Why Mental Fitness Matters in Business

Think about this for a second. Companies, organisations, businesses, teams, what are they? They are just a collection of humans. Our emotions, thoughts, doubts, insecurities and biases are all part of business, whether we like it or not. It means they are also part of the big decisions.

So what happens when a business faces challenges?

We tend to focus on the strategy, inefficient budgets, resource issues and poor business results because these can be seen, they are tangible, we can point to them. But they ignore a very real contributing factor to business – being human. For all our strengths and all our faults. 

We have run thousands of workshops all over the world and we’ve found that most leaders, understandably, are far more comfortable addressing the tangible. But the real work needed lies ‘between’ the tangibles. The real work is in the emotions, mindset, attitude, beliefs and values of the people working in the business.

If we want real results in business, we have to work at the human level.

Let’s take for example, the topic of uncertainty. Uncertainty and an unpredictable future is what we have been bingeing on in 2020. We saw our personal plans, hopes and dreams - along with our business strategies - dissolve in front of our eyes. The world is ever-changing and we need people who can continually respond to that change because the only thing we know for sure is that uncertainty and change are going to be our table stake for years to come.

When organisations change, it creates the same type of uncertainty for employees. But ‘restructures’, ‘transformations’, ‘reorgs’ are inevitable as companies strive to remain relevant, agile and profitable. 

As the world changes at an unprecedented rate, so do we, and so do our companies. As such, we need our people to be open to change and side-step the natural human tendency to resist it. This means we need our people to be mentally agile and resilient in the face of change.

We call this ‘mental fitness’ – let’s explain this term and why it matters.

A scary statistic from research conducted by McKinsey shows that 70% of transformations fail. Why do they fail? That’s the million dollar question. For sure, there are a variety of complex reasons. 

One factor that is frequently undervalued and dismissed as soft or intangible is mindset. We also know that mindset is the most important driver of exceptional strategic execution.

  • In organisations identified as extremely successful, 72% of respondents noted that the transformation ‘entirely’ or ‘very much’ took mindset into account. 
  • In those organisations identified as not at all successful, this number drops to 8%.

Consider that the average cost of digital transformation in the US alone was $1.1 trillion in 2017, $1.3 trillion in 2018 with a predicted $2.1 trillion spend in 2021. With those eye-watering numbers, mindset suddenly becomes an intangible yet highly valuable asset to be leveraged, potentially saving companies millions, even billions!

Organisations are slowly realising that the peak performance of individuals and teams requires them to strengthen their inner ‘mental game’. After all, we have inner resources. If we can access them and leverage them, they can enhance our outer resources. 

This is the idea behind ‘mental fitness’. Through the upcoming series of articles we’ll be publishing, we’ll explain the huge impact it’s having on businesses. We’ll reveal not only why mental fitness matters to business but also HOW to master it in order to succeed in today's world.

But first…

What Is ‘Mental Fitness’?

Well, first, it’s worthwhile explaining how it’s different from the other terms you’re used to:

‘Mental illness’ is still a taboo topic and if you’re dealing with mental illness within your teams (like burn out, depression, or anxiety), you’re in the cure phase - versus prevention - already. A focus on mental illness generally leads to focusing on problems and solutions, rather than strengthening people upfront. 

‘Mental health’ is also a term we hear often these days. However, it doesn’t get the traction it deserves. People often glaze over it and think of it as either simply the absence of illness (“I’m not ill so this doesn’t apply to me”).

The absence of illness does not equal health.

It’s true that many companies have wellness or wellbeing teams, but most of them still tend to focus on the cure aspect. When it comes to prevention, they largely encourage meditation, exercise and eating well. All of those things do help, they are foundational, but what we’re missing here is a preventative approach that is interesting, engaging, practical and applicable.

‘Mental fitness’ is about preparing for the long-game in business and in life. It’s about not waiting until there are obvious signs of fatigue, conflict or reduced productivity. It's working with individuals when they are “OK” or “fine” and getting them to feel mentally “strong” and “great”. 

We do this by empowering people with the knowledge and tools to consciously navigate their thinking, regulate their emotions, manage stress and skilfully handle uncertainty

The work we do focuses on enhancing people’s overall emotional and social intelligence by:

  • Teaching how the mind works (and plays tricks on us)
  • Identifying and observing our default cognitive and emotional states (and the actions and behaviours they influence)
  • Practicing the tools and techniques necessary to optimise their inner world to handle the outer world.

Why does this matter? It matters because we are not being taught this stuff. It’s not in the national curriculum, our education system isn’t tackling it. Symbia works with leaders and their teams who often don’t have the language to fully describe how they’re feeling (emotional literacy), never mind the knowledge of what to do with these feelings.

This is even more important heading into 2021 as we struggle to navigate the blurred lines between work and family life, and the uncertainty of the road ahead. 

Mentally Fit in Business

What are the implications of practicing mental fitness in your team? Well, if you can master your thinking and your mindset, you can release confidence and unknown potential within your employees. 

It is this approach that will increase the positive impact they are able to make both at home AND in work. This is a proven system that is now being adopted by some of the best-known brands in business.

Take Unilever as an example of a company that has invested heavily in training and education around the idea of the Inner Game. Unilever is fully aware of the importance of investing in mental training. The reasoning is simple:

When you have mentally and emotionally healthy people, you have resilient, happy and flexible teams. This will lead to a healthy, successful company.

The Essential ‘Hard Skills’

The power of mental fitness is undeniable. However most boards still consider such topics the ‘soft skills’ that are getting in the way of what really matters – tangible numbers and results. 

It is the wise leaders that know differently…

They know that mental training and wellbeing are in fact essential hard skills that are vital to a successful business. They understand that empowering your people to leverage their most important asset, their own minds, is the best investment any company can make. 

After all, companies are just a collection of humans right?

It’s important to learn what mental fitness really is. Master the various ways you can train yourself to be mentally flexible and resilient to changes. If you do, your team and your business will be fully equipped for success.

In the next article, we’ll cover the impact of COVID-19 on the mental state of the workplace and how to confidently navigate through this time of mounting pressures.

For more information on Mental Fitness and how we can help you and your teams achieve it, get in touch at: team@symbiapartners.com

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