Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


How Scrooge’s partner cut through business humbug

December 2008

Dickens’s Christmas classic shows the way to be a successful CSR change agent, says John Turner

At this time of year I’d like to bring to your attention a forgotten champion of corporate social responsibility – Jacob Marley, long-time business associate of Ebenezer Scrooge and a key figure in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I believe Marley provides a great role model for everyone involved in implementing CSR today. But why so?

First, he was driven by a passion to change business for the better, with a clear understanding of how it can be a force for good or evil, depending on how it chooses to act. Marley had learned, from bitter personal experience, the consequences of irresponsible behaviour. He now wanted to prevent others following the same path, and was determined to persuade Scrooge to change direction while he still had time. Second, his motivation came from a selfless perspective: he genuinely wanted to help others, without any chance of personal gain. Third, he understood the actions needed to bring about change and the resistance he could expect to encounter. He well comprehended the argument that ‘the business of business is business’ and how deep seated irresponsible actions can become.

He therefore used three ghosts to show Scrooge the consequences of his lack of responsibility, each having a distinct purpose in effecting change. The first mapped out Scrooge’s past, indicating how and why he had developed into the person he now was. This gave Scrooge the opportunity to reflect on whether he had really achieved anything of true worth. The second showed him the world in which he lived and the world that his business activities had helped to create and support. The third showed Scrooge a possible future and gave an indication of the terrible legacy he would leave if his actions remained unaltered. This combination of reflection, impact and legacy was powerful enough to change Scrooge’s outlook and turn him into a successful businessman who did good.

The way Marley chose to bring about that lasting transformation in Scrooge – through reflection, impact and legacy – remains a relevant and powerful model for corporate responsibility change programmes today. What’s more, he also left us with a fine description of CSR.

‘Business! Mankind was my business,’ he said. ‘The common welfare was my business, charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.’

Unfortunately, 165 years later, we still appear to be debating the relative sizes of the drop and the ocean.

John Turner is director of the Constructive Interactions consultancy

John Turner | UK & NI Ireland | CSR

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