Introduction ~ Ideology and Business Management
It is expected that most Hong Kong people consider religious ideologies as something of superstitious and have no interaction with our daily lives. They may only associate the ideologies that can only be found in the ritual or religious venue. Moreover, the religious ideologies may be considered as out-of-date and failure. In fact, the ideologies have strong relationship with our daily lives like business and it can even lead to a successful business. It can be illustrated with this pilot study that a case of putting the Christian ideology into the business management. In the following, ‘what’ the business management implemented will be introduced. It should be noted that there will be a special interest on ‘what’ the Christian ideology behind the management. Such discussion on behind ideology is seldom found in ordinary business text or similar studies.
Scope of this Study
This is a field research of face-to-face interview. It lasts for 45 minutes and is held on 5 March 1998 at C1002 of HKBU. The interviewer is Jeremiah Ytep and the interviewee is Mr. Wong, Senior Unit Manager of a British based insurance company. One of the supervisors of Mr. Wong is Mr. Yu, Agency Manager.
The focus of this study is the company (team) lead by Mr. Wong. The company is composed of Christian mainly. However, non-Christians are included as well.
The mission of the business and business management will be introduced first as it is so essential that the reasons of the existence of a business are stated. The mission statement lays the foundation of the ideology of the business management. However, only the statements drafted with the influences of Christian ideology will be introduced. On the other hand, there are different areas in management. It can include marketing, accountancy, financial, management information system, and Human Resources Management (HRM). There will be a special emphasize on the HRM as this may be the most important and common used managerial function of Mr. Wong due to the business nature of insurance. There are different functions in HRM. The process of recruitment, motivation and developing/ training (meaning of work, planning and staff appraisal) will be specially discussed in the dimension of functions. It will be followed with the discussion of the corresponded ideology.
Ideology behind Management
It is necessary to state the relationship between the ideology and management before the core discussion. There is a framework illustrating the relationship between the ideology and behavior:
(Religion + Ideology) è (consciousness + cosmology) è (individual + sociology/ company)
In the following sections, the business management implemented will be discussed first. Then, the ideology developed form the Christianity influencing Mr. Wong and the corresponded cosmology will be introduced in order to explain why such management behavior is performed.
Regarding the mission of a company, it is not difficult to understand that ‘profit making’ is always accepted as one of the mission statements. There is no exception for a Christian company. One of the mission statements is making profit. However, there is some special element in the mission statement drafted by Mr. Wong that can show his ideology of the role of him and his company: "Our role are housekeeper of our wealth, wisdom and abilities. We believe that all wealth, wisdom and abilities are gifts from the Creator. We do not care how much of wealth and wisdom we have, but we care how to use them wisely. We do not care what kinds of abilities we have, but we care how to use it effectively and efficiency." (It should be Mr. Wong uses a relatively neutral term ‘Creator’ rather than the term ‘God’ of Christianity. It is because he wants that non-Christians can feel more comfortable of accepting this statement. Moreover, he still allows a religious freedom for non-believers).
The cosmology behind the statement is different significantly from secular one. In the cosmology of secular business management, the role of manager and staffs may be considered as ‘god’. They want to be like ‘god’ to control everything. Thus, their identities are recognized through achievements and performances of gaining and accumulating the wealth, wisdom and abilities. Their emphasize on the ‘end’ leads to a high working pressure on them. On the other hand, the cosmology behind the Mr. Wong’s statement is that all wealth, wisdom and abilities are gifts from the Creator. Mr. Wong and his staffs understand that they are only a finite but not ‘god’. They accept their limits as a human being. Their identities are recognized by the Creator but not achievements and performances. They have their own intrinsic value. This emphasize on the ‘mean’ leads to an alternative business management style, especially on HRM.
Regarding to the recruiting process, they will choose one with high calibrating characters that include spirit of team-working, good communication skills and readiness of following the company practice. Mr. Wong thinks that the quality of his company is relatively higher than other company. One of the examples is that most of his staffs are University graduates.
Motivation is an important part of HRM. In accordance to the motivation, they will sing song at the beginning of meeting. Hymn with neutral sense will be used sometimes for motivating and for fun. Both Christian and non-Christian are involved in it. It is expected that it have the function of integration and enhancing the team-spirit. A strong team spirit is necessary for the success of a modern business. However, it should be noted that the managerial functions of recruitment and motivation of Mr. Wong may not be quite significant when compare with other functions. It is because his staffs are self-motivators basically as they consider their work as their own business. In fact, it can be observed that the functions of motivations may not show any elements of Christian ideology behind. However, the Christian ideology takes significant role in staff development.
It should be noted that secular business management focuses only on the development of skills of staff. Mr. Wong’s function of development has special focus on the development of ideology on the staffs instead. Before introducing the staff development implemented in Mr. Wong’s company, the basic challenges to Mr. Wong’s company need to be clarified. In other words, the corresponded objectives of Mr. Wong’s staff development for handling the challenges will be stated. Two of the most important challenges should be the self-image and working pressure. Then, examples of development of meaning of work/ self-image, planning and staff appraisal will be used to illustrate how the staff development help to improve the situation.
