Other people's money
I have been sitting on this post for more than a year. Then someone wrote this: The morality of the progressive elite.
I hesitated because it is easy to misconstrue this and to be perceived as being petty. But, really, on the most fundamental level the question is this:
If you are being generous with other people’s money, are you really being generous?
Bear that in mind as you read on:
Over the years business organisations have been eaten away slowly from the inside by social justice warriors. How this happened, requires us to go back a few years and in the evolution of the business organisation.
Business organisations used to have a simple, clear objective: to make a commercial return to their shareholders. To do this, they innovated, developed products and served the needs of the people in a market place where those solutions are traded for cash – at a profit. The business wins and the consumer wins.
The thin edge of the wedge has been sustainability, introduced some two decades ago, by the proponents of sustainability who proffered a solution to a problem that did not exist. They suggested that organisations should broaden their focus to include an emphasis on environment and on community.
Broadening the focus automatically and explicitly also equates to a dilution of focus – that stands to reason. That is the guaranteed least impact, and that alone should make the hair on the neck of any self-respecting CEO stand up. Adding ‘sustainability’ as a filter though which the organisation will flow decisions, is not additive, it is dilutive to all resources at an organisations disposal, including management attention. Actually, that is not quite correct; it is additive in the overhead department.
The reason for the success of the message despite the obvious cost (loss of focus and additional overhead) is that it seems to ‘obvious’ that businesses need a healthy community to thrive and destroying the environment is tantamount to destroying your future. So the social justice warriors (SJWs) would have you believe.
The SJWs succeed with their message because they have successfully recast the organisational narrative to cast the business as a ‘citizen’ with a ‘responsibility’. At first blush it seems reasonable, and as soon as that mindset gain
ed traction amongst a cadre of unthinking executives, the battle was over.
In effect, the SJWs have succeeded in levying a tax on business corporations that they are just too happy to pay, since they don’t realise they are paying it. In practice a few individuals have succeeded in getting the corporation to fund their own personal ideologies under the guise of corporate social responsibility.
Isn’t that just super? I get the shareholder to pay for my warm and fuzzy feelings.
It doesn’t mean that the cause is not worthy of support. I am not suggesting that communities don’t need to be healthy, that charities don’t need money and that the dolphins don’t need saving. The question I am raising is what the role of the business corporation is and who should be funding these initiatives and whether executives really understand the slippery slope they have embarked upon by embracing these causes?
The idea of healthy communities has become a crack in the corporate focus that allowed a whole bunch of other socially progressive, typically post-modern causes to enter the boardroom and then the work place: gender diversity, aboriginal affirmative action, anti-racism and so forth.
Again, on face value, the causes seem worthy, reasonable and ‘right’. Who could argue with that, right?
But, adopting these social causes does come with baggage:
One, it further adds to the dilution of business focus.
Two, it perpetuates the practice of individuals looting the corporate coffer to fund their personal ideology
Three, it smuggles multiple assumptions into the organisation that seriously contaminates the culture of the organisation in ways that are not immediately obvious. This point is particularly important. The multiple assumptions smuggled in are for instance:
The belief that these programs and initiatives actually work and are worthy of support – when they rarely work.
The impact of these causes is exclusively beneficial, when it is not.
That it is a corporate and not individual responsibility to propagate these causes
That because these causes are (currently) popular and topical, they are also important.
That the impact of supporting the cause is limited to supporting the cause, when in reality it also impacts culture, moral ecology and even business productivity.
Let’s unpack some of these assumptions to consider how they impact the functioning of the business. Consider affirmative action for instance, and consider the various ways in which the good intentions actually have the opposite, detrimental impact.
By accentuating the race in making decisions about promotions, you actually emphasise that this group is inferior and need special considerations to level the playing field. It perpetuates a culture of victimhood, which highlights the inequality without alleviating it. In fact, by promoting someone beyond their level of competence, you are accelerating their inevitable failure.
The impact is extended to all employees who feel aggrieved at losing out on a role, not based on performance or fit for the role, but because of the colour of their skin. This has an immediate and lasting impact on motivation and productivity. The reverse also applies of course – if an Aboriginal person is overlooked for a role despite obvious competence and fit, they would feel aggrieved and rightfully so. The only relatively objective course of action is to base it on a clear set of performance criteria.
Many people want to view history as a series of unpunished crimes, and feel compelled to right the wrongs. The truth is that the past cannot be changed. And if the crime of the past WAS to judge people on the colour of their skin, then it cannot be remedied by judging people on the colour of the skin again today. That would simply be perpetuating the crime.
