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Born Again? The Ethics and Efficacy of the Conversion Experience in Contemporary Management Development

Diane Ackers Preston Peter

Journal of Management Studies, 1997, vol. 34, issue 5, 677-701

Abstract: This article notes how a religious tone has seeped into the discourse of contemporary management development. This religious analogy is explored through the evangelical Christian notion of ‘conversion’ and radical personal change. The expansion of such a mind‐set into contemporary management thinking is related to the revival of the charismatic form of authority, in the writing of popular management gurus, such as Tom Peters. The search for new forms of ethical and social cohesion is considered. Next, this framework is applied to management development, with particular reference to one fairly mainstream, if intensive, programme. Through quotes from the managers involved, we illustrate how this programme employed emotional experience to remould individual personality and hence corporate culture in a way that mimics the religious conversion process. Finally, we question both whether a largely involuntary business organization has an ethical right to claim the ‘souls’ of its managers, and whether this is likely to be a realizable goal, in any case.

Date: 1997
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