Management seminars and buddhism

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Management seminars and buddhism

Post by Vardali » Fri Feb 26, 2010 3:27 pm

Dear Dhamma Friends,

I am not quite sure yet whether this will turn into a rant, a self-assessment or a question, but I have just spent 2 days in a higher management meeting devised to develop improved service orientation. Let me start by saying that overall I found this an interesting and - in terms of reflecting one's personal and corporate behaviour - fruitful exercise, as far as giving pointers for self-reflection in a working-environment is concerned.

However, it seems also in some ways bring out the worst in me. And I guess I am considering how to deal with this observation.

I am not sure what would be best to focus on, so I suppose I will start with my own reflections on this workshop setting. All very nice, very cozy and VERY appreciative - everyone was aiming to be kind, considerate and cooperative - i.e. not the usual alpha type environment you often actually encounter in the day-to-day management environment. Perhaps this is part of what sort of brushes me the wrong way about this exercise, and I am not quite sure why: After all, I have no doubt that all those good managers there were all genuinely trying their best to be kind, considerate and cooperative. So I would not accuse any of them of lying, faking it or being consciously deceptive.

And yet I found myself often in a mode to think "this bullshit is starting to make me SICK". I am not sure how to best explain it but it was sooo "psychologically balanced" and socially "goody-good" and seemingly straight from the Coaching and Emotional Intelligence 101 that I felt some serious rebellious impulses at some stages. I guess I managed well enough in all the group-works because the coaches' feedback were by and large pretty good for me (but even there I just smiled and said "thank you" instead of screaming into their faces saying "spare me the bullxxxx please!"). And this is really what I have been taking from the workshop, quite a few "practical" pointers on what to watch in my daily management operations.

But I also feel very out of place, like I am being too negative, cynical about what is essentially meant to be a helpful and constructive approach to make "us managers" more emphatic and service orientated and by this act as role models for our staff. And it is not the programme or the people, they have all been well-meaning and well-intended for sure - but listening to the talks and words, I could not help but feeling that this a lot of pretentious rubbish.

In itself, I guess I am quite surprised how strongly I seem to be feeling about this (so much for my meditation and trying to move beyond attachments and aversions, I guess ;) ). But yes, overall, it appears to me that I have strong adverse feeling about all this (not so much the people, even though I certainly reacted to some of them with less than optimal equanamity, but rather regarding all this sociological-psychological drivel and coaching/self-help worship that seemed to permeate this whole exercise for me). And yet, when we had to provide feedback tracked against a number of questions, I could only - and truthfully - respond with very positive responses (I guess it depended on the way the feedback questions were phrased).

Has anyone gone through something like this and can provide some insight to me on what this means? I am currently shifting from thinking I am just totally wrong in either management or this corporate environment or just so totally unsuccessful in practising the Buddhist path that something so totally irrelevant positively derails my recent practices (and limited progress I felt I had been making in maintaining equanamity).

with confused but respectful greetings.

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Re: Management seminars and buddhism

Post by zavk » Sat Feb 27, 2010 12:22 am

Hi Vardali

I have not worked in management or sales/customer service(not in a full time capacity anyway). But I have worked in a large bureaucracy and have attended similar kinds of 'motivational' and 'development' training seminars that emphasize such things as well-being, kindness, consideration, etc. I have also witnessed and experienced the uncaring, unkind, and inconsiderate effects of 'reshuffling' carried out by the same bureaucracy that promoted those training seminars.

My experience, together with what I have learned from the wider criticism of corporate culture, has led me to view these training seminars as rather 'empty' (and I don't mean this in a Buddhist way!) and even 'dehumanizing'. To be sure, I'm sure the trainers and participants at these seminars could be genuinely nice people. And as you observed too, the logic and methods used in the seminars could be sound and internally consistent. However, I find them 'empty' because more often than not they are geared towards a particular calculative, instrumental end: well-being, kindness, consideration, are usually geared towards the maximization of sales, for instance. When conducted solely with such aims in mind, the individual is reduced to a kind of a tool, a faceless unit, even as they claim to be concerned about their well-being and development. This is why I find them 'dehumanizing'.

So I don't think that you are 'unsuccessful' in your Buddhist practice. As I see it, you may not have experienced these conflicting feels so clearly without having cultivated clarity and mindfulness. In Buddhism, we do not cultivate such qualities as kindness and consideration in an instrumental or calculative way. When I reflect back on my experience, I see how differently such qualities were oriented in those training seminars.

I must say that I am of course making some generalisation here. There could very well be organisations that conduct these seminars skilfully. But I think it is not unreasonable to say that corporate culture on the whole has produced a kind of calculative and instrumental attitude towards human well-being/development. The unwholesome consequences of such an attitude is perhaps well-illustrated in recent times by the fallout from the global financial crisis. (On that note, the film Up In The Air highlights the suffering caused by this calculative instrumentality quite well; a fine piece of film making, IMO.)

Anyway, it would be interesting to hear about the experience of others. Has anyone else experienced a similar sense of 'dissatisfaction' with such motivational training seminars? Or has anyone attended seminars that are conducted with more holistic goals in mind and found them helpful?

All the best to you, Vardali.
With metta,

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Re: Management seminars and buddhism

Post by Kim OHara » Sat Feb 27, 2010 2:02 am

I think you have put your finger on it, zavk:
zavk wrote:... the logic and methods used in the seminars could be sound and internally consistent. However, I find them 'empty' because more often than not they are geared towards a particular calculative, instrumental end: well-being, kindness, consideration, are usually geared towards the maximization of sales, for instance.
It's pseudo-compassionate.
That means they are, consciously or not, lying. And the dishonesty grates on me even when the surface content is OK.


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Re: Management seminars and buddhism

Post by Vardali » Sat Feb 27, 2010 2:11 pm

Thank you, Zavk and Kim,

I think what you are describing as dehumanizing and manipulative really gets to the point of why I may feel that this whole thing seemed so phoney to me even while most people surely have been doing their best to be "good" in terms of the expected goal.

It definitely aims to "model" people into a mindset and behaviour calculated to raise productivity etc. So everybody is clearly instrumentalized - and accepts this as a given. What i have noticed, though, is that the underlying and unwritten rules of the management game remaim the same: There still is the peer pressure to express "leadership" and "competence" by never having problems, never show weaknesses, and you only ask for help when it advances your position (there never are problems, just opportunities; you never made a mistake but just did not utilize the full potential of the situation; etc.). Just all in a "nice" way instead of too much alpha type sable rattling.
It all seemed so absurd to me, even though I couldn't quite pinpoint it, so Zavk's post has really provided some good explanation for me :)

As why I was getting frustrated instead of just observing and reflecting: I listened to an old dhamma talk today and realized that this is just my mind playing tricks based on old, die-hard habits :)
So there is hope still ;) And of course a timely reminder of the unsatisfactory nature of life ;)

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Re: Management seminars and buddhism

Post by PeterB » Sat Feb 27, 2010 2:52 pm

I wouldnt want to say that all such seminars are a waste of time , I have been involved with a few working as I do within the British National Health Service. I would say though that much of it is simply a requirement under the contactual terms pf the various employment bodies, and that if you actually learn anything you can consider that a bonus. I too have spent afternoons in groups with flip charts while patients have to be put on hold. Only to be regailed in the final summing up with colleagues announcing with straight faces that they have concluded that to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail, as though this earth shattering notion had been newly minted. At least it can be an opportunity for networking. i certainly dont think Vardali that this indicates that you are unsuitable for management. I think in fact that your reaction might indicate the opposite.

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