Once you start factoring in skin colour and sexual organs as a criteria for advancement, then it opens the door to other non-performance related criteria. Is their equal representation on the Board (or senior management) of: Women? Of Black people? Of blind people? Of immigrants? Of blondes? Can you see how ridiculous it gets very quickly?
Or are you saying that women need consideration ahead of the disabled? Or immigrants? On what basis do you make that decision? These are the decisions that one must attempt when standing on that slippery slope.
Consider the facts if I described them neutrally:
There is demand that you support a cause that is prejudiced against majority of the corporation’s employees, will impact the productivity materially and gain no commercial advantage but the personal satisfaction of the individual at the expense of the shareholders.
Will you, Mr CEO spend the money on that cause? Would you encourage your managers to do so? Are they all entitled to pick their favourite cause or are you going to pick the ones you personally feel the strongest about to spend the shareholders money on?
I am sure this will be misread by many. This is not a racist or misogynistic position. I am not promoting that we all take an uncharitable view of the world and not care about community or environment.
I am saying that we as individuals have a collective responsibility to make the world a better place.
But it is for each one of us to decide how we do that and how we resource it. It is devious, and defeats the point of the exercise when the only ‘good’ that we do is by forcing other people (shareholders) into funding our pet projects.
If you really want to make a difference AND really believed in it, do it on your own time and with your own money. If everyone in an organisation makes a contribution to their communities that are authentic with the serious personal investment of their own time and money, then the individual is securing the environment the corporation needs to thrive in – healthy communities and healthy environments. It is the individual who needs to make a difference – in that way actually secures their own futures.
Organisations need to seriously rethink their approach to these SJW causes. It is a slippery slope that will eventually make the organisation vulnerable to attacks from anyone with an axe to grind who can demonstrate that their cause does not get the airtime it deserves.
Can you realistically support every cause? And more importantly, can you really justify why you are supporting the one that you do and not any other?
If you want alleviate poverty, go do the CEO sleep-out on your time and donate your money. Your shareholders may want to save the whales instead.
If you want to promote gender diversity, then choose to not spend your money in businesses where they discriminate and force the change you want to see with your personal sacrifice of not buying something you may have otherwise wanted.
If you want to promote Aboriginal workplace participation, give up your Saturdays to teach them at the local community college for free, because I may want to spend my money eradicating domestic violence.
If you don’t like how corporations are treating women, divest your shares.
And importantly Mr CEO, what are you going to say to me when I come to you and suggest that all people who work for our little outfit should be Anti-Abortion because we can’t have the company endorse people who wilfully murder the innocent. How are you going to say NO to me (which I guess you will want to) when I approach you to support such a just cause?
Organisations are over-run by Social Justice Warriors, and on the surface their arguments make sense. It has reached the point where these causes dictate behaviour (code of conduct) and it is only a matter of time before they dictate strategy.
These SJWs hide in HR Departments and Comms departments typically, hardly ever where the business actually gets done. Those people out there making stuff and selling stuff don’t have the time to investment in distractions. The only way these SJWs can justify their existence is to elevate these externalities to internal imperatives. CEOs are taking along for the ride on the promise that they are ‘showing leadership’ and will gain the admiration of their peers. Appeal to vanity has always been powerful and few have been able to resist. Can you resist?
But if you are really brave, Mr CEO, you will break the mold and re-claim the following:
Any social cause is something that individuals should take responsibility for and it cannot be outsourced to corporation. Your corporation can be known for enabling people (employees) to make a difference in the way that they individually believe and where it personally matters.
You will stand up for the shareholder and be honest: no more spending their money on your causes. You will respect them enough to allow them to spend their money the way they see fit.
No more artificial decisions-making criteria: people will be judged on their ability and their competence in contributing to the commercial purpose of the organisation. You respect differences in race and gender (and any other physical difference) enough to claim that it truly does not matter. The ultimate sign of respecting the individual is to treat them equally. No special programs. No mandates. No quotas. Nothing but merit.
The business exists for the purpose of delivering a return for their shareholders. Many stakeholders benefit from an organisation that is successful in achieving that, and each stakeholder is respected equally and they are equally capable of deciding how they want to invest or spend their returns. No more Big Brother; we trust people to choose wisely in their own right.
A responsible organisation is not the one that gives the most money to charitable causes or subscribes to the latest pop-culture cause. It is the organisation that recognises individual merit, enables the stakeholders to do good things according to their personal judgment and does not compromise ethical standards.
There will be a return to the fundamentals of business: to make a commercial return to their shareholders. That is, to innovate, develop products and serve the needs of the people in a market place where those solutions are traded for cash – at a profit. It is a return to focus on the true reason for being.