Interview with Corporate Wellness and Personal Growth pioneer Monika Broecker
Interviewer: Chip Conley
The following is based on an edited transcript from an audio conversation between Chip Conley and Monika Broecker at the Enlightened Business Summit 2010
Chip Conley: I’d like to introduce Monika Broecker. Monika is the founder of the Center for Personal Growth. What does the Center for Personal Growth do?
Monika Broecker: The Center for Personal Growth is dedicated to facilitating lasting, sustainable individual, social and global transformation. It fosters human development, personal growth and well being on all levels: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. Our Mission Statement is: To facilitate your passionate inquiry into a sustainable work- and lifestyle. We provide Personal Growth and Career coaching, learning programs, as well as consulting and facilitation services for profit and non-profit organizations. Our main focus is to help organizations complement Leadership Development efforts with Personal Growth initiatives. We help with the design and curriculum development, the business case to get buy-in to get these programs going, and the metrics to measure their success.
Chip Conley: How did you come to do this work?
Monika Broecker: I’ve had a 17-year long career in Learning and Leadership Development, mainly working in corporate University type settings. I held positions at BMW, HP, Veritas (now Symantec), Electronic Arts and, finally, Google. I also worked in Management Consulting for a few years.
I had always done a lot of Personal Growth work myself, had gone to Esalen for many years, trained as a therapist. And I wanted to bring my personal interest in Somatic Psychology together with my professional work. At Google, I had the opportunity to do that and integrate my passions into my work.
At Google, I built and led first People Management Development and then the School of Personal Growth within what was then called Google University, now Google edu. Together with my colleague Meng I built the mission and curricula of the School of Personal Growth. The main idea was to transform and bring out the best in Google employees by developing them as whole human beings and helping them reach their full potential on all levels, emotional, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. Since we did get the feedback that spiritual could be perceived as negative in business, I suggested calling it “beyond the self” instead.
The idea was to create the most progressive and innovative personal growth content and make Google the most compassionate company in the world.
With the School of Personal Growth, we wanted to make an impact on the individual level, the team level, the organizational level—that is the culture level–and the organization’s impact on the larger systems, the world at large.
Google has always wanted to make a difference in the world. It’s never been about profit primarily. Google’s mission has been about making information universally accessible and useful. And there are tons of initiatives at Google where the company contributes to the greater good, there’s google.org, there are sustainability initiatives, social efforts and so much more.
Meng’s vision has been to create world peace, and since we know from Gandhi that world peace starts with inner peace, with compassion and empathy and people’s wish to make a contribution to something larger than themselves, we’ve had great hopes that we could make a difference by starting small, for example by introducing people to a meditation practice. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Chip Conley: How do you justify bringing Personal Growth programs into organizations?
Monika Broecker: That’s a good question. This is kind of going into the direction of the business case. Yes, people might say, why bring Personal Growth program into the workplace? People can just do this in their leisure time. But you can argue that specific well-researched Personal Growth programs–I will talk about what they are in a moment–sustain high performance
- They decrease stress, prevent burn-out and improve energy management–at Google, we had Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project show us how.
- And they enhance physical well-being and health.
You are “upgrading”–to use this software term–mental and emotional capabilities
- by bringing in programs that increase focus, awareness of self and others, and emotional intelligence.
- And you help employees become happier, more compassionate and empathic people.
Your personal growth programs sustain innovative culture under scale
(or despite scale)
- They enhance individual creativity
- and they increase resilience and foster more thoughtful risk-taking.
You are expanding intellectual horizons
- by increasing knowledge/awareness of the surrounding world
(beyond the self)
- by enhancing capability to go beyond limits of current thinking
- and by increasing ability to imagine and create positive change.
You are maintaining human competitive advantage
- by retaining the best talent–they can grow better here rather than elsewhere
- by increasing people’s effectiveness and efficiency.
- It’s also trend-setting, cutting edge. When we did this in Google, only Google did this at this kind of scale. Now more and more companies are open to it. I have been asked by several major cutting edge Silicon Valley companies to help them build something similar to what we built in Google.
Chip Conley: So in building the business case for Personal Growth programs in organizations, you promise to increase the organizational effectiveness?
Monika Broecker: Exactly. Personal Growth programs really transform individual employees, the way they work in teams, the culture and ultimately the company’s impact on the world at large. And it is important to do your research. If you present solid scientific data and show the impact on the bottom-line you have a much better chance to get buy-in. So that it is clear that these are not just esoteric programs.
I think it is crucial to show how Personal Growth programs increase effectiveness and performance
- Better emotional skills, focus and attention
- People sustain high performance longer.
- With better people skills, teams function better.
- People don’t burn out.
improve the capability to innovate
- More creativity and broader intellectual horizons.
- Emotional resilience to failure.
