The missing – quintessential – element in prevailing management practices

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The world we live in is seamlessly interlinked. Every single being is affected by the actions of other’s. Even though the world is being transformed into a “global village”, a sense that “all of mankind must become one community” is still a vague aspiration; far from being accepted as a conscious ideal. Scores of attempts, throughout the ages, to bring in human unity have failed.  All the theories, concepts, practices as well as case studies in “modern” management have been unsuccessful to bring in a comprehensive fool proof system that which could help us manage – let alone advance – ourselves as a single human race that is happy and prosperous. Yet the “modern management” and its theories are being followed blindly as if it is flawless. Disasters that emanates from these management practices, including current economic slowdown and political turmoil, are considered as if nothing to do with it.

Ever since the Renaissance and subsequent developments in science; along with European colonization of the world in the nineteenth century, the European ideas has been dominating. As the only history known to the Europeans, since their emerging from the middle ages, were the Biblical and the Greece-Roman; only these two were the cultures have studied and interpreted to this day. Strangely even though we now have a whole world for our cultural base, concepts continue be confined to the study of Isaiah, Paul, Socrates and Cicero. This, in many ways, has limited our perspective of human race. Even the “greatest” management thinkers have stayed ignorant about the prophets of Egypt, the sages of China and the seers of India.

Even when man was a food gatherer and cave dweller, he realized his frailty, the dangers to which he was beset, the insecurities of life. With his power to think and reason, he looked around him and drew lessons from nature. He watched fellow creatures and drew lessons from their behaviour patterns. Through cogent thinking and analysis he formed groups, he realized that it was impossible to do everything by himself. He saw the groups’ need to be managed and management’s need in organizations. As men evolved and matured, so did their behaviours. Civilizations were the visible manifestations of progressive humans. Fine cities came up through flourishing economies to the envy of others – wars were fought and civilizations were razed to the ground or burnt off the face of the earth. In their place sprang up new civilizations, better equipped, better trained and better organized and managed to face the hazards of life. Each succeeding civilization tended to be more complex than its predecessors. Though management science is a fairly recent development, arguably – it must be understood – human beings are practical social scientists; striving to understand the world around them and work out guiding principles on which to base their behaviour. Also, all human beings are managers in their own way; they all struggle – day in an out – to cope, to manage, to shape their destinies. To survive in the world everyone has to manage situations, to meet their material needs besides staying sane while they struggle to exert some control over the environment around them.

The concept of “modern management” is that “managers” are different from the “managed”. The consequence of this is that managers are pressured to be “technical experts” whose objective would be to devise rational and emotionally neutral systems for corporates to “solve problems”, “make decisions”, “and run the businesses”. While these “scientific” and “rational” concepts give reassurances, it must be noted that, “managers” are eventually so distanced from the “managed” that their capacity to “control” events is often undermined. They also tend to leave managers isolated from the essentially human community in the organizations function.

“Modern management” is largely an American construct based upon European ethos. The Roman Empire and the Catholic Church experimented – not altogether successfully with decentralization, as this was an inescapable consequence of their great geographical dispersion. Secondly, in an effort to harness the centrifugal forces of decentralization, they established control systems that sought to impose uniform creeds of belief, norms of membership, and codes of behaviour. The Church had a major advantage; as western culture’s premier custodian of man’s relationship to God, it commanded special place in Western societies. It served their highest-order aspirations and thus could really support and lay claim to their loyalties.

By the 16th century, the Roman Empire was long gone but the Church remained – as a single, dominant organization in European societies. The scope of activities, however, simply outdistanced its capacity to sustain them when in that century and the next two, the meaning it provided dimmed because of the challenge posed by the growth of science and mercantilism. The ensuing turmoil permitted the gradual emergence of nation-states with governments capable of providing many social and military services. And, greatly affected the way organizations are viewed today.

On the contrary, in the Eastern societies of India, China or Japan where holistic views prevailed, Western society evolved separate institutions with separate spheres of influence: the Church emerged as the custodian of man’s faith and spiritual life while governmental and then commercial institutions were given the role of providing for man’s worldly existence. Not unexpectedly, Western political and organizational theory evolved to legitimize this duality as a natural state of affairs. Machiavelli, in the 16th century, was one of the first to consider management as a function separate from moral law by advancing an amoral theory for organization of state practice.

The coming of the machine age was the next major event in shaping Western views of man, organization and society. The industrial Revolution, with its stress on mass production, diminished the importance of the skilled trades and the social affiliations obtained through them. The emergence of the concept of ‘factors for production’ (land, labour and capital) had revolutionary implications for the Western view of humankind. Humans (the labour content) were no longer regarded as an inextricable part of the organic whole of society. Rather, the person, as labourer, became an objectified and standardized component of the production process. Not surprising, this view of “labour” tended to divorce man as a social and spiritual being from his “productive “role at work.

