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A Corporate Social Responsibility Organizational Metaphor: H2o (how to Organize)

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A Corporate Social Responsibility Organizational Metaphor: H2O (How to Organize)

by Esther Clayson, M.S., M.A.


The water, H2O (How to Organize), metaphor is an organizational metaphor for visualizing global corporate social responsibility. Water portrays corporate social responsibility as weak and soft or very powerful and important for survival. As tiny molecules of water work together they grow and become rivers, streams and oceans. In like manner, people working together in organizations may build internal, external and global prosperity.

The empirical formula for water is H2O and represents two hydrogen molecules and an oxygen molecule bonded together. The water organizational metaphor proposes a play on this terminology, with H2O as How to Organize from a corporate social responsibility perspective and the H2O formula as:

H2O (How to Organize) = H (Heart) + H (Health) + O (Opportunity)

The H2O (How to Organize) metaphor encourages organizations to make organizational decisions based on Heart, corporate Health, and with Opportunity to engage in corporate social responsibility.

Organizations must first have Heart to fully engage in Corporate Social Responsibility. Organizations with Heart consider the impact decisions have upon employees, shareholders, the environment, and the world at large. They also seek ways to increase profitability in a way that also enriches their internal and external environment. It is the Heart, ethics, and values of the organization that drive corporate social responsibility.

The second ingredient that organizations need to fully engage in corporate social responsibility is Health. Healthy profitable organizations are most able to engage in corporate social responsibility. A small puddle of water is not able to sustain life in the same way as the mighty sea. A small organization is like a puddle of water with little ability to do more than focus on corporate growth, however it may do so in a manner that does not hurt the internal and external environment. As organizations grow and become successful they may become more engaged with internal and external corporate social responsibility (CSR) mirroring the oceans that nurture and flourish the earth.

The third component of corporate social responsibility is Opportunity. As organizations become successful and globalize corporate social responsibility opportunities will avail themselves. As opportunities arise for corporate social responsibility healthy organizations with heart will seize these opportunities that promote global prosperity.

The H2O metaphor is proposed as a method of promoting and viewing global corporate social responsibility to the benefit of organizations and the world at large. The intent of the H2O metaphor is not to replace other organizational metaphors but to add an additional way of looking at organizations. Instead of seeing organizations only in such terms as a machine, organism, or culture let us also envision organizations as water flowing internally and externally nourishing the earth with global peace and prosperity.

A Corporate Social Responsibility Organizational Metaphor

Metaphors communicate one construct in terms of another (Guralnik, 1970) and greatly influence daily organizational thought. Metaphors that are used in organizational conversations as expressive assumptions, clarifying examples, and as promotional tools (Bethanis, 1995) are indicative of common organizational thought and serve to reinforce popular paradigms. Such organizational metaphors have successfully enabled the visualization of important organizational concepts such as workflow mechanics, competitive survival tactics, teamwork, and culture. While metaphoric organizational language effectively highlights specific organizational aspects, metaphors simultaneously shadow other components of organizational life (Morgan, 1997).

Current common business metaphors overlook corporate social responsibility, as the focus is drawn elsewhere. Thus, a new organizational metaphor is needed to emphasize and promote the critical role corporate social responsibility may play in creating global peace and prosperity. The H2O (How to Organize) metaphor is proposed as a method of promoting and viewing global corporate social responsibility.

Existing Organizational Metaphors

Three of the most popular organizational metaphors are: organizations as machines, organizations as organisms, and organizations as cultures. Each of these metaphors play a significant role in academia, organizational consulting, and in daily organizational practice. They have shaped and continually reinforce the way we think, make decisions, and act within and in regards to organizations. Each of these metaphors express specific organizational aspects but have not enabled the visualization of corporate social responsibility amidst current globalization.

Organizations as Machines

The machine organizational metaphor arose amidst the mechanistic industrial revolution. During this era, machines were the new wave of innovation and had significant impact upon all aspects of human activity (Snyder, 1991). The machine metaphor supported the popular bureaucratic classical and scientific management (Taylor, 1911) theories of that time. These theories were concerned primarily with the skillful management of organizations and employees in order to produce maximum efficiency. Aspects of this type of thinking are alive and well today. Process improvement techniques such as Statistical Quality Control (Kilian, 1992), Six-Sigma (Eckes, 2005) and Kaizen (Regan, 2000) are just a few examples of mechanistic theory in current practice.

Any manager would be proud to say "our organization runs like a finely tuned engine". Such a statement is indicative of corporate production upon demand with minimal preventive care and maintenance. The machine metaphor successfully captures the essence of efficient process and systemic engineering within organizations. However, mechanistic thinking overlooks the humanistic and socially responsible side of organizations.

A focus on workforce mechanics has often created workforce dehumanization. Corporations have disregarded employee needs, feelings, and values by focusing on mechanistic production. But not only does the machine metaphor lack concern for societal needs, it also lacks environmental concern.



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