03.11.2017 | Mindfulness leadership a success at Axpo

Helpful or humbug?

Two years after the introduction of mindfulness in the the Axpo training and consulting programme we asked some questions: What’s happened? Has anything changed? Angelika von der Assen, Head of Management Development and Christian Lindner, Head of Engineering, tell us about their experiences.

Mindfulness is part of Axpo’s training programme in the form of the courses “Search Inside Yourself” and “Resilience”. In addition, support on these topics is provided to mangers in coachings and to entire management teams. But does it also help managers and employees? Or is it just esoteric humbug? With the MarsGo project, Axpo has entered a phase of change. “We must accept change as a constant,” says Angelika von der Assen. We can only draw calmness and serenity from within ourselves. “If I approach change with fear, I cannot react effectively,” says Angelika. Supporting employees and managers through mindfulness makes more than sense in this situation. Its effectiveness has been substantiated by neuro-scientific findings, and the first before-after analyses on corporate-internal mindfulness programmes indicate promising results. “Mindfulness is a form of self-empowerment. And it is the prerequisite for empathy."

Angelika, who also provides consulting to other companies, says she sees that the traditional toolbox for leadership, teamwork and conflict management is no longer sufficient. She supports management teams in their daily work, and attends meetings in order to introduce mindfulness-based exercises: “A minute to arrive” for example is a short concentration exercise before the meeting starts. No multi-tasking and all mobile devices are put in flight mode. Attentive listening. Or when things heat up – she says “I think it’s time for PBS: Pause, breathe, smile.” The tone changes after this exercise.

Angelika von der Assen
Mindfulness training like at Google

Search Inside Yourself (SIY): This mindfulness training session to promote emotional intelligence is specifically designed for the needs of people in their everyday business environment. It was developed by Google in 2007 and is used globally for employees at Google and, in the meantime, in other companies. For example, SAP has started a broad rollout with over 5000 people on the waiting list. At Axpo, SIY has been offered since 2015 – as the first company in Switzerland after Google. The change process from AXI to Avectris was supported based on this course. Since then two courses per year are offered.

Weekly practice groups

One of the first mindfulness outcomes is the half-hour weekly meditation offering at Axpo: It was initiated by employees and has been taking place on a weekly basis for about a year. After a brief theme impulse, participants mediate on different topics for 15 minutes, followed by an exchange of experiences.

Supporting managers

Since the beginning of the year, the topic of mindfulness is being addressed directly by division and department heads for the first time. During the year, managers are supported in closed meetings to develop their own mindfulness practices and leadership behaviour based on mindfulness principles. This also has an influence on the process and culture of their management meetings that begin and end with a “minute of silence” and that are characterised by attentive listening and no multi-tasking: No distraction by mobile phones, PCs, tablets, but being fully present instead!

Inquiry: Mindfulness in daily work at Axpo

Christian Lindner, Head of Engineering, has been working at Axpo for 10 years. He discovered mindfulness through yoga and workshops with Angelika. Now he’s introducing the topic in his team. We asked him some questions.

Christian, you declared financial year 2016/17 as a mindfulness year for your area. Why?

Our Engineering business unit underwent a major reorganisation in 2016. Many colleagues were directly or indirectly affected. It was important to me that the reorganisation would be quickly accepted. Mindfulness can help those involved to accept change more readily. Through mindfulness one can observe and understand oneself better. These revelations improve the dialogue between co-workers. Mutual attentiveness and respective enables employees to react more positively to change and handle the accompanying stress more easily.

This and other positive developments from mindfulness led me to declare financial year 2016/17 as a mindfulness year.

How did your team react to this change in leadership?

It was important to me to convey the scientifically proven mindfulness impacts on the brain to my colleagues. My team reacted with curiosity and interest, as well as astonishment – and many still find it very “esoteric”.

The financial year is over. Do you notice any differences in daily work?

In September we conducted an employee survey on mindfulness. The result pleased me very much: Over 45% of those surveyed already use mindfulness in their dealings with others, have tried mindfulness exercises, or practice mindfulness regularly. I find that in meetings participants are calmer, more relaxed, and more focussed.

The new financial year 2017/18 has begun – a mindfulness year again? Or what’s next?

My team is now familiar with the topic and will certainly practice it in one form or another. From time to time I will make inquiries and present more examples of mindfulness in my monthly emails to the team.

I won’t divulge this year’s motto yet. But I think it will have something to do with the key meaning of “trust”. My team will find out at the end of the year.

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