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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.

The Management Challenges Of The 21st Century: An Evolutionary Perspective –M.S. Srinivasan & O.P. Dani

[Published in the Management Accountant, Journal of the Institute of Cost and Woks Accountant of India, Dec 2011.]

The discipline of Management is on the threshold of radical rethinking.  A group of leading business and management thinkers and practitioners assembled in May 2008 to layout a roadmap for reinventing management.  The conference was organized by the management Lab with the support of Mckinsy and Company.  The well-known management Guru, Gary Hamel in a thoughtful article in Harvard Business Review, “Moonshots in Management” presents the conclusions of the conference in the form of a list of management challenges of the future.  This essay is a brief review of the HBR article in the light of an integral and evolutionary vision of life.

 Management at the Cross Roads

Has management as a profession come to a dead-end? In this article under review, Gary Hamel argues that what is called as “modern” management in its traditional form of theory and practice, has reached the limit of its possibilities.  The emerging and future world of business and management will bring new challenges which require an altogether different paradigm of management.  After an intense debate and discussion, the leading management minds which gathered at the conference organised by Management Lab, charted a list of twenty-five challenges facing 21st century managers and corporate leaders.  We cannot reproduce the entire list in this brief review. For the purpose of our present discussion, we may classify the essence of these challenges into four categories:

1.  Rethinking the philosophical foundations of management towards a higher and nobler purpose

“Ensure that the work of management serves a higher purpose” is the first in the list of management challenges.  Gary Hamel rightly points out that the traditional goal of maximizing shareholder wealth is “inadequate in many respects” because it “lacks the power to fully mobilize human energies.”  And therefore, “tomorrow’s management practices must focus on the achievement of socially significant and noble goal.”

 However in the corporate world it is not enough to have noble and inspiriting goals.  The company should also be innovative and adaptable.  This requires broadening the mental horizons of management with insights from “fields as diverse as anthropology, political science, urban planning and theology.”  There must also be a radical change in the language and practice of management from mundane and uninspiring terminology or ideals like “efficiency”, or “advantage”, to “deeper, soul stirring ideals such as honor, truth, love, justice and beauty” which have “long inspired human beings to extraordinary achievements and can no longer be relegated to the fringe of management.”

  1. Redesigning the organisation into a more open, democratic and inclusive community

 There must be a greater sharing and diffusion of power, knowledge, information into all the members of the organization at every level of the corporate ladder, which means greater empowerment of the people in the lower levels of hierarchy, especially with the front-line employees who are in direct contact with the customer.  Strategy-making should move away from a top-down process done and imposed on all by an elite few at the upper levels of the organization towards a bottom-up process which enables every employee to participate in evolving the strategy.  Similarly decision-making, problem-solving and innovation systems of the organization must be able to harness the “collective wisdom of the entire organisation.”

  1. Rethinking leadership and control towards a more equitable self-managing power-structure

Leaders of the future must be able to create an environment which leads to self-management and self-discipline among the employees rather than an imposed control from about through compliance to rules, or fear of punishment.  The leader must be able to create a high-trust culture which unleashes the creativity of people.  He or she must rely less on authority or position and more on shared vision, values and purpose.  Regarding hierarchy, Gary Hamel states:  “The traditional organizational pyramid must be replaced by a natural hierarchy where status and influence correspond to contribution rather than position.”

  1. Reinventing management education and training towards a more right-brain thinking

The traditional management education and training relies heavily on left-brain thinking, deductive reasoning and analytical thinking.  The managers of the future require a different set of skills based on the functioning of the right-brain like holistic or systems thinking, intuitive problem-solving and value-driven decision-making.

 The Evolutionary Context

The best minds in management were thoughtful and precise in identifying the management challenges of the 21st century.  However there is nothing entirely new in the list of challenges.  Most of them are part of the new and emerging paradigm in management, discussed and debated in the growing management literature on this subject.  However what is lacking in the discussion is a clear and precise understanding of the change or evolutionary transition which humanity as a whole is going through.   In otherwords, first we have to understand and identify clearly the evolutionary challenges facing future humanity as a whole and based on this understanding, we have to figure out what will be its implications for business and management.

