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 Siddhanth, July 2011, Regional College of Management.]
A unique feature of modern business is a persistent focus on measurable performance. As a result, performance management has become a distinct field of study, research and practice in business and management. However, in our contemporary corporate environment with many contending factors like productivity, quality, ethics, values, social responsibility and sustainability, even to define the basis or standard of performance is not easy and to measure it still more difficult. Performance can be viewed in terms of short-term target or long-term effectiveness. If we opt for the long-term view, then we have to take into consideration subjective, psychological factors like ethics and values, which are difficult to measure in quantitative terms. Another major lacuna in most of the current discussions on performance management is that, it is mostly focused on measurement and appraisal. But in a more holistic perspective, the process which leads to the desired performance should also be included as part of performance management. And finally, performance management system must include not only individual performance but also organisational goals. This article is an attempt to arrive at a holistic approach to performance management, which takes an integral view of the total process that leads to the desired performance.
Key-Perspective: talent and performance; towards integral performance; alignment with organizational goals; development of faculties; integral motivation; building harmonious relationship; integral wellbeing; appraisal and reward.
Talent and Performance
There is a growing recognition among corporate leaders all over the world that in the future world of business, survival and success depends not on capital or resources or even on technology but in harnessing the creativity of the work-force. So there is much talk in management circles on what is now called as “Talent Management”. However, ultimately talent has to become manifest and also measured in terms of performance, which leads to the realization of organizational goals. So, talent and performance management has to be viewed in an integrated perspective but with an emphasis on performance because as we have indicated, talent has to manifest itself as performance.
There is or can be a narrow and a broader view of talent or performance and a corresponding difference in approach to talent and performance management. The narrow view looks at talent exclusively or predominantly in terms of professional or technical skill or competence, and performance in terms of target-oriented productivity in the bottom-life. But the broader view looks at talent and performance in terms of contribution to a wide range of factor, which lead to the long-term sustainability or effectiveness of the organization, like for example, vision, values, culture, governance, quality, and customer satisfaction. For instance, many Japanese companies, in their recruitment and appraisal policies, give a much greater importance to the temperamental fit of individuals to the organization’s culture and values than qualification or experience.
The broader view recognizes the fact that performance of an individual does not depend entirely on individual “talent” but on many other factors like well-being, emotional and mental maturity, culture-fit, motivation and the quality of his relationship with others. For example, capacity for team-work, interpersonal skill, and the inner attitudes and outer behaviour of individuals in their relationship with others can have an impact on the morale, productivity and performance of groups and other individuals. For example, a manager may be top-class as a professional and in terms of results in the bottom-line. But if he is abrasive, insulting and dominative in his relationship with his subordinates and peers, such a negative attitude and behaviour on the part of the manager will ultimately effect the morale and productivity of the group he leads and that of the individuals with whom he comes into contact with.
Towards Integral Performance
Performance is the outer expression of the inner potentialities of the individual. So if we want to achieve the highest performance we have to evolve a system of performance management, which leads to the integral self-actualization of all the potentialities of the individual and the collective human organism. This requires a clear understanding the various dimensions of the individual and the collectivity.
A human organism is a four-fold being with a body, life (or vital), mind and soul. The body is the material sheath. The life or the vital is the source of our sensations, emotions, desire, enthusiasm and the vital energy, which animates our body and mind and is the main factor behind successful action, execution and implementation. The mind is the source of our intellectual, ethical and aesthetic being with its thoughts, perceptions, ideas, reasoning, judgement and discrimination. The soul is the source of our true being beyond our body, life and mind.
Similarly, a collectivity like a organization is a four fold being with a physical, vital, mental and spiritual dimension. The outer material structures and the material environment is the body of the collectivity. The vital being in man expresses itself in the collectivity as the economic, social and political life, with its wealth and power structures, dynamics of human relationship and systems of work and action, implementation and execution. The mental being in man manifests itself in the collectivity as its information and knowledge structures, decision-making systems, and its culture, values, ideals, vision and mission. And finally a collectivity has a potential spiritual dimension, which becomes active under two conditions: first when the founders of the organizations were spiritual personalities and give a spiritual ideal or vision to the organization; second when the organization as a whole, which means its members and leaders, in the course of their higher evolution reach a state of spiritual awakening and the leaders of the organizations give a spiritual direction to the group.
