Process and Business Management
A Short Note on how Process Thinking
might help bring about a more Hospitable World
Mark R. Dibben and Paul W. D’Arcy
We might ask ‘What on earth has Management got to do with Jesus, Jazz and Buddhism?’ After all, Management has been the architect of the remarkable ‘success’ of the past three hundred years that has plunged the planet into ecological crisis. But we are not the only species that engages in management. Most all creatures engage in managing their environment, by making shelter / having special places where they rest and reproduce, finding and storing food and even creating paths that run to and from the food and the shelter. Insects, spiders, birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals all practice management to some degree.
Management is therefore better understood as inherent in Nature, a Universal aspect of Purposeful Life. Indeed it seems that it both plays a part in and emerges from the natural selection process. The Alpha pair of a Meerkat group, the dominant male and female in a chimpanzee community, to name but two community-dependent social animals, all have to be able to manage their respective entourages – boss them into line occasionally, yes, but also continually work to resolve disputes and thereby keep the group collective functioning effectively as a community, for the benefit of all within the community.
Managing, and thus management, is shown by the very force of Nature itself as a primary means we have (non-human and human) for coping in and with our lives.
The difference between us and other animals is that we have ever-increasingly focused our management skills to the particular purpose of making money, particularly so since the Industrial Revolution. This most unnatural commodity has become our all-pervading focus in the context of Civilization, so much so that economic value has come to be seen as the primary measure of quality of life. Economic value has become so worshipped in much of Modern Civilization that it becomes seen as more important than the quality of life inherent in the Earth. It seems management, as it is currently being practiced in our Modern period, is focused not on the value of people or the earth, but on things.
We need to think philosophically rather than simply scientifically about Management. We need to see it again, in a new way, as a part of Nature, and as inherently and necessarily nurturing. Management can become a way of caring for “others” of all kinds, whether family, friends, employees, customers, all human beings, plants, animals, fish, fowl, air water, the earth and everything in the Cosmos. By being deeply appreciative of inter-dependence and intra-dependence, Whitehead one said, universities need to teach business people ethics and professional standards. That is, seeing management not as simply a means to delivering profit and/or using people in a simplistically mechanistic objective way. Rather, the education needs to create a full appreciation of their intrinsic value as subject human beings – as humane becomings. More than this, Management can be a way of nourishing, not just our human communities, but also the communities of other creatures that we ultimately depend upon for life, so that we may all flourish. Clearly this is a very different way of seeing”management” vs. the Modern way that is still practiced to a large extent, and, indeed, is almost universally applied by managers experienced by people today.
What might this New Way look like? If we focus on the treatment of employees, some core decisions concern work hours, compensation, policies, over-time, vacations, working conditions, insurance programs, performance, discipline, promotions, etc. Management in virtually all businesses must make decisions on an on-going-basis in all of these arenas and more. The question is not whether decisions will be made in these arenas; the question is how and on what bases these decisions will be made. If, for example, a manager’s basic philosophy holds that employees are only a means-to-an-end, that manager’s treatment of employees and the various decisions regarding their welfare will likely be made on a purely pragmatic basis. If a manager is in the midst of a business-cycle where she really needs her employees (she can’t afford to lose them), she may treat them positively and make decisions which are disposed toward their positive well-being. Or, if she has a special need for certain employees, she may treat them particularly well while simultaneously treating other employees disrespectfully.
Process-thinking incorporates certain insightful principles for application in this arena; we draw attention to three of them:
1) All actual occasions (and all human beings) emerge out of particular contexts. Understanding and appreciating this principle makes decisions regarding employees, their performance and their development much richer than they would otherwise be. The bases for such decisions will likely be much more educated and broader, if based upon this process-principle, than they would otherwise be.
2) Each actual occasion (and each human being) is a value in and for itself.
In the context of employee-relations, this principle means that, even though businesses may see employees as some means-to-an-end, i.e., that employees contribute something toward certain goals of the business, the life of an employee is also an end-in itself, a value in itself. A keen awareness of this process-principle causes a manager, when considering human resource issues, to think far beyond the simplistic pragmatic contributive role which an employee may provide to the business. Maintaining awareness of this process-principle provides the manager with a much larger perspective regarding the employee and his/her value than would otherwise be the case.
3) All actual occasions (and all human beings) are free and open-ended in their process of becoming.
While each employee emerges out of a specific context which may set-the-stage-for or establish some of the parameters for behavior, each employee incorporates some elements which are free, free to change, free to introduce novelty, free to transcend past behavior patterns. While a process thinker may manage Human Resource issues in a highly humanistic way by inviting and allowing employees to be involved dialogically in many issues related to human resources, the reality in many business enterprises is that the overwhelming majority of the rank-and-file workers prefer not to be called upon to be the philosophical gurus regarding policy. They prefer, on the other hand, to have clear and simple policies issued so that they know (without question) what is expected of them. Furthermore, they prefer that enforcement of the policies be clear and decisive. As such, they want to know where they stand; they also are pleased to know that the company enforces its policies on a fair, regular, and consistent basis.
In other words, it is important that the company be reliable and trustworthy; it may even be seen as a great place to work. But, in this case, the humanitarian may see the company as acting too harshly and disrespectful of its employees. Decisions regarding human-resource-issues which are made by management personnel who are clearly aware of this process-principle will be based upon a much richer and a much broader range of characteristics and possibilities than those which are made without such awareness. Such a perspective encourages straight-forward and honest communication with an employee, not only regarding failures in performance but especially regarding potential alternatives or ways of improving performance.
Overall, incorporating certain insightful-principles of process thinking into the human resource issues of a business enterprise can make a profound difference in how employees are treated and can influence significantly the quality of life of the business enterprise itself.
 Mark R. Dibben, Ph.D. is Visiting Professor at the Centre for Process Studies, Claremont, CA; he also works in the Tasmanian School of Business & Economics at the University of Tasmania, Hobart. Paul W. D’Arcy, Ph.D. is Senior Vice President, Emeritus, Sanyo North America Corporation, a Member of the Panasonic Group. Parts of this paper were first published in D’Arcy, P. and Dibben, M. (2005) Whitehead and Management: Learning from Management Practice, in F. Riffert (Ed) ‘Learning and Teaching from a Whiteheadian Point of View.’ Cambridge Scholars Press pp.237-266; other parts are from Dibben, M. (2016) A Process philosophy of Management. Claremont, CA: Process Century Press forthcoming . The authors are grateful to the copyright holders therein.