Tuesday, March 3, 2015
The Most Powerful Idea in the Universe (Part 2: Values)
In the previous post, I introduced an idea called the organizational imperative. First identified by Bill Scott and Kirk Hart in their book Organizational Values in America, the organizational imperative is the notion that since all the good things in our modern lives come from large organizations, it is imperative that these organizations not only survive, but thrive. Thus, anything that promotes the health of a large organization is, by definition, good and desirable.
Two Sets of Values
Fortunately, Scott and Hart did more than just identify this basic idea. They also identified two opposing sets of values related to this concept. The first set of values, which they called the values of the “individual imperative,” are ideas we Americans learn at our mother’s knee. These values feel natural and comfortable to us because they reflect the beliefs and assumptions we have traditionally embraced as citizens of a free and democratic republic. Not surprisingly, these values are in harmony with a basic gospel understanding of our purpose here in mortality and of human nature. They reflect the idea that the individual is the focal point and is not only more important than any organization but is the reason for the organization’s existence in the first place. Scott and Hart identified six values associated with this concept of the individual.1 Others undoubtedly exist, but the six specifically mentioned are listed below (with my explanatory comments):
1. Innate human nature. Each individual has a distinct personality, potential, and moral sense that cannot simply be changed to suit organizational preferences or needs.
2. Individuality. Each human being is unique and has individual talents, strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and worth.
3. Indispensability. Because each individual is unique, one can’t simply replace another, like a standardized part in a machine.
4. Community. A group of individuals who join together in common purpose, blend their unique talents and personalities to accomplish good, are enhanced by the variety that exists in the community, but are not homogenized by organizational requirements.
5. Spontaneity. Unplanned, creative action. The exercise of free will in doing what one feels is right, bounded by the needs and rights of others. This definition of spontaneity is not synonymous with an amoral (or even immoral) impulsiveness that would be harmful to individuals and communities.
6. Voluntarism. The key to community life. The glue that holds individuals together in collective endeavor. A willing compromise between individuality and cooperative effort.
In direct opposition to these six individual values are six organizational values.2 Scott and Hart explain that these values do not come naturally to people. Indeed, these beliefs generally strike individuals as somehow awkward and intrusive. People acquire them instead in organizational settings, and when they first encounter these values, they usually experience various degrees of inner turmoil and antipathy.
The six organizational values Scott and Hart identified (again with my explanations) are:
1. Malleability. Human nature is essentially neutral. Therefore, people can and should be molded into whatever the organization needs them to be.
2. Obedience. Compliance with arbitrary institutional authority. Not synonymous with religious obedience (obedience directed toward God or eternal law).
3. Dispensability. People are like replaceable parts in a machine.
4. Specialization. Organizations need people who relate in a functional (rather than a community- or friendship-oriented) manner and who are loyal to their function rather than to any group or individual.
5. Planning. Spontaneity is frowned upon by organizations because administrators need to be able to control programs and outcomes. Predictability is essential.
6. Paternalism. From the Latin word for “father,” paternalism establishes arbitrary rules and regulations. Because of this value, managers who have bought into the organizational imperative treat their employees as irresponsible, immature children who don’t deserve any input and cannot be trusted with proprietary information or decision-making privileges. Employees are told what to do and are expected to conform.3
It should be noted that not all of the organizational values are malignant. To one degree or another, they may even be necessary for the organization to serve its purpose. Planning, for instance, can be helpful when not applied so rigidly that it precludes agency and spontaneity. But when the corporate values dominate and the individual values are in retreat, the organization becomes a burden rather than a blessing to the people in and around it. Some of the corporate values, however, such as paternalism and malleability, are almost always toxic.
