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Lions Roar : July 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2011 43 W HEN TODD PIERCE, chief information officer at Genentech, the giant biotechnology firm, took over the IT department in 2002, employees had rated it the least satisfying place to work in the company. “I tried all the usual big-company things,” Pierce says, “the traditional training programs and big meetings where you bring everyone together offsite and try to address their questions and inspire them. But it just wasn’t working.” He had experi- ence with mindfulness and found it helpful, but the idea that mindfulness could transform the culture of a large organization was radical. In 2006, he decided to call in Pam Weiss, a seasoned executive coach with more than twenty years’ experience as a meditation practitioner and teacher. When Pierce challenged Weiss to come up with a mindful- ness-based development program that could be available at all levels of the organization and potentially transform the culture, Weiss replied that she knew of no existing model. Pierce realized they had to create one. They started by introducing mindful- ness classes, but the real goal was to develop a program that used mindfulness—but without calling it that. The initial mindfulness classes were well received, and they are still offered regularly, but Pierce wanted something that would have more impact, something where people wouldn’t have to sign up for mindfulness per se. What they decided to offer was a ten-month “personal excellence program.” “For the first one,” Weiss says, “I invited fifty people to a vol- untary program, but I soon learned that no one ever feels that an invite from the CIO is voluntary. Next time around we made it by application, but we didn’t tell people that everyone would be accepted. We really wanted to see whether people would want to take part. I was sure that no one would bother to fill out the application—120 people applied for sixty spots.” The Personal Excellence Program (PEP) is now in its fifth year. In 2011, there are 115 new participants and one hundred gradu- ates taking part, as well as twenty graduates who have been further trained to sup- port the graduate groups. Six hundred and fifty people have taken part over the life of the people whose underlying intention is to have a workplace that fosters well-being. People tend to take care of each other.” Gale says she has found that “synchronizing mind and body” is one of the most helpful practices. “When I was young, I lived a life that was very ‘embodied.’ I danced, I played sports, I climbed trees and rode horses. But somewhere along the line, I lost that connection with my body,” she says, echoing the recollections of many others. In the tech world, she says, “there is very little op- portunity to get out of our heads and into our bodies, to notice the intelligence and connection to something bigger that exists within our bodies. They constantly offer us brilliant information and we are just too busy to notice it. And yet, it’s the very thing we need.” Gale has been exposed to various methods for developing “so- matic intelligence,” but she has been most taken by the approach taught by Wendy Palmer, founder of Conscious Embodiment. Palmer has practiced aikido for forty years, and the principles at its core form the basis for the body–mind practices she teaches. “The goal of aikido is to be able to protect the attacker as well as yourself,” Palmer says, and when you extend that principle into how you deal with conflict and pressure, “it can put your body in a position that’s conducive to a different kind of chemistry than high doses of stress hormones provide.” These practices extend mindfulness into the high-pressure situations Gale so often faces at work, where mindfulness might normally go right out the window. “Before I enter a potentially stressful meeting, before a difficult conversation, before a coaching session with a manager, when I encounter someone visibly upset,” Gale says, “noticing how embodied I am and reconnecting on the spot has been such a big help to me. I see developing this kind of bodily intelligence as something that can make a big difference within Twitter and in the tech field altogether. So many people can benefit: product managers who need to manage multiple projects and have information charging at them from all over the com- pany; managers who have employees who need them fully present but their minds are on a million other things; engineers who get interrupted during very deep coding sessions and need to get back to that space as quickly as possible; high-level executives who need to see the big picture and need to make space to foster innovation rather than control. The ability to synchronize our mind with our body supports all of these common daily challenges. We can al- ways ask how embodied we are in any given moment.” In the first year I lived in fear that I would be discovered doing this and taken away in chains. Now my department is No. 2 in the company in employee satisfaction. TODD PIERCE, CIO, GENENTECH ➢ page 89 PHOTOCOURTESYOFGENENTECH,INC.