Skeptics notwithstanding, business increasingly embraces care and compassion, leading management journal says
January 1, 2013
For more information, contact: Ben Haimowitz , 212-233-6170,
"A groundswell of interest in fostering compassionate
It was a ray of light in the dark days after 9/11: "As the
bare-knuckled center of capitalism scrambled to get back on its
feet, Wall Street veterans extended a helping hand to...their
So begins an unusual special number of a leading management
journal, coincidentally but aptly published amid the good will of
the holiday season and the optimism that accompanies a new
The principal message of this special issue of
the Academy of Management Review is that care and compassion in the
business world are not just rare occurrences that emerge in extreme
circumstances, like the aftermath of 9/11. On the contrary, they
are "central" to everyday organizational life, "a natural and
living representation of people's humanity in the workplace."
The 18,000 members of the Academy of Management consist
overwhelmingly of faculty at schools of business across the globe,
and, while care and compassion are not widely viewed by the public
as core values of business, they have been core interests of the
Academy. "Dare to Care" was the theme of the organization's annual
meeting in 2010, and the special issue of
theAcademy of Management Review, accompanied by the attached panel discussion produced for the Academy's Web site, testifies to
the compelling nature of the subject for scholars and the
considerable research devoted to it.
Nor is this keen interest unique to the Academy of Management.
According to Prof. Jane Dutton of the University of Michigan, one
of the leading researchers on this subject and a co-editor of the
special issue of AMR, recent years have
seen "a groundswell of interest in fostering compassionate
institutions." She cites as examples the Compassion Action Network,
conceived at a week-long 2008 gathering in Seattle called "Seeds of
Compassion"; the International Working Group of Compassionate
Organizations, scheduled to hold its first international summit in
Louisville, Kentucky in May; and Stanford University's Center for
Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, which will convene
its first conference on compassion and business in the spring.
What accounts for these developments? A major factor, according
to the article introducing the special issue, is "a paradigm shift
in the social sciences that emphasizes neurological, psychological,
and sociological bases of human interrelating that have
other-interest as opposed to self-interest at their core. These
accounts, sometimes closely aligned with evolutionary theories of
human development, give new insights into the power and
pervasiveness of compassion and caregiving systems as central to
human survival and flourishing."
The message, in fact, seems to have reached even those
traditionally most focused on self-interest as key to understanding
the world -- namely, economists. Comments Harvard management
professor Joshua D. Margolis, a participant in the AOM's Web-site
panel: "It is fascinating to see how economists themselves are now
attempting to incorporate more than self-interested behavior into
their theoretical models. Relational contracting, based on a much
richer concept of social interaction than pure self-interest, seems
to be enjoying a growing influence in economics."
Meanwhile an increasing body of research in management and
the behavioral sciences is providing evidence that the presence of
caring and compassion in organizations is in large part dependent
on how the organizations are structured and led and does not
require a miraculous change in human nature or a golden age of
altruism. Moreover, introducing into formal organizations the
informal give-and-take that characterizes caring personal
relationships offers a means to realize a management goal that is
often yearned for but still rarely achieved - how to retain the
considerable virtues of small organizations in large ones.
Spelling this out in an article entitled "Relational
Bureaucracy: Structuring Reciprocal Relationships into Roles," Jody
Hoffer Gittell of Brandeis University and Anne Douglass of the
University of Massachusetts Boston argue for combining two
organizational forms that superficially seem incompatible, the
relational and the bureaucratic. "Our proposed relational
bureaucratic hybrid," the professors write, "integrates the
strengths of the relational form (reciprocal relationships) with
the strengths of the bureaucratic form (role-based relationships)
while counteracting their weaknesses -- excessive reliance on
personal relationships on the one hand and excessive reliance on
fragmented, hierarchical relationships on the other."
Southwest Airlines has been much praised for combining the two,
but it is hardly unique in doing so, according to the panel. "I've
seen health-care organizations that do it well," Prof. Gittell
says. "I would guess Google does it quite well. It's really not
rocket science...What makes it challenging is that we're so used to
traditional bureaucracy that it takes some real thinking to move
Another panelist, Prof. Sally Maitlis of the University of
British Columbia, points to the Conscious Capitalism Institute, a
group whose members include a variety of firms (such as Nordstrom,
Patagonia, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and the Container Store)
companies that, in Prof. Maitlis' words, "believe in capitalism
with a purpose beyond profits.'' She adds that "it is not all that
unusual to find organizations that are moving in the direction that
Prof. Gittell has described."
To what extent, then, does the business community believe in
care and compassion? The panel concedes that there is some distance
to go (Prof. Gittell estimates that "we're probably at the 25%
mark"), while insisting that the evidence for their value has
increased considerably. As Harvard's Prof. Margolis puts it, "We
are on the cusp of concrete empirical data that can truly convince
people that these things are not only consistent with high
performance and profitability but, under the right conditions,
conducive to them."
At the same time, Prof. Maitlis acknowledges that her MBA
students react to her talk about care and compassion with some
degree of confusion. "They will say, 'I thought it was this way.
This is what I've seen modeled where I worked, but now you're
telling us this is the other way to lead. Is it really true? Could
it be possible to lead this way and still do well in my career and
still run a company successfully?' "
She concludes: "There's a certain interest among students in
these ideas and even an openness to considering them. But there is
also this suspicion that they can't really be true, because how
could life be that straightforward?"
The Academy of Management Review is published
quarterly by the Academy which, with about 18,000 members in more
than 100 countries, is the largest organization in the world
devoted to management research and teaching. The Academy's other
publications are the Academy of Management Journal, Academy of
Management Perspectives, andAcademy of Management Learning
and Education. The AMR special issue on care and
compassion is the Oct/Dec issue.
Note: The panel discussion cited in this press release,
moderated by Prof. Sara L. Rynes of the University of Iowa, as well
as Prof. Jane Dutton's video introduction to the discussion are
accessible from the Academy of Management website, http://aom.org/CareandCompassion/.