One of the individual values Latter-day Saints have traditionally excelled at is community. And I should clarify at this point that the terms organization and community, as I am using them in this context, are not synonymous. An organization is a formally structured entity with well-defined lines of authority and responsibility. Community may or may not exist within an organization. If it does not, then relationships are based on functionality rather than friendship or fellowship. The Church, of course, is an organization, but within that organization exist wonderful possibilities for community. Whether by happy accident or divine design, LDS wards are geographical subdivisions. Mormons don’t form congregations by gathering with those who have similar interests, political leanings, or socioeconomic status. People from all walks of life, numerous races and ethnic groups, and various political persuasions find themselves members of true communities, groups that are bound together as much by their diversity as by their commonality. They really are members of the body of Christ—fingers, toes, kneecaps, tongues, earlobes, and so forth. But herein lies one of the dangers of creeping corporatism. Centrally dictated, standardized religious devotion tends to undermine local community because it attempts to make everyone too similar—all left feet, as it were—and the body of Christ then surrenders to a less apt metaphor, such as the beehive. If organizational values dominate, conformity is valued above individuality, paternalism replaces voluntarism, and community comes under assault.
It is interesting to note that the scriptures are filled to overflowing with teachings and stories that are in harmony with the values of the individual imperative. By contrast, the values of the organizational imperative are virtually absent in scripture. This is another reason why the organizational values feel so alien to us when we encounter them and why they trouble us so. These values are intrinsically dehumanizing, and not just to those upon whom they are inflicted. They also dehumanize those who embrace them and who inflict them on others. This outcome should not surprise us, for these values derive from the premise that organizations are more important than people, and that people exist to serve the needs of the organization, a notion foreign to scripture, ancient or modern.
The distinction suggested above is important: When people encounter these values as employees in organizational settings, they will have a rather different reaction than managers have when they embrace these values. The reason is that managers are expected not only to embrace but to implement these values as they manipulate and control human resources like pawns on a chessboard or numbers in a mathematical model.4 Perhaps the most disturbing example of this phenomenon I have encountered involved a manager I knew during my years at Church headquarters who was instrumental in implementing a troublesome departmental reorganization. After the ordeal was over, this good man, who had observed himself treating people in ways he found instinctively repulsive, reportedly put his head in his hands and lamented, “What have I become?” As is so common when dealing with the organizational imperative and its values, he did not recognize the forces at work in his organizational relationships, but he was very clear about their effect on his soul.
In contrast, however, to the organizational imperative’s impact on managers, when an employee, a human resource, who is merely acted upon by these values, comes in contact with them, the experience is quite different. It manifests itself less as a pressure to accept the values and internalize them and more as a feeling of not being trusted, of worthlessness, hopelessness, and cynicism. Both sides of the encounter, however, are dehumanizing.
Because of personal experience with the organizational values as well as a lengthy study of their source and consequences, I recognize them quite readily when I see them in action. And they are nearly everywhere in today’s corporatized world, including the employment side of the Church, where unfortunately, they are unusually dominant. In the next post, we’ll talk about how, exactly, these values have come to infiltrate the institutional Church. But first let’s look at the source of the organizational imperative and its insidious values.
The Source of the Organizational Imperative
Elder Neal A. Maxwell astutely observed: “The style of leadership one adopts (though not necessarily consciously) grows out of his ideas and feelings about the nature of man.”5 So, what is the nature of man? Four positions have been argued by philosophers and theologians for centuries. These four arguments are:
1. People are basically good.
2. People are fundamentally evil.
3. People are neutral. They are a blank slate to be written on (tabula rasa).
4. People are a blend of good and evil (a mixed moral nature).
Not surprisingly, different schools of management thought have grown up around the first three of these philosophies. We don’t need to go into the details of these various schools of thought here, but it should be obvious that each of the three philosophies will produce a different type of organization. Sometimes within a particular organization there will not be complete uniformity in management styles; we may see different types of managers and leaders in a given organization. (Remember, “The style of leadership one adopts . . . grows out of his ideas and feelings about the nature of man.”) But, generally speaking, organizations develop a system of evaluating their employees that promotes those who espouse the prevailing philosophy.
