Why we need simplicity to cope with complexity – mindfulness in business life

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Parham Vasaiely
Feature Strategy and Engineering Manager of Autonomous Vehicles
Jaguar Land Rover
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This article was written by Parham Vasaiely, Feature Strategy and Engineering Manager of Autonomous Vehicles at Jaguar Land Rover. He is the chair of the JLR Mindfulness Programme. Before joining JLR, he worked at Airbus, as well as a management consultant in Switzerland. Parham is part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Mindfulness Initiative. Parham will be speaking at Mind and Matter 2017, a conference dedicated to excellence in mindfulness in the workplace, on April 27th and 28th 2017.

In the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, written in 1989, Stephen R. Covey speaks about developing a habit of continuous improvement called Sharpen the Saw®. This habit focuses on what he calls “your greatest asset…” which is You! He refers to a balanced program for self-renewal which includes both physical and mental aspects. It’s about increasing our capacity to be productive, manage challenging situations and to cope with change - sustainably and efficiently.

Today this habit is more relevant than ever. Across industries, organisations expect employees and leaders to apply agile and lean principles to maintain a constant pace and welcome changing requirements, respectively reduce waste in the value chain and create flow.

Michael Mankins and Eric Garton from Bain & Company Inc argue in their book, “Time, Talent and Energy”, published in 2017, that one of the biggest factors contributing to inefficiency, decreasing output and raising costs is organizational drag. They refer to it as “a collection of institutional factors that interfere with productivity yet somehow go unaddressed”.

Other research suggests that we spend 47% of waking hours thinking about something other then what we are doing. In some developed countries the sick days, due to perceived stress, since 2009 have increased by more than 24%. We lose 40% productivity due to multitasking and distraction. And a study in the US revealed that only 35% of managers are engaged in their jobs.

What contributes to these factors?

A significant amount of these issues result from conditions and situations we are faced in our private and professional lives described as VUCA, an acronym used to reflect on their volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

This is driven by human needs, disruptive trends in society and technological advancement, such as geopolitical uncertainty, growing urbanisation, increased computational power, autonomous vehicles, robotics and artificial intelligence.

Across industries these disruptive trends make modern workplaces highly interconnected, interdependent and complex environments.

What does mindfulness have to do with all of this?

For all the neurocomputational sophistication and processing power of our brain, we can hardly attend to more than one object at a time, and we can barely perform two tasks of the same nature at once.

Both employees and business leaders require mental tools to cope with the amount of information, changes and decisions required to apply the agile and lean principles successfully. Tools which support them to reduce the risk of cluttering their mental space and capacity, which are required to make good quality decisions and exposing them to higher levels of perceived stress.

Numerous studies show that the simple exercise of paying attention to the present moment can significantly improve these factors. Mindfulness and meditation have a measurable positive effect on both metal health and wellbeing.

This has also been identified by an increasing number of organisations, which treat mindfulness as a key building block of their employees’ wellbeing, personal and leadership development strategy.

Mindfulness at Jaguar Land Rover

In 2016, Jaguar Land Rover started a mindfulness programme, in collaboration with Kalapa Academy and Nijmegen University, supported by Oxford University, focusing on resilience and leadership, allowing several hundred employees from the Product Engineering department to experience Mindfulness.

The six-week long programme included a full day face-to-face, four consequent online webinars and a half-day face-to-face session. A pre-assessment of the participants via a questioner and an Attention Network Test at the start of the first day determined the current status of mental health and performance. The measurement was concluded with a second Attention Network Test at the last session.

With scientifically measured positive benefits to mental health and performance of the individuals, this programme has already demonstrated a return of investment. The effectiveness has been measured in areas such as emotional and social wellbeing, performance and team participation.

All participants showed reduction in perceived stress levels. But even more important, it has left the participants with a lifelong experience and a tool which they can access whenever required to master complex situations and challenging times.

References:

Killingswoth et al., 2010
Department of Health, 2014
American Psychological Association, 2006
Gallup, 2015

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