An Integral Approach to management and human development based on the spiritual vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with an emphasis on its application to various domains of knowledge and life.
[Published in Journal of Human Values, 14:1, 2008), Management Centre of Human Values, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta)
Motivation holds the key for harnessing the human potential in an organization. However, in modern management, motivation is used mainly as a strategy for enhancing the efficiency, productivity and performance of the employee. But for a more integral and effective realization of the human potential in an organization, motivation has to be used as a lever for human evolution and development, with enhanced performance as a spontaneous result. This article provides a comprehensive framework for evolving a motivational strategy which will lead to the progressive evolution of human potential in an organization. The article tries to integrate modern theories of motivation with ancient Indian perspectives, based on an integral psychology.
Motivation is a subject of perennial interest in management, psychology and leadership. However, most modern motivational theories suffer from two inadequacies – a lack of sufficient attention to the higher motives of the mental, moral and spiritual being in man; and a too heavy insistence on performance rather than on growth. What is not recognized fully is that motivation can be a means or lever of human development in the organisation. A human being is not merely a knowledge, skill and productivity engine created solely for filling the coffers of an organization or meeting its bottomlines and deadlines. He is a complex living entity with a sacred essence, created for a higher purpose. Most wisdom-traditions of the world agree that this higher purpose is a progressive unfolding of the human potential, culminating in fully blossomed flowers of humanity. This article provides a conceptual framework for understanding the process of motivation from an evolutionary and developmental perspective.
Key perspectives: hierarchy of motives; evolution and motivation: the Indian paradigm; beyond job satisfaction; the corporate world in the motivation map; path ahead; some strategic principles
Hierarchy of Motives
Equality of man may be a spiritual truth but is not yet an actual fact of life because individuals are at various levels of development. Needs, values and attitudes of individuals depend on their nature and the level of their inner development. The task or challenge of corporate leadership is therefore to understand intuitively this inner spirit of an employee and provide him with an individualized motivational programme that matches his unique needs. But how is this motivational level of each individual employee to be determined? This is where the importance of the well known ‘need-hierarchy of motives’ model of Abraham Maslow comes in.
This model identifies five basic human needs and arranges them in an ascending order. They are, first, biological needs for sex, survival and other physical needs; second, needs for material and emotional security; third, social needs for affection,, autonomy, achievement, status, recognition and attention; and finally the highest need of all, self-actualization. According to Maslow, as each of these needs become substantially satisfied the next needs become dominant. So the right motivation requires a clear understanding of these motivational needs of each individual and focus on satisfying them. (Stephen Robins, 1997)
This need-hierarchy model of Maslow, after a powerful initial impact on management thinkers and professionals, later went out of favor for supposedly better theories. Maslow’s idea was criticized on many points. For example, it was accused of ignoring the cultural factor; of lacking empirical validity; and that the needs are parallel rather than hierarchical. All these criticism can be valid, for no concept or theory can hope to explain or encompass the incredible complexity of human nature and its motives. But Maslow’s need hierarchy model has two plus-points over other modern motivational theories. First, it recognizes the process of evolution, viewing the human being as an evolving entity, moving progressively towards higher and higher levels of motivation; second its intuition or idea is broader and more comprehensive than other modern theories.
However, from the view point of Indian spiritual vision, Maslow’s model has two flaws. First it ignores or fails to articulate clearly the higher intellectual, moral and spiritual motives in man; and second, from a holistic perspective, it needs to be integrated with a comprehensive vision of human development. This is where the Indian vision of human development can rectify and complement Maslow’s model.