Regarding the first problem of self-image of staffs, it is very likely that the staffs are suffered from low self-image. In the report of Career Times, insurance sales are always ‘unwelcome’ and ‘annoying’. In accordance with the second problem, there is a common impression of insurance industry is that staffs are suffering from high working pressure. In fact, it is reported that staffs in insurance company are suffered from high working pressure. It is because their working performances are always measured with others. Their identities are built based on their performance. Moreover, managers create pressure to staffs in the process of ‘pushing’ staffs to work harder and make more business. There are some measures conducted in Mr. Wong’s counseling section in order to tackle these problems.
Firstly, in accordance with the meaning of work, they may consider they work for the Creator. Although some sales may label themselves as ‘unwelcome’ person, Mr. Wong teaches his staffs that Creator may use insurance to help one and one’s family. Thus, Mr. Wong’s staffs will feel that they are doing something meaningful job. In fact, their job title is no longer the insurance ‘sales’ or ‘agency’ but ‘financial planner’. It implies that they are doing some planning job for helping others. It can help his staffs to build up a positive self-image and meaning of work
Secondly, regarding the assistance given to staffs on planning, Mr. Wong emphasizes on the management what one can do like the schedule but not that one cannot change. The ideology behind is a Christian belief that a human is only a limited entity. Thus, Mr. Wong encourages his staffs do not take any burdens one cannot change. It can help to reduce the pressure on them.
Thirdly, in accordance with the staff appraisal, the performance and character of the staff is commented and suggestions are raised for the improvement. Moreover, the staff has his/her own choice if accepting the suggestion. Comparing with other business management, the ‘performance’ is ‘ranked’ only and the character is seldom concern. Mr. Wong’s counseling concern may be quite different from other insurance company. Meanwhile, the ideology behind is Christian belief, everyone is valuable and unique and one should take the responsibility. Thus, the staffs’ character and performance is only commented and has the right of accepting or not. Moreover, Mr. Wong has accepted that he does not take the role of ‘god’, he is only a housekeeper and servant. Thus, he just tries his best to facilitate the development of others. It seems that the function of counseling is very easy to be conducted. In fact, Mr. Wong admits that it is very difficulty to be implemented. He informs that he has been influenced by Christianity and accepts that every one has one’s strength and weakness. This belief gives him the patience of practicing the appreciating of one another accepting other’s weaknesses. It is believed that his staffs can grow under this facilitating environment rather than a high pressure of ‘pushing’ environment. Moreover, the intrinsic value of staffs are respected in the staff appraisal, it can help to reserve their self-image. On the other hand, a facilitating environment can help to reduce the high-pressure of staffs as well.
After introducing the ideology and corresponded behavior of business management, the process of spreading of the ideology will be discussed in the following section.
How the Ideology is Spread?
The source of the ideology and the mean of spreading will be introduced.
Mr. Wong is a Christian. His faith may be the source of his ideology. Moreover, it is very likely that his supervisor, Mr. Yu, influences Mr. Wong’s management style. It is not difficult to find that there are some similar elements of their ideology. For example, it is reported that Mr. Yu taught them to use the money wisely and even suggested them to donate money to Christian organizations. They may even plan that every Christian staff will support a missionary. Moreover, Mr. Yu believes that there are certain limits of a man. Thus, he never pushes his staffs to do more that what they can do. Thus, Mr. Yu’s ideology may influence Mr. Wong’s belief of running his business. Then, it is very likely that Mr. Wong will influence his staffs and the ideology will be continued and may be modified. This process of transferring ideology from Mr. Yu to Mr. Wong and Mr. Wong to his staffs worth being studied.
Regarding the spreading of the ideology, the frame alignment process and Weber’s explanation on the relationship between social-strata and ideology will be used.
In the frame alignment process, the opinions and interests of the target group may be suppressed and ignored. There may be no channel for expressing the interest of the target group. It is expected that the interest of the Mr. Wong’s staffs should be working with an ‘interesting’ job. Moreover, they expect a job which working performance is rewarded. In Mr. Wong’s declaration of the mission statement of the company, the value of his staffs is ensured and affirmed. Although the job of ‘insurance sales’ can be considered as ‘unwelcome’ and ‘high-pressure’, it is considered as a job of ‘financial planner’ of promising and interesting. Moreover, staffs’ performance is considered positively in Mr. Wong’s appraisal. Therefore, their performance should be reward properly. As a result, Mr. Wong’s company can be considered as a ‘heaven’ for the staffs’ expectations to certain sense and the framework of Mr. Wong and his staffs are aligned.
