[Published in The Management Accountant, Journal of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountant of India, July 2012]
The contemporary decision-maker is placed in an environment which demands a wider outlook than a narrow laser-like focus on profit and shareholder values. She has to or rather forced to take into consideration the needs, interests and demands of the employees, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. She cannot and should not ignore the factors which lead to immediate commercial success like productivity, profit, quality and customer satisfaction. But she must also take into consideration other factors which determine the long-term effectiveness or sustainability of the organization like employee motivation satisfaction or wellbeing, ethics and transparency, social responsibility, environmental preservation. The future decision-maker must have the ability to assess the consequences of her decisions for the totality of the stakeholder-community. In other words, she must acquire the capacity for holistic decision-making. This article presents a brief outline of the path and discipline for arriving at such a holistic decision.
The emerging corporate world is becoming a little too complex for the decision-makers. There are too many demands, pressures, needs and interests which have to be reconciled to arrive at a satisfying-decision. The future decision-maker must have the ability to assess the consequences of her decisions for the totality of the stakeholder-community made of shareholder, employee, customer and the supplier and the still larger social and natural environment. In other words, she must acquire the capacity for holistic decision-making. This article presents a brief outline of the path and discipline for arriving at such a holistic decision.
The Need and the Nature of Holistic Decision-making
The contemporary decision-maker is placed in an environment which demands a wider outlook than a narrow laser-like focus on profit and shareholder values. She has to or rather forced to take into consideration the needs, interests and demands of the employees, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. She cannot and should not ignore the factors which lead to immediate commercial success like productivity, profit, quality and customer satisfaction. But she must also take into consideration other factors which determine the long-term effectiveness or sustainability of the organization like employee motivation satisfaction or wellbeing, ethics and transparency, social responsibility, environmental preservation. We can find this recognition of the complexity of the emerging corporate scene in the “MBA Oath” which is a recent initiative of a grassroot movement of MBA students to restore ethical standards in management education. The first para of the oath states:
“As a manager, my purpose is to serve the greater good by bringing people and resources together to create value that no single individual can create alone. Therefore I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term. I recognize my decisions can have far-reaching consequences that affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and in the future. As I reconcile the interests of different constituencies, I will face choices that are not easy for me and others.”
The oath goes on to state, as the first three postulates:
“Therefore I promise:
I will act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner.
I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which we operate.
I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.” (1)
We have now some understanding of the complexity of the emerging corporate milieu. The new or the future manager must be able to assess the impact of her decision on the stakeholders and the totality of the larger whole of which her organization is a part or in otherwords the capacity for holistic decision-making, which has to be:
serve customer needs
maximize human wellbeing
The Holistic Discipline
The problem is too complex for reason to handle because it requires reconciling the conflicting demands and objectives of a multiplicity of stakeholders. It requires a higher intuition beyond reason; not an infrarational “gut-instinct” below reason but a suprarational insight beyond reason. This doesn’t mean reason has to be set aside. Reason has an important role to play in holistic decision-making. But the final decision can be arrived only by a higher intuition greater than reason.
The next question is how to arrive at this holistic and intuitive decision? The path requires a two fold discipline: creating a holistic consciousness and cultivating the intuitive mind.
Building the Holistic Consciousness
The holistic perspective means what is now called as the “systemic” or ecological view that looks or perceives everything as part of a larger whole. When this perspective is not merely an idea in the upper layers of mind, but permeates the entire consciousness of the individual and becomes habitual to or established in her thought, feelings, action or even in sensations, we may call it as holistic consciousness. How to realize this holistic consciousness? We must learn to think, feel and experience things in a holistic and non-egoistic manner. We have to begin in the mind and in thought but extend it to other parts of the being through a process of imagination, visualization and other forms of inner discipline.
When we examine our thought-process carefully we will find most of our thoughts are self-centered, revolving around the self-interest of our ego. The main question we ask either consciously or unconsciously is “what it means to me,” or “how it effects me.” The first step towards holistic consciousness is to reverse this way of thinking. We must train our thinking and rational mind to think and reason interms of larger wholes. In modern thought, systems theory and the science of ecology are based on this type of thinking. The main postulates of ecological or systems theory are as follows:
- Life or Nature is a dynamic, interdependent and interconnected whole “a holomovement” organized in the form of a hierarchy of sub holes.
- Each individual element is part of a larger whole which in turn is part of a still larger whole.
- Each whole is more than the sum of its parts
- Each part potentially contains the whole or in otherwords the whole is potentially present in each part.
The very existence or nature of each part is determined by its relationship with the other parts and the whole.