Evolution and Motivation: The Indian Paradigm
According to Indian thought, there are four stages in the evolution of man that takes him towards his spiritual goal. Every human being begins his evolutionary journey as a physical entity driven by biological and security needs. He progresses to become a vital being with emotional and vital needs.1 There are two sub-stages in the evolution of the vital man. First he becomes someone who lives predominantly in his emotional and pragmatic mind with its need for mutuality, harmonious relationship, enjoyment and pragmatic adaptation to life. These social needs are, in the Maslowian hierarchy, only one part of our emotional needs. At the next stage, the vital man becomes the man of strong will and abundant vital energy, the leader or the warrior-type, with his needs for power, achievement, conquest, expansion, name and fame. These ‘esteem’ needs, are again, one part of the needs of the man of will and power in Maslow’s theory. Alexander and Napoleon are archetypal vital men of power, while in the corporate world, great and successful entrepreneurs and executives like Carnegie and Ford of the old economy, and Gates and Grove of the new economy, are predominantly vital men.
As the person progresses further he becomes the intellectual, moral and artistic type of personality with intellectual, ethical and aesthetic needs for knowledge, values, ideals, and vision, in other words, the mental man.2 He looks beyond his physical and vital needs, seeking to understand the higher aims, values and laws of life and trying to organize his life according to these higher verities. Socrates and Plato, Tagore and Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein, Confucius and Gandhi are different types of mental men who have reached the higher plateaus of the human mind. One of the major aims of the social philosophy and practices of ancient Indian and Chinese civilization is to create a society governed by the mental and moral motives of Dharma. As the mental man reaches the highest peak of his intellectual, ethical and aesthetic development, he becomes aware of a spiritual reality beyond Mind and awakens to this highest spiritual need for Self-realization, Truth and God. He begins to become the spiritual man. The Vedic and Upanishadic sages, St. Francis of Asisi, Meister Eckhart and modern age sages like Sri Aurobindo, Vivekananda and Ramana Maharishi are different types of accomplished spiritual men.
We must note here that the stages of an individual’s evolution depend mainly on the dominant temperament and motives which shape and drive his life and not on his academic status or mental development. In the process of evolution, mind and vital develop more or less simultaneously, although some vital men may be at a transitional stage from the vital to the mental phase of development. Take for example some one like Andy Grove of Intel, the microchip giant. He started his career as a brilliant research engineer with a doctorate in chemical engineering, did some outstanding research work in fluid mechanics and semiconductor physics and wrote six books. But when we look at his later life as the CEO of Intel, we can see his dominant temperament and motives are that of the vital man, with an aggressive push for power, dominance, achievement, name and fame.
This four types or stages in human evolution can be placed in a corresponding four-fold motivational spectrum. At the lower end of the spectrum are the outwardly motivated who need the stimulus of external reward or punishment to remain active. At the higher end of the spectrum, first come the self-motivated who feel an intrinsic joy in work and therefore need no external stimulus to remain motivated. Next, come the ethically motivated who feel the need to contribute or serve a higher moral or social cause. The ethically awakened individual seeks not only joy in work but a higher meaning as well. The last and the highest, is spiritual motivation, which develops when the individual is awakened to his spiritual self beyond his body and mind. Let us now try to relate these four stages of evolution to their motivation spectrum.
The physical man who is bound to the needs and instincts of his body is at the lowest level of the motivation spectrum. For his higher evolution and development his vital and emotional being has to be awakened by external motivators like the need for wealth, power, enjoyment and success. The vital man is capable of self-motivation and self-dedication to a higher moral or spiritual cause. When he awakens to these higher motives and dedicates himself to a higher ideal, he not only accelerates his own higher evolution, but also becomes a dynamic instrument for the higher evolution of the collectivity. The vital man inspired by higher values can be a very effective and heroic leader and crusader for manifesting these higher values in the outer life. Some of the Indian kings like Ashoka, Shivaji, Akbar and statesmen of the West like Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln belong to this category. However, if there is a lack of sufficient mental or spiritual illumination in the mind, the vital man can become an aggressive and intolerant tyrant, forcefully championing a narrow dogmatic idea.
