Value Systems : Hope for the Self-Actualized Worker : The Conscious Organization

A global expert on business and consciousness, John Renesch is a leading writer and thinker on matters of social transformation. He believes that commerce holds the key to bringing about a global shift of human consciousness thus creating a future of tremendous possibility for humankind

John has four decades of experience as a business owner and entrepreneur. John is now a business futurist, writer and keynote speaker on topics that integrate the subjects of business, human consciousness and possible scenarios for the future of humanity. He is the co-creator and host for The Presidio Dialogues a monthly series of evening gatherings in San Francisco which are focused on conscious business. He offers a variety of services as a private mentor, a consultant to consultants, and professional advisor (see Services). His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing (see Better Future).

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Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" declares that self-actualization is a state sought by all human beings once we have satisfied the more basic needs of survival, sexual gratification and belonging.

It seems quite reasonable that as we humans continue to evolve toward self-actualization and become more conscious beings there will be a concurrent need for our organizations to follow suit. In his book The Global Brain Awakens, Peter Russell points out the coming Age of Consciousness - an era when our full potentiality is much more of the focus of our collective energies. As this becomes more widely recognized and people continue on their individual paths of self-actualization, the enterprises, institutions and companies where human beings come together to produce results will need to change dramatically. If they don't, the fate of these organizations is simple. They will die.

The “Conscious Organization” is not an end-state where every worker has been certified “enlightened” and each and every element of the company, or division or bureau, or agency, or institution is spotlessly cleaned of any residual unconsciousness.  The Conscious Organization, is one which continually examines itself, committed to becoming as self-aware and responsible as it can, at that time in its life.  It has very low tolerance for unconsciousness.  It possesses the collective will to be vigilant about matters that might fester under the surface of awareness or otherwise pass muster in less conscious organizations.

Once this Conscious Organization, or anyone involved with it, recognizes a quality, procedure, or other element of its culture which is not conscious, a rallying cry goes out and the organization’s resources are marshaled toward “cleaning up” that area and making it more conscious. This could be compared to how the human body's immune system adjusts for any infection or toxic agent that enters the system.

So what do I mean by "consciousness" in this context? Becoming conscious is becoming aware of something and then acting responsibly in light of the new awareness. It is not synonymous with awareness alone. Action is another element of consciousness. The discovery or new awareness of something is likely to generate a number of reactions which should be allowed to surface.  If the new awareness is about something “bad” or “wrong,” guilt, shame, anger, and other emotions may come up.  There could be a tendency to find fault, blame, accuse, or defend oneself or the organization. But avoiding discovery eliminates any chance of becoming conscious – individually or organizationally.

Part of becoming conscious, therefore, involves acknowledging the emotions that come up with this new awareness. After all, much of what we keep in those unconscious parts of ourselves is there because we don't want to feel these emotions. So feeling them is part of becoming more conscious.

Another key part of getting more conscious is to forgive yourself, the people involved, and the organization for being unaware of this problem until now.  Even if there was some awareness of wrong-doing, or less-than-functional systems being tolerated, it is important to recognize it and forgive everyone.

Forgiveness is not a characteristic we normally associate with organizational life, but failing to forgive ourselves and our co-workers keeps blame and guilt “locked into” the culture, hidden among all the relationships within the company. Once awareness has been brought to the conscious level, we’ve watched and felt our emotional reactions, and forgiven whomever we need to forgive, what’s next?

Now it’s time to do something - to begin correcting. Now that emotions have been experienced and forgiveness has happened, it’s time to responsibly act. To jump to action immediately after discovering something “bad” subverts the process I just described and eliminated the possibility of becoming a more conscious organization, with all its long-term benefits.

What does “responsibly act” mean?  It means engaging in a process of discovery and responding as if you’ve seen something for the very first time. Response is a root of “responsibility,” or the ability to respond.  Reacting prematurely, like rushing to action as soon as the “bad” behavior is discovered, is often not really responsible. Responsibility includes thought, choice, comparison to one’s values, and gaining consensus among the parties.  Being “able to respond” with full awareness is not accomplished by merely reacting to an undesired condition.

