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Promoting Altruism as a Corporate Goal

Rabindra N. Kanungo and Jay A. Conger
The Academy of Management Executive (1993-2005)
Vol. 7, No. 3 (Aug., 1993), pp. 37-48
Published by: Academy of Management
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4165134
Page Count: 12
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Promoting Altruism as a Corporate Goal
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Abstract

"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 YMCA or Girl Scout 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 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.

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