the misguided discussion on business & social responsibility

 

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“as pines

keep the shape of the wind

even when the wind has fled and is no longer

there.

So words

Guard the shape of the man

Even when the man has fled and is no longer there.”

Giorgios Sefririacles

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I do believe business can drive social change, but I don’t believe “consumers are demanding business to lead societal change.” In fact. It is articles like this, “Consumers demand business drive Social Change” which makes cringe.

First. In general people feel like business, & capitalism, is increasingly flawed and want something better. This will drive ‘business needs to change how they do things’ and consumers, in general, will flail about with ideas on how this can and should be done and, in fact, in their flailing they may suggest businesses will have more value to them if the business steps up to the plate. That seems valid. Unfortunately, most people want things and then need things. Need will overshadow want 90% of the time. Businesses would do well to keep that in mind.

Second. This thought has become misguided simply because of all the aspects being tossed around & poorly defined terms (all of which dangerously blurs this discussion).

  • social responsibility
  • environmental
  • purpose
  • ethics
  • inclusiveness
  • diversity
  • political issues

Any and all are tossed out. Any and all are meaningful to discuss. Any and all, today, are thrown into this mosh pit of ‘social purpose’ of meaninglessness.

 

Let me be clear. Again. I do believe business SHOULD be involved in society. Ok. maybe I believe business should be aware of their role in society. The difference in those two sentences may define my issue with this entire discussion.

A business should reflect upon the ethics of their behavior (but not necessarily publicize it).

A business should reflect upon their values  (but not necessarily communicate them outside the walls of the company)

A business should reflect upon their impact on the environment (but not necessarily market it).

A business should reflect upon their diversity, inclusiveness, etc (but not necessarily publicize it).

A business should reflect upon whether they have a culture which enables individual Purpose and job meaningfulness (but not confuse that with a dubious business Purpose nor should they necessarily publicize it).

 

I am not going to talk about Purpose versus purpose today.

But I do think we need to talk about being genuine because that is at the core of this ‘business should assume some social responsibility.”

Genuine, just like sincerity and honesty, is not a value or a mission or a vision; it is (or it isn’t). You are either it or you are not. That matters because it is the foundation for any responsibility for society a business decides to either take on or simply play a role on.

This almost becomes a business truth. Not an industry truth but an individual business truth.

You look in the mirror and set your mind to who & what you are and what you are capable of.

I would suggest that this ‘Truth’ involves, and does not involve, not only a change in mind, in attitude, but also a change in behavior. Let me explain the ‘involve, does not involve’, thought.

It shouldn’t involve because it should simple be part of who and what you are. It cannot be ‘made up’ or ‘something I think we should pursue.’ This is part of the whole ‘it just is’ thing.

However.

It should involve because once you have decided you want to do something and want to be seen as someone who does something consistency is the name of the game. in the beginning you have to be very cognizant of truthful behavior & actions. Behavior involves responsibility: responsibility for actions and words. In other words. Responsibility for the truth you may ‘genuinely’ embrace this genuineness becomes incredibly important because there cannot be any ‘true compromise’ of truth.

I will point out here that I believe compromise may be the biggest enemy of truth; not lies (including lies to yourself or to employees or to customers or, worse, to society your business extends out to).

 

Anyway.

My point is that your truth doesn’t move and yet it moves. Truth is in and of itself a rock. Steady and solid and with weight <gravitas>. And yet truth evolves with time simply passing through the different faces of the past and the future. Just remember. If you can replace your truths, or let’s say society can by picking them apart, they were simply lies.

 

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“The truth is not just something we bring to light to amuse ourselves; the truth is the axis munid, the dead center of the earth.  

When it’s out of place nothing is right; everyone is in the wrong place; no light can penetrate. Happiness evades us and we spread pain and misery wherever we go.

Each person, above all others, has an obligation to recognize the truth and stand by it.”

Jacque Silette

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I worry this whole business social responsibility ignores the fact genuine truth is a burden. On the other hand. I believe society, culture and people are starved for genuine truth.

We don’t need a revolution. We need someone and someones to guide us back to it. And that is where business can play a role. And I would argue all businesses can play a role. I would argue this because it isn’t a marketing thing nor is it a public thing it is simply an extension of what Peter Drucker told us decades ago: a business is PART of society. It isn’t a thing you do or some initiative nor a marketing program (or, worse, some brand purpose or even a Purpose), it just is. It is recognizing that a business is part of the fabric & weave of society. It is recognition that what you ask of your employees should be something they should feel exhibits some genuine truths they can exhibit at the kitchen table. It is a recognition that behavior within the business walls bleeds out into behavior within society walls.

This isn’t brand purpose, this isn’t business purpose and this isn’t ‘inside out branding’. This is simply understanding the burden of responsibility a business bears a PART of society & community.

This also isn’t about some grand narrative or some grand gesture. For 90% of businesses this is simply the small gestures and genuine acts promised & delivered every day.

 

In the end.

We need two things:

A purpose to do, and, things we  do are  good things

Truth & genuine heroes.

 

Purpose to do. Talk is cheap and actions should be measured relentlessly and ruthlessly.

 

Truth & genuine heroes. I struggle to remember the last time a business was called a hero or heroic.

Truth is a burden. It is a responsibility.

Being genuine is actually a burden. It is a responsibility.

Maybe its time business, while not ignoring the fact they are in the business of making money & profits, stepped back and maybe thought about heroic profit making – where heroism benefited society.

 

Regardless.

None of this is easy. The discussion or actually doing it. But. I tend to believe it is just the right thing to do. It isn’t the easy path, therefore, it is ultimately in the purview of few. And maybe that is my point. We keep talking about this in an “everyone” way when the reality is it will most likely remain in the hands of the few, the proud and the strong. And that’s okay.

Why?

As pines bend to the wind they maintain their shape once the wind has fled. Maybe the pines will show the forest what it means to maintain their shape despite the wind.

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Written by Bruce