Often we hear the idea of the soulless/faceless corporation. The question is did corporations ever have souls – and, if so, what happened to them?
There was a time when businesses functioned more like extended families. There was a sense of responsibility on both parts. Individual contributors were valued for their skills; relationships were created, recognized and considered important. The heart and soul of the business was shared not just by the owner and key people but by most of the people within the concern. The sense of responsibility often extended beyond the employees to the town, state, or country, sometimes even to the progress of humanity and/or society itself. The people who came into the business were not only united as a family, they were united in achieving a vision. That is not to say the family couldn’t be dysfunctional but it was still family. The company took care of its people for the most part and the people were loyal to the establishment.
Unfortunately, as time went on and the business passed out of the single family or single owner or single vision stage, it became harder to pass its soul on. Or perhaps the problem was that the business succeeded too well and the original founder(s) and key players were distanced from the employee by new and requisite levels of management. Perhaps the vision was lost, diluted, or rendered meaningless through changes in society or the business environment. Corporations claimed primary responsibility to boards and stockholders before loyalty to employees. Employees felt the loss.
As companies lost loyalty and soul, they also lost integrity.
The business bottom line became: the ends justify the means. And as long as the corporation didn’t get caught, any behavior was acceptable to maintain or increase profits. Not only acceptable but desirable, rewarded and defended. Anyone with a moral compass became undesirable and was marginalized, made powerless, discredited or removed.
This is not a pro-union diatribe. Unions that were created to stop employee abuse only followed the same evolutionary process as the corporation itself. The union ends were different, but, with time, no more honestly achieved than the ends of the corporate leaders. Within a few generations, lack of vision and integrity within the unions became as much of a problem as lack of loyalty and integrity within the business structure.
As corporations grew, the role of government shifted. The entrepreneurial spirit which “founded this country” was not burdened with oversights, regulation, or government intervention. With increasing complexity and decreasing integrity, however, laws regarding monopolies, employee safety, stock manipulation, et cetera became necessary. The crash of 1929 paved the way for an increasingly “Big Brother” attitude that led to social security, the minimum wage and unemployment benefits.
Where does that leave us now? Unfortunately government regulation of business did little to remind corporate America of the need for soul and did nothing to change the corporate philosophy of the ends justify the means. We live now in the time of Bernie Madoff, the failure of America’s auto industry, and the bailout of AIG; a time of unprecedented government intervention but an all too familiar lack of accountability. We live with the consequences of unparalleled greed.
Is there no hope at all? Yes, there is. Our hope lies with the family businesses, the small enterprises that are characterized by visions to improve the lives of workers, to improve the environment on which all depend, to provide an honest living in return for hard work, cooperation and loyalty. Our hope lies with the small concerns that still have a soul. Our saving grace is that in the current economy, the entrepreneurial spirit is at an all time high. We are going back to America’s basic business model of innovation, thinking outside the box, and taking risks.
Dr Kevin Ross Emery has owned his own spiritual business for 18 years where he offers a variety of services including spiritual coaching and counseling as well as holistic healing. He is also a business consultant.