Mindfulness in the Workplace: The What, Why and How of Building a Mindful Culture

Mindfulness in the Workplace: The What, Why and How of Building a Mindful Culture

Your employees are busy, but nothing is getting done.

Your team is working hard, but projects fall behind.

Everyone’s inboxes are abuzz with activity, but decisions don’t get made.

Individual members of your team are talented and hardworking, but as a whole, the team is not as productive as it could be.

…. Does any of that sound familiar?

We live in a distracted age. Phones buzz, watches tweet, and even the commute to work has dissolved into an endless array of options: radio? Streaming? Podcast? Sirius XM? There is a constant influx of information battling for your employee’s attention, a constant risk of distraction not just pulling them away from the work at hand but draining their mental energy and leaving them unable to perform at the level they’re capable of.

So, as a leader within your organization looking to protect your team’s ability to consistently do good work, what can you do?

The answer many high-performing companies are turning to is mindfulness.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness in the workplace is not just an excuse to splurge on branded yoga mats for the office (after all, not everyone’s flexible enough for One-Handed Tree Pose!). Rather than a specific physical practice like yoga or meditation, mindfulness is an approach to work and time that respects the mind’s ability (and need) to concentrate on one task at a time and an approach to work that leaves room to reflect on the implications of our actions and decisions.

The technical definition of mindfulness is an awareness of yourself and your surroundings in the present moment. In practice, mindfulness in the workplace is …

  • Thinking through an email before you send it so that you provide all the details the recipient needs the first time
  • Focusing on the customer’s needs and making sure you’ve met those needs before ending an interaction
  • Releasing a product that represents the best of your team’s abilities, not the result of frenzied multitasking
  • Making decisions that reflect your company’s values instead of decisions that solve the short-term problem as quickly as possible
  • Being intentional about how you communicate and how you spend your time

What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace?

There’s a reason that industry-leading companies like McKinsey & Company, Procter & Gamble, and Apple implement mindfulness programs for their employees: it’s been proven to deliver significant and long-lasting benefits in three areas that are critical to maintaining high levels of creativity and productivity: focus, attention, and behavior.


The ability to focus is really an ability to avoid distraction. By practicing mindfulness techniques, employees increase gray matter in the brain, thus increasing density in the areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory. As a result, they can maintain higher levels of attentiveness and concentration and spend more time on a given thought, project, or task, than usual.


Mindfulness stabilizes attention in the present and helps employees pay attention to visual and audio information longer. In particular, mindfulness has been shown to improve the “three qualities of attention”: control, stability, and efficiency. As a result, instead of allowing our minds to wander for approximately half of our waking hours, we gain back control over that time, and we can put it to good use.


Mindfulness techniques have been shown to enhance the function of parts of the brain and result in superior performance in self-regulation, learning from past experiences, and decision-making. In one report, 80% of senior executives at General Mills who took a company-sponsored mindfulness course reported a positive change in their ability to make better decisions and 89% said they became better listeners.

Mindfulness has also been shown to have a positive impact on resilience, collaboration, and complex leadership ability. Click here to read more.

How to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Culture

If you’re reading the Culture Summit blog and getting your plans in place to attend this year’s Culture Summit, we don’t need to tell you that you can’t just throw mindfulness into a mission statement and assume it’s a part of your culture. Like any other culture attribute, mindfulness is something that your organization needs to embrace on a deep level so that your processes and policies grow out of it.

If you want to build a more mindful company culture, plan ways you can exemplify and incorporate mindfulness into leadership decisions, company-wide processes and policies, and reinforcement opportunities. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Encourage employees to take mindfulness breaks throughout the day, whether structured (meditation, yoga, etc.) or unstructured (looking out the window, closing your eyes, etc.). Be sure to ask managers and members of the leadership team to model these breaks and share insightful thoughts or surprising benefits with the rest of the team.
  • Invite employees to turn off notifications for email and texts and instead check computers and communication tools at appointed times. (But make sure such a schedule is appropriate for your industry and your team’s job requirements – this would not be appropriate in a newsroom or marketing agency in which quick responses and approvals are critical).
  • Provide as much context as possible for leadership decisions and process and policy changes. “Because we said so,” and “Because it’s always been done this way” are not mindful policies.
  • Explain what impact the leadership team hopes each decision will have on the future to show that decisions are made in a thoughtful and deliberate way.
  • Incorporate brainstorming and thinking time into the creation of policies by setting a time limit for implementation, such as, “New policies will be approved five days after a draft of the policy has been agreed upon.” (The trade-off, of course, is that this will slow down decision-making, so it may conflict with other values such as being agile).
  • Ask managers to provide positive feedback and awards to employees who display qualities of mindfulness in their everyday work, such as setting aside time for brainstorming or provide well thought-out context to decisions.

Do you see a need for mindfulness within your workplace, or have you put in the effort to incorporate mindfulness into your company culture? Tell us in the comments!

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

4 Step Process to Bring Creative Ideas to Life

4 Step Process to Bring Creative Ideas to Life

Creative cultures have one thing in common, they have a lot of ideas!

The problem is most teams don’t have a finely tuned process in place to share, respond, and test their ideas.

