!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Not-so-Secret Secrets

Friday, April 17, 2009

Not-so-Secret Secrets

I read "Business Secrets of the Trappists," a four-part essay Forbes.com published April 14-17, with the idea that it might really reveal some valuable insights of a novel sort.

No such luck. The author, August Turak, "an entrepreneur, consultant, writer and speaker who divides his time between New York City and his farm in North Carolina," cites these seven gems of wisdom gleaned from time spent at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery in South Carolina:
  1. Have a worthy mission, and help employees make the connection between day-to-day decisions and mission accomplishment.

  2. Focus selflessly on the mission, i.e., cultivate an organizational culture in which employees are motivated to pursue mission accomplishment, as opposed to giving priority to individual interests and engaging in turf battles.

  3. Commit to excellence.

  4. Maintain the high ethical standards.

  5. Have faith that following your principles will result in a successful business through good times and bad — because your approach to doing business is such that all parties (your organization, your clients, your suppliers) benefit.

  6. Build relations of trust with others. By consistently putting the organizational mission and the interests of others ahead of your own, you make yourself more persuasive in internal discussions and external negotiations.

  7. Have a specified method (e.g., the Rule of St. Benedict) for putting your principles consistently into practice. Give focused attention to ensuring employees embrace the values and attitudes necessary for long-term success in accomplishing the organizational mission.
It is unfortunate that Turak, like all too many business writers, places great weight on platitudes and on analogies that beg the question of how exactly to apply the principles being canonized. (As just one example of the problem with Turak's analogizing of secular business to that of Mepkin Abbey, I'd mention that the monks follow a rule of silence, something quite at odds with the way a secular business operates.)

Please understand that I am in no way quarreling with the monks' style of living and working, nor with their manner of bearing witness to the values Turak describes. My concern is that Turak hasn't accomplished much by endorsing widely accepted values. What's needed is to do the additional work of investigating how to effectively put these values into practice in particular secular situations.

This is where the case method, combined with complementary quantitative research, actually contributes to knowledge of effective management practice. In particular, I would argue that the "Have faith" principle (#5) is one that requires detailed elucidation in order to be useful to a business firm faced with the need to turn an adequate profit in order to remain viable.


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