By R Sankarasubramanyan
A holistic perspective is subtly broadening and deepening corporate culture and organizational norms.
o To understand the world, we must see the relationships and interconnectedness
o We accept the complexity and subjectivity of the world
o We constantly re-evaluate and keep ourselves prepared in the changing world
o It is a circle of relationships
o Myself and the organization are a seamless whole and hence, what I see out there is also in here
o Truth is dependent on the context and current reality
o We seek to understand wholeness and inter-connectedness of all relationships
o Synthesis of rationality and intuition
o Partner with the world
There is a ‘Galilean shift’ happening in our organizations today. Galileo’s heliocentric revolution moved us, from looking at the Earth as the center around which all else revolved, to seeing our place in a broader pattern. In the new worldview, we move from:
o The primacy of pieces to the primacy of the whole
o From absolute truths to coherent interpretations
o From self to community
o From problem solving to creating.’
Peter Sengeetal, Presence
‘We have a morale problem. Can you conduct a two-day team building workshop and help in bringing back the morale?’ a client once asked me. I was amused at the client’s naivety in believing that a morale problem could be changed in a two-day program, and that too by me! This, however, is the typical approach in most organizations today. It comes from the same percept of going to the mechanic when your car breaks down – if there is a problem, fix it!
All our institutions are products of the Newtonian era. The paradigm to view the world is that of the machine. In that paradigm, analytical thinking, problem solving and step-by-step approach are considered the best ways to make meaning of the world around us. This worldview rejects a spiritual sense of life, seeks answers in linear causality, and fragments system problems into symptoms for easier comprehension. This process of life is prevalent in most businesses in India today. But there is a subtle shift that is observable to the discerning eye.
Businesses cannot sustain themselves as learning organizations unless they become capable of embracing a paradigm of wholeness, a paradigm compatible with a living systems perspective. Organization is a living system; it dies if it is treated like a machine or factor of production – behavior that the current mechanistic worldview reinforces.
Michael Ray, co-editor of The New Paradigm in Business, has been at the forefront of articulating an alternative view that is just beginning to emerge. His approach revolves around ‘… doing business from our most profound inner awareness and in connection with the consciousness of others and the earth’s.’ Simply put, this means that we each acknowledge that we have inner wisdom and authority and others have it too. And as virtually all scientists operating from the new paradigm tell us, there is a wholeness and connectedness between all living things. Everything and everyone is connected in some way to everything else.
Here is an illustration of the emerging world in my own experience. I was called by another client to study his organization. He told me, ‘Something is not okay here. I do have some hypothesis about what is wrong. But maybe I’m contributing to this also. Can you come in, speak to people and give me an independent view?’
I studied the organization, met with various levels of people and called a meeting of the management team, including the client. I told them, ‘Your organization is very healthy. There are many experiences of success and life-giving energies here. Maybe those stories are not heard so much.’ One manager who had also met me one-on-one said to me, ‘I agree. In fact many people reported to me that they feel very happy about our organization after they spoke to you about their success stories. We don’t have to do anything but let these stories emerge more and more.’
This organization operates on a holistic paradigm that helps them understand the interconnectedness between people sharing stories and the changes in the culture and health. In this paradigm, the description of reality is ‘I see it when I believe it’ and not ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’.
This shift in paradigm is very much connected with what is happening in the rest of our society. There are more and more holistic education-based schools, where children are allowed to grow and develop in the way that is most natural for them and not based on what parents believe is important. There is more attention paid to ecological issues and the linkages between climate changes, deforestation, depletion of ozone layer and industrialization.
Recently, one of the large IT organizations in India invited a colleague of mine to work with them as an ‘Organization Wellness Consultant’. The organization realized that the wellness of people within it is very much related to the quality of life that they lead outside. People need someone to speak to, about themselves, and about what is happening to their world inside and outside the organization. These conversations, where one can speak their hearts out, will help them feel fully alive to meet the challenges within the organization.
The holistic approach to people’s development encompasses the four levels of growth – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The following intervention methods are commonly used by organizations that follow the holistic approach:
o Physical fitness interventions like arranging yoga classes, providing a gym in the office, grooming, and nutrition and diet programs.
o Mental development interventions include creativity training, working with mental models, systems thinking and so on.
o Personal growth workshops, working with dreams, counseling, experiences based on poetry, theater, music and movement.
o The increasing number of ‘corporate sadhus’ is a good indicator of the efforts in spiritual development – through Art of Living, LIFE, Vedanta and other such programs.
It is important to note that no one process is helpful in isolation. But taken together, they can help to create joy at the workplace.
Even efforts towards organizational change take these dimensions into account. I have been working with a large hotel chain in India where the health of the organization is assessed based on customer data, employee feedback, management expectations and also the sensing of the team running that particular property. In those workshops, action plans are drawn up for all levels of employee and organizational health parameters (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual). It is also fascinating to see how they are able to see the interconnection between these levels and their impact on organizational growth and development.
One of the emergent areas of the wholeness paradigm is to recognize diversity in organizations. We in India are still unwilling to acknowledge diversity in terms of language, age, gender, disabilities and sexual orientation. Organizations seem to operate as if these diversities do not exist, or are too difficult to deal with if recognized. A lot of work needs to be done to understand these differences, acknowledge and respect them, appreciate the richness that they bring in and later, find opportunities to leverage them for organizational effectiveness and growth.
Gandhi said, ‘Be the change that you want to see in the world.’ The journey towards wholeness in our organizations starts with me. I need to develop perspectives to see my polarities, fragments, and parts, and accept them as my whole. Splitting them as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ will make me no different from the organizations and society that I see around me.
A Native American saying goes, ‘The longest road you will ever walk is the sacred journey from your head to your heart’. We don’t have to go far to experience wholeness. Just look inside and see how the inside is linked to the outside and conversely so!
R Sankarasubramanyan (Sankar) is the President of Indian
Society for Applied Behavioral Science, ISABS.
He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
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