The frame alignment can explain the work of alignment done by Mr. Wong. On the other hand, the ‘abilities’ of staffs for accepting such ideology is also important. In my opinion, it is suggested that Mr. Wong’s staffs may be a special social strata that favors the development of such ideology with reference to the theory of Max Weber. It has been mentioned in the section of recruitment that high quality staffs are recruited. It is expected that high quality staffs may be one with independent thinking and seeking for the perfect. Therefore, they may feel special reluctant to the imperfect management developed from the ideology of ‘impersonal’ and ‘high pressure’ management. On the other hand, they can accept the better management that is more personal and facilitating. Thus, such ideology can be developed in Mr. Wong’s staffs’ mind and be very likely to be continued. It should be noted that this is only a preliminarily analysis only. Further study is needed to see if Weber’s theory can be applied in this situation. Nevertheless, it can show that the success of a business management not only needs a good manager but also an appropriate social strata or good quality of staffs.
In the following, the ideology of Mr. Wong will be further evaluated. Some common questions raised will be attempted to be answered. Then, strengths and weakness of this study will be commented. It will be followed by a suggestion of further study.
Evaluation of the Ideology
It seems that there are no ‘mysterious’ elements in Christian management. The belief of Christianity gives a ‘systematic disclosure’ for one’s framework of cosmology and conscious. This leads to the business management with Christianity elements. When the ‘functions’ of Christian management is studied, it can be explained with other possible ideology. For example, the emphasize of staffs’ development in counseling may be understood with the modern HRM concept of ‘management by objectives’ (MBO). However, the ideology behind is different. It should be bear in mind that Christianity does not only give the management function but a picture of cosmology as well. The discussion of ideology behind the management is seldom found in secular business texts.
Although Mr. Wong claim that his management is a Christian one, one may query the extent of Christian elements included in Mr. Wong’s ideology. One cannot be denied that not all Christian doctrines are ‘translated’ into business management. In fact, it is very difficult to identify which part of Christian doctrine needed to be applied. Nevertheless, Mr. Wong’s management can be still accepted as a Christian one when some elements are included in the daily practices. This situation is similar to those participating into the practice of Taoism but know nothing about it.
Moreover, one may query if this ideology is successful one. Thus, this ideology needed to be evaluated.
In an evaluation of an ideology, certain frame of reference needs to be set first. For example, it is very ‘vague’ to evaluate what is a ‘success’ business. It is suggested that the abilities of profit making should be studied as it is a business. On the other hand, the acceptance of the staffs should be considered.
Regarding the abilities of profit-making, one may interest if this kind of Christian business can survive in this competitive business. As a surprise to most of the people, Mr. Wong’s company have won the ‘1997 Sales Branch Award’ implying the highest sales revenue. On the other hand, ‘money may not necessary make one happy’. Thus, responses from the staffs needed to be reviewed. Mr. Wong reports that his staffs even non-Christian accept this management as one with good characters and they enjoy working in this environment. In my opinion, these two achievements are seldom can be achieved in secular business. In other words, Mr. Wong’s Christian business management can be accepted as a success even from an ordinary world view.
To conclude, the case of Mr. Wong Christian management shows us that religious ideology can have close relationship with our daily lives. It may not be necessary be associated with an image of superstitious and out-of-date. It fact, it can create a success of business instead.
Strength of this Research
Comparing with other similar studies, this first-hand research work has two distinct strengths. Firstly, the relationship among the cosmology, ideology and individual has been demonstrated with an example of Christian management. It contributes to have a better picture of the relationship between among the ideology, religion and company management while there have been many studies introducing the application of Chinese Philosophy and Zen on management. Secondly, the ideology behind the management process is specially introduced while other studies in this area often introduce the ‘function’ of management only, but not the ideology in depth. Thus, this study may have set a good direction of further study.
Weakness of this Research
There are two ways to improve the quality of this research in the future. Firstly, the opinion of Mr. Wong’s staffs should be interviewed. Thus, an all-round picture can be obtained. Secondly, Mr. Wong mentions that non-Christian might consider Mr. Wong’s management as one with good characters, but the actual opinions from non-Christians staffs should be obtained to see if he is right.
Suggestions for Further Studies
It should be noted that this small study has only mentioned a small part of Mr. Wong’s Christian business management. There are still may space for further studies. Here are some suggestions.
Basically, the elements or variables in related studies are ideology, business sector and managerial function. There are numerous possible combinations for related studies. One of the possible researches is the application of Chinese wisdom on business management. In fact, there is a growing popularity on the study in this area. However, previous works may only focus on the ‘functions’ given by the Chinese wisdom. The analysis of cosmology and ideology may be not in-depth to certain sense. Moreover, it has been shown that applying Chinese Philosophy can lead to the similar successful result of Mr. Wong’s management. In other words, the same promising result can be achieved by two different means. It is expected that a study of comparison of these two ideologies can help to have a better and sharp understanding of these two ideologies.
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