The Role of Karma in Organizations

“Karmanye vadhika raste ma phaleshu kadachana, Ma karma phala hetu bhurba te sangostav karmani” — (Chapter 2:47) Bhagwat Gita.

[You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to doing your duty.]

The western concept of management is characterized by high supervisory control, high levels of competitiveness, and an unemotional approach towards achieving quantifiable goals, with a greater emphasis on winning. Most organizations have cultures, systems, and processes designed to optimize attainment of objective goals; and the role of employees is to help achieve organizational goals, which ultimately maximize shareholder value. Most of today’s management concepts and theories have been only tested in limited markets, but their claims are often bombastic. The practice of these theories view a typical manager donning a role of a resource optimizer more than a complete human being.

It is myths like these that pervade our management thoughts and actions, that are leading to decay in complete growth and development of human resources in organizations, mainly because organizations have a very narrow perspective of themselves as entities that exist to maximize shareholder value. Only very recently, especially after the global financial meltdown has the word ‘shareholder’ been replaced by ‘stakeholder’.

In this essay, I advocate that there is a pressing need today for organizations to realize that organizations or their employees should not viewed as mere resource optimizers. Employees are as human as they should be. Therefore, they should not from a lens of agency theory or transaction cost theory, be looked at as opportunist who need to be monitored and controlled; or as efficient agents with goals aligned to that of their principals. There is much more to management than control and efficiency, and it’s high time we move away from these goals to more humanistic goals that rest on human values. The spiritual needs of individuals, such as the search for a meaning in their work based on right actions, needs to be addressed by the organizations by offering broader definitions of the goals that they should strive for.

One such goal is advocated in Bhagwat Gita as karma. The Sanskrit word karma derives its meaning from its root, kri, which means doing or an activity, which encompasses an individual’s mental and physical activities, as well as his/her, speech. In Buddhism, karma is viewed as action and effects of action and is viewed as complete psychological impulse behind an action that triggers a chain of causes culminating in a karmic reward. In certain oriental cultures such as that in India, the concept of action (or work) is strongly related to future happiness or sorrow.

Organizations need to adopt and promote humanistic values at firm level to establish practices that are ethical and that recognize the self-worth of individuals and help the salespeople in achieving his personal growth as well as organizational goals An organization that promotes karma in their employees not only gives them the freedom to grow-spiritually and mentally- but also respects their individuality, reduces unhealthy competition among them, create more bonding among themselves, and bring more harmony within and between them.

Karma is not just a motivator but also a stress coping strategy, which can enhance the quality of life and well-being. I appeal to all management researchers to unravels the various benefits of institutionalizing karma in organizations, where employees realize the position of karma(action) versus the other four aspects of an individual’s life, which are, arth(money), kama(desires), dharma (moral and social order), and moksha (self-realization). When employees are made to choose actions based on the concept of karmic chain rule, then organizations need not spend resources controlling and monitoring them. Employees would derive more meaningfulness from their mundane daily work, and get a broader perspective of their job descriptions.

Prof Ramendra Singh,IIM Calcutta

Ramendra Singh (PhD) is a faculty of Marketing in Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, a leading business school of Asia. He is an alumni of IIM Ahmedabad, one of the top 10 institutes globally. He has authored multiple research papers in top international journals and conferences. Besides marketing, he has a strong inclination for western classical music, movies and tourism.

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