I've been involved in management most of my life. I'm currently pursuing my MBA in Finance at the University of Dallas.
Social responsibility is a bit of a sticky subject for me. Individual social responsibility can be as simple as the Golden Rule—to treat others as you would wish to be treated—but extending this to community, state, and planet can be a seemingly impossible task.
Institutional barriers can be significant. The small west Texas city where I live (Abilene) has limited recycling facilities that one must drive to if you want to recycle. Earlier this year, the city discontinued recycling cardboard. While the recycling containers for cardboard are still there, notices stating, “Any cardboard placed in this container will be taken to the landfill,” are, at least to me, a sobering sign.
Individual action can be hampered by the acts of other individuals. Recently, when I took my recycling to the closest station, one of the bins was full of garbage—anything from a mass of sheetrock/wallboard to just plain household garbage, which contaminated most, if not all, of the contents of that large roll-away container.
Corporate policy and hype can make an enterprise’s behavior look responsible, but unless that goes beyond policy and becomes actual behavioral norms is anything accomplished? The company I most recently worked for, Xerox, makes Corporate Sustainability lists. If you look at their corporate sustainability report, you get a warm and fuzzy feeling about all the good that they’re doing.
Management by Excel
At the level where I worked, it was hard to see much responsibility. My coworkers who were most often rewarded were the ones who “gamed the system.” Since we were judged on metrics, “Management by Excel,” they didn’t do what was right, but what was beneficial to their own “numbers.” When those of us who did not play these games tried to point out what was happening, we were most often met with silence. What manager wants to admit that the only way to “succeed” is to falsify documents, a policy violation?
Certain metrics were easy for me to meet: I returned my used parts, both those that were rebuildable, and the company wanted back, but those that were recyclable and not tracked. I returned used consumables (drums, fusers, and the like) for my customers as well as helping them understand what was reusable or recyclable (most items) and what was garbage (filled waste toner containers). As I was doing this, I was watching my coworkers throughout west Texas throw away recyclables and rebuildable parts. It was disheartening.
I have always believed that teamwork can only be achieved by each person knowing what they are supposed to do and then doing it. With something like sustainability, the first component has to be educational: to make folks understand why it is important to accept social responsibility.
What does social responsibility mean? On the surface, Corporate Social Responsibility is about doing what is right and good, for employees, stockholders and stakeholders, and the community, possibly the planet, at large.
Images and Illusions
But when you hit that surface with a hammer, the one-way mirror cracks, and fragments of reality show through. Australian Kev Carmody’s song “Images of London” has been stuck in my mind for days now. His hard-hitting lyrics deconstruct the illusion of imperialism. Not long ago, historically speaking, the “white man’s burden” was seen as socially responsible.
We see our world through the lens of our experience. What may be fleeting for one, may remain embedded forever for another.
Action Yesterday through Tomorrow
So, let’s stop for a second, and think about action. Who can act? Individuals. Corporations cannot act except through their employees. In any group, some are committed to whatever vision is being espoused, some want their vision substituted, some want the mirror image of the vision, but most don’t care.
And when the vision changes this afternoon, tomorrow, or fifty years from now, who will remember the change. I was recently speaking to the challenger to my district’s Congressional Representative in the last election. When I mentioned that most people around here don’t even seem to realize that the stances of the two major parties switched in the last 40 years, he laughed and said, “And the same people are still in charge, just with the labels switched.”
Corporate Responsibility Redux
Corporate responsibility strikes me in much the same way, the same people and ideas are still under the veneer of responsibility, except, despite espousing that “employees are our most important asset” in some form or other, the employees are not heard, not treated as well as they were a generation ago, and are changed with no more compassion than one would use changing their flat tire with their spare.
Pros and Cons of Corporate Social Responsibility CSR
What positives can a corporation get from declaiming on Corporate Social Responsibility? Well, a quick internet search reveals things such as “increased employee satisfaction,” “Improved public image,” and “increased customer loyalty.” For “public image” I’ll just reference Public Image, Ltd.’s Public Image.
For negatives, we find “Costs weigh disproportionately on small companies,” “shareholder resistance,” and “greenwashing.” I think greenwashing is my favorite: take what you’ve been doing all along, add a veneer of public spiritedness, and you’ve changed your standard operating procedure into a Green New Future.
© 2021 DougBerry
Carolyn Fields from South Dakota, USA on May 13, 2021:
I had not heard of it being called "Management by Excel" - but I am familiar with the practice. The only way around this is becoming an entrepreneur.