Is It Time to Update Your Beliefs?

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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.

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About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a writer, speaker and consultant helping organizations strengthen agility and performance by shaping emotional energy. She is a thought leader bringing to light the new science of group emotional energy and connecting it to business performance. She has had a 28-year award winning career as a C-level Fortune 500 executive and Big Four consulting firm professional.
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Comments

  1. Joe Kittel  July 31, 2012

    Perhaps it’s time to update what we mean by the word “belief”.

    As I understand it that there are a couple of etymological roots of the word “belief”. One is to be “willing” and the other is to “hold dear” or “trust.” Only in the past few hundred years has belief come to be understood as “religious doctrine.” This last definition makes beliefs more fixed and rigid; the former definitions are more fluid, more alive. I believe beliefs should be fluid, that they should evolve with life experiences. E.g., my understanding of “God” has evolved over my life time. Why shouldn’t other important spiritual matters evolve as well?

    Could it be that your question “Is it time to update your beliefs?” is itself a sign that the very definition of the word “belief” needs to be updated, such that ‘updates’ are no long required? As I see it beliefs should in fact evolve (in smooth transitions) and should not need to be ‘updated’ (to me this implies abrupt changes).

    Anyway, back to your original question …

    Over the past 10-15 years I have wrestled with how to bring spirituality into the world of business, specifically into the management of strategic alliances (long-term value-creating relationships, typically between businesses). During this period of time I was a strategic alliance manager in Hewlett-Packard, and I was reading a number of spiritual books, meditating, reflecting and writing. You could say I was learning by doing.

    As I see it the real question might be “How can we bring spiritual principles and practices (i.e., greater consciousness) into business without stirring up either pro- or anti-religious zealotry?” I believe (believe!) I have narrowed the answer down to 5 simple truths that seem to span across religions and philosophies. These ideas seem to be at the core of, or they form the essence of, many belief-systems:

    ONENESS – we are ultimately all one

    NOW – this instant of time is all we have

    WE ARE DIVINE – we are all children of deity/God

    WE CREATE – our thoughts create, use them carefully

    LOVE – the universal force that compels us to grow

    It seems like we can discuss these matters, in business, without stirring up pro- or anti-religious zealotry, and hence we can have a positive impact on the people in business.

    In my discussions with many people. it is very often the religious people with whom I have the greatest challenges, they seem to be stuck in their beliefs. They also often have an “us vs. them” mindset that is divisive.

    Surprisingly my best ‘spiritual’ discussions have often been with atheists and agnostics. All they have said is “Just don’t use the ‘God’ word.” And, I say, “Fine. But, are you willing to admit that there is something unique about humanity, something that ‘looks and smells like’ something divine?” And, they will very often say, “Yes. There is something unique and divine-like about us. Just don’t expect me to admit there is a God.”

    In my mind spirituality is about deepening relationship – with others, with Self and with God / The Universe / The Infinite. We need to focus on principles (ideas) and practices (authentic behaviors) that have as a result the deepening of relationship. If beliefs are divisive, if they stir up debate, if they focus our attention on later or somewhere else, I am not interested.

    I am interested in deepening relationship, here and now.

    (ref: http://www.spibr.org/simple_truths.html)

    Joe Kittel
    http://www.spibr.org
    joe@spibr.org

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  2. Jean Robinson  August 6, 2012

    I believe its not only in business that we need to update our beliefs. For many of us we are so entrenched in the past and how we have been “brought up” that we miss the opportunities that are presented to us. The world is evolving so quickly, and we all have so much potential to make it a much more positive environment and a change in the individual means a mass change in all areas especially business.

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  3. John Russo  August 6, 2012

    Consider something shared by Richard Barrett (www.barrettvaluescentre.com) during a side conversation at the recent Conscious Capitalism Conference…”beliefs separate, values connect”. Also, visit http://www.beyondbelieffilm.org, which is the work of a friend, Dr. Jim Lemkin. It attempts to grapple with “beliefs” …and how can people simply get along despite disparate beliefs. It contains some very insightful videos of interviews with a variety of religious/spiritual/life learning folks on the wisdom path.
    As we evolve to our highest good and purpose…John

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  4. Joseph Gabriel  August 6, 2012

    Joe, for me there is a big distinction between the word BELIEF (which I view as secular) and the word FAITH (which applies to spirituality and religion). BELIEFS are simply ideas we have come to believe (such as “I am capable” or “I’m not good enough”). For discussion purposes in this group, I feel strongly (believe) that we should not mix belief with religion or spirituality. That said . . .

