By Luis A. Marrero, M.A. RODP, LLP
CEO Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose
May 1, 2016
“We increasingly understand that we need a very different model of humanity….”
2013 United Nations World Happiness Report
We live in a time of paradoxes. On the one hand, there are emerging rich, dynamic and exciting trends in the field of Organization Development (OD). In contrast, we face disturbing and stubborn social or people-related trends in our most significant public and private institutions.
Leading the encouraging trends are chiefly the contributions of Positive Psychology, Existential Positive Psychology, and Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MPP) or Logoteleology. MPP in particular brings a perspective that challenges current assumptions about economies, as well as its influence shaping the meaning and role of work and organizations. To counter these flawed assumptions, MPP Organization Development (MPPOD) proposes a more practical and in step proposition. I have coined this view of the meaning and role of organizations, as well as the potential collective benefit of three OD approaches (Classical, Positive, and MPP/Logoteleological), as Organization Development 2.0 or OD2.0.[i]
The disturbing backdrop, on the other hand, is in great measure due to underlying assumptions about our economic system, people, and the role and subsequent design of organizations. Despite current and emerging empirical insights about the meaning and nature of humans, change agents continue to be challenged countering unsettling trends such as the lack of trust and of engagement within our institutions. We propose the goal of reaching a critical and willing mass of committed leaders and individuals at all levels – in public, political and private domains – to build more positive, meaningful and prosperous organizations and societies. I will here explain the emergent OD2.0, its opportunities, its challenges, and a way forward.
The Status Quo
Many reliable indicators – both empirical and intuitive – continue to report perplexing findings. Consider some of Gallup’s article headings:[ii] • 70% of U.S. Workers Not Engaged at Work. • Across Most of the World, the Percentage of Adults With Great Jobs Rarely Tops 10%. • Germany’s Employee Engagement Problem Begins With Managers.
Trust in our leaders and institutions continues to be a problem, according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer. On the recent “State of the American Manager” by Gallup, Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO reported, • “The majority of managers working in the U.S. today are wrong for their role.” • “Most CEO’s I know honestly don’t care about employees or take an interest in human resources.” • “Gallup reported in a world-famous study that only 30% of U.S. employees are engaged at work. Worse, over the past 12 years, this low number has barely budged, meaning that the vast majority of employees are failing to grow and contribute at work.” Most other countries are not fairing any better. For the most part, the credibility and engagement problem in other nations is worse than in the United States of America.
It begs the question, why, when — according to experts [iii] — knowledge is doubling every 12 months (as of 2013) we have such dismal results? And the prognosis at the time of publication was that the rate would increase to doubling every twelve hours! A 2003 American Psychological Association article titled “The Explosion of Knowledge, References, and Citations” [iv] claims that scientific literature at the time of publication was increasing at “…the rate of about 100 per day, about one every 15 minutes.” So, we are not lacking for answers.
I have been tracking these conditions and trends for at least two decades. By the late 1990’s, what became the central thesis of my first book – The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology – emerged in the form of a paradox:
Mankind, I concluded, does not suffer from a lack of answers. Rather, it suffers despite the answers being available.[v]
How does this thesis apply to organizations? We propose that institutions do not reach their potential for a lack of answers, but despite the answers being available.
It must be said, however, that I am not the only one highlighting the paradox. According to the authors of The World Happiness Report [vi] “We live in an age of stark contradictions. The world enjoys technologies of unimaginable sophistication; yet has at least one billion people without enough to eat each day.”
Again, we must ask, how is it that despite the billions of dollars invested in consulting, training, development, and education we are still – as a rule – unable to have institutions – both public and private — that can competently counter such dismal performance and outcomes?
The unexamined life is no worth living. (Socrates)
What if we were to confront the reality that some of the fundamentals of our economic system and its influence in organizational theory and design are flawed? (Marrero, 2016) [vii]
I credit Dr. Barry Schwartz’s work [viii] for his influence and for bringing to my attention learning from my early economy courses as a student at Trine University in Indiana, and particularly for reminding me the role Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776) played in shaping our view of humans in their role as workers.
It is in the inherent interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest, at least as interest is vulgarly understood, either to neglect it all together, or, if he is subject to some authority which will not suffer him to do this, to perform it in a careless and slovenly a manner that authority will permit. (Adam Smith) [ix]
In plain English, Adam Smith shared the belief that workers inherently dislike to work, will do anything to avoid it, and thus must be extrinsically motivated (through carrot and stick approaches). Does this remind you of Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y? Well, we believe that Theory X – whether we are aware or unaware of its influence — is still well and alive. Moreover, OD2.0 propose that this callous view of human beings has permeated management and organizational theory to our detriment. Despite advancements in related fields, management and organizational theory is worryingly driven by extrinsic, mechanical and military thinking.