Therefore: Personal Growth Programs bring a powerful strategic advantage
- They enable people to flourish and contribute their best.
Developing people’s emotional skills, their creativity and focus and giving them tools or practices so that they can reduce and manage stress better, in my opinion, is the number one success factor in business.
Chip Conley: You mentioned that your programs also improve employees’ health. Can you say a little bit more?
Monika Broecker: Yes, thank you. In fact, I think the health argument is a key one. We’ve done a lot of research in this area and looked at the health data and health care costs.
In general, in an organizational culture where people are really young, in their 20s and 30s, health care costs are typically low. This is not the case in fast-paced and innovative Silicon Valley companies.
Many Silicon Valley companies are self-insured, and if you look into the total spend of health insurance in your company, you’ll be shocked. And it’s interesting what the medical claims are for:
Psychosomatic conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, chronic neck and back pain, insomnia are among the top ranking medical claims. It’s a fact that pain, stress, mood disorders, insomnia and muscular-skeletal problems are among the top ranking and most costly health problems (in these young corporate cultures). In the area of mental health, medical claims for depression, anxiety, emotional and marital issues rank high. Consequently, narcotics/pain drugs (e.g. prescription Tylenol), SSRIs, i.e. anti anxiety and depression drugs are among the top ranking prescription drugs.
Chip Conley: So bringing in programs that relieve these symptoms in employees can reduce medical costs.
Monika Broecker: That is the point. When I talk to companies, I show them how they can improve employee health and help save the company spend millions and millions of dollars on medical claims.
- Self-care pain management, stress-reduction and movement/exercise courses can help keep medical claims and prescription claims down.
- There is an enormous need for a holistic health and well-being and an emotional development curriculum in companies
Chip Conley: Can you talk a little bit about the benefits of the Personal Growth programs you bring to companies?
Monika Broecker: I’d be happy to. There is a lot of research on the benefits of the programs we are offering. For example, it can be shown that training in emotion regulation and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction improves
- symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression
- positive affect (happiness)
- and immune response to influenza virus.
- It also helps with skin disorders, cardiovascular symptoms and lower back pain.
- Mental/emotional training enhances
- attention regulation. Tony Schwartz from the Energy Project also talks about this. How important focus and attending to one thing at a time is. Multi-tasking doesn’t work. There’s a productivity loss that results from switching from one task to another.
- emotional awareness and emotional regulation
- positive self-view, self-esteem, self-compassion, self-efficacy and well-being
- and it reduces
- negative rumination (thinking style)
- negative self-view
- habitual thinking.
Emotions are a key business driver. If people are in a good mood, they are more likely to have creative ideas. Happy people work better. Research shows that emotions and disposition influence job performance, decision-making, creativity, turnover, pro-social behavior, teamwork, negotiation, and leadership. Emotions also create and sustain work motivation.
Lower stress improves creativity and health
- Under stress, people do worse on “cognitive flexibility”
(i.e. creative) tasks.
- Job stress is as harmful to health as smoking.
- Under stress, the brain goes into this mode of repeating the same solution over and over. And there’s a lot of research on how important sleep is for one’s effectiveness at work. We had sleep researcher Dr. Dement from Stanford at Google talk about that.
- And there’s a lot of research in the area of Emotional Intelligence by Goleman and others
- Emotional competencies were twice as important in contributing to excellence as were pure intellect and expertise.
- Of the sixteen abilities that distinguished stars from average performers, all but two were emotional competencies.
- We thoroughly researched the benefits of the specific programs we are bringing to companies. There is proven data on the effectiveness of mindfulness and meditation practices and the other modalities such as Alexander Technique.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has been extensively researched in medical and other settings and has been found to be a helpful adjunct to conventional treatments for a variety of medical and psychological conditions and symptoms, including:
- Heart disease
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure
- Anxiety and panic
- Sleep disturbances
- Chronic fatigue
- Skin disorders
Studies have found the following benefits for people who have completed a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class and practice mindfulness meditation:
- Increased self-awareness, self-trust, and self-acceptance
- Enhanced appreciation of life
- Serenity in the face of difficulties
- More accepting attitude toward life and its challenges
- More fluid adaptation to change and development of more effective coping strategies
- Lasting decreases in a variety of stress-related physical symptoms, including chronic pain
- Significant decreases in anxiety and depression
- Improved concentration and creativity
- Improved immune system functioning
- Decreased symptoms secondary to cancer
- And as to Alexander Technique–Alexander Technique is a psycho-physical re-education practice which is one of the most proven self-care methods for chronic pain management–benefits include
- Freedom of movement
- release of pain/pain management
- increased awareness/awareness in action
- self-empowered healing
- mind-body integration
- undoing of tension
- health and well-being, personal growth
- psycho-physical re-education, Mind/body coordination/integration
- mindfulness in action
- reduction of performance anxiety
The Alexander Technique can help with
- Prevention of injuries
- Computer related injuries (RSI & overuse injuries)
Chip Conley: Anything else that you suggest to companies when you bring in Personal Growth programs?
