In the modern world filled with work related stress and conflict, Buddha’s teachings can be the next big solution for effective organisational management.
--BY ANUTARA SHAKYA
It’s been over 2,500 years since Gautam Buddha enlightened the world with his teachings encouraging people to follow the path of non-violence, truthfulness and righteousness. More than two and a half millennia later, the world continues to remember his teachings in the form of Buddhism, a prominent religion followed by over 300 million people across the globe. Though it is mostly spiritual, Buddhism's emphasis on a stress-free and peaceful life of coexistence makes even business management simple yet effective. Today, the aspects of this spiritual philosophy such as meditation, morality and wisdom are applied in many cases, including business.
Adopting Buddha’s teachings for effective management has become a new global trend for businesses to ensure a high level of ethical practice and to make sure that their employees and customers are satisfied, mindful and happy. Many companies around the world that follow Buddhist management have been able to maintain a clean profile while earning a profit at the same time. One key point that separates Buddhist management from regular business school management concepts is that it focuses on the wellbeing of every individual related to the business. From clients to employees, Buddhist management points out that a business is not a business if it inflicts harm on others, whether physical or mental.
Gautam Buddha introduced the concept of effective management through the Bhikshu Sangha, a community of Buddhist monks where they are assigned certain posts and responsibilities accordingly. The Sangha is the branch of organisational management that existed in Buddhism.
Experts say that Buddhist management is about implementing the aspects of management while keeping Buddha’s teachings in mind. According to them, many companies have benefitted from its practical solutions to avoiding conflict in the workplace and maintaining employee satisfaction. “The definition of management in Buddhism and business is not that different. Both seek to manage an institution or a community tactfully. Buddha’s main concern was to show the right path to the people to manage and live correctly and to be able to gain the maximum benefit from our lives,” says a prominent Buddhist scholar Dr Tri Ratna Manandhar. Manandhar who is a lecturer of Buddhist Studies at Tri-Chandra Multiple Campus, Kathmandu, holds a Master’s degree in Buddhist Studies and is also an MBA graduate.
So how does adopting Buddhist management in business profit companies? “It is not about generating profit but rather about taking care of the units that generate the profit,” explains Dr Manandhar. According to him, understanding the Buddhist way of management in business is about being able to ensure that the work environment in organisations is stress free, employees are genuinely interested in the work and the clients trust the company in terms of honesty and credibility. Some of the elements of practicing Buddhist management in business includes following the Eight Fold Path, mindfulness, avoiding conflict in the workplace, honesty and sincerity, mutual respect and self discipline in terms of the company’s management, organisation, staffing and motivation, say experts. Similarly, businessmen around the world have also been adopting this style of management to increase one’s emotional intelligence, a must in the modern day business sector.
Manandhar says that Buddhist management can play a crucial role when it comes to engaging in better organisational practices. “Good management is the essence for good business practices,” he mentions. “Business management is all about better business planning, effective human resource management and ensuring high level of satisfaction to clients to achieve organisational goals. These are the determining factors for success and failure of any institution. Buddha’s teachings support the achievement of these goals without consequences,” says Manandhar.
Though Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha and Buddhism has significant religious and cultural influences in the country, Buddhist management techniques are relatively rare here when it comes to organisational management. Nevertheless, some groups and companies that have adopted this particular management style have been enjoying success and maintaining a healthy profile in terms of sustainable and ethical business practices.
CE Group of Companies is one such business entity. The company which has been effectively using Buddhist organizational management is credited for setting some important standards in the Nepali construction sector. CE makes sure that its staff work in a stress-free environment by providing them with the support and guidance where necessary. “We are firm believers of coexistence. We encourage an ethical working environment and request our staff to consult us regarding any problems they might face in their work as opposed to hiding them from the higher authorities,” says Bijay Rajbhandary, Chairman of CE Group of Companies. “We have fostered an environment where there is no fear of authority and our staffs feel comfortable in discussing any serious issues that may arise,” he adds.
CE also has a Quiet room where staff can go and spend as much quiet time as required in order to relieve the mental stress that might gradually build-up during the work day. Rajbhandary, who is also a practitioner of Vipassana meditation, teaches the technique to the company employees every week.
Vipassana, an ancient Buddhist meditation practice, is being used by many corporate houses across the world to calm their minds and to develop emotional intelligence in order to have a successful professional and personal life.
Conflict management forms an important part of Buddhist organisational management. As a philosophy that encourages peace and coexistence, collective harmony is a central feature of this management concept.
“According to Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, any issue or conflict is associated with some reasons. Reasons for conflict must be completely assessed and understood to find proper solution,” says Rajbhandary, adding, “Once the root cause is known, best solution can be sought and methodology can be devised and implemented in order in terms of conflict resolution without hurting those concerned.”
According to him, there is no company in the world that exists without any conflict. “However, we can try to change antagonistic mindsets through Vipassana practices by observing the reality as it is,” opines Rajbhandary.
This concept of conflict resolution emphasises on group harmony in organisations for productive outcomes. It sees miscommunication as the main cause of conflict and argues that the best way to avoid conflict is by encouraging communication among the people.
CE has been effectively practicing this type of conflict resolution methodology. “Whenever there is a conflict at the company, we talk to those responsible and listen to what they have to say. We approach such issues with compassion and generally find that the cause of such issues is rooted in miscommunication. Our first step is to deal with the individuals involved, then with their colleagues, supervisors and subordinates. Then a compromise is reached that shall benefit all,” shares Rajbhandary.
Buddhist management focuses on dealing with conflict resolution within the organisations to increase the professionalism in the workplaces and to enhance a non-judgmental attitude among the staff so that they can understand and share a common set of values, say experts. This results in employee satisfaction which ultimately contributes to the higher rate of staff retention.
