Holistic Principles – as applied in Business and Life
I first became interested in matters holistic around 1986, shortly after setting up my own consultancy. As a learning development method which works for me, these ideas have crystallised and evolved through writing a variety of articles for professional journals, with the first article winning the Silver Award in the ITD’s National Training and Development’s Training Awards. The books have followed.
The pace of evolution accelerated when I moved with my family to Wiltshire – with close proximity to Avebury and contact with some wonderful, spiritual beings – and training in holistic massage. Becoming increasingly interested in coaching and mentoring (also crystallised through article-writing), I started developing the principle of applying holistic thinking to improving workplace co-operation and synergy – with the result manifesting itself both through the Integrated Triangle model and my inspirational sound activities.
Perhaps, to explain what I mean by “the holistic approach”, I will quote a couple of pages from my book “Messages from the Mountains” (page 54 onwards)
Holism is defined in the OED as the “tendency in nature to form wholes that are more than the sum of the parts by ordered grouping”. So, in medical use for example, the combination of different treatments or interventions can give a bonus effect that would not be expected from the various responses, if considered individually. In the world of individual and group development, combining individual skills and abilities can bring an overall group dynamic which is greater than the sum of those individual skills. This group dynamic is often referred to as “synergy”, which is the scientific equivalent to the more philosophical holism.
So, the holistic way of thinking identifies actions and attitudes which will lead towards this broader, more selfless way of thinking. For example, we will –
· tend to share things altruistically, be they ideas, information or physical items
· expect the best from people – and look towards ways of helping them provide it co-operatively
· offer others our assistance, in the form of time, practical help or through listening and responding, without demanding reciprocal reward
· consider the implications and applications of “the bigger picture” as it affects the world – and make personal decisions based on this awareness
· remain true to a moral code which we have personally established and can sustain.
Many people, who may not find satisfaction in any conventional religion, still feel the need to tread some form of spiritual path, with some already applying forms of holistic thinking, either consciously or unconsciously. There is a current move towards considering such belief-sets at the level of a type of faith, increasingly referred to as the holist faith.
Time will tell whether this belief pattern grows and evolves to form a point of critical mass. If it’s relevant to you, certainly give it some thought.
My own holistic beliefs are based on what I refer to as the –
Twenty tenets for a more holistic way of life
· Build positive thought
· Be aware of yourself and others
· Believe in yourself and others
· Act as selflessly as you can
· Allow time to do things properly
· Give matters time to evolve
· Allow yourself reflective times for thinking
· Rest, relax and focus (meditate)
· Use visualisation to concentrate thought
· Observe and learn from world affairs and history
· Work towards co-operation and away from egocentricity
· Consider the effects of your actions
· Apply holistic thinking when the time seems appropriate
· Do what ultimately feels right
· Reduce your dependence on stimulants and medication
· Believe in the healing power of positive thought
· Exercise in as natural an environment as possible
· Retain an overview of the bigger picture
· Maintain a focused view of your development path
· Amend your plans flexibly to maintain progress
There’s quite a lot there to think about!
May I recommend my two book set of Inspirational Sayings, Poetry and accompanying text as a good reference point to consider holistic attitudes and detail. These concepts are developed further in the latter chapters of my most recent book, “Now we’re Coping”, published in the Polair Personal Growth series.
I first attempted to relate Holistic thinking to the world of business management in the e-article published in the 9th August 2007 edition of “the people bulletin” (reproduced in full below), under the title–
Holistic Management – growing towards critical mass
Chris Sangster B Ed Dip Ed Tech MCIPD
(as e-published in “The People Bulletin” 9th August 2007)
You’ve heard of “big picture thinking” – and may have committed the saying to the recycle bin, along with “running it up the flagpole”, “blue sky reviews” and similar, as a load of jargon-ridden lightweight nonsense. However, “big picture thinking”, as in the overview of inter-relationships between a range of apparently loosely-connected situations, is a crucial element of holistic thinking, as applied to work – and life – issues. It’s through this type of lateral thinking that we can truly establish an overall outcome which is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
There are three separate but related rules which elaborate upon this way of thinking.
The rule of causal response
The first is what I might term “the rule of causal response” – or to put it more simply, “find and fix the cause and the effects can improve themselves”. Simple but true. On a practical level, in the winter storms we experienced, I noticed staining on our hall ceiling. I painted this with stain block ….. three days later, the stain showed again. I arranged a visit from my friendly builder, who identified and fixed some loose slates. End of damp stain.