As we indicated earlier, for the highest and integral performance, we have to evolve a system of human and organizational development, which leads to the awakening, engagement and actualization of all the potentialities of the four-fold being of the individual and the group. This cannot be done at once but has to be done progressively through a process of conscious evolution. This requires a clear understanding of the present evolutionary condition of the organization and its future possibilities. It means, in practical terms, the management of the organization has to find a workable answer to the following questions which apply to the individual’s employees as the organization:
i) What are the dimensions and potentialities―physical, vital, mental or spiritual―which are already awakened and fully or partially realized in the organization.
ii) What are the dimensions and potentialities, which remains dormant, underdeveloped and unmanifest.
iii) How much of this unmanifest potential can be realized in the immediate future and what is the path to this future possibilities in terms of resources, and new or additional competencies, knowledge, values, skills, education and training.
iv) How much of this unmanifest potentialities belong to the long-term future and what can be done now to prepare the individuals and organizations for this distant future.
v) What are the performance standards for achieving these higher potentialities
This brings us to the question what are the key-result-areas, which need special attention to achieve this integral performance? There are six areas, which requires focused management attention to achieve integral performance. They are:
Let us now briefly examine these areas in the light of our integral approach.
Alignment with Organizational Goals
An effective performance management system has to aim at arriving at the right equation between talent or competencies, performance and organizational goal. We have to begin with a clear perception of organizational goals and other factors which lead to sustainable effectiveness of the organization. And based on this perception we have to formulate the competencies and performance standards, which will lead to these goals. For example, at present many corporate leaders consider values as an important factor which determines the long-term effectiveness of the organization. As Venu Srinivasan, CEO of Sundaram Clayton, winner of the prestigious Deming award for quality points out: “Any company which does not have values will not live long or make a mark in history. Companies without values are like footprints in the sand; they get washed away with the next waves.” So if values are considered as the main driver of long-term sustainability of the organization, then alignment with organizational values have to be one of the main measures of performance and an integral part of the training, education and motivation programmes of the organization. For example, Mind-tree, a highly successful software consulting firm in India has a five-fold system of values: Caring, Learning, Achieving, Sharing and Social Responsibility, abbreviated as CLASS. And fidelity to these values are one of the main standards of the performance management system in Mind-tree, and an integral part of its employee education programmes. As the cofounder of Mind tree, Subroto Bagchi explains:
“—the five CLASS values are wedded to the Performance Management System. The Performance Management has three components against which everyone is evaluated at the end of the year. These three are: How did the person perform against the set of agreed upon annual objectives? How did the individual stack against competencies for a given role? And finally how has the person lived the CLASS values during the preceding year. Every year Mind-tree minds evaluate their adherence to these values. The results are then reviewed by the supervisor. We also collect anecdotes that exemplify CLASS values in action and these are propagated throughout the organization. The other co-founder of Mind-tree, Ashok Soota explains the CLASS values to each new person within the first ninety days of joining.” (Bagchi, S, 2006)
In an integral perspective, we may classify performance broadly in terms of the four-fold being of the individual and the organization as physical, vital, mental and spiritual and formulate a set of values and goals for evolving performance. The standards for the physical could be cleanliness, amiable working-conditions, beauty, harmony and order in the organization or arrangement of the material environment.
In the vital domain it may be productivity, result-orientation, continuous improvement, measures of financial performance like cost or profit, degree of autonomy or empowerment, delegation of authority; sensitivity to the values of equity, justice, fareness and respect for the individuals, willingness and the capacity to change; emotional intelligence or maturity, quality of relationship with others or interpersonal harmony; and other qualities belonging to the vital domain like tenacity, firmness, energy-level, endurance, patience, courage generosity, kindness and caring.
In the mental domain measures of performance could be conceptual skills, innovation, intuition, decision-making, powers of judgment, constant learning, capacity for holistic and ecological thinking, openness to new ideas and multiple view-points, capacity for synthesis, urge for progress and sensitivity to higher values like truth, beauty, goodness, harmony and unity.
At the spiritual level, the only standard is the extent to which a human organism has become a living example of peace, equanimity, wisdom, selflessness, service and a catalyst for higher evolution, awakening, happiness and fulfillment to others.
Development of Faculties
Performance is the result of the outer expression of talent and talent is nothing but the manifest presence of certain developed faculties of human consciousness. For example behind the genius of Einstein there is a highly developed intellectual, scientific and intuitive faculties of knowledge. Similarly behind the competence, skill or achievement of a high-performing entrepreneur or manager there is a well-developed pragmatic and executive faculties of action. For maximizing the performance of individuals we have to identify the psychological faculties behind the outer forms of skill, competence and knowledge and develop all its potentialities consciously through appropriate methods. Here is a broad outline of faculties, which have to be developed for realizing the full psychological potentialities of the individual.
