Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Dealing with the tough stuff

December 2009

Margot Fraser & Lisa Lorimer (eds). Berrett-Koehler.  
192 pages. Paperback. $16.95/£12.99

On the face of it, this is a godsend for social entrepreneurs: a collection of practical wisdom and stories from contributors who have all set up and run ‘values-driven businesses’.

However, the trouble with this generally entertaining and informative book is that too little of it is focused on specific dilemmas faced by socially responsible businesses.

Although the US-set stories have been assembled by two genuine social entrepreneurs  – from Birkenstock USA and the Vermont Bread Company – much of the content is actually about the challenges faced by business people of any hue: cashflow difficulties, dealing with new technology, how to keep good employees, how to develop and execute an exit strategy. While a lot of this comes in the form of very sound and useful advice, it could be provided in any business management tome.

That’s not to say there isn’t valuable stuff in here – from thoughts on what  to do when a mainstream company tries to muscle-in on a socially responsible firm’s natural territory, to how to avoid the values of a small firm being diluted as it gets bigger.

But there’s just not enough, and what advice there is on such topics is sometimes embarrassingly new agey (chanting mantras in the workplace) or downright folksy (staging pillow fights to relieve stress).

There appears to be a suggestion that this might be the first in a series of books containing further anecdotes and pearls of wisdom. That’s no bad idea, but next time the focus of  the storytelling has to be sharper.    

Peter Mason

Peter Mason | Global | Business ethics

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