Mindfulness at work

About a year ago (already!), while I was leading SAP’s Developer Relations, I gave, at SAP’s annual developer kick-off event, a short talk about happiness at work. Then I wanted to share a few practices that made my experience at work more enjoyable, hoping that such practices would also work for others.

Then months passed… and for various reasons I slowly stopped enjoying my job. I felt that too many forces were pushing me in directions that I did not want to take. I lost interest in fighting against the current. I started to dream of a different job, one that would be fun and give me more freedom to do great things the right way.

Two months ago my dream came true: I signed up for a new job. Interestingly it brought me back last year, to my short talk about happiness. My new job consists of creating favorable conditions for the happiness of developers at SAP. The scary part is that I have no formal psychology education. Well… after thought, with more than 15 years in management I may have enough psychology practice! 

Happiness? Let’s rewind to my talk last year and use Mihali Csikszentmihaliy’s definition of happiness:

Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.

While there does not seem to be consensus about how happiness ought to be measured, we can find more and more examples of countries and businesses that explored the question and came up with possible answers. In 2012 Bhutan published a well regarded guide that explains how they measure and monitor the country’s Gross National Happiness index. The same year Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos, launched a survey to measure happiness at work.

My team and I were asked on our job because the SAP people survey results showed a significant drop in employee engagement, especially with developers. Unfortunately the same survey failed to give my team much else than the symptom of issues that had yet to be discovered. We could not really do much without finding out more about the root causes of the symptom surfaced by the survey. We embarked in a qualitative happiness research to collect insights about issues that developers have. For that we held a series of informal 1:1 conversations with developers, across the globe, to hear their thoughts about being and working as a developer at SAP. We summarized our research as a list of 8 overarching sentiments, some positive, others negative. How good is that? Some might argue that our research might not be representative of all developers. They are right but we had to start somewhere and I did not want to wait for months before we started to make a bigger difference than just collecting information. The research was good enough to start discussions with executive management, get their feedback, get their ideas, and more importantly drive a few initiative that address voiced issues that may be the biggest detractors of happiness.

So now my team and I are working in dual mode: continuous data collection/analysis/reporting while exploring/experimenting with solutions based on most current reports.

Here are a few examples of experiments that we are conducting:

– the SAP Culture Book, inspired by the Zappos Family Culture Book 

– d-shop, SAP developers’ makers space, inspired by the TechShop

– a Reuse Culture with an internal API Marketplace and internal Open Source (aka Innersource)

– an Internal Innovation Management Platform to support incremental product innovation as well potentially bigger or disruptive innovation

But such list would not be complete with something else… If you go back to Mihali Csikszentmihaliy’s definition of happiness, the control of our inner experience has an impact on the quality of our lives, therefore our happiness. Therefore an important element of our work should also include introducing mindfulness training at SAP.

A few weeks ago, by chance I met with a colleague who had run 2 pilots of Search Inside Yourself trainings for employees of SAP Labs in Palo Alto. Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) is a nonprofit public benefit corporation founded in 2012 by Chade Meng-Tan who had introduced a Search Inside Yourself curriculum at Google. You can find more information about SIYLI there

The value of mindfulness training were not new to me. In 2010 I did a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat that changed my life. After the retreat and with continuous practice I felt that I had become a better person, more able to observe my sensations and to not react to them. I thought I had become more self aware and reflective about everything. I felt good. When I read the Search Inside Yourself book, I got all excited to see that someone, e.g. Meng, had managed to successfully spread Mindfulness training and practice to the workplace. I thought that if SIYLI could help me to do the same at SAP, it could be huge.

Two weeks ago I asked my team to be guinea pigs for SAP developers: I signed them up for a 2 day Search Inside Yourself training by SIYLI. I thought that before we pushed to spread Mindfulness training within SAP, we had to test its benefits for ourselves. Result: most got convinced by the power and value of Mindfulness. Our training was followed by a 4 day workshop where we collaboratively planned 2014. I saw a positive difference in how we interacted and worked together. We will now work with SIYLI to optimize the format of the training for SAP’s engineering culture.

As I attend the Wisdom 2.0 week and conference this week, I am super excited to learn what others have successfully brought to their personal life and workplace.

On monday I very much enjoyed listening to Jeff Weiner about compassionate management. I wrote down those two quotes that i particularly liked: “Wisdom without compassion is ruthlessness; compassion without wisdom is folly”; “compassion is not conditional”.

Today I spent two fantastic hours at Facebook listening at how they are using the latest research from social interaction and positive psychology to improve their platform and the communities they support.

I find this movement towards goodness, whether we call it Wisdom, Mindfulness, Mindsight, Happiness, etc. so exciting and promising! Ignoring it is the biggest mistake a company could make.

Come join the movement!







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2 Responses to Mindfulness at work

  1. Lack of happiness at work has a huge impact on families and the well being of children, therefore society as a whole. Fantastic to see that SAP is investing resources in this innovative method and choosing someone so inspiring to lead the movement.

  2. Pingback: Wisdom all over | Anne Hardy's blog

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