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5 Responses to “Shell Game”

  1. Bill says:

    Mike,

    Excellent topic and take. Thanks.

    Is seems that one indicator of businesses taking social responsibility seriously is when the initiative is part and parcel of their core business as opposed to something on the side.

    Real example: A multinational financial institution in the past five years has had an increasing focus on making itself green AND on diversification of the workforce.

    Regarding the former, while not questioning the sincerity, there is something tangential about a globally-connected set of white collar offices vowing to reduce their carbon footprint. Not to say that it may not be important, but it has the ring of being a side-of-desk initiative. It is after all, not really what they do as a company.

    Diversity, on the other hand has taken an interesting turn. Beyond the defensive measures of maintaining a PC-friendly company, or even the ethical mandate to equality, the language of diversity in this company has taken on the urgency of being a core business strategy. Talented people are needed to replace the aging executive ranks. The company must therefore not artificially limit themselves in pursuit of talent – they must aggressively look for it in all people groups.

    It seems that the latter stance, and its critical ties to the core company strategy, make it more relevant and sustainable. The right thing to do has become linked with the economic viability of the company – the two have become mutually supportive.

  2. Andrew says:

    I’m young and don’t know my history very well, but how do we know that businesses were considered ‘social institutions’ in the 1930’s and earlier? Could you give some examples or recommend a resource?

    My limited impression of that time are of the big barons that the government needed to break up and regulate. Were they just exceptions or is my history off?

    Thank you for your stimulating blog.

  3. Mike Metzger says:

    Bill:

    You hit the nail on the head. Too often, CSR is a side-of-desk initiative. Good metaphor. In most companies, culture has too long been an event, not central to the endeavor. Ra-ra… but not reality. It hasn’t been measured. Your comments are right on.

    Andrew:

    Don’t know much about history, eh? Join the American Club, where we try to drive our lives without the aid of rear view mirror.

    I’d recommend the Summer 2009 edition of The Hedgehog Review, titled “The Moral Life of Corporations.” You might also read “The Management Myth” by Matthew Stewart. Last (and certainly least) I’ll tell you the story of one company next week that was – and is – a very successful social institution.

  4. Tommy B says:

    Hey Mike,
    I’ve got a few questions. At the end of your piece you briefly mentioned innovations. How would you define an innovation (or more importantly how does the Bible define it)? What are some other innovations that have only lasted one generation? Can they last longer or shorter than that? If businesses became social institutions as well as moneymaking enterprises would the ‘social institution’ aspect be just another innovation, something that would fade in 40 years? Thanks for writing every week.

  5. Mike Metzger says:

    Tommy:

    “Innovation” is Latin for the Greek “renew.” To renew is to return something to the way it ought to be. Innovation in present-day marriage and child-rearing would be to return they two to what they ought to be – linked together with child-bearing being postponed until after the marriage. This past year, out of wedlock birth rates surpassed 40 percent in the U.S., as high as 70 percent in the African-American community.

    As for how long innovations last, scripture says we have to be renewed daily. Great marriages have to be renewed daily. Innovation is ecological as well as institutional – companies have to work at it every day. Most tire of the challenge over time. So, yes, any and every innovation can become petrified if it becomes a program, or simply disappear through the daily forces of erosion or entropy.

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