Conscious Small Business – A First Look

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This is a first, tentative look at what a conscious small business might look like, using my own definition of conscious business. I’m doing this because there’s a growing interest among very small businesses to behave “consciously”. I’m also doing it because, in recent months, I’ve spoken to quite a number of owners and leaders of small businesses who would describe themselves as being conscious business in terms of the “accepted” definition which tends towards a green, socially responsible business, which are, in term of my own definition, lacking significantly in business consciousness.

If you are the owner of a small business, you might find it interesting to use the following thoughts to see whether this approach to conscious business can help you and your business become more effective and self-aware. I’d love your feedback either way.

So, when I talk of a conscious small business, I am not using the “good, nice and responsible” definition but instead a more literal approach to applying the word conscious. How awake and self-aware is your business? How sharp and heightened are your business’s senses?

With the high failure rate of not only start-up businesses, but also businesses of over three years old (I could reference that copiously, but just Google “small business failure” for conformation – here’s two links; 1, 2 ), I’d like to propose that small business failure is ALWAYS a failure of consciousness at one level or another. And no, this isn’t a pitch from me to be your business coach or consultant.

If Henry Ford is right that “failure is only the opportunity to begin more intelligently” then, when we failed, we appear to have been lacking intelligence. I’d go further and say we were short on consciousness. We may have been very intelligent, even too clever, but we may have also been asleep to something crucial.

Consciousness is claimed as a word from brain scientists to spiritual gurus. I’m offering the word as to mean being awake, self-aware and present. I also include being non-collusive, clear sighted and in touch.

So, here goes…

A conscious small business…

1. Environmental Consciousness

… is in touch with its environment – the data it receives is real-time, accurate and in a form easily accessible to all who need access to it when they need it – owner, shareholders, managers, staff, stakeholders, supplier and partners

2. Temporal Consciousness

… is aware of its history and how past behaviours, habits and “myths” are still playing into its current behaviour in the present. It is aware of the “timeline” it is travelling on – harvesting the best of the past and learning from mistakes, tapping into and using its heritage and the heritage of its key stakeholders (including employees, directors, suppliers), and able to vision the future through honest and open inspiration from what is happening in the present and what happened in its past “story”

3. Subjectivity Consciousness

3. … is aware of its own biases – this includes the biases of the business owner and any other major “biographical” players in the business. It knows how the directors’ the personal stories are impacting on the unfolding business story

4. Stakeholder consciousness

4. … can sense the mood of its customers, suppliers, employees and other key players that influence its ability to function

…is not a collusion of mediocrity – honesty and openness are practised, and directors lead by example. The business is not afraid to be criticised, and there is a grown up “responsibility culture”, that welcomes zones of discomfort as opportunities to learn

5. Technology Consciousness

… makes informed and wise decisions about technology investment, aligning technology choice to clear, present and future business need. Technology isn’t deployed without full, multi-perspective input

6. Problem Consciousness

… seeks to prevent problems occurring and is as proactive as possible regarding its business processes. It seeks to minimise waste in ways that do not dull its consciousness of its relationship with its supply chain

7. Conflict and Deception Consciousness

… is aware of conflict at different levels. These are never taboo nor suppressed. Conflicts are encountered and met at source using consensus dialogue and clear, open leadership. Nothing is swept under the carpet. Other conflicts are also confronted openly such as conflicts of interest. Negotiation, internally and externally, is based on open dialogue and truthfulness. A lie given is usually a lie received. The business doesn’t play the game of deception when it negotiates because this lowers consciousness in its supply chain. Competitive advantage is achieved through product and service excellence, and not the game of deception.

8. Customer Consciousness

… is able to sense changes in customer mood and behaviour. It welcomes customer input and is neither defensive or arrogant. It does not find feedback traumatic and feeds customer input into its product and process innovation as close to real time as possible

9. Performance and Process Consciousness

… is as aware as possible in real time of the performance of its products and services and is ready to adapt when new sensory data is received: seeing new opportunities, hearing feedback, being “in touch” with its social, political, legal and economic environment in ways that allow it to innovate and transform as needed. It knows its costs and also the impact of its actions on the costs of its environment and along its supply chain. It is aware of the “whole” cost of its operations.