While Buddha’s teachings lead monks to follow the path to enlightenment by living a non-materialistic life, it does not discourage lay persons from making a profit. In fact, the Buddha in his teachings has encouraged people to work for the well-being of their families first and only then to engage in charity. “Buddha has emphasised on earning only by ethical means,” says Manandhar.
This is especially reflected in his teachings about managing finances for businessmen as well as laymen. The script Singalovada Sutta, a part of the Digha Nikaya or the Long Discourses of Buddha, incorporates the wisdom endowed upon a merchant Sigala. This Buddhist scripture talks of managing finance and business in a proper and ethical manner. The Sigalovada Sutta mentions that one’s income should be divided into four parts, where one part should be consumed, two parts reinvested and the remainder saved for the future.
Sales and marketing forms an integral part of the business strategy of any company to earn a profit. Experts argue that sustainable business practices take place only when such activities are trustworthy. “Companies should sell good quality goods in order to ensure their customer’s trust in the brand. Marketing behaviour should be honest and trustworthy,” notes Manandhar.
Philanthropy and CSR
Charity is an important part of the Buddhist tradition. Buddha has stated that the money given as charity benefits both the donor and the receiver. Different Buddhist scripts have highlighted that while there is no limitation on how much one can give to others, it should not be done at the expense of the things needed for one’s own personal livelihood. In a way, it suggests sustainable practices in terms of financial contributions for social causes.
In the modern day world, businesses follow this concept through CSR and philanthropy initiatives. Today, they have adopted certain models of CSRs to benefit the society which ultimately ensures long-term sustainability in business practices.
The Global Trend of Buddhist Management
In recent years, adopting Buddhist management in business has become an emerging trend globally. Many businesses have found this particular management style to be effective after realising its benefits in a number of areas including leadership, marketing and customer relationship. Similarly, top executives of some of the world’s major companies have also been practicing Buddhist management to achieve success in their professional and personal lives. Jeff Weiner, founder of professional networking site Linkedin is one such executive who believes in “compassionate leadership” as a core means in organisational management.
Likewise, Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of an American cloud computing company Salesforce is a Zen Buddhism practitioner who is known for introducing mediation and mindfulness trainings in his company after following the advice of Buddhist monks. The most notable Buddhist businessman perhaps is the Apple’s co-founder late Steve Jobs who was a follower of Zen Buddhism and relied on meditation and a strict vegetarian diet. Given the benefits to live life with positive vibes, Buddhist management is increasingly becoming popular among Silicon Valley CEOs.
Being the continent with the largest Buddhist population, Asia is home to many businesses practicing this type of management without being sectarian. Multinational Japanese corporations such as Kyocera and TDK, for instance, have been practicing Zen management for a long time to achieve peace and productivity at work. A school of Mahayana Buddhism, Zen emphasises on meditation for self-control, insight into Buddha’s nature and expression of this insight in everyday life. Kyocera’s founder Kazuo Inamori himself taught the staff of the company to realise the social impacts of their works and advised them to become humble and soft-spoken for a happier life. Studies have shown that this approach of Inamori resulted in the staff becoming more conscious about their work, thus increasing productivity. Meanwhile, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba also has taken a similar approach in management. The company’s founder Jack Ma himself takes meditation classes for staff to help them relieve stress.
Among the top Buddhist entrepreneurs is Korean electronics giant Samsung’s Chairman Lee Kung Hee who brought changes in the work ethics of Samsung with his famous quote, “Change everything except your wife and kids.”
In Nepal, Maniharsha Jyoti Kansakar, founder of Jyoti Group is regarded as the businessman who effectively practiced Buddhist organisational management in business in Nepal. His father, Bhaju Ratna Kansakar played a crucial role in establishing Theravada Buddhism in the country while Maniharsha introduced the Vipassana meditation here. To this day, Jyoti Group has followed the path of its founder and incorporated Vipassana meditation and Buddhist management practices in its daily operations.
Buddhist educational institutions such as Lumbini Buddhist University and Lotus Research Center have been providing courses in applied Buddhism through graduate and undergraduate level courses on Buddhist studies. The subjects include Buddhism and management and Buddhist economics, among others. However, these courses haven’t gained popularity as mainstream management courses. If educational institutions are able to develop courses that combine Buddhist philosophies and ethical business management practices, they can prove to be beneficial in terms of sustainability of businesses and increasing productivity, say experts. According to them, now the time has come for Nepali companies to adopt and benefit from this style of business management and organisation which has been gaining popularity the world over.
Major Constituents of Buddhist Management
According to Dr Manandhar, mindfulness is one of the most important aspects of Buddhist management. Mindfulness is a state of awareness of being in the present moment but also being aware of one’s thoughts and emotions. It allows for better concentration and more productivity. “Many problems generally occur in the workplaces due to a lack of alertness which is caused by the imbalanced restlessness of mind. This can be reduced with the help of mindfulness,” explains Manandhar.
Organisations following the Buddhist management line focus a lot on the mindful training of their employees. Such trainings are organised to balance the stress levels of employees with it being important to maintain good levels of concentration.
Motivation is another factor in Buddhist management. Anathapindika, a wealthy merchant regarded as one of the chief disciples of Buddha, used to motivate his employees to work sincerely. Buddha instructed him to keep the factor of motivation in mind as without this element people will see work as a burden or just a means to put food on the table. Motivation, according to Buddha, can be achieved by encouraging better communication among the staff, providing incentives and rewards and taking a more gentle approach in people management.
Similarly, the Buddhist style of management also gives greater importance to the factor of empathy as it can help to understand individuals better. This helps organisations to maintain effective communication between the management and employees as well as clients. It also minimises conflicts in organisations.