Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Avoiding Instrumentalism

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you." Psalm 139:13-18 NIV

Servant leaders recognize the danger of adopting worldly standards of analysis that are contrary to scriptural principles. To my consternation, management frequently uses the term “fat” to describe the inefficient use of human resources. This term reduces flesh, blood and spirit-possessing employees to instruments of production that are to be discarded or purged based upon the “rational analysis” of management. This is prime example of the dehumanizing influence of rational instrumentalism, a deeply ingrained value system, in which employees are a means of production and “costs” to be managed and minimized. A poignant example of instrumentalism is in Charles Dickens’s classic “A Christmas Carol.” The main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, callously rebuffs all requests for charitable contributions and states that the poor should “die to decrease the surplus population.” The Ghost of Christmas Present convicts Scrooge when he gives him a glimpse of the starving children he condemned by his callous statement and states that in the eyes of heaven Scrooge is the “hard-hearted” member of the true “surplus” population.

I am not advocating that leaders ignore staffing efficiency, effectiveness, and fiscal stress considerations. However, these decisions require the integration of moral and ethical value assessments founded upon a covenantal relationship. A workplace covenant is the presence of a long-term relationship with a mutual commitment between employer and employee to promote the best long tern interests of all stakeholders and achieve the mission with excellence. In a workplace covenant, a moral and ethical framework governs all human resource decisions in which the value of maintaining the employment relationship is of critical importance and layoffs and termination are “last resort” options. When organizations are willing to reduce profits or reduce expenditures or adjust service levels to retain employees (while still meeting the mission objectives), it produces a climate of good will, confidence, and trust. Clearly, there are instances when fiscal pressures justify layoffs, but we approach such decisions with “fear and trembling.” We possess a higher calling as Christians to remove the judgmental log from our own eye before we can clearly identify the “surplus” population. The “fat” in management decisions is not removed in cosmetic plastic surgery removed by liposuction, but is a decision of profound importance that involves human being employees with souls, feelings and families. Let us all commit to cast down all vain imaginations and renew our minds to purge ourselves from worldviews and standards that place barriers to God-honoring employee treatment.