Monika Broecker: I think it is always advisable to make the connection to the company’s leadership skills framework and the values of the company’s culture: innovating, thoughtfully taking risks, making good decisions, getting things done, being open and honest and accessible, putting the team first, being self-aware, honoring/appreciating diversity and the like– Whatever those are in the respective company.
Another thing to think about is leverage and scaling and building the capacity inside the company. In a company with over 30,0000 employees it’s not enough to offer a meditation class to 10 people in a small classroom in Mountain View. You need to think about how to scale these programs globally. It’s important to consider how programs can be offered virtually, online or how the knowledge and wisdom inside the company can be built and used. In Google for example we had Googlers teach Googlers and, where needed, we did train the trainer courses to build the capacity inside rather than having to work with external vendors all the time.
I have a funny example here. After we announced a meditation class at Google in Mountain View, I got a call from Google India “We want to learn how to meditate here in India also.” I responded: “I thought you guys in India have known for thousands of years how to meditate.”
In any case, the good news is that companies are increasingly open to bringing in Personal Growth curricula. We’ve done some work at several major companies, some start-ups and Non-Profit organizations, and are getting more and more requests right now.
Chip Conley: Can you talk a bit about some specific programs you offered at Google?
Monika Broecker: Yeah, I can name a few. One of our main offerings was Meng’s project Search Inside Yourself (SIY)–A Mindfulness-based Emotional Intelligence course that Google developed with Daniel Goleman.
Goleman says on his blog that the way Google did this course was the only way Emotional Intelligence can be learned. The course has a combination of Meditation and Mindfulness practices, theoretical input and emotional exercises. It also includes a full day meditation retreat. Besides Meng, Zen priest Norman Fischer, Stanford researcher Philippe Goldin, meditation teacher Yvonne Ginsberg and Marc Lesser are the teachers and core team members. Meng just published a book on this course. It’s on the New York Times Bestseller list.
And we had Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction.
Another program, one of the most successful ones, was The Alexander Technique. It was offered by John Baron under the name Kines-Tech for chronic pain management. The way we set up the program was very helpful. We started with a half-day workshop, then did paired sessions and followed up with individual sessions. We also a course on the Neuroscience of Empathy with Tom Lewis, and a Japanese Tea Ceremony. And we had Otto Scharmer.
Then we started a Personal Growth Speaker Series. As speakers, we had Paul Ekman, Dan Siegel, Richard Davidson, Sean Mackey, Jon Kabat Zinn, Daniel Goleman, Dr. Emmett Miller; Dr. Dement, the famous Stanford sleep researcher talked on how to sleep better. The talks can all be found on youtube, just type in Google Personal Growth Speaker Series.
Chip Conley: What is the feedback you have received for your Personal Growth programs?
Monika Broecker: We have thought about metrics a lot. How do you measure the success of these programs? From the feedback from the participants that we consolidated, we found that our programs have an impact on career satisfaction, retention, decision making, focus and attention, performing under pressure, conflict resolution, creativity, relaxation and creativity, number of sick days, People who had gone through our programs said that they feel more in control of their emotions and have become more optimistic about their career. We had statements such as “I was contemplating quitting and not wanting to be in my current job. I now find myself actually enjoying my work”.
Your Passionate Inquiry into a Sustainable Work- and Lifestyle How else can the success of these programs be measured?
Monika Broecker: We thought of many things in terms of measuring course effectiveness and setting up metrics to measure the success of these programs
- Getting in a question or two regarding Personal Growth programs in the company’s Employee Satisfaction survey
- Looking at the health care costs and seeing if they have gone down
- For the Search Inside Yourself class at Google, we collaborated with Stanford Neuroscientists and planned an fMRI study to measure the impact on show the effects on the brain if people stayed on track with the course and meditated regularly.
- We needed to make sure that people knew that everything was based on solid research and that we didn’t just bring in some esoteric programs. Google is a company that really appreciates research.
Chip Conley: What else are you up to personally? How do you keep yourself inspired?
Monika Broecker: I recently finished a second Masters degree in Somatic Psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies. I am now working towards my license as a Somatic Psychotherapist in a private practice internship in Berkeley. And I enjoy working with private coaching clients.
I am often asked “Where are you going?” I don’t plan in that way. I don’t have a business plan and I don’t want one. I go with the flow and am always open for new opportunities. I like the Google principle of launch and iterate. You have an idea? Put it out there and make it better along the way.
And one exciting thing is that my book with Heinz von Foester has just been launched in English and is available on my website.