10. Emotional Awareness and Intuition

… is aware of “emotional pressures” and avoids unnecessary sudden, panic reactions through clear awareness of trends and has imagined scenarios and prepared for them. When owners act on “hunches”, these are explained in ways that maximise business awareness. Intuition is trusted but suspension of disbelief never lowers company consciousness for very long.

11. Motive Consciousness

… is aware of its motives for action. The business knows why it is doing what it is doing. Values are regular shared with owners, the board and other critical players. All staff are aware of what “drives” the business.

12. Reason and Rationale Consciousness

…never puts its head in the sand. Difficult decisions are made in open dialogue and reasons for decisions are explained. People are aware throughout the business of why they are doing what they are doing. Exiting the business is not taboo nor traumatic. The business doesn’t have a festering underworld. Reasons always harmonise with motives. There are never deceptively hidden motives.

13. Change Receptivity and Openness

… is open to change. The business can see needed change coming. It has an inherent flexibility based on “calling things by their real name”. The owner and the board are not beyond learning at both a personal and professional level. 360 degree feedback is authentic and, ideally, informally, part of the culture

14. Climate of Truthfulness

… doesn’t tolerate lying, deception, or “fudging”, all of which depress awareness and thus reduce business consciousness. Brands are authentic representations of business, product and service. Spin is not part of the business’s approach.

15. Geographical Consciousness

… is geographically conscious. The business knows the impact of its operations on its local, regional, national and global community. There is high visibility in processes such as purchasing and in direct selling and marketing. This visibility heightens business-wide awareness

16. Learning Culture

… creates a culture of awareness and openness in its employees and management team. It encourages sharing of knowledge and experience and there is a direct line when necessary between any parts of the business. The cleaner can talk to the owner and vice versa when needed. Learning is valued, wherever it comes from.

17. Stress Consciousness

… is awake to the critical stress points in the business’s key processes. It doesn’t seek to paper over these but to deal with stress points, avoiding them and resourcing them in ways the optimise business effectiveness. There are no undercurrents of dissatisfaction related to stress

18. Ethical Consciousness

… has defined “fair dealing” in its business. The ground rules for working and the way the business operates is clear to all and openly available and shared. Ethics are openly shared, available, regularly reviewed and the “walk” matches the “talk”. The business is sometimes externally audited if it needs an input of “objectivity” on its values and ethics. The business regularly checks itself for its ethics in practice.

19. External and Internal Reality Checks and Wake Ups

… employs “devil’s advocates” it has a ready source of honest input and critique from inside and outside to ensure it remains aware of its biases and inherent weaknesses. The business welcomes challenge from inside and outside. It is open to being woken up and given reality checks. It seeks out what it might be doing wrong.For a one-person business, this outside critique can mean the difference between survival and disaster.

20. Biographical Consciousness

… is aware when it is time for the owner to let go, or for founding directors to move on. It avoids personality cultures and “addiction” to certain individuals who then hold a distorted and potentially dangerous amount of influence. The business avoids “subjective” empire builders or accidental dependency of one person or one part of the business for too long. Succession planning is practised openly and the business always has a plan B or a plan C and, ideally, an ability to flex as an organisation.

21. Connection Consciousness

… is aware how parts of the business fit together. Business processes are joined up and “the left hand knows what the right hand is doing’. There is clarity about roles and work flows are understood across the business system.

So, that’s the provisional list of twenty aspects of a conscious small business. Many of these would explain why a small business fails. I believe that small businesses fail when they lack consciousness at in the “now” of critical aspects of their operations, their people, their markets, their “geography”. Small businesses that succeed (and I’ve worked over many years with a lot of them in different sectors) are awake, they sense well – internally and externally. They often fail when their owner and main directors fall asleep. Perhaps the above list might serve as a wake-up call?

Comments welcome!


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