Similarly, the mental man when he awakens to the spiritual motive may blossom into a high thinker, sage or a saint sowing luminous, kindly or inspiring ideals in the consciousness of people. But if there is a lack of strength in the will or vital force, the mental or moral man will be ineffective as a leader. So to fully realize moral and spiritual potentialities, both the vital and mental man has to pursue a mental, moral and spiritual education and discipline, leading to a deepening, widening and refinement of mind and heart, linking their consciousness and will to a spiritual inspiration and energy. One such discipline is the Karma Yoga or yoga of action of the Indian scripture, Bhagavad Gita. A main principle of this discipline, which has direct relevance for the corporate world, is to renounce the eager and anxious seeking of rewards of action and concentrate all our energies on the present, on the work to be done. If we have faith in God, we may add to this a consecration of all our activities to the divine power. The Karma Yoga path of the Gita leads to motiveless action, driven not by human motives – vital, mental or moral – but by a universal spiritual force, transcending the individual and collective ego.
Thus, Indian spiritual vision links motivation with human development in an integrated perspective. This Indian scheme provides a broad and general framework for understanding and identifying the process of motivation in an evolutionary perspective. However, as mentioned earlier, human evolution is a complex process which cannot be rammed into any mental formula. For we are at once physical, vital, mental and a spiritual being. The motives and impulses of all these parts exist simultaneously within us although some of them may be dormant, weak or unmanifest.3 It is the most dominant, conscious or manifest part which determines our stage of evolution. We also admit that this Indian scheme of human evolution is only one among many other possible formulas. Other schemes with different systems of classification are also possible and equally valid but the Indian concept is preferable because we find it integral, embracing all the fundamental elements constituting the human organism.
Beyond Job Satisfaction
This brings us to one of the major objectives of modern motivational strategies – Job Satisfaction. Job satisfaction happens when the nature of work and the rewards received for this work match the motivational needs of an employee. But mere job satisfaction cannot be the highest ideal for an evolving human being.
In an evolving world, growth and progress is an eternal law and a higher need. Anything which does not grow disintegrates and perishes. So we have to create a work-culture which consciously promotes and accelerates the progressive evolution of the individual by awakening in him the dormant higher needs. So the aim of motivational strategy has to be not only to satisfy the employee’s present needs but also to awaken higher needs. This means the physical man has to be awakened to his vital and mental needs and helped to become the vital and mental man; the vital man to his mental, moral and aesthetic needs to bring the light of a higher culture to his life of raw desire and ambition; and the mental or moral man to his highest spiritual goal.
The need for this evolutionary transition to higher needs is indicated by a lack of interest in the needs and activities of the present stage of development and a growing interest in the needs and activities of higher stages. Here is an example narrated in the Harvard Business Review illustrating this transition.
Mark was a star at the large West Coast Bank where he had worked for three years. He had an MBA from a leading business school and he had distinguished himself as a skilled lending officer. He excelled in every work task the bank gave him. He was smart and knew no other way to approach than to give it his all. The bank paid Mark well and senior managers had every intention of promoting him. But over time Mark grew more and more unhappy. He was seriously considering leaving the organisation. But fortunately for both Mark and the bank, after consulting a counselor, he was able to identify the cause of his unhappiness. He was no longer interested in his present job which involved number crunching and interaction with customers. He wanted a more intellectually stimulating job. Using this insight he was able to find a new assignment which required conceptual and analytical thinking. Mark is now happy and satisfied. (Timothy Butler and James Waldrop, 1999).
It is very difficult to say with precision or certainty what are the psychological factors behind Mark’s motivational problem. One of the factors could be a shift in his life-motives from the vital to the mental level. However, sometimes this awakening to higher motives may express itself not in the professional life of the person but in his hobbies and extra-professional interests. For example, it was reported in a leading business journal that a top executive from a big business house was very much interested in the field of unified theory in physics and in his spare time read every available book on the subject.
The Corporate World in the Motivation Map
We are now in a better position to relate the motivational process sketched so far to the present state of the corporate world.
Our modern age represents a rapid and increasing vitalisation and mentalisation of the human mass. So the pure physical type of personality satisfied with his basic minimum needs is becoming fewer and fewer for in the hyper-competitive and charged atmosphere of the corporate world, with its new thrust towards empowerment, knowledge, innovation and relentless chasing of deadlines, there is not much scope for the physical man. However, most of the shop floor and clerical work-force in the corporate world may perhaps live predominantly in their physical consciousness but with a growing awakening to the vital and mental needs.