There is a school of management thought based on systems theory. An intellectual culture or way of thinking based on the systems approach is very helpful for holistic decision-making. However for a more immediate and practical purpose we must learn to think we are part of a larger whole and try to identify with this whole. We may extend this way of thinking to include larger and larger wholes until we embrace the whole of humanity and earth. Interestingly, DuPont, in one his factories, has tried to cultivate such a holistic thinking among its employees. Carol Sanford and Pamela Marg, Consultants to Dupont, states that one of the training objectives of the company is “being able to bring to every decision-making process a total perspective that holds within it a reflection of all the critical elements which make up the whole of business and the nested system of which it is a part.” (2)
The other aspect of holistic thinking is the non-egoistic attitude. As we have mentioned earlier most of our normal process of thinking is self-centered and ego-centric. Most of our responses to things, events or people is interms of whether it pleases or displeases my ego, give me gladness or pain, flatter my pride, vanity or ambition or hurt it, satisfy my desire or thwart it. If we want to have holistic perceptions, we must think in the opposite way, which means to think as if my ego is not there. The non-egoistic consciousness thinks interms of what things are in themselves and would be if the ego is not there, what is their meaning, how they fit into the scheme of things or how they will serve the work that has to be done or the life of the world or the higher cause or ideal which has to be realized. In the modern corporate context, the holistic manager has to think interms of how to serve the stakeholders better and better or to be more specific how to provide a better quality of life, experience and growth opportunities for the customer, employee and the community and maximize their wellbeing.
However for realizing an effective holistic consciousness we must not remain satisfied with thinking. What we think has to percolate into feelings and sensations. The faculty of Imagination can be a great help in making the abstract idea concrete to the mental sensation, which inturn can evoke the corresponding emotions. We must learn to project, expand and widen our heart and mind into the larger whole and feel our own small self disappearing into it or feel it as a part of our own higher and larger self beyond our ego.
The other part of the holistic discipline is the practice of what we may call as “Aspiration-Rejection.” Aspiration means conscious cultivation of all that is in harmony with the holistic consciousness in thought, feeling and action, like for example urge for synthesis or reconciliation of opposites and everything that unites,, connects, harmonises, widens or enlarges our consciousness. Rejection means throwing off all that is contrary or hostile to holistic consciousness like for example things which divide people or thing or emphasizes on “eternal” opposites or creates unpassable boundaries.
The Spark of Light in Silence
This holistic contemplation and discipline creates a consciousness or an inner environment which is favourable to a higher holistic intuition. Sometimes, the very effort or stretching of our ordinary mental consciousness to comprehend the larger whole may lead to a holistic non-rational perception or insight. However if the mind is too much in tension and turmoil the emerging insight may get diluted or distorted and falsified by the disturbances in the mind. So a passive and relaxed silence in the mind is essential for receiving the holistic intuition. This combination of thinking and silence may appear contradictory. But there is no contradiction here. The thinking prepares the mind for receiving the intuition in silence. We must keep in mind that a narrow, selfish and egocentric mind cannot receive the holistic intuition by merely silencing the mind. To receive this higher intuition there must be a mental soil or environment similar or favourable to it. The type of holistic thinking and discipline which we have described earlier helps in creating such a mental soil and environment.
However as we have indicated earlier, inorder to arrive at the final holistic decision, the decision-maker has to sit in inner silence to receive the intuitive idea, the spark of light, which indicates precisely the right choice or course of action.
The path for opening to this higher intuition has four facets: purification, silence, introversion and vigilance. We have already described the discipline of purification, which means rejection of all thought, feelings and impulse which are contrary or hostile to holistic consciousness. Along with this rejection we have to keep the attitude of disinterestedness and impersonality, without any eager or anxious seeking for results. The inner aspiration has to be towards truth and knowledge and not for some personal gains. This inner purification brings a certain inner calm which has to be consciously deepened into a complete silence. In this silence, consciousness has to be turned inward to the spiritual source of our being in a state of alert and receptive passivity. The decision-maker has to offer the decision-problem or the decision-situation to a higher consciousness beyond the rational mind deep within the heart or above the head, and wait in a receptive and concentrated silence for the intuitive idea to raise from within or descend from above. The fourth factor is vigilance and consciousness. When the intuition descends from above or raises from within, we must be mindful, vigilant and alert to receive and assimilate its contents.
Here are some corporate examples of intuitive decision-making:
Wayne Silby, founder of the Calvert Group is one of the first and largest socially responsible investment funds. When Calvert’s competitive advantage was in the verge of being destroyed due to a new government legislation, Silby found an intuitive solution to the problem by meditating in a sensory deprivation tank. As Silby explains the inner state for receiving intuition,
“To get new ideas you need to have a space where your mind chatter and judgements in your mind about who you are and what you are doing are turned down. And you can get in touch with a deeper part of yourself that can start revealing patterns that are pretty awesome.” (3)
Here is another example of collective decision-making:
“In the thick of negotiations to purchase New Age ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, Terry Mollner, a founder of the Calvert Social Investment Funds who is trying to buy the company-calls a time out. At this point people are ready to give up, walk out and end the discussion over a deal breaker issue. Mollner invites to the table of tense, polarized people to be silent for a few moments and suggests that everyone ask themselves, ‘What is the truth here? What is the highest good for all?’ He then opens the floor to anyone to speak. One by one people lean forward and restate their position in a way that accommodates the other side. The negotiations move forward. Mollner repeats the ritual three times during weeks of negotiations, each time achieving the same breakthrough. “(4)
- Carol Sanford and Pamela Marg, ‘A Work in Progress at Dupont: The Creation of a Developmental Organisation, (ed) Michael Ray and Allen Rinzler, The New Paradigm in Management, World Business Academy, Newyork.
- Ray, Michael and Alan Rinzler, (1993) The New Paradigm in Business, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Newyork, pp. 57
- Aburdene, Patricia, Megatrend 2010, The Rise of Conscious Capitalism, Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Charlottesville, pp. 68