Some of these faculties develop partially, unconsciously and indirectly in the course of study, work, life and action. For example, academic, scientific, philosophical, mathematical studies, research or work, develop the rational, analytical and conceptual intelligence. Similarly technological, managerial, professional and entrepreneurial work develops the pragmatic intelligence. But for a more accelerated and fuller development of these faculties they have to be cultivated in a conscious, direct and systematic way. Here comes the importance of the Indian science of Yoga. The principles and methods of yoga can provide a conceptual and practical framework for such a conscious and systematic development of faculties.
The third result–area is Motivation, which is an old, traditional subject in management. However, a system of motivation, which leads to integral performance has to take into consideration three important factors: Resonance, Growth and Integration.
Resonance means a perfect matching or synchronization between the four aspects of what is called as “Job-satisfaction”. First is the motives, attitudes, values, temperament and talent of the individual; second is the nature of the job; third is the quality of the performance; and the fourth is the reward system. In other words, the nature of job has to be in harmony with the inner psychological make up and capabilities of the individual and the rewards should be tailored not only to the performance of the individual but also to his aspirations and expectations. This principle is now recognized in management.
In an article in Harvard Business Review, two Harvard psychologists Timothy Butler and James Waldrop, propose a system of motivation, which they call as “Job-sculpting”. As Timothy and James explain the concept, “Job-sculpting is the art of matching people to jobs that allow their deeply embedded life-interest to be expressed. It is the art of forging a customized career path in order to increase the chance of retaining people.” And the deeply embedded life-interests are defined as “long-held emotionally driven passions intricately entwined with personality and thus born of an indeterminate mixture of nature and nurture. Deeply embedded life-interest does not determine what people are good at―they drive what kinds of activities make them happy. At work, that happiness translates into commitment. It keeps them engaged and keeps, them from quitting.” According to Timothy and James, Ability, Values and Life-interests are the three main factors, which lead to happiness in work. But they argue that while ability and values do matter in creating job-satisfaction only the deeply embedded life-interests can “keep most people happy and fulfilled over the long-term.” (T. Butler and J. Waldrop, 1999)
But this concept of Job-sculpting looks at motivation mainly in terms of job-satisfaction and as a means of retaining talent. But for a sustained performance there has to be resonant harmony between life-interest, ability, values and reward. Moreover mere job-satisfaction is not enough. For achieving integral performance, there must also be constant growth. For, evolution and growth are one of the eternal laws of life. So anything which remains satisfied with the status quo, begins to die and disintegrate. So there must be growth not only in terms of professional knowledge and skill but also towards higher levels of motives, values and potentialities spanning the whole being of the individual from physical, vital and the mental to the spiritual being.
Building Harmonious Relationship
An organization is a society, a network of relationship between individual and groups within and outside the organization. And the quality of this relationship has a very direct impact on the performance of the individual and the group. If this relationship is full of friction, conflict, suspicion, lack of trust and other negativities it affects the morale of people, throttles the creative energy of the individuals and the group and undermines performance. On the other hand if the relationship between individual and groups are in a state of mutuality supportive and complementing harmony it creates a resonant synergy, which enhances the performance of the individuals and the group. It creates the condition in which the interaction of individuals leads to an organic whole, which is more than the sum of its parts.
This doesn’t mean conflicts have to be deliberately suppressed or discouraged. Conflicts are unavoidable in an environment of free and rich diversity, which can be a source of creativity and innovation. So modern management thinking is right in stressing the fact that conflicts are not always bad but they can also be creative. But in our integral perspective conflicts should neither be encouraged in the name of creativity nor suppressed in order to create a superficial and artificial harmony. The emphasis should be on a speedy and creative resolution or synthesis of conflicts as and when they arise in the process of free interaction between individuals and groups.
The modern corporate world, in its relentless drives for productivity and performance, tends to ignore or give a secondary importance to human well being. A leading Indian business magazine in a poignant front-page story on the BPO’s in India, reports a tragic and revealing incident. A BPO employee, Anap becomes a drug addict and finally dies of drug overdose. According to his colleague and friend Partho, the BPO management was well aware of Anap’s addiction but decided not to interfere since he was a top performer! What is the main cause of the problem? Partho answers: “There is so much pressure from the management to meet numbers and after getting abused so often by the bosses, you tend to make up your self-esteem by drinking and using drugs whenever you can.” (Pallavi, S, 2007)
The Body and Mind of the employee are the source of performance. If they are sick and tormented or constantly in a state of tension, anxiety and stress, there can not be any enduring performance. It may be possible to generate a certain amount of extra-performance from the employee through a “pressure-cooker” environment made of stretch-targets and a motivation system which demands, compels and rewards performance and punishes the underperformer. But without an equal attention to human well-being, this performance cannot be sustained.