Moving up to the managerial cadre, we have some interesting insights on executive motivation from two psychologists, Timothy Butler and James Waldrop, as elaborated in their article in the Harvard Business Review. According to these two Harvard psychologists, most executives in business are driven by seven basic ‘business core functions’ related to their deeply embedded life-interests or needs. They are: Application of Technology, Enterprise Control, Managing People and Relationship, Quantitative Analysis, Counseling and Mentoring, Theory Development and Conceptual Thinking and Influencing through Language and Ideas. (Timothy Butler and James Waldrop, 1999.) The first four factors are predominantly needs of the vital and pragmatic mind while the last three are needs of the thinking and communicating mind. But this classification is based on the expression of life needs of people in their professional life. For a better understanding of the motivational level of people, we have to take into consideration the nature of their extra-professional activity.
Moreover, there are probably a considerable number of people in the corporate world who are seeking a moral and spiritual fulfillment or meaning in and through work. For example, the US Academy of Management recently launched a new magazine, Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion, focusing on this higher needs and broader issues emerging in the management community.
However, motivation is not only individual but also collective. Just as an individual, the collectivity can also move up the motivational ladder in the course of its natural evolution. Contemporary business is perhaps in such a state of evolutionary transition towards some higher mental and moral needs.
The first major change is what we may call the people-knowledge factor, a shift in the strategic motive of business from reliance on a mechanical and mass application of technology to the living knowledge or creativity of people or individual employees. As Michael Burns, Chairman and CEO of Mercer Human Resource Consulting points out: ‘The last decade has been technology fuelled productivity. Now is the turn of the knowledge-economy.’ (Michael Burns, 2007) And knowledge-economy is people-centric. As Christopher Barret of the Harvard Business School explains: ‘We can’t just manage by systems which are invariably defined in financial terms, we need to focus on people and on developing, managing and building our capacities through them—– Because they are the ones with the expertise and that is replacing capital as the scarce strategic resource. The new model, Individualized Corporation, that we have evolved requires companies to leverage individual competencies, capacities, knowledge and skills. This is going to be the source of competitive advantage’. (Christopher Barret, 1999). Barret gives the following example of ISS, a Denmark based firm which is in the cleaning business:
‘It is a business with minute margins, so they have to focus on costs. They could have regarded their employees as labourers who were asked to go and do their job, directed in the classical hierarchal form. But what they did instead was to create individual teams that worked together on cleaning contracts. —- Then they engaged in education — where they took the front-line people through a series of training sets. The first obviously was teaching them how to clean-properly. Second, to work together in a team. Third, they started focusing on quality. Fourth they got their teams to focus on customer service and listening to customers. Fifth, the teams were taught to read financials. Eventually the teams became interested in what the customer wanted and became capable of interpreting data. This is innovation. You get costs down by driving responsibility down the organization, creating entrepreneurial initiative and leveraging ideas across the organization — it’s a different philosophy’ (Christopher Barret, 1999)
The second factor is the growing interest in ethics. There are two important features in the emerging ethical debate in business. First is the recognition of the motivational power of ethics. As the former CEO of Johnson & Johnson, James Burke says:
‘Here we believe strongly in three things, decentralisation, managing for the long-term, and the ethical principles embodied in our Credo. Credo is the sort of thing that inspires the best in people. I think that all of us have a basic moral imperative hidden somewhere in us. In some people it is more central to their being, but it’s always there. To tap that well-spring creates energy that you can’t get elsewhere’. (James Burke, 1986).
