So your organization is immoral? Or is it?
Posted June 28, 2009on:
I think Michael Sandel’s Reith lectures may be relevant to management
Have you been listening to Michael Sandel’s Reith lectures? These are my favourite quotations from Lecture 2 on morality & politics that seem to have an intuitive bearing on the task of management.
“A politics of moral engagement is also a more inspiring ideal than a politics of avoidance . . . that our debates about justice are inescapably arguments about the good life then a politics of moral engagement is also a more promising basis for a just society.”
To determine rights we need to determine the essential nature of the activity – and “virtues worth honouring.”
Artistotle: Justice means giving people what they deserve.
“The best flutes should go to the best flute players because that’s what flutes are for.”
Refereeing contemporary disputes
Can we reason about social practices in the face of disagreement?
What was the conflict really about? The reasons given in a dispute may not be the real reasons.
“Debates about the rights . . . are about the purpose of social institutions, the goods they allocate, and the virtues they honor and reward.”
We cannot make decisions on neutral grounds. . . we have to look at the version of morality that we advocate. When we referee, we are clarifying the moral purpose of an institution.
What is the sine qua non of the institution? Which interpretation of the purpose or essence “celebrates virtues worth honoring”?
“Contested moral terrain” . . . “we cannot remain neutral toward competing conceptions of the good life”.
[How do we clarify the various arguments about the ‘good life’ that are being put forward? Do we aid the organization by clarifying the alternative arguments and the agreement that we will enact?]
Revitalizing our pubic discourse in democratic life
Is it possible to conduct our politics on the basis of mutual respect?
Does respect mean ignoring the opinions of others? [e.g., what most people call PC]
Robust public engagement with more moral disagreements could provide a stronger not weaker. . . basis for mutual respect.
Attend to the views of others – sometimes contesting and sometimes listening & learning.
A politics of moral engagement is also a more inspiring ideal than a politics of avoidance . . . that our debates about justice are inescapably arguments about the good life then a politics of moral engagement is also a more promising basis for a just society.
Notes from the questions
Offer reasons and listen to the reasons given in reply [Isan answer invited? Do we expect to learn?]
There are dogmatic secularists just as there are dogmatic others
Re: Barack Obama. Hunger for spiritual discourse and bring it to bear on public life. [Is it so repulsive to bring spirituality into discussions of work? Presumably only if no answer is invited – which is why CCTV cameras are offensive and why it is so satisifying when the security apparatus is filmed committing misdeeds.]
We don’t know in advance what the moral argument will be. Hence we need to open the discussion to all sectors of the community. [Diversity = talking to people who are unfamiliar and scary.]
Change takes place when people are persuaded by circumstances and the debates taking place around them . . . ambitious engagement with what the good life is . . .
[Can we ask people at work about the good life? I think David Cooperrider does in Appreciative Inquiry. But the answers may change our strategy as we clarify the essential activity of our institution, as we resolve tensions about the ‘goods we allocate’, and under stand the ‘virtues we celebrate honor and reward.’ And this discussion is ongoing because we don’t know what the next discussion will reveal. So we need an organizational design – itself subject to debate – which allows us to clarify and act – clarify and act. That is consistent with Weick’s work, is it not?]
My own questions
Does the general argument apply to workplaces? Why does Sandel think this is soooo important? There may be issues to resolve but a high level change to politics is separate argument that might require a large problem to justify engagement. Phrased alternatively – who might argue against Sandel and what would their argument be?
Where do we debate the ‘essential activity’ of work, the ‘goods we allocate’ and the virtues we celebrate, honour and reward? Are the virtues we honor and reward still worth celebrating? I think many authors would say not and that many if not most of us feel a deep weariness about the social institution of work. We would dearly love to have the notion of work revitalised.
So then how does Sandel’s work fit in with the work of David Whyte, Otto Scharmer? I suspect they would like it. Do they quote each other?
Are you listening to the Reith lectures?
I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have any. Sandel’s Reith lectures are available on BBC as podcasts – about 45 minutes each with question time. The next one is on Tuesday 30 June 2009 at 9am BST. That’s around midday in Washington, DC where he will be speaking.