Examples of less-responsible reactions might include the immediate firing of a salesperson when it is learned that he or she mis-informed a potential customer, because a “lie” had been told, or hiring a diversity consultant as soon as some prejudice was discovered, or issuing a righteously indignant memo to all staff that the “bad” behavior “will not be tolerated.”  These reactions may not be coming from a place of awareness and choice.  They might be coming from a place of protecting an image – either an individual’s or the organization’s; they might also be a righteously angry reaction (not genuine anger but an intellectualized disguised version). But what about using the situation to learn and grow, not only for the people involved, but for the organization?

Consciousness doesn't only play a part in becoming aware of "problems;" it can also involve new awarenesses on matters previously off the routine "radar screen" - like diversity, women's rights, the environment and so many other subjects were a few decades back. Making things better often involves looking at entirely new topics, not just "fixing" the problems that come to our attention. 

For instance, a Conscious organization might re-examine why it exists, why it offers what it does to the public or other businesses, what it's core values and priorities are. This can be difficult work since we all tend to become emotionally attached to things when they are close to our hearts or minds (or wallets).

An organization which holds honesty (both factual and emotional honesty) and integrity high on its list of core ideals, might want to look beyond the mere “misinformation” given by the salesperson in the example I gave and search for where and how this happened.  They might question whether or not it was an isolated incident or a mere symptom of a larger more insidious “virus” in the core body of the company.

Once the process of becoming more conscious has begun and a intentional action has been implemented, the organization’s values and core ideologies need to be re-examined in light of this new consciousness. These core ideals might change constantly as the organization continues to become more and more conscious. In fact, since people and organizations can only strive for total consciousness, the process of becoming more and more conscious is integrated into the "way of life" for the organization; this is part of what a Conscious Organization is - a group of people who are constantly examining their own individual and collective consciousness.

I know from personal experience that a commitment to being conscious on a personal level is a lifelong commitment.  It means constant vigilance, impeccable discernment, and an ongoing willingness to continuously examine one’s life, one’s values, and one’s relationship to oneself, others, and the world.

Since an organization is a collection of individuals who have come together for some common purpose, a natural conclusion would be that an organizational commitment to being conscious requires the same continuous exploration and re-examination that is needed for personal transformation. A core ideal of a company wishing to be a Conscious Organization needs to include this commitment to continuous re-examination throughout its life.

Since the Conscious Organization is the opposite of a dysfunctional one, its desire to explore any “shadows” that come to light is totally contrary to the less-healthy company which serves as a refuge for co-dependent behaviors.  As many mental health professionals will tell you, a primary co-dependent behavior is keeping secrets and avoiding whistle-blowing on any matters that the "conspiracy" wants to hide.

One way to cure a dysfunctional system – be it a family or an organization – is an intervention by people who won’t buy into the “conspiracy of silence” or who have felt enough pain and can’t stand it anymore.  Such interventions are usually aimed at a person or persons or a small number of people within the group.  They often resemble a sort of tough-love “ambush” since the targets for the intervention would probably avoid the circumstance if they were aware of what was planned.

People in a Conscious Organization would be open to learning about any unwanted patterns and breaking through any barriers they may have.  Having a conscious and healthy relationship with their co-workers and the organization’s mission is of paramount importance, far more important than their need to maintain their image, the illusion of control, or remain in denial about something that violates their core values.

The Conscious Organization is one where the lights are always ready to shine wherever darkness is found.  It is a fit for people who are striving to be more conscious themselves and are seeking work environments which support and even stimulate their individual growth as conscious beings. And everybody knows that the discovery process (seeking enlightenment) is valuable and everyone takes responsibility for calling attention to it.

© Copyright John Renesch 2004

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