Businesses that evolve along with society have a strong competitive advantage. The Judeo Christian doctrine has had a huge impact on the way we conduct business in Western society, where our business practices have mirrored our religious beliefs, yet the practices in many businesses haven’t caught up with our changing beliefs. Is your business one of the laggards?
Our roots in Western society, through our interpretation of the Judeo Christian doctrine, are reflected in business practices. First, the doctrine tells us that we are sinners and must be kept in line with rules. Therefore, we’ve created Human Resources (HR) departments and management structures to enforce rules. Secondly, we’ve been taught that we’re separate from each other, especially from those who don’t share the same beliefs, and we don’t need to care about those who are different. Therefore, we draw a small circle around those people with which we’ll collaborate and everyone else is considered a competitor. And finally, we have been instructed that God has all the power, and only a select few among us are closer to God and good enough to call the shots. Therefore, we use authoritarian direction from management to run companies.
Although these religious beliefs have held for thousands of years, they aren’t static. Two huge indicators of their evolution are the popularity of the New Age spiritual movement and the emergence of mega churches. The New Age spiritual movement gained strength in the 1990’s, and it features extreme religious individualism, where doctrine and authority are simply not needed. Its basic practices are self-help techniques designed to help followers heal themselves and become more god-like. A major premise is that there’s a deep connection between all living things. As of the year 2000, a study reported in the New York Times stated that 68 million Americans had partaken in New Age practices and these participants were mainstream Americans, not individuals on the edge of society.
Mega churches are those that have more than 2000 people attend on a weekly basis, and there are more than 1300 such churches in the USA. These churches are customer oriented with opinion polls to guide which services should be offered and the topic of sermons. They are very democratic and non-hierarchical, and typically members refer to the senior minister by his or her first name. Members choose the services that they see as most interesting and useful in their lives, with no hindrance from authority or tradition. As of 2008, the average five-year growth rate of these churches was 50%, while membership at traditional churches continued to decline.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you think these spiritual trends are good. The fact is that people believe less in authority and more in the power and connectivity of individuals. Understanding this and reflecting it in your business organization can improve its ability to innovate and perform.
I recently worked with a client to form a new division in a company that has existed for over 75 years. The broader company uses hierarchical management structure and traditional HR concepts. But we consciously formed the new division with a radically different foundation, including a flat organizational structure with a team-based, participatory management style and HR concepts based in trust. As an example, instead of using the company’s employee handbook that on all the rules that employees must follow, this division uses a one page document with several bullet points. The first bullet point is “Trust people to do the right thing without the need for lots of rules”. This new business division has been in place for only a few months, but already employees from the other divisions (of all ages) are clamoring to move to it. And just recently, the new division came up with an idea to solve a customer service issue that has plagued the old division for years. Why is this new division outperforming the rest of the company?
People want to work for organizations that share their beliefs. They’re drawn to them, and they function better when they’re in them. They don’t waste energy being frustrated with policies and practices that make no sense, and they feel a strong affiliation that boosts their team spirit and performance. Consider reflecting society’s evolving beliefs in your business organization.
As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, including research references, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.Share