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From the beginning of my professional career, I have deeply contemplated the integration of my spiritual beliefs into my professional life. As I have matured in both, the two have merged, reinforced each other, and become somewhat indistinguishable. While the symbiotic relationship of the two is undoubtedly bilateral, it is also undoubtedly the case that my spiritual life informs my professional life to a much greater degree than the reverse. The Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints graces my professional life as the sun graces the world with clarity, viability, life, and warmth. As C.S. Lewis once observed, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Out of necessity, this topic itself requires more intense reflection and transparency than is generally the case in professional settings. Such will be the case in this essay.

I study organizations. I am enthralled by what makes them work. I am intrigued by why and how people together can get things done that individuals cannot do separately. Given the ubiquitous nature of organization, I am fascinated why throughout history some organizations succeed and some fail. I have studied organizations through the lens of four major themes. Each of these is fundamentally shaped and expanded by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These themes include:

  • Purpose and meaning in organization.
  • Defining organization culture from the outside in.
  • Unity as an attribute of effective organizations.
  • Change as an integrating construct.

Purpose and meaning in organization. Purpose and meaning contribute several essential outcomes to the success of organizations. Purpose provides direction; it establishes long term goals, medium term agendas, and short term actions. It provide standards for achievement that integrate otherwise disparate functions and departments. It provides criteria that unify thoughts and integrate behaviors of otherwise potentially disparate people; it is, therefore, the foundational element of an organization’s culture. It not only integrates specific actions, it also breaks down the paradigmatic walls between people and departments. It motivates to higher performance by capturing discretionary efforts of constituent members. Finally, purpose tends also to integrate the head with the heart. It appeals not only to self-interest; it also may deeply appeal to the composite emotions of its members. For these reasons, understanding the nature of organizational purpose and the practices that influence its institutional evolution is a dominant logic of my research and teaching.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ deeply informs my understanding of the role of purpose in organizations. At the most basic level, modern day scriptures explain that the purpose of God is fundamental to His existence: “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” This purpose entails the eternal duration of life as well as the quality of life as measured by God’s love and outreach. Some time ago I was asked, “What does the Gospel mean to you?” In one of my life’s important moments, I responded, “As I look into eternity I can see my family unified in love and righteousness in the presence of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. That is what the Gospel means to me.” The purpose of existence focuses on unifying both immediate and extended family; it entails having family members helping others to find God’s purpose in their lives. It focuses on glorifying God. As we contribute to the righteous progress of God’s children, we likewise play a part in exalting God’s universal family and enhancing the glory of God as reflected in his children.

Defining organization culture from the outside-in. A basic principle of organization is that virtually nothing that an organization does has value unless it meets the needs and requirements of external constituents. Organizations do not exist for their own purposes; they only exist to fulfill society’s purposes for them. The fact that this fundamental premise is lost on many organization is evidenced by the substantial time and effort senior leadership teams spend conceptualizing and writing mission, vision, and value statements. They occasionally forget that their primary mission is to fulfill the purpose that society gives to them. Once an organization fails to accomplish society’s purposes, it quickly ceases to exist. The seduction of the internal focus is pervasive in many, if not most, organizations. When an organization succumbs to this tendency, it not only begins to die economically but its collective strength, energy, and vitality begin to atrophy. When organizations maintain their external focus, they not only maintain their economic vitality; they also maintain a cultural robustness and vigor that engages the spirit of their collective members. Anecdotal and large scale empirical research supports this conclusion.

This fundamental logic that pervades my thinking has its origin in my personal experiences in basic Christianity. “If you want to find yourself, lose yourself.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “It is better to give than to receive.” These fundamental beliefs are translated into institutional action in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many of the fundamental organizing principles of the church are built on these premises. In the Church we have no paid ministers at the local levels. On a broad scale, members are exposed to remarkable opportunities to give selflessly of their time and resources in building and maintaining local congregations and larger organizational units. As a college student, I had the opportunity at the expense of my family and my own savings to interrupt my studies for more than two years to serve a mission for the church in Southern Germany. The opportunity for such selfless service is available to all worthy young men and women in the church. As adults, my wife, Nancy, and I were provided the opportunity to interrupt our professional activities for two years to again serve a mission. This time we were called to serve in Nigeria and Ghana. A fundamental premise of the church organization is that people grow spiritually when they are in their service of others. We believe that when we are in the service of others, we are in the service of God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only teaches the principle of external focus but encourages through its organization the active opportunity to practice the principle.

Unity as an attribute of effective organizations. Organizations that are unified likewise have an enhanced likelihood of success. When people unify themselves in thought and action they have a greater possibility for efficient and effective throughput processes and eventual outcomes. As people work together, share information, support each other in their respective responsibilities, trust each other’s motives, and integrate their activities, the organization’s whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. However, there can be a downside to organizational unity. When organizations become unified around their own short-term self-interests instead of the best interests of external constituents, especially customers, institutional “group think” can set in and performance will decline; however, when organizations are unified around externally defined effectiveness criteria, unity amplifies the external focus into sustainable high performance.