In this era of change (sometimes, perhaps, for the sake of it), there’s a tendency to keep tinkering with the effects, rather than objectively reviewing the root causes. Take education (from primary through to tertiary). Employers complain because graduates are not “fit for purpose”; universities complain that students arrive unable to communicate effectively; secondary schools complain that too many first year pupils present themselves from feeder primaries illiterate and innumerate. The current suggested UK solution appears to be to retain pupils longer in secondary school. Tinker with the effect – prolong (or postpone) the problem.
Thrusting aside politicised stances, the cause is surely evident. All pupils must be able to read, write and compute by the time they leave primary school. If they can’t, their learning in secondary (and subsequent) education will be impaired. Criteria for writing competently may have altered with the advent of word processing, as has numeracy with the calculator – but this merely requires revised key criteria to be set. Remedial assistance; streaming/setting; individualised and self-learning techniques …. the full range of methods can be applied to achieve this target of confronting and fixing the cause. The effects can’t help but be beneficial.
Take time management. We train employees to prioritise existing workload, when one of the key causes of chaotic backlogs is surely the propensity for superiors to load additional work, often at short notice. We respond to this by further suggesting that the employee negotiates workload achievement with the superior – when some would still consider this to be a form of insubordination.
Generalising, what is the real cause of many time management problems? Is it not the need to initially establish realistic time scales against specific jobs, taking into consideration elements such as flexibility of access to the key personnel necessary for each job to be achieved? This is factored into major project planning exercises, so why not in more mundane day-to-day planning? Of course there will be those last-minute crises but they can then be discussed objectively within the context of existing schedules and priorities. And if objective thinking and discussion is an alien concept for certain parties, this then becomes another cause which requires addressing.
Consider another scenario – poor communication. This is the reason for a legion of negative effects within business. Misinformation, the confused office grapevine; incomplete or non-existent detail; information provided at the wrong level of complexity – these all create the effects of information being disseminated ineffectively without due consideration. Also, where the cascade effect is applied to pass new data throughout the organisation, is enough thought always given to helping people to “translate” and present the information at a level appropriate for their particular group of information receivers? And what about the particular communication problem of being required to pass on instructions which one doesn’t perhaps fully believe in, or understand?
Communication is a complex and personalised issue – which may not be best addressed through generalised group courses. Taking written communication for example, one person’s competency shortfall might be an inability to communicate at a variety of audience language levels, while someone else may have basic difficulties with grammar or syntax. Any problem establishing sentence construction norms may be further complicated nowadays by the use of text and e-mail conventions, which can also create inappropriate effects. Many of these individualised causes will be best addressed through one-to-one responses using workplace championing or other coaching-type techniques. With specific problems isolated at individual level, personalised learning responses can help to fix the underlying causes, allowing improved effects.
The Seven “Cs” of RIE
The second rule of holistic management could be referred to as the “Holistic Queen’s rule”, for reasons which fans of the late Freddie Mercury will understand! Perhaps it should be considered as a set of criteria, rather than a specific rule.
The seven “Cs” are to be –
RIE represents –
Any manager who is working towards functioning in a more open, altruistic way (as advocated by holistic principles) should demonstrate the ongoing desire to improve him/herself towards meeting these various criteria.
S/he will work towards identifying and responding to the key areas of competency necessary for the effective delivery of his/her particular responsibilities. This should ideally be carried out through objective self-analysis, in conjunction with company-wide initiatives. S/he will review, update and expand these competencies regularly – and engage additional competencies where these are personally deemed relevant to his/her developing management role.
S/he will strive to maintain standards and continue to support decisions and policies, even once the initial enthusiasm may have worn off. This will prevent impulsive changes of mind which “move the goalposts”, creating rapid demotivation for staff involved. Confident staff empowerment is more likely where consistent management and leadership support can be expected – and relied upon. Consistency will sometimes require the manager to promote individual decisions, out-with the norm.
S/he must be seen to be informed. Office-based managers can easily lose touch with the day-to-day realities and practicalities of their department’s operation, which can affect logical decision-making. The manager’s role is to enable the department’s operation to run smoothly, within the overall business context. The leader’s role is to position the department to benefit from involvement in new opportunities. Both goals can be achieved through facilitation by an informed or conversant manager.
The manager can earn credibility where s/he demonstrates knowledge and awareness of the operational and developmental priorities within their department. This may result from prior work experience – or through listening to and relating closely with the needs of departmental staff. (See managers/leaders roles above.) Staff will remain motivated where they believe the manager is capable of promoting decisions based upon this awareness of priorities, constraints (and compromises).