Paychecks can’t buy passion.
We are encouraged by research and in-roads made in the field of psychology, and its contribution to management science. For instance, during my recent symposium presentation at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) Conference in California,[x] I was heartened by the contributions of my fellow panelists who shared significant inroads in positive identities and diversity, and how to build more humane and productive organizations through strength approaches such as positive psychology’ Appreciative Inquiry, and SOAR (Strengths. Opportunities, Aspirations & Results), among others.
We are also encouraged by the role and contributions of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) and the International Network on Personal Meaning (INPM) through strength-based and meaning-centered work, respectively. There are also many other unsung heroes, too many to mention here, who deserve credit. Again, the trend is encouraging.
We also believe in the value and contribution of Classical (or Lewinian) Organization Development these past decades. The Classical OD approach, we offer, should have equal standing with Positive Psychology and meaning-based psychology theory and methods. MPPOD aids practitioners to discern what OD approach will best meet the contextual reality of the client. Classical, Positive, and meaning-centred OD — we offer — should also be in the practitioner’s competence tool kit.
While these trends are encouraging, there is still much to do.
Meaningful Purpose Psychology
Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MPP), or its scientific name logoteleology, is the scientific study of the meanings that enable people and institutions to thrive and to succeed. The theory proposes that humans give a meaning to themselves, to others, to situations, and even to concepts. This meaning — inevitably — precedes every action a person takes. Meaning is what is meant. As a system, meaning entails (1) receiving, generating and storing (input); (2) defining, interpreting, discerning, and solving (process); and (3) selecting and forming an intention or aim (output). We can say that meanings set a person’s life agenda, and always toward a target (self, others, things, situations, and concepts). For instance, (1) when we feel an appetite or a craving in our stomach (feelings and sensations mean something) (2) we discern we are hungry, and thus (3) resolve to eat food.
Meanings can be meaningful, the result of actions that are life enhancing, add value, and in some way benefit society. The meaningful is the outcome of a competent and virtuous character. Meanings can also be meaningless or the outcome of actions that deplete, harm, and demean individuals, society, and the environment. Meaningless outcomes are the result of incompetence and/or a flawed character and/or misguided meanings.
Ninety percent of adults spend their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be.
(Barry Schwartz, Ph.D.)
I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the meaning that Adam Smith gave humans. If we accept the proposition that a meaning — inevitably — precedes every action a person takes, we would understand how Smith’s meaning shaped economic, business, management, leadership, and organizational theories. As I will repeat a few times, Adam Smith’s meaning of people is flawed, and has had, and continues to have meaningless consequences.
“In an ordinary organization, most people are doing a second job no one is paying them for. ….most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations. Hiding.”
Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey, Harvard University
MPP has application in coaching, therapy, counseling, talent as well as organization development. What these five specialties have in common – through Licensed Logoteleology Practitioners — is the pursuit of the meaningful.
Meaningful Purpose Psychology Organization Development (MPPOD)
MPPOD theory and method (OD2.0) challenges current organizational, management and leadership theories and approaches that – consciously or unconsciously – yield meaningless results, as we see from the persistent lack of trust on leaders and institutions, and subsequent engagement problems. To counter these trends MPPOD practitioners are trained, for instance, in Meaning-centered Organizational Theory and Design; and learn to assess organizational meanings in order to recommend, to consult and to lead improvement efforts. MPPOD does not believe that there is “one-best-method” – and that the context of the situation dictates the most appropriate type of change initiative for the situation. For that reason, MPPOD trains and applies Classical (Lewinian), Positive, and particularly Meaning-centered OD approaches; a signature element of OD2.0.
What is OD2.0?
OD2.0 or MPPOD is both a call-to-action and a consulting method based on classical, positive and meaning-centered theories and approaches aimed at generating, reinforcing and sustaining meaningful institutions for the well-being of civilization.
OD2.0 develops meaning-centered, competent, responsible, and virtuous individuals who help shape organizations and work that:
- provide a meaningful service, product or experience
- enhance and exalt the human condition, thus contributing to society in a meaningful way
- protect the environment
A proposition of OD2.0 is that current economic theories, and their influence in organizational, managerial and leadership methods, hold flawed underlying assumptions about humans, many operating at an unaware level. The presence of these flawed underlying assumptions within institutions have a hollow and demotivating effect on organizational members. In addition, this squandered people resource costs companies billions of dollars in waste, missed opportunity, and fraud.
We offer that institutions and their leaders have the option of revisiting and realigning their organizations so that they can be both profitable and humane. They do not have to be contradictory goals.
