There’s a lot of talk about companies “doing the right thing.” The view of many over the past 20 years has been that the “right thing” is maximizing shareholder value. Everything else is a secondary consideration at best. That is changing. Increasingly, doing the right thing means leaders consider the interests of many stakeholders including customers, workers, and the communities in which a company does business. They are also finding that it can be profitable to do so.
In my view, this is both a giant leap forward and a nod to a historic norm that held until economist Milton Friedman and his brethren came to the fore.
In my most recent post for HBR.org, I explore the question of whether corporate social responsibility is primarily about what or why. I had an exchange with a serial tech entrepreneur/CEO who spoke of his migration from not caring about why to seeing motive as a primary concern. In his view, doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do sends a quite different message than simply doing because it is in the company’s self-interest at the time.
I agree and think that it is one of the major leadership challenges of our time. I invite you to read the full post and contribute your thoughts to the discussion.