Jesus Christ has unambiguously stated the importance of unity: “If ye are not one ye are not mine.” “Be ye all of one mind.” He prayed to his Father that we might be one even as he and his father are one. His Apostles reemphasized: “Be ye all of one mind.” “Be of one accord and one mind.” “Be perfectly joined together in the same mind.” One of the inspired elements of the church organization is that we are organized into geographical units. Learning to cooperate with and to avoid negative feelings toward individuals with whom you might not otherwise choose to associate is an important serendipitous benefit of the church. Fundamental to making and keeping covenants in the church is being unified in compassion and benevolence for each other. We have regular opportunity to deeply consider this in our ordinances. This is nowhere more evidenced than in Church marriages. Marriages that are performed in temples are stated to be “for time and for all eternity.” This provides an explicit motivation for married couples to be unified in commitment and love. Couples who are married in the temples of the Church have made such promises to each other and to God. They therefore have an incentive to begin early and to continue through their lives to work out differences, to support and sustain each other, and to be unified in heart and mind. Since marriage may continue into eternity, couples are well served to establish marital unity as soon as possible.

Change as an integrating construct. Each year for the last thirty-five years, I have taught that change had never been more pronounced than it was at that time. Of course, each year it became truer than it was the year before. And there seems to be little reason to conjecture that the rate of change will do anything but increase as we look to the foreseeable future. In my selected specialty of human resource management, the research is clear that human resources matter most under conditions of change. There are several reasons for this: (1) Human capability matters most when creativity, innovation, and improvement are the order of the day. (2) Most organizations can manage steady-state status quo, but effective organizations help their people to overcome fear of change and engage their people in facing change with confidence, flexibility, and enthusiasm. (3) Given the premise that we live in a world of change, organizations that can redesign their basic institutional practices in the midst of constant change have a decided advantage. (4) The practices that maneuver an organization to lead or, at least, be consistent with business change are generally related to human resource management. As the world changes, so should an organization’s recruitment, promotions, measurements, rewards, training, communications, leadership development and information management. Organizations that continually redesign these practices in the midst of change help their constituent members to individually and collectively realign themselves with the mandate for change and, thereby, position themselves to move ahead of those that cannot.

The assumption of change is built deeply into the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We fundamentally believe that we are eternal beings whose possible destiny is to acquire the attributes of Godliness into eternity. The paradoxical nature of the universe requires the exercise of choice and continual change. A fundamental teaching of the Book of Mormon is: “it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things.” Resolving oppositional paradoxes is much of what our eternal existence is all about: finding strength in humility, receiving by giving, exalting by abasing, finding urgency in patience, being unyielding in submissiveness, consecrating with unambiguous selflessness, and receiving personal glory without seeking it. We are agent beings with the freedom to make the most fundamental choices, with options to eternally grow spiritually and intellectually.

Occasionally we make choices that do not take us where we would ultimately like to go. When such is the case we believe in the God-given process by which we can change and improve. The Book of Mormon teaches that the Atonement of Christ covers all space (it is infinite) and all time (it is eternal). Thus, the influence of Christ in our existence will likewise be eternal as we continually grow and develop in acquiring the attributes of Godliness. As the Savior taught in the Sermon on the Mount, the perfecting attribute of Godliness is love of God and to all others. Christ allows us to regroup when we fail. He gives us cause for hope and encouragement. He amplifies our capacity to continually improve and to eventually accomplish our most deeply held desires for goodness. This assumption of positive change is embedded in all that I strive to do.

It is these God-given principles that inform my professional life. They are fundamental to all that I have attempted to achieve from a personal perspective. I have an unambiguous conviction that these assumptions are based in truths as they are taught and reinforced by the teachings and doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this knowledge and for these perspectives, I am grateful.

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Dr. Wayne Brockbank is a Clinical Professor of Business at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, an Emeritus Partner in the RBL Consulting Group, and currently a primary Advisor to the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. At the Ross School of Business, he is the Co-director (with Dave Ulrich) and core faculty of the Advanced Human Resource Executive Program. He is also the Director of HR executive programs in Hong Kong, India, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. Over the past twenty years, these executive programs have been consistently rated as the best HR executive programs in the United States and Europe by the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune and Leadership Excellence. He serves on the core faculty to Michigan’s senior executive programs in India. He is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at IAE Management and Business School, Universidad Austral (Argentina), and has held visiting faculty appointments in Australia, China, India, the Netherlands, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

His research and consulting focus on: (1) linkages between business strategy and human resource practices, (2) creating high performance corporate cultures, and (3) organization levers that drive business performance. He has published on these topics in the Annual Review of Business Strategy, Human Resource Management Journal, Human Resource Planning, and Personnel Administrator, and has contributed numerous book chapters. In 1990, 1995, and 2000, he received the best paper of the year award from the Society of Human Resource Management and the Human Resource Planning Society. He has co-authored with Dave Ulrich (and others) five books on HR strategy and performance differentiating competencies of HR professionals.

He has also consulted in these areas with major corporations on every continent. Among his clients have been General Electric, BAE Systems, Royal Mail, Eli Lilly, Cathay Pacific Airways, Unilever, Motorola, Harley-Davidson, Citigroup, Shell, LaFarge, United Bank of Switzerland, Wyeth, Microsoft, IBM, Tata Group, Handelsblatt, ICICI Bank, Perez Companc, Sony-Ericsson, Cisco, Godrej Group, Cardinal Health, Medtronic, Goldman Sachs, Rolls Royce, LG Electronics, Verizon, Walt Disney Corporation, General Motors, Boston Scientific, Saudi Aramco, Texas Instruments, BP, Exxon-Mobil, Wal-Mart, JP Morgan, and Hewlett-Packard. He has served on the Board of Directors for the Society of Human Resource Management and the Human Resource Planning Society.

Professor Brockbank completed his Ph.D. at UCLA, where he specialized in organization theory, business strategy, and international business. He received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Organizational Behavior degrees from Brigham Young University.

Posted April 2011