Friday, May 19, 2006

Corporate Spirituality

At first glance it is tempting to conclude that people in large parts of the developed world have become less religious. The question is, however, if we haven't simply changed religions. Could it be that we are just as religious as ever but the focus of our worship is different, our ceremonies and rituals are clothed in other symbols and our clergymen are found in other institutions? In William James book "The Varieties of Religious Experience" he states that religion is "the feellings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine". He goes on to define "divine" as whatever the individual "felt to be the primal truth". With these definitions of religion it becomes much easier to begin to identify our new gods and religious practices. In fact, I suspect that there are a great many new religions which are fullfilling mans need for religious experience. However, I will keep my focus on the modern business environment. There is a strong argument that the business world of today is built upon a largely spiritual foundation and that there exists a corporate religion which is the glue holding these organisations and even entire market systems in order.

It is not my ambition to condescend those activities and institutions of business life that will be discussed here. Nor is it my goal to ridicule the "traditional religions" or religious people. My goal here is to attempt to understand business life, management, and organisation from a different point of view. One that might give us better insight into the workings of the organization as well as the individuals that comprise them. Management theorie has been primarily scientific in its approach. This has led to a great number of theoretical models of organizations from more or less scientific orgins. In "Images of Organization" by Gareth Morgan the point is made that the metaphors we use in decribing an organization imply " a way of thinking and a way of seeing that prevade how we understand our world generally". Any metaphor we choose will open possibilities but also create limitations. A metaphor is by definition "like" or similar to the object of comparison. It is not the same as that object and therefore even if it may given insight as to how the organization works it will also mislead. The problem is then to ascertain which of the "insights" are correct and which are faulty. By trying to understand organizations and business life as religious expression we may find ourselves in the same perdicament, however, there is a good chance that this will not fall into the same trap as other metaphors because it may not be a metaphor. I could be that our business life is in fact a part of mans search for meaning and his attempt to fill his spiritual needs.

In an earlier blog entry i introduced the “Holy Trinity of Sustainable Growth” (Customer, Employee and Shareholder) in which I argue that over the long-term it is impossible to create value for one of these stakeholder groups without creating value for all of them. As with the “Holy Trinity of Christianity” most of us cannot credibly describe the relationship between the three entities even though we believe there is a relationship. Everyday we hear references to “the market”. There are events that happen in the market or we are told that the market has behaved in one way or the other. Has this market become our new god? A vague entity that effects all of our lifes. An entity that is omnipresent (everywhere at once) and as close to omniscient (all knowing) as anything else we know.

Business gurus are the priests of our time and weild as much power over society as the priests did hundreds or thousands of years ago. Our holy scripture might be described as a limited number of books by a few holy apostles like Maslow, Pavlov, Kotler, Porter, Kotter and Drucker. Everything else written in management literature could be seen as exergesis on these apostles fundamental themes.

In my own management experience I find that it is much easier to gain acceptance for my theories or “beliefs” than it is to get critical, analytical views. It seems to be easier to believe than to think and analyze.

We need to be alert to the fact that we humans find ourselves so easily believing. We must learn to exercise our free wills and our intellects to continuously question and analyze reality as best we can perceive it and make the best possible decisions from time to time. Companies that strive to create a common belief system risk eliminating critical thought and will surely loose their competitive edge.

1 comment:

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