The Kind of Giving That Keeps on Giving

December 28, 2016
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller


Recently, a speaker at the Aspen Institute asked his audience of successful business executives a provocative question.

“As we continue to do good,” he said, “can we do less harm?”

It was a line that stuck with me, because it reminded me of a dinner I once had with a successful private equity executive.

During our meeting I asked “What do you feel good about in your life?” He said he was known for the large gifts he makes to universities but what he feels really good about is his athletic scholarship program.

“How many people do you support each year through that program?” I asked. “From six to eight,” he replied. Then I asked, “How many employees do your companies employ?” Around a hundred thousand, was his reply. I paused for a moment, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “What you’re telling me is that you feel good about helping six or eight people outside your company, but the hundred thousand people who work for you every day, whose livelihoods and happiness depend on the way they’re treated, they’re simply a means to achieve your wealth?”

At the end of our lengthy conversation he said “Now I get it! I thought I worked so I could do good, make enough money so I could give to my church and the causes I care about. But how I make money is a whole different thing. You do good while you do well!”

The greatest gift, the greatest charity, the greatest way you will ever give back to society is being a truly human leader. And that means treating the people under your care with profound respect and dignity and not as objects for your success and wealth.

A growing number of business leaders are focused on corporate benevolence these days. Current times don’t allow for companies to simply be in business for the sake of making a profit anymore, it must be a virtuous cycle where all stakeholders benefit: your people, your shareholders, your customers and your community

According to a recent Global Corporate Social Responsibility Study, Cone Communications/Echo Research found that corporate social responsibility —or being active do-gooders in solving the world’s most pressing social and environmental issues- –is no longer a “nice-to-do” but rather a “reputational imperative.” Just 6% of the respondents believe the singular purpose of business is to make money for shareholders. More than eight out of ten consider corporate social responsibility when deciding where to work (81%), what to buy or where to shop (87%) and which products and services to recommend to others (85%).

But, like my friend who was proud of his athletic scholarship program, might business leaders be more focused on doing good outside of the workplace while overlooking their most important social responsibility?

Shouldn’t corporate responsibility begin with the lives who are entrusted to your care every day?

Businesses destroy lives all the time through poor leadership and work environments where the employees feel overlooked or disregarded. Those same businesses then turn around and “do good” by supporting social causes, thanks to the profits realized by those broken souls. 

As leaders—as truly human leaders—the greatest act of charity is to first and foremost care for our people. Corporate social responsibility begins inside the walls of our organizations. It begins with ensuring that our team members are offered meaningful work, secure futures, and environments in which they feel safe and cared for.

 At Barry-Wehmiller, we discovered an interesting byproduct of doing so.

Researchers from Georgetown and Washington University in St. Louis analyzed segments of our workforce to see what effect our culture of care and compassion had on our team members. Their research showed that in the 70+ percent of our associates who reported feeling like their lives had been touched by our culture, there was an interesting corollary: a heightened sense of altruism, or philanthropy. In other words, because they felt cared for and valued in their workspaces, they were more likely to take the initiative to help others.

Giving the people you lead the kind of work and work environment they deserve is the greatest act of corporate social responsibility. Like we’ve seen at Barry-Wehmiller, it’s the kind of giving that keeps on giving.



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