management, sensemaking

Is management a religion?

Losing My Religion

Losing My Religion (Photo credit: Cayusa)

My earlier thought on engagement and management, lead me to state boldly that management is neither art nor science, but religion. It was a quite unexpected statement that emerged while I was discussing the limits of engagement as a business panacea.

Ideas come and go, at times they surface through unexpected processes, and ti is curious to note that I had not intended to discuss that. And curiosity is even more provoked by the fact that this morning, while I was reading Philip Delves Broughton book on The Art of the Sale (see his insightful blog), I came across a section titled ‘I believe’ that went into considering sales as a religion. It is an interesting coincidence since I am reading the book after contacting the author to thank him for the delight of his previous book (Ahead of the curve) on his experience as a Harvard MBA.

The whole idea of management as a religion is not new in literature, and it is not new to me. I spent years dreaming of writing a book with a close friend of mine in Italy (a famous work psychologist and consultant). In reality it wasn’t about religion, but magic. We had a shared feeling from our experience that organizations looked as places embedded with magic. We thought of some practices (aka performance appraisal) as collective rites which did not bear much value, but acted as a way to reinforce the internal belief system. We considered consultant as Middle Ages travelers who would bring new ideas and cults from organization to organization. We did all of this in front of a couple of beers in a fake Irish pub in Milan, and to many it might well explain our reflections! It suffices to say, though, that our perceptions were that much of what was going on was an effort to make real, principles, actions, and procedures that in fact were but beliefs.

The all idea of management as rational choice is the foundation of how we educate managers, how we analyze their decisions, and how we rate their performance. We believe management to be rational, maybe we quarrel over whether it is characterized by scientific rationality (science) or a different from of rationality (art), but we never think of it as a complex social construction that is basically believed, and never questioned.

But what would change if we were to attribute to management the nature of religion:

1. managers might get rid of reading all evidence based results of management research for taking their decisions;

2. there would be no reason of comparing the validity of different management credos, as it does not make sense to compare religions;

3. decisions could be readily overturned by appealing to some hidden dogma and getting rid of the burden of being consequent that comes with rationality;

4. communication and use  of imaginative language and promises would be all that management needs to resolve to.

Clearly this four conditions are not to be found in modern management, are they? Because if they were, it might be my friend and I had not really drunk too much beer…

One thought on “Is management a religion?

  1. Pingback: Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School | Tim

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