Altruism Corporate Entrepreneurship Sustainability

Can We Promote Altrusim as a Corporate [and Business] Goal?

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

“Altruism” is a word rarely associated with the world of business. After all, the game of business is played in a competitive arena and hence few expect business people to be altruistic. The path to profits, it is widely believed, is not paved with caring concern but with Darwinian cleverness. Add to these expectations a North American character of individualism and a baby-boomer generation known for its “me-ness,” and you have a world where altruism is a word rarely heard.

Yet in the early mornings and evenings before and after our workday, we nurture our children, attend PTA meetings, and donate our time and money to the local The Y or World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts troop. In this part of our lives, altruism seems quite alive and commonplace. This seeming discrepancy naturally raises several questions: “Does altruism have a place in our business lives as well as our private lives? And does it make good economic sense?” The answers may indeed be “yes.” For, in reality, parts of the world are proving the opposite of a business paradigm based on self-interest as the pathway to success.

For example, the community-based societies of Japan, Taiwan, and Korea are enjoying great economic success. Companies such as The Body Shop donate time and money to environmental welfare projects. Harvard Business Review School students provide volunteer time to repaint and clean up low-income housing projects. Consumer goods companies change to environment-friendly packaging. All of these efforts may indeed lead to enhanced organizational effectiveness. The reason is straightforward. The greater complexity of today’s global marketplace will demand within organizations a higher degree of interdependence than independence, more attention based on cooperation than competition, and greater loyalty to the organization than to the individual. Such changes will require acts of altruism on the part of both the individual and the organization to succeed.

Unfortunately, the rewards and organizational structures of the past will not be sufficient to bring about such acts of altruism in themselves. Instead values, expectations, and socialization practices will have to change and be supported by a workplace that encourages them. The first step toward change, however, is to understand just what altruism might look like at work and then to consider how it might be encouraged.*

The greater complexity of today’s global marketplace will demand within organizations a higher degree of interdependence than independence, more attention based on cooperation than competition, and greater loyalty to the organization than to the individual.

Why Has Altruism Been Ignored?*

Managers are viewed primarily as selfish individuals with few moral obligations towards the interests of others. This selfish nature is seen as a natural outcome of marketplace demands. As such, it might be argued that these expectations have formed the social norms for executive behavior and have encouraged a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy.

What is Altruism in Organizational Contexts?*

Altruism might be defined in terms of manifest behavior and its consequences without regard for one’s intentions. Thus, altruism is referred to as behavior “that renders help to another person” regardless of the helper’s intentions.

We would define altruistic behavior in organizations as any work-related behavior that benefits others regardless of the beneficial effects of such behavior for the benefactor.

Exhibit 1. Framework for Identifying Different Forms of Altruistic and Egotistic Behavior

How Do We Promote Altruism in Organizations?*

  • Strong internalized moral beliefs about what is right and wrong.
  • Facilitating or reinforcing conditions.
  • Reciprocity and responsibility norms.
  • Employees [to be] selected in part for their roles on the basis of their nurturant, altruistic, and moral dispositions.
  • Assigning clear responsibility for altruistic behavior to specific individuals.
  • An organizational climate of mutual interdependency and trust tends to promote altruistic behavior.
  • Organizational practices that encourage an empathic understanding of the problems of others would increase altruism…
  • Rewards: supervisory and co-worker recognition.
  • Leader’s modelling and mentoring behavior.

Up to here a small synthesis of the article. It’s really interesting the work that the authors did to be able to frame such a deep human value (altruism) with an equally deep human action (work) and try to combine them to improve how we live life.

The authors seek to draw attention on the subject and I extend that goal when sharing it here. Thirty years after its publication is still a matter more than interesting to discuss and also to understand why it has been ignored.

In the conclusions the authors state that: Promotion of individualism and competitiveness in American corporations have inhibited expressions of altruism in organizations.

Unfortunately, it’s not only in American corporations but in worldwide businesses.

*Kanungo, Rabindra N. & Conger, Jay A. Promoting altruism as a corporate goal (1993). Abstract/synthesis from their article in The Academy of Management Executive.



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Writer. Pic of abuelo (c.1930)