This can lead to disengagement when voices are buried, and creative expression is stifled.

At Culture Summit, Hung and I ran up against the same challenge not too long ago.  Whether it’s enhancing the conference, or engaging the community – we both have lots of ideas. We realized that we approached design and testing differently.

Hung is passionate about Lean Startup, and I love Design Thinking.  While we had different tools and methodologies to work with, we didn’t have a unified approach.

And it created several head-butting and not so fun moments.

We recognized that we each brought a different approach based on our experience and instead of trying to enforce one style over the other, we looked at how we could embrace our uniqueness.

No matter what industry you work in, ideas are delicate.  When an idea is first born, it can be killed easily by the initial response.  Everyone has an idea-response they default to that is often unconscious.   This usually stems from previous experience in our careers.

Do any of these idea-responses sound familiar to you?

“Yes, but we’ve tried that before…”

“That won’t work because…”

“Have you thought about the implications of…”

“Ok, well it would have been good to mention this last week/month/year…”

These type of responses nip ideas in the bud when ideas need help to bloom. Most of the time it’s not even intentional.

Over the last month, we have been testing out a few different approaches to how we manage our ideas and came up with a process we love. We’re now feeling more inspired, engaged, and collaborating more than ever.

And we’d like to share our Culture Summit Creative Idea Management process with you.


Step 1: Recognize you have an idea and ask permission before sharing

Sometimes we get excited about an idea and can’t wait to share it.  It’s natural to say things in passing like:

“Ooh! What if we…” or “Hey! I was thinking it could be cool if…”

This kind of organic idea sharing is good, natural, and healthy to let flow, but sometimes, it’s not always the right moment to share an idea.

When a team is deep in implementation and execution, bouncing around ideas might derail productivity because of unintentional context switching.  We’ve found it helpful to do the wildly innovative thing and just ask before sharing.

Here’s what it looks like in practice.

Hung and I were working on conference topics when I had an idea about audience engagement.  I asked him, “Hey, I have an idea on how to create more facilitated networking, is now a good time to share?”

We were currently deep in a task, so the moment wasn’t opportune.  Instead, we put the idea on hold and came back to it later.

Practice tip: If you agree to put the idea on hold, be sure to loop back to it later. Think of it as putting your idea in a greenhouse.  It goes there to incubate, but if you don’t come back to it, it will wither and die.


Step 2. Understand that idea management has two parts: Divergence + Convergence

Brainstorming ideas is a divergent process.  In this phase, your goal is to come up with as many ideas as possible.  There are no bad ideas so let your mind run wild.

After you’ve got an abundance of ideas, then it’s time to converge or come together.  Select a few ideas to consider and test.  The diversity of ideas mixed together is where the magic happens.

Look over the list of ideas you have and use empowering phrases such as:

“What makes you excited about this idea?”

“What would the positive outcomes be?”

“Tell me more?”

“How did you get the idea, where did the inspiration come from?”

Here’s what it looks like in practice.

We were brainstorming ideas on how to engage with you, our community.  We created an idea board and challenged each other to add at least 30 ideas (good or bad) over the course of the week.

We then came together in person to sort and select our top two.  We looked over the list and asked each other questions about the ones that caught our attention.  It was easy for us to see where we had alignment and which ideas resonated with us the most.


Step 3. Assess ideas from multiple angles starting with the positive

Equipped with our top two ideas, we had completed the first phase of the brainstorming cycle. Now we needed to vet how to move the idea into implementation.  We used the Disney Method where we used three different perspectives to assess our ideas.

The three perspectives are:

Dreamers: Dream up the best case scenario if this idea is fully realized.  What’s the ‘shoot for the moon’ type of outcome you’d like?

Realizers: How would you bring an idea to life?  Look at how the idea can be put into action. What would be the first step? What are all the pieces that need to be considered?

Critics: Review the plan and search for weaknesses, obstacles, and risks. Discuss the pitfalls and how to address them.  Having pitfalls doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move forward.  Critics seek to improve the plan.

This exercise of the Disney Method helps everyone consider the multiple perspectives that help support the success of an idea.


Step 4. Get things moving forward

If an idea has made it this far, it’s time to test and put it in motion.  When we test ideas, we break the plan of action down into the smallest slice possible that allows us to get the most amount of learning.

Hung and I hold each other accountable by asking questions such as,

“Can we make this even smaller?”

“Are we gaining the most amount of learning from this slice?”

If the answer is no, then we make the slice bigger.

You can also create a spectrum, where you look at:

  • What is the biggest piece you could move forward with now?
  • What is the absolutely smallest?
  • And what would be in the middle?

I call this the Goldilocks Rule =)

Remember, people in your team will show up with different approaches and experience.  Supporting and building on ideas helps to create psychological safety and trust in teams.

Vanessa Shaw is founder of Human Side of Tech, through which she advises forward thinking thinking executives and HR leaders to operate their companies with a culture-first approach, so that they can turn challenge into opportunity when facing rapid growth, digital disruption and culture change.

How to Use Design Thinking to Navigate Culture Change

How to Use Design Thinking to Navigate Culture Change


According to Forbes, agility to how we manage change is one of the top four soft skills in demand for careers in 2017.