 As the intuitive and evolutionary thinkers like Sri Aurobindo and Teil-hard-de-Chardin have pointed out, the main evolutionary challenge facing humanity is the growth of consciousness from the rational, divisive and analytical consciousness of the mind towards the unitive, holistic and intuitive consciousness of the Sprit.  The ultimate goal of this evolution is towards the creation or establishment of a Global Consciousness, wherein humanity discovers its inner spiritual unity.    Sri Aurobindo called this higher consciousness as the “Gnostic” or “supramental” consciousness and Teil-hard-de-Chardin named it as the “Omega Point” beyond the rational mind.  This is the deeper and inner significance of the present trends towards globalisation, which is moving towards, not exactly a global society or a global government, but a global consciousness.  The path to this global consciousness is through a system of values, education and culture which leads to a moral, psychological and spiritual development of the individual and collectivity.  When this global consciousness expresses itself in the outer life it will lead to a global civilization, governed and united by the principle of a free, rich, harmonious and mutually complementing diversity.

 This is the inner imperative of the future evolution of mankind.  In the external world, the main thrust of the evolutionary drive of Nature seems to be towards greater distributive justice which means greater diffusion of knowledge, power, wealth and culture into the masses, especially those who are suppressed or exploited in the previous cycles of evolution. This evolutionary thrust is expressing itself in the emerging society through the following movements:

  1. Increasing empowerment and participation of woman, with more and more woman entering into the professional world and raising to leadership position.
  2. Greater empowerment and participation of those workers in the lower levels of the corporate hierarchy.
  3. Thrust towards inclusive growth, economic upliftment of the poorer section of the society, people participation in development, and a greater focus on minorities.

 The Integral View

These are the inner and outer evolutionary imperatives of the future.  Those individuals or groups─organisations, communities or nations─who are able to successfully achieve or implement this evolutionary transition will gain evolutionary advantage over others and will be the leaders of the future.

 What are the implications of this future evolutionary imperative for business and management?

 First, in the domain of vision, mission and values organizations have to discover a higher purpose which can inspire and trigger this higher evolution within the organisation.

 Second, in the domain of Human Resources Development, there must be a greater attention to the development of the moral, aesthetic, intuitive and spiritual faculties and potentialities of employees which will lead to their higher evolution.

 Third, in the domain of Organisational Development, creating a corporate environment and culture which felicitates this higher evolution among employees and also helps them to express this inner and higher growth in the outer life.  In this task, building consciously an organizational community governed by the values of French revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity, will be a great help.  This means reinventing the values of democracy at the organizational level.  In this task, the corporate world can perhaps do a better job than the political world because of two reasons: first, in our modern age the world of business is much more dynamic, efficient and innovative, with a much greater capacity for organisation and execution than the world of politics; second it is easier to implement or organise the triple values in the smaller space of an organization than on the larger scale in a nation.  However, the key to a practical synthesis of the triple value lies in the third, Fraternity or more specifically an inner fraternity in the mind, heart and soul of people or in other words, unity of consciousness.

 Fourth, in the domain of corporate social responsibility, there must be a greater integration of the corporation with the community, which means a more creative deployment of the expertise and resources of the corporation for the development of the surrounding community as a whole.

 Fifth, in the domain of sustainability a more integral attunement of the corporate life with the laws and way of Nature in the physical as well as psychological and spiritual dimensions.

 The management challenges presented by Gary Hamel provide a reasonably accurate guide for managers in understanding the problems and possibilities confronting the future of business and management.  However they have to be viewed in a more and evolutionary perspective.  The challenges in the five domains which we have outlined earlier provide such a deeper and broader perspective.

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This entry was posted on April 4, 2012 by in Integral Management.