So, what does the gospel teach us about the nature of man? Actually, the fourth philosophy best represents the gospel view. Elder Maxwell points out that there is ample evidence to suggest that human beings are “capable, rational, and redeemable” as well as “selfish and irrational”6 or, as the Book of Mormon describes it, “carnal, sensual, and devilish” (Mosiah 16:3). Similarly, President David O. McKay taught: “Man has a dual nature: one, related to the earthly or animal life; the other, akin to the divine. Whether a man remains satisfied within what we designate the animal world, satisfied with what the animal world will give him, yielding without effort to the whim of his appetites and passions and slipping farther and farther into the realm of indulgence, or whether, through self-mastery, he rises toward intellectual, moral, and spiritual enjoyments depends upon the kind of choice he makes every day, nay, every hour of his life.”7
The Lord refers to his mortal siblings as “fallen man” (D&C 20:20)—flawed but redeemable. Interestingly, there isn’t really a specific management theory built upon a gospel understanding of human nature, but in most situations we would be quite safe with the assumption that people are basically good or at least desire to be so. Most individuals, particularly Church members, believe they are decent and moral people with good desires,8 even if they have some carnal tendencies and differences of opinion about what is moral. Americans, when asked in a religious survey whether they believe they will go to heaven, overwhelmingly answer in the affirmative.9
James Q. Wilson, in his classic The Moral Sense, introduces his argument for the existence of an innate moral sense in people by noting that daily newspapers, from their earliest days, have been filled with stories “of murder and mayhem, of political terror and human atrocities.” War, genocide, riots, crime, and oppression parade daily before our eyes on television. “If people have a common moral sense,” says Wilson, “there is scarcely any evidence of it in the matters to which journalists—and their readers—pay the greatest attention.” But Wilson then points out that these crimes and atrocities are “news” precisely because they are the relatively rare exception to the rule. “If daily life were simply a war of all against all, what would be newsworthy would be the occasional outbreak of compassion and decency, self-restraint and fair dealing.”10 In other words, the vast majority of the time people are decent, law-abiding, respectful, cooperative citizens.
“To say that people have a moral sense,” Wilson continues, “is not the same thing as saying that they are innately good. A moral sense must compete with other senses that are natural to humans. . . . But saying that a moral sense exists is the same thing as saying that humans, by their nature, are potentially good.”11 Something deep within most people yearns for goodness and virtue and order. People also long to be trusted and respected. If we encourage and trust people and, as Goethe suggested, treat them as they can become, they usually respond positively. Therefore, leadership ideas based upon the optimistic view that most people desire to be good will likely bring the best results in almost all organizational situations, particularly in the Church.
Interestingly, however, in modern organizational America, the third philosophy mentioned above has come to dominate. Our organizations, almost without exception, embrace the idea that people are neutral, neither good nor bad (which is not the same as the gospel view that we are children of God with an innate moral sense but are fallen and are thus a blend of inherently good and bad desires, strengths and weaknesses, and that no two people are identical in how those positive and negative components mix). Corporations and other institutions that have embraced the organizational imperative assume that people are simply amoral resources that can be molded in various ways not only to serve the needs of organizations but also to adopt an organizationally serviceable moral code that is often in conflict with their innate moral sense. If this is true, then the source of most organizational problems is often not interpersonal or even structural. It is generally philosophical in nature. And from the wholesale adoption of a flawed philosophy about human nature spring faulty assumptions, values antithetical to gospel truths, authoritarian structures, and dehumanizing policies, procedures, and management practices—in other words, bureaucracy.
1. William G. Scott and David K. Hart, Organizational Values in America (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1989, 46–60.
2. Scott and Hart, 46–60.
3. Corporations often facilitate paternalism by requiring a different dress code for managers than for regular employees. The purpose of the more formal managerial dress code is to erect a barrier between management and employees, to sever ties of friendship, and to visibly emphasize inequality, thus making paternalistic attitudes both acceptable and expected. This dual dress code exists officially in the corporate side of the Church, as it does unofficially in the ecclesiastical side.
4. Management science, the quantification of leadership, focuses on mathematical models designed to manipulate the factors of production and consumption, the most central of which is labor, the human resource.
5. Neal A. Maxwell, A More Excellent Way (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1967), 16.
6. Maxwell, A More Excellent Way, 17.
7. David O. McKay, in Conference Report, April 1949, 13.
8. See discussion on people’s high opinion of themselves in Andrew Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People rev. ed. (New York: Pocket Books, 1936), 3–17.
9. Two thirds of Americans surveyed in the 2007 Baylor University Survey of Religion are at least “somewhat certain” that they will go to heaven. Forty-six percent are very or quite certain. Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2008), 71.
0. James Q. Wilson, The Moral Sense (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 1–2.
1. Wilson, Moral Sense, 12.