Tell me if these sound familiar to you:

“Change is constant.”

“We live in an increasingly more complex world.”

“We need to be agile, fast moving and responsive to change.”

As cliché as they may sound, there’s truth to these phrases.  As organizations become agile and move faster, the annual performance review has become outdated.

Is your organization considering shifting from an annual performance review cycle to a real-time feedback approach?

If so, I’m going to walk you through a tactical example of using design thinking to navigate culture change, as you move from annual performance reviews to real-time feedback.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is two things:

  • A system of beliefs, a way of thinking or ‘mindset;’
  • A process and methodology, or set of practices outlined in 5 different phases; empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.

The purpose of design thinking is to solve problems and address unmet needs by exploring the possibilities of what could be.  It’s not a skill you master, but instead a lifelong practice.

Ready to get started?  Good, let’s put our design thinking hats on.

5 steps to take when Applying Design Thinking to Culture Change:


1. Empathize: Create an Empathy Map

An empathy map is a popular tool used by design thinkers and agile practitioners. However, average people like me and you can use it too.

It’s a 4-quadrant graph where you outline what your customer or stakeholder say, do, think, feel.  Download your copy from Stanford d.School here.

Using our example of moving away from annual performance reviews to real-time feedback, many people in your organization will have questions around how this is going to be implemented and rolled out.

Over the coming weeks, start observing and documenting what people say, do, think, and feel using an empathy map to gain deeper insight.

For example, this is how it might look like:


Using an empathy map allows you to immerse yourself in the culture of your organization as you’re going through this huge change.  In the next step, we’ll look at how you can use the data gathered from your empathy map.


2. Define: Needs to Insights Formula

Once you’ve created your empathy map, review it and look at what the “needs” are. Those are easy to find as they’re usually verbs.  When you have the “needs,” you can begin using them to identify insights.

Remember: Be careful to avoid coming up with solutions at this point.  Solutions are generally seen as the nouns in empathy maps.

From my empathy map, I identified the following insights:

  • Need to clarify the use of a new tool
  • Need to understand the impact
  • Need to communicate and ask questions

With the “needs” identified, we can begin exploring the why of each need to uncover more insights.

  • Why do they need clarification?
  • Why do they need to understand?
  • Why do they need to ask questions?

Finally, we link it all together using the Needs to Insights Formula below:

< Who > + needs to find a way to + < unmet need > because ___< why >___

Example: My team needs to find a way to clarify and understand the new feedback system because they are feeling uncertain about the impact it will have on our culture.

In the next step, we’ll look at how to begin solutioning with our newfound insight.


3. Ideate: Reframe the Insight into a ‘How Might We’ Question

With our newfound insight, we can now reframe this into a “How might we…” question or HMW for short.  Asking an HMW question switches your neural pathways from a stagnant, fixed state to a creative state.

Get those creative juices flowing by asking more HMW questions.

How might we clarify, communicate and answer questions so that we can align our team and create a new feedback and recognition culture?

The design thinking process follows a diverge-converge-diverge-converge rhythm.  In this step, our HMW question is convergence.  We have figured out the questions to ask, now let’s explore some possible answers.

This moves us back to a divergence where we want to create more choices. So, let’s bust out the post-it notes because we are ready to brainstorm!

Pro Tip: Involve your team and brainstorm together during a meeting.  If you have remote colleagues, do so on a wiki.  There are no wrong or bad ideas in a brainstorm.

The goal is to get all the most outlandish, wild, and wonderful ideas out there.


4. Prototype: Produce the Experience

This is the fun part.

Prototype the experience with whatever you have at your disposal; Legos, Play-Doh, sketch boarding, or whatever your fancy!  Prototyping is the moment to play out what the experience might look like.

You want to do this for two reasons.

First, prototyping allows you to find the quickest path to direct experience so that you can learn the things you need to learn.

Second, doing is the best kind of thinking.  We’re so used to thinking before doing, when in fact, we learn the most by doing.

Using our example, work with your team to create a story on what rolling out real-time feedback will be like.  This allows everyone to envision the experience.

Put your HMW question up on the whiteboard, throw materials on the table, and give your team the opportunity to prototype.


5. Test: Involve Someone New

Once you’ve gotten a chance to prototype what the experience will be like, invite a colleague who was not involved in the design process.  Walk them through your prototype experience and treat them as your first user.

Have others on your team to watch, observe and take notes.  Loop back to your empathy map and gather new insights as you go through this iteration.

When you’re done, complete a retrospective to extract the learnings.  It could be something simple as answering the following three questions:

  • What went well
  • What didn’t go well
  • What needs to change

At Culture Summit, we like to use a tool called Scatterspoke for our retrospectives.

From here you can decide if your design might need some tweaking, launch a new iteration, or use the insights to help with implementation.

It will be up to you and your team to know what’s the best next step based on the learnings you were able to uncover.

Vanessa Shaw is founder of Human Side of Tech, through which she advises forward thinking thinking executives and HR leaders to operate their companies with a culture-first approach, so that they can turn challenge into opportunity when facing rapid growth, digital disruption and culture change.