Reflection as a business builder
Why reflective practice should be part of every organisation (pt 1 of at least 2)
‘How do we step back from the day to day?’ — Professor Chris Bones asked this question of the audience at a leadership event (https://www.linkedin.com/in/professor-chris-bones-793a50/). It was met with some fairly standard responses, from ‘’I don’t have the time’ and ‘we don’t’, through ‘we should’ to, ‘what’s the point, nothing will change anyway’. I have been thinking about reflection and reflective practice (reflection in action, Schon, 1983) for some time, recognise the benefits of it and talk about it to anyone who will listen (even some that don’t want to).
Those responses were fairly standard.
They probably don’t surprise you, most organisations and people focus on output, getting stuff done, rather than the outcome which is what is really important, getting the right stuff done. We simply get on with what we’re being asked to do, providing the outputs we are targeted on which means we simply get what we have always got; and we’re not taking or being given the time and space to recognise what the real need is. The value of taking time out for reflection is often viewed as unnecessary, but it could be the change in practice that turns a business around.
After the aforementioned event, one of the leadership team took some time off sick — on his return to work he explained the benefit he had gained through taking a step back and gaining a better perspective. He had come to recognise that the organisation was too “focused on the next milestone, or tomorrows task” to be able to gain a better perspective. The irony is not lost that it took a period of sickness for this recognition to take place, nor that organisational practice wasn’t updated to facilitate reflective practice for others.
Research has shown that given discretionary time to reflect (on self or projects), read, or consider personal projects, people use this time productively, are more able to take sensible decisions (rather than rushing in) and are more innovative (e.g. Bravenboer, 2018; Porter, 2017). Additional benefits can be reduced staff turnover, fewer sick days, and more satisfied customers and the development of a learning culture within an organisation (Bravenboer).
Being able to step back, organise thoughts, consider observations, experiences and interpretations in order to create meaning, crucial for personal and organisational development and this helps form future mindsets and actions (Porter). In the current climate, where change is evolutionary, and challenge is necessary, reflective practice and disruptive action (calling all pirates) need to part of the organisation — not apart from it.
Research into the provision of discretionary time, and reflection (stepping back), has shown a range of benefits to the workplace in timescales from 15 minutes a day to 1 day per week. For example, Stefano, Gino, Pisano and Staats (ND) found that, people given 15 minutes at the end of each day to reflect on lessons from that day, performed 23% better than colleagues; commuters asked to think about and plan their day whilst travelling to work found they were happier, more productive and less burned out than those who did not take up the opportunity.
Google found that the idea of allowing their personnel 20% time was almost as beneficial as people taking the time; most people with new ideas spent just 5–10% of their time developing an idea, before presenting it as a project (D’Onfro, 2015), rather than taking the full 20%. At Google, this is developing into a performance led concept, where some people or teams have a lot of discretionary time, others virtually none, dependent on contribution to the business (Schrage, 2013).
Conducted effectively, reflection is also a valuable tool for self-learning, as it provides active consideration and analysis of actions and beliefs; this develops an understanding of how learning can be applied day to day, and acknowledgement of how and why one receives information from different sources (bias identification and overcoming) in different ways (Porter).
Those who are able to take time, and successfully self-reflect are often viewed as good leaders, they are more self- and other aware and therefore are more able to see from another’s perspective. I will be coming back to this in the coming weeks — I believe this is critical to curious and equitable leadership and organisational civilisation.
It would appear that organisations who allow for this stepping back are more productive, have more content personnel and happier customers, but the tangible benefits and immediate ROI can be difficult to measure — but watching retention increase, sickness decrease, better aligned outputs and the bottom line rising will be worth the time.
A brief personal example, if I may: I established a small in-house trial of reflection with 4 of my colleagues, we had funding for 2 hours a week across three months to spend time on our own projects (I couldn’t get more ). I asked my colleagues to go for walks, read, reflect on the work they were doing, or do nothing. All they really had to do was not the day job.
At the end of the trial, we all brought something else back; having spent our time on a plethora of different things, the content isn’t really important here — the benefits came from feeling trusted, valued, more able to cope with the day to day and feeling better able to contribute to decision making.
OK, this isn’t a statistically significant, rigorous experiment; but wouldn’t it be great if all employees felt like this?
Maybe we could reflect on that…