well as leadership impact and business results. By introducing mindfulness and meditation to employees at Ultragenyx, through external speakers, workshops, grassroot community groups and development programs, our employees have said that it has strengthened their compassion and resilience and lowered their stress.
- External Speakers: A simple and powerful tool to raise awareness in your company culture is bringing in speakers with different perspectives, stories and life experiences to speak to your employees. Over the last five years, our speaker series, called UltraTalks, has brought in a wide range of thought leaders and advocates that have left our employees moved and inspired to learn, grow and take new action in their lives.
The Outer Work of Awareness: Your Business
When it comes to the outer work of awareness in Organizational Consciousness, you must be incredibly honest about your company’s impact on the world. Is your business helping the greater good, harming it, or not even thinking about it because you are too focused on profit and stock price?
I am fortunate to work at Ultragenyx, an organization that was founded on having a profoundly positive impact on people suffering from rare and ultra-rare diseases. Serving the greater good is our organization’s DNA and is built into everything that we do in our business. So the question in every part of the company, with every decision, is not “what is best for the business,” rather it is “how can we best serve and support our rare disease patients?”
Some of you reading this may think that it’s too hard to connect your company’s work to helping the greater good, but there are countless other facets to your business that can be designed or modified to have a positive impact on humanity. Here are some things you can do to bring greater awareness to your company’s impact on the world:
- Support Local Communities: Every organization has a local community surrounding it, so you can explore the impact your business has on the people in those cities and look for ways to invest locally around your company. This can be as small as supporting a local homeless shelter or food bank, to larger scale infrastructure investments like parks and community centers. There are so many ways to enrich local communities through your organization, so find one that is meaningful and start there.
- Explore Supply Chain Impact: Often companies will not take a hard look at their overseas supply chain practices that can be harmful to the environment and the people in the cities, towns and villages abroad. Organizations need to look at the downstream impacts of their supply chain to ensure that producing a popular product that delights your customers doesn’t at the same time destroy other parts of the world.
- Become a Green Company – There are lots of things companies can do today to gauge their impact on the environment, by looking at where they get their supplies and snacks, to their carbon footprint. this is especially important given the state of our planet today. When I wrote this article, the Bay Area skies were dark orange, filled with smoke, due to another year of devastating wildfires that are displacing thousands, destroying millions of acres, and killing human and wildlife. Every organization needs to be thinking about the role they play in this crisis and how they can be part of a productive reversal and regeneration process.
- Evaluate Partnerships and Vendors – Another important component to awareness at the business level is understanding the practices of the vendors and partners you work with. Do you do business with other people and organizations that support humanity or harm it? This can be anything ranging from directly or indirectly supporting systemic racism, to environmental impact, locally or abroad. Companies today have a responsibility to know how their partners do business and ensure they are not supporting businesses that are harming others.
Ultimately, when organizations focus on cultivating greater awareness for their people and provide the tools to do so, they can create the space for strengths to flourish, and suffering to be recognized, softened and in many cases transformed. And when organizations focus on becoming more aware of their impact on humanity, they can be leaders in this much needed movement to connect business goals and impact to environmental and social impact. This is the invitation for every organization and leader today – to be part of a collective movement to create a future where all humans can thrive on this planet.
Bria Martin is the Vice President of Organizational Strategy and Development for Ultragenyx and the creator of the Organizational Consciousness™ approach that she has piloted over the last five years. Her mission is to share the positive impact and results from this work at Ultragenyx in order to help other companies embark on a journey to create business and cultures of profound growth and positive impact.