Summary: Within organizations and teams we want everyone to be accountable, capable and have the necessary authority to complete their work. This can only come about through shared respect and reciprocal helping relationships of the team-members and management. Immanuel Kant in his ‘Kingdom of Ends’ formulation supplies a good foundation of thought and actions (which Kant calls duties), in creating this workplace environment.

“For all rational beings stand under the law that each of them should treat himself and all others never merely as means but always at the same time as an end in himself. Hereby arises a systemic union of rational beings through common objective laws, i.e., a kingdom that may be called a kingdom of ends (certainly only an ideal), inasmuch as these laws have in view the very relation of such beings to one another as ends and means.” – Immanuel Kant; 433-434. Groundings for the Metaphysics of Morals

In my exploration of work and teams I see a great tension between how people want to act, feel forced to act, know they ought to act, and the actions the work system rewards.

The above section from Kant speaks of a ‘Kingdom of Ends’. A world where everyone treats others “as an end in himself”. This Kantian line is used in many philosophy classes and I hear versions of it in the the companies, teams and Managerial-Leaders I work with.

What does it mean to use someone as a means and not an end in and of themselves. It means they were used as a tool to promote ones own self-interest. They (the means) feels and was treated as a non-thinking, non-rational, non-person.

It’s heard within workplaces in phrases like:

  • This company just uses you and then throws you out
  • Bring ‘em in and Burn ‘em out
  • If you don’t like it, there are no chains of the door. You can quit anytime
  • I feel used
  • My manager just used me to accomplish his goals
  • We never get credit for the work done
  • The only way to motivate these people is to kick them and threaten their jobs
  • People at that lower-level of work are only motivated by money
  • We don’t pay you to think
  • etc…

With all the literature out there about Employee-Engagement and Autonomous work teams, and Empowered work team, Leadership etc… you would think that what Immanuel Kant wrote in 1785 would have been better inculcated into the world or work.

It has and I together we are moving towards this Kingdom of Ends.

So What?

We are only as knowledgeable as what we know, and many work teams and Managerial-Leaders come through broken systems that believe the above statements to be true. Even when we know and feel that we ought to treat people fairly and as Self-Thinking, competent adults who are able to complete the work…We are faced with Organizational-Systems and deeply held folkloric beliefs that are contrary, and we cannot overcome a deeply embedded system that is broken.

Plus we want to believe what we are doing is just, so as Managers we increase our own confirmation bias and notice only the actions and behaviors that reinforce our beliefs, that in turn work to reinforce our actions. That cause people to behave in the way you expect them to behave, which only reinforces the beliefs you held…Causing any idea of respect and a Kingdom of Ends to crumble around us.

Forcing employees to either act like a victim or get revenge.

Now What?

I am not sure I know the answer.

It starts with understanding that people are different, and have different capabilities, values, wisdom, skilled knowledge and desire to work. That Work is a psychological necessity for every person. Illustrating Competence and Respect for people in every level of the organization. Ensuring that Management has at that time, the right ability to handle the Complexity, Values the work, necessary skilled knowledge, Wisdom of the how and why, plus NO extreme behavioral issues.

Looking at the system and determining what you want to have happen. Developing strong Organizational-Practices that enable people to work to their individual capacities, to exercise their creative freedom to make choice and use this knowledge to solve problems.

What do you think?

What does it look like, feel like, sound like to treat a person as an ‘end in and of themselves’? What can you do, today to treat people in a more fair and ethical manner?