It’s a Tuesday morning inside a typical conference room at SAP Palo Alto. A group of mostly strangers are asked to sit comfortably – but not too comfortably in our chairs.
Some of us have our eyes closed, some have our eyes open – we’re all focused on our breathing in an attempt at mindfulness: a focus on the thoughts, emotions and sensations occurring in the present moment. Mark Lesser, Founder of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, also known as SIYLI, is leading us.
As the first group of SAP employees to undertake the training we are the test subjects. We have volunteered to embrace the teachings of ex-Google employee Chade-Meng Tan – or as most refer to him, ‘Meng.’ However, we are not alone. All around Silicon Valley companies are embracing the belief that a focus on mindfulness can equal increased happiness, productivity and ultimately success in both our personal and working lives.
The idea for the program was spawned at Google where engineers are famously granted 20 percent of their time to work on other creative projects. For Meng, this 20 percent was spent developing a mindfulness based emotional intelligence curriculum. It went from the test lab to the highest ranked internal training program at Google.
The program introduced at SAP, is based on the original Google program that consisted of four modules that introduced the concept of mindfulness and then moved on to self-awareness and self-regulation, motivation and concluded with empathy and leadership skills along with ‘homework’ of meditating from one to 20 minutes daily, keep a journal, and having regular meetings with a buddy.
Participants had a number of reasons for signing up.
“As SAP employees, we have the need to perform optimally: smarter, better, faster – at all times. The Search Inside Yourself class with its ‘toolkit’ of mindfulness meditation techniques, listening and communication exercises, journal writing and self-assessment activities go a long way towards preparing us to deliver,” said Donna Vigil.
“When it is time to sleep and recharge, I have wanted an ‘off button’ for my mind when it is still thinking about outstanding projects with competing deadlines or my next early morning call … I have heard about a mediation practice as a way to support one’s recharging but many of the programs for beginners can be a bit too ‘new age.’ In this course, the focus was on the science of the mediation’s benefits and specific, discrete ways to develop a meditation practice,” she said.
“I hope participants will gain a new perspective on their work and life as I did. Cultivating a sense of connectedness to other human beings around you makes one feel less alone, less overwhelmed, and more confident that we can face challenges that our work and life presents to us,” says Janaki Kumar. “Mindfulness practice is essential in today’s technological world. It increases creativity, and empathy and can lead to innovation in our daily life. It cultivates strong leaders who inspire those around them.”
The SAP lead for the program is Peter Bostelmann. In bringing SIY to SAP, he says he is convinced the programs will help participants deepen their personal development leading to increased self-regulation and self-mastery, higher personal excellence, and ultimately more successful and fulfilled employees at SAP.
Bostelmann practices what he prescribes: “I have been practicing mindfulness for many years and have experienced many benefits from the increased self-awareness and self-regulation. SIY in particular, has helped me deepen my mindfulness practice in order to bring it to our workplace and also to teach it to colleagues … The SIY program has taught me to ‘stop, breathe, notice, reflect, respond.”
The course stays true to its engineering roots and steers clear of the esoteric, instead focusing on some of the real gains participants can expect.
Marc Lesser says the time is right for companies to embrace mindfulness for a number of reasons: “There is a growing need for people in the workplace to have a wider perspective, to be more creative, and to work more collaboratively … Mindfulness training has a profound impact on our perspective – about ourselves, others, our work, and this human life. It allows us to see more clearly, to have more choice, more flexibility, more sensitivity. Mindfulness training supports an enhanced appreciation of the impact of our actions.”
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