This separation of the ethical or spiritual element from the material was reinforced by the growth of value free and social objective science. The Newtonian-Cartesian stress on reductionist and logical thoughts, and the publication of Darwin’s theory of evolution and its stress on competition and the survival of the fittest, had major impacts on religious organizations which had their own cosmology and stressed on faith and co-operative behaviour. The tremendous importance and prestige of science gave a further fillip to the development of an objective, value-free science of management in which culturally derived values or ethical considerations had no role to play.

Industrialization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries also fostered a great many large enterprises whose variegated and diverse activities made even more complex organization necessary. Max Weber’s writings in this period stressed the desirability of the “bureaucratic institution”. Weber espoused the view that the bureaucratic form was superior to all others – as indeed it was to alternatives then available. One result of Weber’s influence is that the factors he used to discuss organization – size, complexity, formalizations and centralization – remain today the principle dimensions along which organizational designs are thought about.

Large corporations began to emerge as dominant organization in Western society around the turn of this century. As the west tended to lead the rest of the world in spawning such enterprises, it is not surprising that the so-called modern management dealing with such large entities is largely a Western creation. The scope of activity of these large and diverse enterprises required tiers of management and delegation of authority. But how could those without ownership and a financial stake in enterprise be trusted? Nearly half a century was needed for the concept of professional management to establish itself.

The question that had to be answered was as to how should these new “professionals” manage? The principle problems facing them were and are (1) how to organize efficiently and delegate responsibilities and (2) how to reward and motivate employees, as well as, how to control resources and ensure efficient and effective results. It needs to be noted, however, that the way in which any management solves these problems in a society is in itself a measure of the values that exist in that society. For management systems are in their essence culture-bound. And this is something lacking in Western institutions.

A great many eventually emphasized on the Japanese interest in taking maximum advantage of the new “information age” by investing in the “human capital”. The accent on acquisition of knowledge and thereby building up “human capital” is, as we shall see, the very essence of Vedic thought. The manner in which this can be done is spelt out in great detail in the Vedic scriptures with the stress being on the whole man. A study of management systems as they flow from Vedic thought would thus be a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on how to effectively manage the ongoing knowledge and information revolutions.

Also as Pascale and Pascale say when discussing Japanese management: “… managerial reality is not an absolute; rather, it is socially and culturally determined. Across all cultures and in all societies, human beings coming together to perform certain collective acts encounter common coordination and motivation. Culture affects how these problems are perceived and how they are resolved. Societal learning also establishes horizons to perception.

As globalization takes place and the problems of management whether in governance systems or in commercial undertakings have to be not only multi-national but also multi-cultural, the need to study other cultural values. So a study of diverse cultures and the management principles that flow therefrom is a necessary prerequisite for globalized management systems. Also as Drucker points out, management has always been polycentric and has to be tackled by men of many nationalities and races. According to Drucker: “While management is a discipline – that is, an organized body of knowledge and as such applicable everywhere – it is also culture. It is not value-free science. Management is a social function and embedded in a culture – a society – a tradition of values, customs, and beliefs, and in governmental and political systems. Management and managers shape culture and society.”

The Vedas are arguably the oldest surviving records of a continuing civilization. Dating from anywhere between 6500 BCE to 2000 BCE, they are an important part of the heritage of humanity. The Vedic lore is one of the most stupendous manifestations of the spirit. Its deepest function is best served, as of other religious and cultural values of mankind, by sharing it in a spirit of fellowship with humanity at large. This sharing, however, has to be a living communication that is free from any tinge of propaganda or proselytization and as a human experience that is “capable of enriching and challenging modern man in an age when, for better or for worse, he is inseparably linked with his fellows and can no longer live in isolation. This lore, and the managerial system that evolves from it, could thus form a mirror in which modern management science can see itself and thereafter evolve into a truly global, transcultural system.

There is a great deal of truth in the fact that external problems which torment man are really projections of internal problems which he has failed to solve within his heart and mind. There is no adequate answer the principle questions of how to manage – whether it is the realm of politics, society or economics – without first finding an adequate answer to the larger questions of life itself, which necessarily include the questions: “What is man?” and “What are the real objects for which an organized society exists.” Unless we lay hold of correct answers to these questions, we shall only be working in the dark and wasting energies quiet uselessly, or worse, gravely harm the human stuff out of which society is made.

The problems which press down on humanity are only apparently political, social or economic but their background remains moral and metaphysical. No solution can be a fundamental one if it ignores these two elements. There is no way in which humanity can save itself from the danger which confronts it if it leaves out the spiritual way; every other way if taken alone will yield only failure as its result in the end. Only when humanity has the sense to perceive this and the courage to admit it; only when it has the humility to declare that its management systems need spiritual values to become truly holistic will the highest powers of humanity be unleashed and appropriate solutions found. It is in this context that Vedic scriptures have a role to play. While it is not claimed that the Vedas have an exclusive role to play in this regard, it is suggested that they do suggest methods and a path which modern man could usefully employ.

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