When I first met Richard at The RSA in London, the first thing that struck me was his intense vitality for life. He started The Barrett Values Centre in his 50s after a long career in international economics and finance, and bounded into the room like an enthusiastic teenager. Richard was one of my key guests on The Purposeful Enterprise Summit, as I knew he completely understood the psychology of organisations alongside human development. I wasn’t disappointed with interview and it turned out to be the most popular interview of the series.
What struck me most about Richard is his ability to make understandable the huge complexity around how and why we move as individuals between consciousness levels. He really helped me to understand why, despite much personal development, I have struggled to behave with the level of consciousness I want to after a period of reversals of fortunes. This was something I had never considered before. He was just as able to explain the impact of our childhood environment can do to our ability to self-actualise in a lifetime. I found the hour I spent with Richard hugely rewarding and often listen again to this interview.
Here’s what he had to share:-
In 1990 Richard was in his mid 40s working at the World Bank as a transportation engineer. He was rather bored with his career, at which point his soul spoke to him and he realised he had to change his career. The first thought was to write a book on personal transformation – A Guide To Liberating Your Soul which he wrote while still at the World Bank. Gradually he felt he was being fed messages about what he should be doing. Liberating the Corporate Soul followed shortly afterwards, and The Barrett Values Centre was set up soon after that.
The process of self-actualisation for Richard began in his 40s, which is not uncommon; the first step on the journey to look for purpose and meaning in life. What the Barrett Values Centre does is measure consciousness through looking at values. They can do this for teams, organisations and even countries.
How do you see the evolution of consciousness manifesting in business?
I’ve been deeply involved in measuring the levels of consciousness in organisations for many years. There’s a real shift taking place right now. The whole movement towards conscious decision making and conscious business is growing exponentially. There are many more organisations focusing on sustainability and consciousness at the global level now, probably as many as 50. So why are they all beginning to focus on who we are and what we do in the world, which all comes down to values and purpose.
How do the 7 levels of consciousness work in business?
When I look back to Liberating the Corporate Soul, it had all the elements that we refer to in conscious capitalism. There are 7 levels of consciousness, and 7 stages of psychological development. We grow in stages through our lives. The first is survival stage, the third is differentiating (the teenage or young adult level) and so on. What is important to recognise is that we move between these stages all the time, it’s not always a linear process. If for example, you are at the self-individuating stage in your life, and you suddenly lose all your money or your business, you can drop right back down to the first level of survival. You will still have the knowledge and understanding of being self-individuated, but you have to operate back on survival instincts. This can be very difficult.
When we use the Barrett Values Model in business, we ask people to pick up to 10 values of who they are, how the organisation operates, and 10 values for how they would like it to operate. We look at it through gender, age, parts of the organisation, within the hierarchy and look at where the problems show up. We’re looking for cultural entropy, which tends to be where the limiting values like hierarchy, bureaucracy, political intrigue, blame. They are driven by fear and they cause more work to be done in order to get value out of the company. When you add up the votes for these potential limiting values, we find the degree of disfunction within the system – cultural entropy. There’s a direct link between cultural entropy and employee engagement – high entropy, low engagement.
Each value belongs to a level of consciousness which is how we are able to measure consciousness. Most people follow a developmental path. If you know where they are on the journey, you can identify what their needs are. Many people never get past the self-individuating stage because they get blocked by their ego’s needs. Those fears stop them from moving ahead to the self-actualising stages. It also shows up in an organisation. What we are mapping is the levels of consciousness in the organisation.
If you grew up in a difficult environment, if you were blamed or weren’t encouraged, you will have developed limiting beliefs as to who you are and what you can do. They show up later in life as limitations. The tools we have can also measure personal entropy. Cultural entropy comes from the personal entropy of the leaders. We can find which leaders are underperforming and then can help them develop and perform more functionally for their organisations.
Are there are certain parts of organisations that are more susceptible to cultural entropy?
In a large organisation you might have a lot of bureaucratic procedures. You might have 6 or 7 major departments. The greater level of cultural entropy will be in those departments which are led by a fear-driven leader. You may have some departments with low entropy and others with high entropy because of the leaders. Organisations don’t transform – people do. So transformation of an organisation depends on transformation of the leaders.
What kind of organisations today do you see operating at the higher levels?
There’s an underlying assumption that higher is better. What you want is an organisation that performs well at every level. You want an organisation that knows how to survive. You want an organisation that can create great relationships at the second level. You want high performance at the third level. You want people to be accountable at the fourth level. There’s a sense of internal cohesion and creativity at the fifth level. Where there’s a sense of partnerships and cooperation at the sixth level and a sense of purpose at the seventh level. Who’s showing up at the 6th and 7th level, well not many. But what we do see is for example, social enterprises, NGOs, and charities who are caring for people and planet, they operate in their current culture at higher levels. But when you look at the employees wants, they want the company to operate on the lower levels because there’s not a lot of survival instincts, not much accountability. If there is no grounder but a higher level of consciousness you don’t succeed. Similarly with banks, they have high level of survival instinct but little moral compass.
