January 28, 2006

Husserl and HRM

The transcendent character of the company
Bengt Gustavsson, School of Business, Stockholm University
International Journal of Human Resource Development and Management, vol. 3, no. 1, 2003, pp. 17-28
This paper discusses an alternative HRM-model based on a transcendent perspective of human consciousness. Drawing from the rich descriptions in the European and Indian philosophical traditions, the problems of identification of the self with the outer objects/definitions are highlighted. It is argued that the real and true self is found in the transcendent self, free of empirical content. The qualities of the transcendent self are the transcendent character of the individual. It is also argued that the transcendent character can be seen on macro-levels, e.g. in an organization. The transcendent consciousness is claimed to be inter-individual and the degree to which the transcendent is enlivened sets the frame for the organization and its behaviour. Empirical studies have indicated the individual as well as organizational transcendent character.
The ancient Indian tradition, unlike the European counterpart, has many contemporary proponents in emphasizing a tran­scen­dental conscious­ness. Well-known in the West are for example Krishna­murti, Rama­krishna, Vivekana­nda, Yogananda, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Auro­bindo, and Chopra [[20]].
If, however, a consciousness paradigm includes a transcendent level, as discussed above, we must add the inter-individual, aspect of consciousness. Husserl, for example, claims that in the transcendent “I experience the world and the others in me within the framework of my transcendentally reduced pure consciousness-life”. Thus, from the pure consciousness we experience the rest of the world at a subliminal level; not in object-related terms, but in transcendent, experiential and intuitive terms. The experience is in other words inter-individual – an experience of a level of consciousness common to all human beings. If we are to speak about organizations in terms of this paradigm, the inter-individual feature of the transcendent makes it highly relevant to analyse in collective, or organizational, terms. The experience of the transcendent consciousness is suggested to “enliven” its qualities on the macro-level, i.e. the organizational/societal in threshold patterns [[42]].
The discovery of the company’s human potential
The problems and paradoxes of much of the present day’s HRM-practices is that it want to introduce new knowledge, new ways of thinking and be on the frontiers of knowledge in the field. And yet, the field is continuing to change and new practices must be introduced and new demands are made on the employees to adapt to the latest practices. This knowledge and these practices are not necessarily erroneous or misleading, but how many more changes in the mental cognitive knowledge structures can an individual endure?
In this article I have introduced a perspective of the human being based on the wisdom of European and Indian thinkers on the ground state of the human consciousness, the transcendent consciousness. The perspective basically says that our self is not our thoughts, which, to use Kant’s words, are objects or limited representations. Our true self is that objectless subjectivity, full in itself, common to all human beings, available by experience only, and setting the frame for the collective consciousness of the organization.
A transcendent character of the organization, or to use Husserl’s word, an egological organization, is a quality and also an ideology [[46]]. The quality is seen as the degree of transcendent consciousness that is reflected in the collective consciousness of the organization, which can be seen as the transparent perception of the organizational members. The transparent perception is the ability to balance the tendency to identify with the non-self, i.e. the object of perception and empirical definitions, with the self, i.e. the transcendent being. This balance is the key to avoid falling prey to trends and definitions set by the environment, while at the same time unleashing the employees’ full human potential. The alternative is that we become prisoners of our reified concepts; of illusory perceptions of a complex reality, just like the shadows on the wall in Plato’s cave are illusions of a reality unknown to the cave dwellers [[47]].
HRM-practices focussing on creating object-related perceptions only, will contribute to the illusory shadows of the world instead of empowering its employees to make the shadows transparent. This was apparent when I studied the Swedish Post Office in its attempts to create a consumer consciousness in the cashiers [[48]]. In spite of the good rationale for such action, the program was based entirely on pre-formulated dogmas of good consumer oriented behaviour, and failed to relate to the cashiers inner world. The program was apprehended as alien shadows of another world and failed completely.
The ideology of a transcendent character of an organization is that urge and ensuing policies and actions of the leaders and the employees in the organization toward non-reifying actions and transcending behaviour. Whether this would consist of regular meditation, constant reflection and critical analysis, and/or any other action is difficult to say, as we have too few contemporary examples of organizations with an ideology of a transcendent character. We have even fever studies of such organizations, which is needed to gain more understanding of transcendent characters.
Finally, there is also a great need for theoretical development in the area. As organizational theorists, I believe we should pick up the baton from the great thinkers in the past to apply and develop their ideas in our times. I believe both the mankind and the organizations will benefit from such development.

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