All That Glitters Isn't Gold

Aaryn Kopp

Attention all employees! We’ve struck gold!  The latest, greatest CORPORATE INITIATIVE leadership has rolled out that will definitely, absolutely, certainly, finally inspire the workforce. This program will reboot the old ways of operating, creating something fresh and freeing. Something better. Look out for the posters! All hail the new company-wide training. THIS – and I mean THIS!! – is the thing that will chart our course forward and solve all our problems. Sound familiar?

If you’re like me, you engage with these initiatives with well founded skepticism. You see them year after year, yet nothing sticks and nothing actually changes. As an employee, my deeply cynical take on these programs was that they existed to keep executives busy and feeling good about themselves. Now, in my role with 822 Group in consulting brands on engaging with employees, I see that these are usually well-intentioned actions that executives take to connect with their employees and inspire their workforce. They stem from a desire on the part of executives to reach out to their workforce and offer something meaningful – beyond their day to day workload.  Most, truly want their colleagues, who are also often their friends, to be happy, connected and engaged in the collective experience they all share.   

So why do these well-intentioned initiatives often go nowhere (and sometimes sideways)? There is a phrase in the yoga/psychology community for this type of behavior – for taking feel good actions without meaningful hard work to shortcut your way to change (or in the spiritual world, enlightenment). It’s called spiritual bypassing.  

John Welwood, the psychologist who coined the phrase, defines it as using “spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks.”  In short, you’re doing something, and it feels like something big and important – because you want it to be! – but it’s not the right thing.  It’s a very well-intentioned dodge.  An elaborate detour from dealing with the important, and often uncomfortable, “stuff”. Just like spiritual bypassing, this type of corporate bypassing treats the symptoms of organizational chaos without really touching the real issues that are driving the dysfunction. At 822 Group, we call this Purpose Bypassing.  

Purpose Bypassing is, as I mentioned, well-intentioned. It often begins as a reaction to an issue or crisis, or even simply a leader’s intuition that something is off or something more is needed.  And leaders often jump into action without pausing to consider, deeply, what is at the heart of the matter.  It is, put simply, a way of treating the symptoms rather than the underlying disease.  

In our client engagements, we take a different approach. Instead of offering a feel-good program, we provide a way for companies and their leaders to honestly and authentically initiate change and make it stick. While every situation is different, we’ve learned through the years that the antidote to this chaos always follows the same 5-step plan:  

  1. Pause. If you have a spiritual practice, you may have heard of this as a sacred pause. Take a beat, take a breath to tap into where you are, what you’re feeling, and what is really going on. Center yourself in compassion for yourself and your team to ready yourself for the engagement. This in important because it switches us from being reactive to reflective. It takes away our beat up stick and focuses our energy on self-awareness instead of self-indulgence.  
  2. Listen. Once you’re open, you can really start to actively listen to your fellow leaders and hopefully your staff. If you’re a large company, you can conduct an official survey, but nothing replaces honest and open one-on-one dialogue. Get as much of it as you can.  
  3. Integrate. Take your own truth and begin to integrate it with what you’ve heard and seen. It really helps to have a partner for this process to provide much needed clarity and feedback, and to help keep you honest as you synthesize all the information. This looks like thinking about your actions differently – how will you act differently based on this newfound level of understanding about yourself, your customers and your organization.  
  4. Plan. Take what you’ve heard – and learned – and put it into a real strategic plan, one with measurable goals and targets. Create a framework to track your progress, identifying key stakeholders for each major area of work. Empower your leadership team here.  
  5. Act. This is the stage that most people start with. But by putting in the hard work up front, the actions that you take will have real meaning, implement real change, and have positive impact on your employees and customers. Act with integrity and cultivate a culture of listening and feedback as you begin the transformation. The key to doing this successfully is setting up an accountability measure for yourself or your team. How will you keep yourselves committed to the change and how will you know that you’ve strayed?  

There is, admittedly, a lot more to delve into, and a lot of details that go into this process. At 822 Group, I’m proud to say, we guide clients through this process step by step, building empathy and resilience along the way. We aren’t just another consulting agency, and we certainly don’t engage in performative actions or Purpose Bypassing. We’re here to create lasting change, to heal the ailments once and for all. To do that, we always practice what we preach with honesty, accountability, and integrity along the way.