The corporate world is not unaware of the importance of human well being. But most of the wellness programmes is conceived in terms of some superficial and adhoc practices like in house gyms, picnics, canteen or medical facilities, flexi-time, work-life balances with a dose stress-management, yoga and meditation. All these are well and good but not enough to achieve sustainable human well being. The corporate mind has to arrive at a better understanding of the factors which lead to holistic human being and implement them in the corporate life. Here is a brief outline of an integral approach to wellness.
Vital and emotional Well-being
Appraisal and Reward
Appraisal and rewarding of performance is one of the most important part of performance management. It is relatively easy to measure the target-oriented productivity of people. But to assess the competencies and performance of people in the psychological, moral and spiritual domains are much more difficult. Nevertheless, most of the progressive companies have included these moral and psychological factors like for example, integrity, maturity, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills in their appraisal systems.
There are some interesting innovations like the 360-degree system of appraisal in which an employee is assessed not only by his immediate superior but also by his peers and subordinates, and sometimes by the customer, if his or her work involves direct contact with the customer. This method provides a certain amount of objectivity to the appraisal. However, one of the major short-coming of 360° appraisal is that it may hamper sincere and spontaneous behaviour. Most of us consciously or subconsciously adjust our behaviour to please others, whatever may be our inner conditions. And 360° system of appraisal will only accentuate this hypocritic element in us. Moreover, this system of assessment cannot eliminate the subjective biases, prejudices, irrational, emotional dislikes and prototypal judgments, which are almost universal.
This brings us to the question, are there better alternatives? There are two conditions, when they are fulfilled may lead to a better appraisal. On the part of the appraiser, an intuitive understanding of the inner condition of the appraisee and a compassionate approach to human development. On the part of the appraisee, an honest, candid and courageous self-assessment; respects for and trust in the wisdom of the appraiser; and a sincere urge for improvement. These conditions may be difficult to fulfill but worth striving for. And when these two conditions are fulfilled then 360° method of appraisal provides an additional tool for improving the accuracy and objectivity of appraisal. Obviously, these conditions and the values or qualities related to it like self-knowledge, compassion, honest self-assessment, intuition, cannot be created overnight. They have to be built into the consciousness and culture of the organization through a long process of education and discipline.
The other aspect of the problem is rewarding performance. The employee’s contribution to the realization of organizational goals has to be the primary measure for determining the reward, which can be monetary as well as non-monetary. However as we have indicated earlier, the motivation and reward system must promote the progressive evolution of the individual. So the other important factors to be considered in designing the reward system are the needs, motives, values, aspirations and expectations, which arise from the evolutionary condition of the individual. For example, the physical man who lives in the physical consciousness has to be pushed towards his higher evolution by rewarding target-oriented achievement with money, power, social status, which helps him to grow into his vital consciousness and become the vital man. Similarly, rewarding the vital man with more wealth, power, autonomy and recognition for accomplishing tough, difficult and challenging tasks, help him to develop fully all the potentialities of his vital being. But when the vital and the mental men are awakened to their mental or spiritual needs, they may not seek for money, wealth and power, but for the fulfillment and self-actualization of their mental or spiritual needs. In such cases, non-monetary rewards, like free educational opportunities, or more time and leisure for pursuing heir newly formed mental and spiritual needs or capacities or a new job in which they can express better their new evolutionary status, will lead to a greater sense of fulfillment, better performance and also help in their higher evolution. So for those who are in these higher stages of their evolutionary development, the rewards have to be tailored to their unique evolutionary needs and aspirations through a process of consultation, discussion and negotiation with the immediate superiors and others who are in charge of designing the reward system.
A total performance management system must include the integral being of the individual and the organisation in all the dimensions: physical, vital, mental and spiritual. Secondly, an integral approach to performance management must include not only the appraisal and reward system but also the process by which the performance standards are achieved. Based on this perspective, this article identifies six factors which can lead to sustainable performance and an integral self-actualization of the human potential in the individual and the organisation
Bagchi, Subrota, (2006), The High Performance Entrepreneur, Penguin Books, New Delhi, pp. 78-81.
Butler, Timothy and Waldrop, James, (1999) Job Sculpting: The Art of Retaining Your Best People, Harvard Business Review, September-October, Harvard Business, p. 49-63.
Pallavi, S, (2007) BPO’s Young and Troubled, Business Today, July 15, pp. 62-70.
Srinivasan, Venu, Interview, (1998) Excellence is a Moving Target, Business Today, November 22.