The second feature is the growing demand for fairness and transparency. As the well-known founder of Infosys, N.R Narayana Murthy states: ‘Investors, customers, employees and vendors have all become more discerning and are demanding greater transpency and fairness in all dealings’ (George Skaria, 1999). This shows that the corporate world as a whole is becoming more sensitive to ethical issues. The third factor is the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, which is spreading fast in the business community. CSR seems to be the new fad in business and management. As a columnist in the business section of a leading Indian daily points out:
‘Call it guilt cleansing or genuine concern for the downtrodden; the fact is that from single-minded devotion to bottom line till a few years ago, corporations are increasingly putting their mind and money to the bottom of social pyramid. Philanthropy indeed is fast becoming an integral part of corporate culture. Today nearly every major corporate house is supporting some cause or social initiative. And they are no longer taking it as charity but as a responsibility. In today’s world being a good and responsible corporate citizen is as important as increasing your business’. (Shelly Vishwajeet, 2006)
For example in India, most of the major players in the new economy like Sathyam, Wipro, Infosys, and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratory have their charitable trusts working on social causes. In the US, two icons of the new economy, Bill Gates and Andy Grove have their own foundations.
The Path Ahead
These mental and moral needs emerging in the corporate mind hold great promise for the future evolution of business but these needs have to be explored to their highest potential. This requires a deep insight into the psychological and spiritual sources of knowledge and ethics and which must be harnessed for the higher evolution of business. If business can do this, it will give a quantum thrust to the future evolution of business. This higher evolution is not a matter of idealism but a crucial choice which will determine the future status of individuals and collectivities. Tex Gunning, a vice-president of Unilever Group, in his valedictory address to the CII national summit on corporate social responsibility, said
‘Many companies did not exist more than 60 to 70 years because they do not evolve —. Earning money was essential but it was not the essence of life. Companies have to create social capital, economic capital, spiritual capital and intellectual capital. Companies that don’t create this kind of wealth would be dissolved or swept away. We have to act now out of choice or have change forced on us’. (Tex Gunning, 2007)
These prophetic thoughts from the mind of a top business executive display an instinctive recognition of what Sri Aurobindo perceived with a more conscious, enlightened and far-seeing vision in the beginning of the twentieth century. ‘In the next stage of human progress’ said Sri Aurobindo ‘it is not a material but a spiritual, moral and psychological progress that has to be made’ and ‘whatever race or whatever country that seizes on the lines of these evolution and fulfills it will be the leader of humanity’ (Sri Aurobindo, 1972,).
In the scheme of Nature, whatever that does not evolve either becomes extinct or has to play second fiddle to the leaders who surge ahead. However there is one more important factor related to this higher evolution, which we would like to briefly touch-upon before concluding our discussion. Human motivation or action has an inner intent as well as an outer content. The word “motive” is normally used to describe mainly the inner intent. For example if I become moral out of fear of hell in the life after death or karmic consequences, then my motivation is ethical only in the outer content and not in the inner intent which is still the vital motive of fear. In this sense, the mental and moral needs emerging in business are very much mixed. There is a change only in the outer content but not much in the inner intent of still vital needs like productivity, competitive advantage, and the pressure of outer circumstances.
However, our human organism is “psychosomatic”. Our body and mind, thoughts, feelings and actions have a mutual interaction and influence. An outer action, when it is done with sincerity, persistence and conviction, has corresponding inner results. For example, someone who becomes moral out of vital or material needs may one day become conscious of the inherent joy of virtue and as a result the lower needs may drop away. Or else, as he grows mentally he may awaken to the fact that ethics is an integral part of the higher laws of life, and as a result, a corresponding change occurs in the inner motives of action. For instance, the modern environmental movement is the result of such a mental awakening to the laws of physical Nature. When there is a similar awakening to the psychological and spiritual ecology of universal Nature, and when these higher laws of life are implemented and institutionalized in the corporate life, then it will give a decisive thrust to the higher evolution of the collective life of humanity. The corporate mind in business has to consciously strive for this higher awakening.
Some Strategic Principles
We have discussed so far the broad outlines of an evolutionary vision of motivation. Let us now examine briefly some of the strategic principles for implementing this vision in the modern corporate context.
