As most of us know, the Susan G. Komen (who was she, by the way?) stepped into a maelstrom of a media and managerial controversy over it’s initial decision to amend its granting procedures in a way that would have ended its funding to Planned Parenthood and then its reversal of that decision.

In one of my favorite blogs by a management scholar, Authentic Organizations, CV Harquil takes the decision and how it was handled to enumerate a very good list of reasons that lying is a bad idea.  I mean, aside from what our Moms and Teachers told us.  Its worth a read.  Among them, my favorite is that lying insults the intelligence of your audiences or stakeholders. One side issue in my mind is whether managers or others speaking in public, like Skilling and others with Enron, think they are lying.  Or, do they really believe that politics had nothing to do with  defunding planned parenthood or that their company is financially healthy.

CV’s post about lying got me thinking about speech, politics, and stakeholders.  See, I think all managing is about politics.  Not D and R politics, just everyday, unavoidable power politics.  The Susan G Komen foundation’s [SGK] situation was unavoidably a consequence of the reality of stakeholders.  I am being a social scientist here.  See, their very strategy of making breast cancer awareness greater through co-branding, a good idea it seems, gave them some mutually hostile stakeholders.  In trying to make a “big tent” they let in the equivalent of your crazy aunt who hates chicken and your cousin who is a chicken breed competitor to the Thanksgiving dinner.  Ok, bad metaphor.

SGK had Bibles with their ubiquitous branding.  Those got sold in, surprise, Christian bookstores.  So, before long, people who felt invested in the foundation and its brands discovered that it funded Planned Parenthood, among many others.  In being a big, aggressively marketed social cause, SGK invited this kind of stakeholder mess.  In trying to make everyone happy, both in how they worded their initial decision and in the walk back, that it was about protecting their core mission of women’s health and their fiduciary responsibility, they seemed to be lying.  Or at least being untruthful.  So, my point in my comment on CV’s post is that lying may be a product, in part, of the plate tectonics of political pressure from differing groups.

To me, a deeper lesson of the SGK mess is that making stakeholders all “happy” is like trying to be the kid in a family with divorcing parents: you can try to keep the peace, and it may work for awhile, but it will give you some psychological scars and warp your view  of reality.  So, if you have conflicting stakeholders, before you worry about the truth of your statements, you need to do the relational work of honest relationships.

For the record, Planned Parenthood does much more than provide abortions.

And, I agree with my wife: if SGK’s core mission is women’s health, and you are going to make either pro-life or pro-choice unhappy, wouldn’t you make pro-life unhappy in this case since that choice is more about stopping breast cancer.  In pure, pure utilitarian terms, Planned Parenthood does a lot more for cancer screening and women’s health, including helping healthy babies get born, than it does in ending pregnancies.

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About Jordi

I am an assistant professor in the Management School at Bucknell University. I specialize in organization theory, social networks, and studying the network society. I have three children, including twins. They love bouncing on the couch, legos, music, and my waffles. My wife teaches English at the same university. I am interested in most things, but these days, networks, social entrepreneurs, the environment, innovation, and virtual worlds. Finding Hidden Abodes and Shaking Iron Cages since 1972

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