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Theysan Kasirajan

Quality Insider

A Working God


Published: Monday, December 11, 2006 - 23:00

Editor’s note: We’re intrigued by this article, in which the author posits the idea of "Theozen," the author’s term for a God-based approach to quality.

Most of us have some sort of spiritual belief, whether it’s part of an organized religion such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and so forth, or whether it’s home grown, based on our own experience of God. If we function within some sort of spiritual context, there’s no way to leave that behind, that is, to have a "work" persona and a "spiritual" persona. We are who we are and everything that encompasses. So the question often arises, how does our perception of God (or pick a phrase of your choice) influence our worklife, or, as this article explains, the quality of our work.

The author is writing from his own religious perspective, and this is what he brings to his workplace. What perspective, spiritual or otherwise, do you bring to your workplace? How does it affect the quality of what you do?

Monuments—The heritage of Earth
What strikes you when you behold the magnificence of the grand monuments of the world? What motivated the sculptors of these monuments to turn out such work of splendor and transcendental beauty? It wasn’t money or fame, as many of the sculptors are nameless. I’ve pondered a lot over this and I concluded that these people believed that they were serving God.

Many people believe, on some plane, that Earth, in some way, is preparatory for eternal life with God. Many view every day as an opportunity to become a better worker. Instead of looking at work solely as a means to get material benefits, they see work as an opportunity to become excellent. Work is an expression of their spiritual self and many want to turn in the highest quality possible, whether they get paid or not.

Look at the ancient sculptors. They chipped and chipped, not for material benefits, but as an offering to God. My belief is that whether you’re making a car or a sandwich, you’re doing it in the eyes of God. If we all believed in this, then divinely-inspired quality would become practicable. To develop a global civilization that produces quality in the complex technologies of today, we need to build a corporate culture that inculcates in each of us a mentality that focuses on serving God in all that we do.

We seem to think that we need to divorce our spiritual selves when we do business, that we need to put our spiritual selves on hold while we make business decisions. But, if you believe that there’s a God and if your life’s goal is salvation, then that’s your top-most goal. Why should we sacrifice this goal when we come to work or when we do business? We need to conduct our business so that we make profit without sacrificing the goal of salvation.

As God would have it, there’s a practical benefit in this approach.

What’s quality?
I’ve been interested in quality for about two decades. I was introduced to quality through Robert Pirsig in his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Bantam Books, 1975). In that classic, the protagonist ponders what quality is. He concludes that quality is honesty. My perception of quality is that it’s conscientious devotion, where we, as servants of God, produce the best we have, as a way to worship God through our work.

If a person works with the goal of pleasing God, knowing that somebody else will use his or her work, then that person will put more effort in it. That person will focus on excellence and dedicate his or her life to becoming the best at what they do and, consequently, will contribute in a suitable manner to others.

Who turns out the best work?
The notion that throwing money at people or projects results in high quality is false. It’s built on the assumption that only paid work is work and all else isn’t. If we look at most of the work—paid and unpaid—in the world, I think it’s safe to say that more work gets done without pay than with pay—think of a mother caring for her child—and the level of quality is rather high.

I’ve been observing employees for years, and I’ve discovered that the employee who turns out the best work is one who’s simply a conscientious person. And almost always, that employee has turned out to be a person who’s intensely spiritual. I specifically am not saying that person was religious, as dogmatic religious people didn’t really seem to deliver the best quality, in my experience.

In our desire to divorce God from anything that we do, we have divorced it from business and given Quixotic inducements to get the most basic of work done. If we seamlessly integrate a spiritual framework into business in an abstract manner, then we will get more work done and in the right way. The efforts, of course, must be structured with a dose of worldliness.

Axioms of Theozen
Based on all the aforesaid thoughts, I have developed a quality paradigm that I call Theozen, which essentially means God-based improvement. There are four axioms to Theozen. They are:

1. Maintain a spiritual focus
2. Maintain a people focus
3. Maintain a profit focus
4. Ensure gender equity

Maintain a spiritual focus
The basic belief of Theozen is that we’re all servants of God. A servant is someone who serves. When the focus is on serving, then the object of the activity becomes pure customer satisfaction. We need to develop a cultural system where the values of the organization are geared toward serving. If we develop a cultural system where each member is encouraged to serve their God in their work, then we will have a cultural organization that is geared toward serving the customer as well.

As much as this sounds like purely a "feel-good" approach, please note that this type of organization needs to be nurtured with material benefits, using solid principles of people management. I highly recommend Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book The Human Equation (Harvard Business School Press, 1998). Pfeffer is a professor of business at Stanford whose singular epochal contribution—in my opinion—is that he has proven that it’s practical business sense to invest in people. The focus is to understand that the company is essentially its people and that working through them, instead of around them, is the best bet to develop high-performing organizations.

Maintain a people focus
People are the essence of any organization. All the money in the world can’t produce an Einstein. Pfeffer has proven that organizations that treat people well perform better over the long term.

So, embrace benevolence and ensure that you treat people as family, making them feel like they’re really a part of your organization.

One of my axioms of quality is that total quality is directly proportional to people quality. Hence, when you recruit people into your organization, or when you choose suppliers, ensure that you induct conscientious people so you will be able to deliver top quality all the time with near zero defects.

Maintain a profit focus
Profit is good. If you’re making profit in your organization, then it means that you’re adding value to society. In almost all cases, profit is good and every organization must strive for it. Maintain a total profit focus in all that you do and ensure that your organization doesn’t suck more resources from society than it delivers. With a God-based approach, profits are made in an ethical manner.

Ensure gender equity
A harmonious organization is one where men and women are present in equal strength. Apply this principle in your quest for quality. Ensure that there is gender equality in your organization. This means that you need to ensure that roughly half of all positions should go to each gender. Ensure that roughly half of all positions in all tiers of the organization have women at the helm. This is the engine that will make your organization a divine organization.

Theozen can produce quality. There is evidence that organizations that focus on quality also make more money, e.g. a study by Ernst and Young spanning half a thousand businesses in Canada, the United States, Germany and Japan showed that high performance organizations have higher profitability (return on assets and value-added per employee) and quality (customer satisfaction index).

Theozen is dedicated to the faceless sculptors of grand world monuments who turned in quality for its own sake in worship of God.


About The Author

Theysan Kasirajan’s default image

Theysan Kasirajan

Theysan Kasirajan, once a KPMG auditor, is an industrial engineer with a master’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the United States. He has more than 10 years of experience in quality and is currently a quality manager with Hexaware, India.