Personalist philosophy and managment

Because people are everything

This is the commercial slogan of the Danish consultancy Mercuri Urval.

Personalism has the same focus in management: To put the human and the person first in all thought. We are capable of building systems, corporations, theories, processes and organizations that can control us, or that we can use to control others. But if we fail to base it all on the strengths, weaknesses and potentials of the individual, the “corporation” will eventually collapse, owing to the weaknesses, errors or bad relationships of the individual person.

The long-term strength and potential of the corporation is never secured through good processes in strong structures, but through persons in solid relationships.

Anthropology and modern management

The personalist point of departure in management theory is that a person can only release his or her potential and persist as a “skillful employee” through good relationships with others. Management theorist Steven Covey and philosopher K. E. Løgstrup both use the word interdependency – mutual connectedness – to denote this I-thou-synergy – that community is the individual’s way to self-perception and that “the common good” brings joy and growth to the individual.

Or in other words: It is my colleague-relationships that can release my potential and engagement, and thereby set me free to be the person that I really am.

A personalist theory of management must find its point of departure in the personalist anthropology. Management must value personal relationships, creative engagement and the dignity of the employee.

Is this approach to management realistic today? Is it not too soft, vague and naïve? Theory of management often focuses on process, efficiency and optimization, but has not resolved the fundamental question of values and anthropology. Modern theory of management has the flawed perception that control and management is only a matter of method and communication. This is part of it, but without a conscious anthropology and a value-based approach to the employee as an individual, these robot-methods will continue to demand more methods, more control and more employees.

What is management?

A personalist definition of management could sound as follows: “Management is to motivate a group of persons to carry out a common vision within the framework of the groups mission and values.”

Other useful definitions of management focus more on managing the task. And every manager should decide what form of management he or she is best suited for and intends to develop. However, any manager must first and foremost reflect on his or her own values and view of human nature. The assertion is that this is the only way for a person to become a reliable and efficient leader.

If a manager intends to execute plans and reach results within a budget, but at the same time wants the employees to fully develop their individual potential along the way, then the management style has to contain both person-management (leadership) and control-management.

Person-management only works if the manager is conscious of his or her own anthropology. Through this clarification, personalism offers a coherent set of ideas about the human person.

Management, anthropology and personalism

If a manager has to introduce the unfamiliar concept of “anthropology” in his or her company, the UN’s universal declaration of human rights from 1948 is a good point of departure. It states that a human carries inherent dignity and possesses both reason and conscience. The formulation of this anthropology was inspired by personalism.

A biological anthropology claims that we are animals that are controlled by instincts and chemical processes.

A social constructivist anthropology will claim that we create our own person, reality, dignity and consciousness through the words we use when we think and speak about life.

An individualist anthropology will assert that we, first and foremost, are driven toward our own advantage, and that it takes money, market control, promises or threats to motivate us into cooperating for “the common good”.

A collectivist anthropology will assert that the vision and goal of the collective is given externally (through politics or ideology), that the community must fulfill the collective vision, and that the individual must adapt to the collective needs.

How do these various anthropologies fit in with the “UN-concepts” of dignity, reason and conscience? Based on the UN declaration, most employees will be able to partake in a discussion of these various anthropologies.

A personalist anthropology, when applied in management, will seek to motivate personalities through the presumption that the individual will find it natural to engage him or her self in the mission and vision of the company, in as far at it makes sense, and provided that there is space for personal growth through healthy relationships and creative engagement.

Summary of a personalist philosophy of managment

  1. Every employee carries as a person an inherent dignity, conscience and rationality, as well as a set of talents that can be made topical in the group.
  2. By nature we all wish to engage and do out best in order to carry out the task and fulfill the vision of the group.
  3. The group qualification is the ability to cooperate through relationships based on mutual dependence and recognition.

A proposal for principals in a personalist theory of management:

  1. The person’s dignity
    1a. The employee must experience freedom and trust, as well as recognition of talents, relationships and results.
    1b. The manager must encourage autonomy, self-education and self-coordination within the agreed framework.
    1c. The cooperative values must develop the persons responsibility, competence and self-worth.
  2. The person’s engagement
    2a. The employee must be able to engage his or her creativity, reason and conscience in the job, and experience success.
    2b. The manager must delegate correctly, so that decisions can be made and executed. 2c. The vision of the organization must keep the attention of the community fixed on the organization’s purpose and costumers.
  3. A person’s relationships
    3a. The employees must know and discuss the common values, visions, goals, results and challenges.
    3b. The manager must practice an openness and equal dialog that develops relationships and persons.
    3c. The manager must practice his anthropology, an arranged distribution of power, as well as a trust-based delegation of solicitude.