Good Dog, Bad Dog

A friend of mine just got a new puppy. Last week we were both standing outside his house with her when she happened to see another neighborhood dog out for a walk. Before either one of us could stop her she darted across the street. My friend called for her to come back, and after a quick hello to her friend, she obeyed his command. Once she obediently returned to our side of the street, then and only then was she informed she was a “bad dog!”

It seemed my friend was unaware of the most cardinal rule of dog-training:

You never punish a dog when they are doing the right thing.

I feel this rule has a lot to say about corporate social responsibility and how it can be properly cultivated.

CSR, Better There Than Not

My point here is not to analogise corporations and their executive officers to canines, but to point out that the reactions of some activists and stakeholders may not be doing the progress of CSR any favors by reacting negatively when they hear of a corporation doing the right thing.

At times it seems as though news of a corporation’s revised CSR policies and achievements can stir up more murmuring and backlash than even their past misdeeds managed to provoke. Many who profess to be concerned with CSR don’t see positive news as a time to praise a company, but instead as a perfect opportunity to drudge up an organization’s past sins. It’s my fear that this sort of negative backlash to CSR efforts is having a very detrimental impact to the advancement of corporate social responsibility as a whole.

I am not in the least here trying to suggest that activists, journalists, and concerned stakeholders keep quiet, nor am I questioning what a major role outspokenness has played in the advancement of corporate social responsibility. Outspokenness is what has put many matters of CSR on the map. I simply hate to see such hard work and advocacy all be negated by sudden, knee-jerk reactions. Learning of corporate reform calls for a more measured reaction than when one was demanding corporate reform. It is a time to applaud and encourage, and after, to remind businesses that there is still much progress which needs to be made.

Voice of Reason

The voice of concerned activists will always remain vital to the continued advancement of CSR. Adjusting it’s tone in certain circumstances is not asking activists to relinquish any passion or power. The world needs activists to continue to act in a leadership role when it comes to helping CSR to progress; more and more a key element of that leadership will be to encourage people not to instill a fear of backlash into corporations.

Doing good is not, as of yet, any corporation’s legal responsibility. Corporations invest time, money, and energy into social and environmental issues in order to differentiate themselves and to improve their public reputation. They deserve a return on this investment, and that return should be our positive reinforcement. If attempting to establish a socially responsible reputation has such an opposite effect, organizations will soon become utterly demoralized. If they continue to be punished for attempting to communicate their CSR, sooner or later the question will be asked, “why bother with it at all?”

I’m not sure that there is any single cardinal rule when it comes to improving corporate behavior (changing decades of how business is practiced is a little more complicated than teaching a puppy not to dart across the street,) but I’m certain the best way to start is by paying closer attention to our own behavior and its repercussions.

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