    Although I enjoyed the article, and fully agree that business should update its beliefs about who makes decisions and the need for so many rules, I believe there are many other beliefs (secular) that business should update in addition to those cited in the article (which focused on Judeo/Christian beliefs). Examples include “Survival of the Fittest” and our notion of “competition”. These are commonly accepted as true and good, when in fact recent scientific studies conclude that Nature is based in collaboration, and that the perfect amount of competition is ZERO (for only one example, see http://www.2130partners.com/the-value-of-cooperation-vs-competition/. Another good read is http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/11/stop_competing_to_be_the_best.html.)

    Other business beliefs worth re-examining include the belief that financial indicators should move forward every quarter (a belief in short-term results), and that employees need to be motivated (they don’t – they do need a powerful shared vision to rally around).

    Joseph
    http://www.ResultsWithClarity.com

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  5. Kenneth Richardson  August 6, 2012

    Jackie, I appreciate your thoughtful approach to these issues. It’s refreshing to encounter someone who thinks these things through to the extent that you do. By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed your “Mastering Group Energy” offering__ few people pay attention to the work you cited, but the methodologies employed do indeed conform to the rigors of scientific research.

    That said, back to the issues at hand. Evolution as a spiral? I wouldn’t contest that, but would say that the inclusion or exclusion of that depiction has little effect on the solution of people problems in organizations.

    One thing is for sure__ variations on the same old problems (now referred as “challenges”) persist, no matter how well they manage to disguise themselves.

    In regard to the “New Age” issue, the exaltation of self (or equation of self with God) is by no means new__ the simplest ancient written referent to it can be found in Genesis Chapter 3 in the Old Testament, and all kinds of evils have been attributed to its proliferation. Mankind’s biggest problems have always involved notions that “self is what it’s all about”. When you call it “self aggrandizement” (which it often actually is), it becomes very difficult to associate with anything good.

    The “self esteem” movements in education and society represent modern (or “postmodern”, if you prefer) variations on that old theme, and these are wreaking havoc.

    Psychologist Jean Twenge comments extensively on these issues in her work on skyrocketing levels of narcissism and its attendand problems. Interestingly enough, substance abuse and unbridled sexual activity, both of which characterize pagan rituals, are highly correlated with high levels of narcissicism.

    In regard to the second issue (the recycling of old concepts under newer, and “cooler” rubrics), I can’t agree that we’re getting better. All we’re doing is treating old knowledge as new every time someone stumbles upon it, gives it a new name, and offers it as a cutting edge, insightful discovery. With the exception of certain material domains (e.g., technology or neuroscience), there is truly “nothing new under the sun”.

    Right now, coining new terms is regarded as progress, but I think that’s rather illusory__ it’s popular primarily because it allows a lot of people to see themselves as insightful and innovative. It also undermines the old idea of diligently doing your homework and giving credit where it’s due.

    Assuming that there is a “reality” out there to content with, we’ll be finding out that putting old wine in new bottles is of limited utility. Whether or not we will adapt in a constructive fashion in time is another matter__ some observers are skeptical that we can.
    Posted by Kenneth D. Richardson, PhD

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  6. Merooj Aghazarian  September 4, 2012

    -Two systems that govern our lives are; “Believe system” and “Value system”.
    Believes change.- with Time and/or Location
    Values don’t.
    [ Location: Raising thumb, is believed to mean OK, Great, Victory, Right on.
    Raising thumb, in middle east, believed to mean “Middle finger”].
    Believes are “Personality”.
    Values are “Character”.
    [ Personality———->Persona=Mask
    Character————>The actor]
    Believes are “Software”
    Values are “Hard wired”.
    [ Different programs, running on same hardware.]

    Believes are sense of “Good” or “Bad”
    Values are sense of “Right” or “Wrong”
    Believes come from “Culture/Environment”
    Values come from “Family/Tribe”

    There is a connectedness among individuals ( employees/People ) through “Values” they all share and respect, which is beyond each individual’s culture, and definitely far from any corporate culture. The “Human Values” that they all have been taught and witnessed in first eight ears of their lives in the families they have been raised.
    Values of ( or lack of ) “Justice’, “Love”, “Work”, “Helping others”, are glue that connects them all. If an employee is helping the other, is not because of training he received in company, or because some body is watching, he is doing it because he KNOWS it is a right thing to do.
    Within this connectedness, lies the relationships. An untapped power of innovation, and performance.
    Well worth for companies to understand and respect these relationships, for their growth depends on it

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