Another proposition of OD2.0 is that many existing approaches to solving stubborn group and institutional problems are prone to have minimal positive long-term effect because they support Adam Smith’s conventions that people dislike work and need to be motivated primarily through extrinsic means. Again, consider the persistent problem of trust in leadership and organizations, as in the disengagement problem, and vet it gains the billions of dollars paid in training, development and consulting. Too many of these unsustainable solutions — among other ineffective practices — tend to overuse extrinsic motivation — which is a hallmark of mechanistic and Theory X dogma and practices.
The Eon of OD2.0
OD2.0 claims that as long as many of our current solutions accept or work within the confines of erroneous assumption about humans, the stubborn problems we face within our institutions will persist – and despite the billions of dollars paid in consulting, training and coaching. Hence, OD2.0 invites us to:
- Revisit the meaning we give to humans
- Challenge meaningless economic and business models; and replace them with meaningful options
- Reconsider the role, purpose and relationship of humans with organizations
- Reassess the meaning and role of work and organizations
- Test the assumptions of techniques aimed at designing and implementing solutions; and when appropriate, consider emerging and more promising positive and meaning-centered methods
- Challenge the belief that the ultimate goal of organizations is to make profit at any cost. We believe that we need to phase out the emphasis on — and the drive for — efficiency and profit with the more responsible and practical goals of meaningfulness and prosperity. It must be said that efficiency and profit are important and have their place, but not to the point where they undermine the social good.
MPPOD theory and method (OD2.0) also encourages individuals to commit their lives and professional roles to a purpose aimed at building their person, others, institutions, and society in a meaningful way for meaningful ends. We – through The Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose and in common with other psychology and specialized entities – also encourage collaboration with and between professional associations, academia, and practitioners to broaden the reach and impact of OD2.0. We invite academics and practitioners to leverage OD2.0 as a rallying call to exchange ideas, to learn from one another, to advance building in-tune and human-friendly organizations and society, and to promote individual responsibility for the greater good.
I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast
A Call to Action
Where do we go from here?
This article is written to provoke and to generate discussion and innovation around the world. Regardless if OD2.0 is something you can or cannot embrace, I invite you to share this article, debate its propositions; and feel free to contribute your views and ideas. If you want to learn more about OD2.0, join me and many excellent and world-class speakers at The 9th Biennial International Meaning Conference in Toronto (July 28-31, 2016). If you wish to contact me just click here or select the “Contact Luis” tab in my blog. You can also respond at the Reply or Comments Section below.
Summary and Conclusion
Despite great advancements, institutions of all types and sizes are being tested in their effort to overcome stubborn problems. For instance, as reported in well-documented journals and respected sites regarding the lack of trust toward leaders and institutions, and the employee disengagement problem. Among others, positive and meaning-centered psychology have made significant contributions to tackle the previously mentioned challenges.
The Meaningful Purpose Psychology Organization Development (MPPOD) method, in particular, has a unique five-step approach: meaning awareness, meaning analysis, meaning validation, meaning re-decision, and meaning replacement applicable in therapy, counseling, coaching, and organization development consulting. The method aims at infusing meaningfulness and prosperity within organizations that benefit all stakeholders in the value chain. The MPPOD method embraces empirical, reliable, and emerging approaches from Positive Psychology, meaning-centered psychology, and Classical OD methods. MPPOD (OD2.0) challenges the fundamental assumptions or meanings ascribe to humans as shaped by predominant economic, organizational and management theories. It also counsels solution providers and change agents to consider if their approaches are unintentionally aligned with flawed assumptions, and hence, again – unintentionally – such remedies become part of and sustain the problem. OD2.0 counters traditional organizational, managerial and leadership theories and approaches with a more practical view of humans and organizations.
OD2.0 asserts that it is time to retune our assumptions about humans. Readers are encouraged to learn more about OD2.0, to join in the discussion, and to contribute to the field.
[i] Not to be confused with OD2.0’s HaltonHousingTrust or Driven for Life
[v] Marrero, Luis A. The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. Bloomington: IUniverse. 2013. P 3
[vii] Marrero, Luis A. (2016) Meaningful Purpose (Logoteleological) Organization Development. Manuscript submitted for publication
[viii] Schwartz, Barry. Why We Work. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015)
[ix] Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. (Shine Classics, 2014) 415
[x] Luis A. Marrero (2016, May) Meaningful Purpose Psychology. In Meghana Rao, Stewart I. Donaldson (Co-chairs). Additional panelists: Laura Morgan Roberts, Jacqueline Stavros. Positive Work Perspectives: Charting New Paths in Research and Practice. Symposium conducted at the SIOP Conference, Anaheim, California