by Kent Johnson, J.D., Senior Corporate Advisor, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation
Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection
People often presume that corporate America only really cares about one thing: profits. But that’s not true! Companies are increasingly speaking out about and taking action to influence positive changes in society at large; to “do good.” We recommend that companies that are serious about doing good ought to free their employees to speak from their hearts and souls into the larger issue of what “doing good” ought to entail.
Let’s back up a bit, because in one sense it’s true: corporations don’t really “care” about anything. Corporations are a legal fiction. They have no moral compass or character, other than that of their leaders and workers. They have no direction other than the bare legal rules which include, in significant part, to pursue financial rewards for their stockholders. But HOW they do so – and WHAT ELSE they do in addition to seeking profits – are questions left significantly up to the discretion of the people engaged in the company.
So, WHY do so many companies increasingly invest money and resources to “do good?” WHY do they exceed the bare legal requirements, and voluntarily engage in good works like the ones listed in the graphic (among many others)?
Skeptics often presume that these kinds of “Corporate Social Responsibility” efforts are motivated simply by leaders’ desire to look good, and to avoid the embarrassment that would result if they were seen as callous to societal issues. Some think that the CEOs simply pick and choose the causes they want the company to champion based on personal bias or relationships, without giving any thought to the beliefs and values of their employees. In a growing number of companies, such skepticism is misplaced. They really are seeking to do good.
This raises some penetrating questions: How can we know that a company’s corporate social responsibility isn’t just for show; that it’s motivated sincerely? Where is the heart and soul of YOUR company? Framing the question differently: What keeps your company from single-mindedly pursuing profit maximization and, in so doing, enabling societal disintegration? Surely, the law isn’t enough: loopholes provide ample opportunity for uncaring people to tear the fabric of society – or neglect it – if doing so seems to aid profitability. And fear of bad publicity isn’t enough: it often seems easy to hide and dodge responsibility for a company’s callous disregard of what is beneficial for society.
The heart and soul of a healthy company ought to move it to look beyond bare legal compliance and avoidance of bad publicity; and beyond the CEO’s personal preferences. We’d submit that in such matters, voice should also be given to employees who care. If nothing else, opening the dialogue will provide corporate decision-makers richer peripheral vision for prioritizing projects for the greater good.
Increasingly, employees across the spectrum of beliefs (including atheists) say they care deeply about doing good – something meaningful. They’re not automatons motivated solely by money. When employees are freed to connect their faith and core beliefs in ways that enable the company to do good in the world, they get energized. Their lives are enriched. And the world is made a bit more civilized, a bit more caring.
We hope you’ll join the companies that are increasingly listening to the heart and soul of their employees; companies that are making a positive difference in the world through ventures of Corporate Social Responsibility, aided by the insights and energetic goodwill of a spectrum of employees who care.