The first principle is liberty. This path of higher evolution or motivation should be held before people as an ideal to be voluntarily embraced and offered for free acceptance or rejection, but should not be imposed on them by the fiat of authority. We must understand clearly that this higher evolution cannot be induced by any external managerial manipulations or compulsions. It has to blossom from within, like a flower blooms through a process of free inner awakening. This means the central core of the strategy has to be education that leads to this inner awakening.
This education has to start with every individual in the organization being given a basic understanding of the structure of the human organism and its full potential, the concept of human evolution and development, and the spectrum of human motives. An important part of this education is to learn the art of self-observation, to become more and more conscious of the inner motives, urges and impulses which shape and drive our decisions and actions.
Those who are interested in this path of higher growth have to be given special attention and consideration to pursue the path and become living examples of higher motivation to others and become leaders and mentors for the higher evolution of the organization as a whole. This leads us to another important principle of higher motivation – inspired leadership that can communicate its own inner state to others. Someone who is inwardly awakened to a higher motive and lives to it in his inner and outer life can awaken the same motive in others. However, those who show no interest in the higher motivation and evolution should not be compelled or punished. They are perhaps not ready for it and we have to wait patiently for the inner awakening to come through a process of natural evolution and the inner pressure of an awakened and progressive higher culture in the organization. Those who are obstinately attached to the status quo and unwilling to progress may perhaps leave the organisation themselves, being unable to bear the pressure of a progressive culture.
But the most difficult part of the path is to identify motivational level of individuals and groups in the organization. This requires intuition on the part of the leaders and self-observation on the side of the employees. It also requires a lot of research, counseling, mentoring, and patient sympathetic listening. A comprehensive research for understanding the motivational level of the different demographic, national, racial, professional and hierarchical groups in the corporate world, such as women, knowledge-workers, white and blue collar workers, junior, middle and top management personnel, can be a great help in this task. Once the level of motivation is known, then each individual and the group can be provided with an appropriate developmental package which will help them to awaken and actualize the higher motives which will lead to their evolutionary progress. This package should include factors like educational programmes, change, modification or adjustments in job or career, more leave and leisure and coaching session with mentors. In other words, the objective of the package is to provide the knowledge, methods, guidance, incentives and opportunities needed for the higher evolution of the individual or the group.
Recent trends in business and management, such as business ethics and the emerging consensus on social responsibility are helpful in the ethical awakening and self-actualization of the corporate citizens. But social responsibility is only one aspect of ethics. Intellectual discussion on business ethics, though helpful, does not lead to any deep and lasting ethical awakening. For a deeper and a more comprehensive ethical and spiritual awakening, moral values like sharing, kindness, compassion, self-control, charity, goodwill, mutual helpfulness and spiritual values like inner renunciation of ego, self-knowledge or surrender to the divine have to be internalized in the consciousness of the individual and the group and wherever possible institutionalized in the outer life of the organization. In this context the ancient Indian science of Yoga can provide a scientific, rational and intuitive philosophy and methodology for internalizing the higher moral and spiritual motives in the mind, heart, life and actions of people. There are many paths of yoga in the Indian Yoga, Karma Yoga or yoga of action expounded in the Bhagavat Gita provides the most potent and effective discipline for converting work and action into a means for the spiritual development of the individual.
1. Christopher Barret, Interview, Business Today, May 7, 1999, pp.61
2. George Skaria, The Well-governed Corporation, Business Today, Nov.21, 1997, pp.25
3. James Burke, Interview in Thomas R. Horton eds: What Works For Me, (New York, Random House, Business Division, 1986), p.19
4. Michael Burns, Interview, Business Today, June, 2007, pp.37
5. Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Bande Matharam, (Puducherry, Sri Aurobindo
Ashram, 1972), p.475.
6. Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Supplement, (Puducherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram,1972), p.475.
7. Stephen Robins, Organizational Behavior (New Delhi, Prentice-Hall of India Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi), pp.214
8. Tex Gunning, The Hindu, June 16, 2007.
9. Timothy Butler and James Waldrop, Job Sculpting: The Art of Retaining Your Best People, Harvard Business Review, September-October, 1999, pp.41-63.