Organizational Behavior, Genealogies and Lessons

If you look at the curriculum of most MBA (Master of Business Administration) programs, you’ll find that Organizational Behavior (OB) is usually one of the core topics studied in those programs. OB is the study of the behavior and attitudes of people in organizations. The field usually has three levels: individual, group and the organization.

While the Scriptures are not an OB textbook, there is much to be learned from the Scriptures about how an individual should behave within an organization and how the church – the primary organization in God’s plan – should also behave. One could probably write an entire book just on this topic – What the Scriptures have to say about Organizational Behavior.

In reading Genesis 11.10 – 32, the genealogies of Shem to Abram, I was struck by the decreasing length of life on the earth. And because the older folks were outliving the younger folks, I began to wonder just what effect that might have had on organizational dynamics since the family acted as much like an organization as a family. You see, in our current culture and time, IF we get to know our grandparents very well, it is a rare thing. With many women waiting until their mid-30’s or early 40’s to bear children and with the current average length of life at ~75 years, it is difficult for the younger generations to learn very much from their grandparents. But this was not the case in Genesis 11 – in fact, the exact opposite was true. It would have been unheard of for someone to die at 75. They were just getting going at 75!

In Genesis, we learn that when Noah was 500 years old, he sired three sons. Shem then became the bloodline through which Christ would be born, so the geneology focused on his line. If one were to calculate out the years of birth and death (which I did), one would find the following:

Name

Birth Order

Death Order

Birth Year

Death Year

Noah

1

8

900

1938

Shem

2

5

1400

1900

Arphaxad

3

6

1500

1903

Shelah

4

8

1535

1938

Eber

5

10

1565

2029

Peleg

6

1

1599

1808

Reu

7

3

1629

1836

Serug

8

4

1661

1861

Nahor

9

2

1691

1810

Terah

10

7

1720

1925

Abram

11

9

1790

1965

 

The way to read this chart is to say, for example, that out of these 11 fellows, Peleg was born 6th, but was the first to die. Everyone else on this list outlived Peleg. Continuing on, out of this list, the only individual who outlived Abram was Eber, his great, great, great, great grandfather.

Now, if one were to put this into modern terms, or years, the chart shows the year of birth and death for each one. We assume the year 1500 AD as a start point, not because it is accurate (of course it is NOT, but sometimes, it’s helpful to put Biblical lessons into modern terms), but because 1500 is a round number and I’m not terribly good at math, so having round numbers really helps me. I start with Arphaxad in year 1500 and work backwards for Shem and Noah. A couple items to note. First, Noah outlives nearly everyone on this list. Only Eber and Abram outlive Noah. Secondly, as a general rule of thumb, the older generation outlives the younger generation. Those born in order of 1-5 outlive those born in order 6-9. Eber outlives everyone.

Now, I’m not an Old Testament scholar, but it would seem to me that over the years, each of these fellows had a chance to meet Noah and learn from him. It does appear in other OT accounts that when family went to visit other family members, that they did so for months or years at a time. Because God’s truth was translated orally during this time, it makes sense for God to have kept the older patriarchs alive while the younger generation grew. From an organizational and family perspective, think of the strong traditions and “sense of belonging” these patriarchs would have felt. Think of how exciting it must have been to hear Noah describe his direct conversations with God. Think of the deep sense of God’s righteousness they would have inherited knowing the man who lived through the flood due to man’s sin. Think of Noah’s pain as he saw the younger generations slipping back into the same sins that caused God to wipe out nearly all of mankind from the face of the earth.

Also, think of the cultural stability provided by having such depth of generations alive at the same time. Cultural stability is really a result of shared valued extended through the generations. Again, this is lacking in our culture today. It is likely a reason that the oriental cultures will outlast the Western cultures – they have a strong sense of their shared values than we do, political systems notwithstanding.

Organizations often do better when there is a strong sense of community, purpose and history. Organizations that don’t have this flounder and are open to radical change due to their lack of moorings. Our country is approaching 250 years of age, yet we have very few, if any national traditions that are deeply meaningful to the country. Most businesses don’t have traditions at all while some non-profit, cause-oriented organizations have developed traditions over the life of their existence. Tradition is merely giving more votes to those who have passed on than to those who are alive today. Yet in this example, the younger generations didn’t need to rely on tradition for stability – their ancestors were there, in living color, to provide that stability.

From a transitions perspective, the larger and more influential the organization, the better it is to have a smooth, orderly transition of leadership. I once asked a pastor of one of the largest churches here in Minneapolis if he was grooming someone to take his place. He is in his early 60’s at the time of this writing, has been at this church for over 20 years as their senior pastor, and he has a history of long-term health problems. I was taken aback by the strength of his anger in his curt reply “No!”. I don’t know what this pastor believes about planning for transitions, but we have all seen those in power stay longer than they should or than it good for the organization and in the end, do more harm than good for the organization they purport to love and support.

More Info: The Harvard Business Review (HBR) had a good article on succession (October, 2010, page 47, How I Did It…Xerox’s Former CEO on Why Succession Shouldn’t be a Horse Race), and in this article we learn that the outgoing CEO spend nearly a decade orchestrating a smooth transition. Now, for sure, not all succession and transition stories are positive and not all work out, but this article outlines some good ideas on how to make leadership transitions smooth and beneficial for the organization.

While it might not seem like much, sometimes, we can learn some interesting tidbits just by reading the genealogies in Scripture. Most in our culture lack any sense of belonging to their family or any organization. Our country lacks any real strong traditions. Most churches lack both as well, as our culture becomes increasingly transitional. If you want to provide unspoken stability in your organization, look for ways to build in a level of belonging, predictability and stability, even if you work in an ever-changing, fast-paced industry.

One idea to provide this is something we’ve implemented at Mindsharp. Instead of having a 12-month, hard budget and set of objectives, we have a rolling 12-month budget and planning process. As the current quarter comes to a close, we add the next 4th quarter to our plan and budget and go through the planning and budgeting exercises again. This provides not only agility to meet changing market demands, but it also provides stability to the organization through everyone having a consistent and well-stated 12-month outlook.

Look for ways in your organization to provide stability to your employees. They need it and it will help your organization thrive, not just survive.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

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