Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Can You Teach Corporations To Care? Carol Sanford Gives My Brain A Workout - Part 2

Part 1 is here.

Carol Sanford works with corporations to help them see how their operations can be more profitable if they treat the environment and human beings (employees, clients, and suppliers) well.  I sat in on a presentation she gave at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.  This is Part 2 of my reactions. I'm not claiming to represent what she thinks.  These are my interpretations.  You can read her book The Responsible Business or go to her website.

Carol’s focus, as I understood it, is:

1.  To transform corporations by challenging the leaders and employees to expand how they envision their personal and organizational mission to include making positive rather than negative externalities - the side effects their operation has on the environment and on the lives of all the people - from employees to customers to suppliers. 

2.  When she goes into an organization, her role is not, in her mind, as a consultant paid for a short period of time.  While she does get paid, and given her client list, I have to assume she gets paid very well,  the way she described herself and her intent makes me think the best word here is ‘adopt.’  She adopts the organization and, with the care a parent has for a wayward child, helps the adopted employees connect to their essence. 

3.  Essence.  I’m making leaps here as I take fragments of evidence from a few hours of observation, maybe 20 minutes of conversation, and blending in what's in my head, to conclusions which may be what I want them to be rather than what Carol would say.  But perhaps this will be part of a discussion Carol and I continue. 

So, essence.  She said this was the goal - to reach the essence.  I’ve talked about something that seems similar by using the term ‘authentic conversation.’  By that I mean that two people talk openly, from the heart, dropping  the protective veils that project what we think the world wants us to project rather than what we really feel.  As a professor advising graduate students, I had the luxury of asking prospective graduate students to tell me what was missing in their lives that they wanted to make such a huge time and financial commitment.  This usually led to glimpses of their essence and in return I would share as well, and we had authentic conversations.  This doesn’t mean therapy and it doesn’t mean we shared all our deepest secrets, but that we dropped a few of the canned responses and talked, human to human, heart to heart. The student stops trying to impress me by hiding fears and exaggerating abilities and I'm honest about what to expect of the program.  Authentic conversation is a very energizing experience, which is why I say it was a luxury.  Having had that regularly has made me seek it in other situations and it’s really available if one knows how to be genuine oneself.  Maybe it’s the ultimate drug that artists and musicians and theologians exalt - love.  Maybe not.

So, my understanding of what Carol does is help people find their essence.  To look past  all the facades the world seems to demand - the right clothing, the right opinions, the right facial expressions, tone of voice, words and phrases - so they can see who they really are.  And once they’ve connected to themselves, she has them engage in conversation with each other to talk about what is really important in life and how their organization is contributing to or preventing those things. 

Does it always work?  I’m sure it doesn’t.  But when it does it’s great.  Is she always right and always consistent?  That’s not a standard anyone could meet.  It’s silly to not allow people mistakes - that’s how one learns, if one pays attention. 

4.  Why corporations?  That’s where much of the power to do harm and good resides.  It’s where she believes she can get the most miles of positive impact for the fewest gallons of  effort.  Plus, not incidentally, that’s the world she was mentored into. 

Why does this matter so much to me?  I’m balancing a bunch of ideas here. 

Am I focused right?  Should I be doing more?  While I think it is important to try to make the world a better place, the Buddhist influences on me also say that instead of fixing others we should fix ourselves.  But then those who are closer to enlightenment attract adherents who learn from them.  Perhaps that is where Carol is.  Corporate leaders hear about her from their colleagues and come seeking her wisdom. 

Part of me has concluded that helping take care of myself and those nearby is the right path.  If half the people in the world did just that, most of the world's problems would go away.  Another part of me says I should do more good.  It’s a constant tension. 

How do Carol's thoughts affect what I'm working on?   The intellectual puzzles that are my life’s challenge, include the understanding of organizations and the role of people in them.  And Carol’s take on this looks a lot like mine and I’m trying to figure out how close or far apart we are and how what she knows might help me get a couple of pieces of the puzzle into place.  (Of course I know that the puzzle isn’t static and the pieces are constantly changing shape and size.)  Plus, I’m writing a paper for a May conference and these ideas impact the paper.  My sense is that this is leading to a bigger project - one already on the agenda - more than the coming paper. 

I thought there would be two posts here.  But I think this is a good pausing point, and I’ll try to do one more on the role of human beings in organizations and what I think that means for what people in organizations should know. 

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