It is a developmental process. People make big mistakes, they don’t see the verticality of consciousness. This is a problem with the wellbeing industry, they assume everyone is looking for the same thing. What creates well being is satisfying the needs you have for the level you’re at.
How does change start in an organisation?
Change comes in various ways. The most frequent way is from leaders on a developmental journey. Some are in crisis. A major bank which was in crisis came to us and has stayed with us for a long time. Sometimes it is just because we have an enlightened leader, one who recognises that the main strategy for the company should be culture. If you haven’t got your culture right, any strategy will fail. The intangible factors around a share price – intellectual capital, culture – form a great part of the share price. So if you want your organisation to be more valuable, focus on the intangible.
Can this be used by SMEs and startups?
You can do a cultural assessment for any size of organisation. The tools are scalable for any kind of organisation.
Are there any characteristics of an organisation that enable it to maximise the cultural transformation tools model? What does ‘ready to act’ look like?
The tools have been used in 40 or 50 different industries; communities and even 26 nations. You can use it anywhere you have a group of people who have a common culture, livelihood or society. What makes it effective is when we see that the leaders are at level 4 consciousness; ready to recognise that your employees have a voice that they can be trusted and where the company is ready to get involved in a dialogue about the cultural values assessment. If an organisation gets a bad result in respect of cultural entropy but the leaders are not ready to recognise that this stems from their own leadership may put their head in the sand and ignore it. If the leadership team is ready to take on whatever gap appears from the study, – the cognitive dissonance – you get an opportunity to open up to transformation.
Organisational transformation is dependent on the transformation of the leader. Sometimes there are members of the leadership team, they may be so afraid of what is coming that they leave. There may well be a lot of changes in the team. But the benefits of working on values and culture is always income increases, profitability increases, creativity increases.
Cultural entropy is dependent on the the current leaders but also the past legacy of previous leaders where potentially limiting values have been institutionalised in systems, procedures and policies. So it isn’t only a question of building a leadership programme, you may also have to do some structural adjustment where you look at systems and policies and ask whether or not these reflect the values and culture you want.
What did you feel was missing from the UN SDGs?
What I asked is what levels of consciousness are the UN SDG goals. Most of them are at the lower end because they are about improving poverty and infrastucture. What is missing is the verticality in consciousness. In order to implement these goals you need people and institutions that are sustainable themselves and operating from the higher levels of consciousness. It’s all about people making decisions to do things differently. So it depends on where people are on the spectrum of consciousness. I think it is missing from the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are now showing where these goals are in terms of levels of consciousness. When you plot them they cover the full spectrum, but most are at the lower level.
The SDGs alongside every human being has a role to play. Everybody is a soul having a human experience. I don’t have a soul, I’m not a soul, the soul has me. So what is the purpose of my soul? It’s 3 fold. Self expression which you get from creativity. Connection which you get from human relationships. Contribution which you get from making a difference. I believe that our educational system should be built to enable children to self-express, connect and contribute because that is their soul journey. Our education system is not designed this way. We are setting up our children for success in business, but failure in life. Children are nascent souls.
What are the major changes needed in economic and financial systems?
We spend a lot of time on this. We’ve been looking at the financial services sector. It makes money by implementing the current world economic order. The problem is not in the financial services, it lies in the current capitalist system. We need to think about capitalism in a way which says that there are things more important than money, and these are the environment in which we live for example. We need to create sectoral understandings and agreements within a particular industry about what it is that we hope to achieve in terms of the SDGs and within that we can compete. But we compete within an agreed approach. We already have this model in the Olympic Games. Countries have come together, agreed on a set of rules on how we are going to operate together and then they compete inside this framework. It think this is a way forward for industry – the SDGs can be this framework. This is conscious capitalism.
What kind of business models do you think suit the future?
B Corps and conscious capitalism are great models for the future of business. What is common between many of these organisations is that you need to care about employees, investors, partners, communities, etc – whoever you care for, cares for you. That is something that is so obvious but actually missing from business attitudes and culture today. It’s really simple: its about caring for the people who work and buy from you and the society and environment you work in. If you do those things, you won’t have a problem in creating a successful organisation.
What do you view as the most important development in human evolution for the next few years?
I wrote a book called The Metrics of Human Consciousness. If you can measure the evolution of consciousness, that’s the most important thing to measure on the planet right now. So if we can keep measuring consciousness in business, in communities, in society, in governments – this is the way to go. I have come to the recognition that each nation is a crucible of consciousness. Each nation has a history – it has its own evolutionary journey. Some are more advanced than others. People grow within the country’s cultural frameworks of the nation we grew up in. What’s important is the evolution of culture in each nation as a crucible of consciousness. There are very, very few fully democratic nations. Most the Scandinavian countries are the only ones approaching level 5 consciousness. Most are operating at level 3 or 4 consciousness. The way democracy is run in the UK and US is very combative, hierarchical and very power driven – typical level 3 consciousness. We need to find a new level of democracy that operates at a higher level of consciousness than we do today. Voting once every four years in not a good way to participate in democracy.
Richard Barrett is founder and Chairman of The Barrett Values Centre. He has published many books looking at the subject of values, culture, and consciousness in business. This interview was first published on The Purposeful Enterprise Summit 2016 on April 11th last year.