Imagination and creativity can spark the atmosphere where individuals will pull together as a team, creating that additional (holistic) outcome. Lateral thinking, realistic target setting, flexible working environments and credible team building activities – aimed at a level where at least the majority of staff can engage comfortably – will all help the manager create a superior (and different) working atmosphere which will encourage a greater degree of co-operation (see below).
The importance of communication has already been stressed. Although something we’re all involved in all the time, effective communication is a science which requires on-going consideration and awareness. People see and hear selectively – messages may need to be delivered in different ways to be transmitted effectively. A message sent can not be assumed to have been received and acted upon. Data may need “translation” to be at the correct levels for each of a range of information-receivers.
This is at the heart of holistic work practices. Meeting the criteria listed above will progress greatly towards creating the co-operative atmosphere necessary for people to work openly and supportively together. Because teams require groupings of individual skill components to work effectively, co-operative involvement does not preclude individual advancement. Relating confidently and professionally alongside peers has been identified as one of the major motivators for effective working.
Three key activities
Which brings us to the key activities involved in blending the holistic management mix together.
Reflective learning and thought processes are deemed to be very important, especially in the very busy 24/7 existences we’ve convinced ourselves we lead! Taking time to think – preferably before but even after an event – will give us the opportunity to see things within context, consider alternative strategies and learn for future applications. Reflection can be an individual or group activity – and will benefit from any resultant goals, decisions and outcomes being committed for reference.
This is another example of “bigger picture thinking”, where thoughts, activities and responsibilities are brought together for heightened effect. In the integrated triangle learning development model (www.the-integrated-triangle.com), for example, the roles of learner, workplace champion and development support are integrated to create a powerful learning environment. In team building, component roles must be integrated to create a balanced dynamic, where the overall team output is greater than that expected from individual endeavours, thus producing an added synergy.
Where individual confidence is created and nurtured through the building of firm foundations (through focus on the seven “Cs” above), empowerment will follow. This allows individuals to make decisions and act upon them, in the knowledge that they will be supported. Through reflection, it encourages problem solving and creative thought to be applied positively. Through the perceived beneficial effects of these conscious actions, we are driven onwards to seek fresh challenges and progress them through to enlightened outcomes. This is the effect of positive co-operation.
Do as you would be done by
Which brings us to our third rule – that of “self and social awareness”. This is hardly new – “do unto others as you would ……..” remember that from your bible study days? It appears as a blanket cover incorporating several holistic tenets, such as –
· be aware of yourself and others
· believe in yourself and others
· act as selflessly as you can
· work towards co-operation and away from egocentricity
· consider the effects of your actions
· do what ultimately feels right.
It’s also currently addressed in business training under the heading of “emotional intelligence”, highlighting a responsibility towards fellow stakeholders within business.
The rule of self and social awareness
The rule of self and social awareness is yet another example of “bigger picture” thinking, where we are reviewing our own role and actions in the light of those of others – with consideration given to how they can inter-relate. Revisiting our earlier time management example, the application of the rule would ensure that new work requests and responsibilities are made knowingly and objectively, with understanding shown towards the implications of prioritisation on all those concerned.
Broader social awareness
Taking matters beyond direct departmental interactions, “social awareness” then becomes a broader issue. Current emphasis on shareholder rather than stakeholder interests can encourage decisions which dwell more on the bottom line than on issues such as employment and any knock-on effects on the local community. Perhaps the current enthusiasm towards creating “carbon-neutral footprints” (although placing disproportionate reliance on low energy light bulbs and sapling plantations!), will encourage additional business decisions to be reviewed, applying a similar degree of consideration towards the broader implications.
Signs of hope
The frustrating communication problems caused by the rather tortured English language delivered by some foreign-based contact centres, is even now encouraging forward-thinking companies to return (or remain) closer to home – and make the fact of having UK-based centres a positive marketing strategy. There are thus occasional signs of bigger picture thinking being applied towards this self and social awareness.
Holistic Management – rules of engagement
So we have three rules – or more precisely, two rules and a range of criteria. Applying them will help us think more openly – or altruistically, if you prefer. However, it won’t really work with only one or two of us practising it. We’re evidently becoming more bothered about carbon particles in the atmosphere, so should we not be equally concerned about human stress elements in our working environment? Forget about fiddling with the effects – address the causes. Think of the beneficial implications; spread the word; reach the point of critical mass; apply holistic thinking.