Is CSR evidence of a company’s desire for Love and Belonging?

I gave a speech last week at a gathering of young professionals interested in my blow-hard ideas and opinions, my career, CSR and the future. In addition to going on about a convergence I see developing between humans and their IT-based technology, I also opined on business’ evolution, an idea which came to me as I was talking to an Intel colleague about my job earlier this year. When I told him what I was doing as ComSol’s program manager, he said “Wow man, you’re way up there working in the corporate conscience. It’s like Maslow’s Corporate Hierarchy of Needs….”

Call me crazy, but I think my colleague had something there. What if there is an evolution of corporate consciousness going on that mimics Maslow’s famous theory? In their pursuit of CSR, are corporations reaching the final step in a corporate “personal growth” process? Is there an analogous theory to Maslow’s that applies to corporate “organisms?” For fun, let’s call it “Hart’s” Corporate Hierarchy of Needs (“Hart” is my colleague’s name). What would be those analogous components? How about this:

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The basic needs

Historically, many companies operated fairly wantonly to generate profit, have access to resources at market prices, capture market share, and not get ripped off. You could say these behaviors stemmed from companies seeking to meet their basic needs to survive and enjoy a secure existence. Evidence of these practices exists in the form of historical pollution levels, worker and resource exploitation, cut throat and unethical competitive tactics and early disregard or at least questionable concern for product safety and quality. Government regulation, societal pressure and peer pressure from more evolved companies eventually curbed some of these unsustainable practices, which allowed corporations to stop focusing on their basic needs and focus on more community-oriented needs….which lead them to…..

Love and Belonging…(in business?)

Sounds crazy, I know, but hear me out….There’s evidence supporting an analogue to Maslow’s stage three. Consider this: here at Intel we strive to be perceived as a valuable part of our communities worldwide. Is this not seeking belonging? You could even argue that corporations want to be “loved” too – by their customers, demonstrated by brand loyalty. Here’s an example: Air carrier Southwest Airlines’ current slogan on its homepage is “Luv is the colors of fall”.….We all know the company’s operations are centered on this four-letter word. Another snippet (and I swear this is right from their website):

“..find out more about this little upstart airline from Texas and how it got off the ground to become one of America’s largest and best-loved commercial airlines in history”

Got examples of corporations’ seeking love and belonging? I’d love to see them.

“My company has low self-esteem.”

Ok, not my company, and I probably shouldn’t list any I think might, to protect my company’s interests. Still, in the same way human beings have the need to be respected, have self-respect and to respect others, one doesn’t need to look very far to find Hart’s analogues in the Corporate world. Corporations respect those companies known for stellar performance. Lists like the Fortune’s Most Admired give props to the tops in the corporate world. Fortune not only lists the most admired, it also tracks least admired companies too. Are these not an illustration of the corporate search for self-esteem? Companies finding themselves at the top of these lists are more often than not the ones seeking the ultimate in corporate personal growth…

Corporate Self-Actualization – CSR?

The word “self-actualization” used in Maslow’s theory was invented by Richard Dobbie, a mentor of Maslow, who defines it as: “the intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately, of what the organism is.” In terms relating to companies, corporate self-actualization could be the effort corporations exert to maximize their abilities in becoming the best they can be. This definition of course changes with the times: often, it is determined in some part by the communities in which corporations serve. It is reasonable to expect then as consumers and communities both place greater moral demands on corporations, corporate excellence will increasingly include CSR as a main element of that excellence. This is by no means the end of corporate consciousness raising, but it is the end of my speculating…..

To me, Hart’s “theory” holds true. My audience last night bought these ideas. I wonder if you do….

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