The Paradox of Uncompassionate Management in Institutions Built on Compassion


The HuffPost LIVE segment on Compassionate Management was a powerful experience for me. It validated what I believe, and do, and gave me the chance to speak of my concern about companies having a philanthropic arm but not practicing Compassionate Management internally. My Dad sent this to me the next day:

"For 40 years I worked as a psychologist in various outpatient mental health facilities; such as clinics, institutes, and the like. I'm still amazed at the peculiar phenomenon which I've observed several times: institutions serving severely disabled individuals, both physically and mentally, including individuals who were cognitively challenged (formerly referred to as mentally retarded,) cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities, go out of their way to serve their clients with untold compassion. It goes so far that professionals and untrained personnel (aides) get reprimanded if they do not show sufficient compassion - and, to my mind, justifiably so.

At the same time, when staff are in distress, be it economically, family circumstances, health issues or outright crises - the very same management shows very little compassion or understanding and offers little if any help. I worked in one place as chief psychologist for years, was regarded very positively and when I suffered a heart attack, (perhaps in part due to the unusual stresses of working with such a sad and challenging population,) I found myself "under the bus," so to speak. There was minimal help, little interest and no compassion.

The same happened in another clinic, when I had to take an emergency leave of absence and was just about ushered to the door.

On a third occasion, when I was a full time student at a prestigious institute for psychotherapy in NYC, I left for a year after the Six Day War to help out in Israel with disabled soldiers. When I returned and asked to go part time, because their stipend was insufficient to support a family, I hit a stone wall, and had to drop out. No compassion.

What adds to the puzzle is the fact that the people who constituted "the management" used to work as therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists themselves!"

What is it that drives management to be so compassionate toward their clients and so cold hearted toward the very staff that carries out their mission?

I have a theory.

It is my belief that when compassion is the product being delivered, the organization is less valued by our society than corporations where making money is their ultimate product. Therefore, the team is under-paid, under-perked and under-staffed.

As a result, there is the constant experience of not being valued. These hard working folks sit at hand-me-down desks, roll their chairs over thread-bare carpets, do 3 peoples jobs for piddly pay, and are berated for not doing more, faster, and for less.

I don't excuse the poor behavior my Dad experienced AND I do understand it.

To deliver compassion day after day and not get any in return? That makes a well run dry. And when the well is empty, anger moves in. And so does impatience, nasty behavior and inflexibility. Generous souls like my Dad deal with this their entire career.

There is a change happening and I invite you to join in. It is time to dramatically shift our thinking and evaluation of non-profits. On June 17, 2013, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar USA and Charity Navigator signed a joint open letter to donors regarding the "overhead myth" of charity financial ratios.The letter opens:

"We write to correct a misconception about what matters when deciding which charity to support. The percent of charity expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs--commonly referred to as "overhead"--is a poor measure of a charity's performance. We ask you to pay attention to other factors of nonprofit performance: transparency, governance, leadership, and results. While corporations are investing heavily in trainings, advanced technology and women's initiatives and are getting kudos for it, charities invest zero in the team because they'll be penalized for taking money away from the needy."

Believe me when I tell you that the first 'needy' people we 'need' to take care of are the generous souls who put in long hours, are poorly compensated and use duct tape to keep the office mini fridge closed.

The airplane oxygen mask. We must first take care of the staff helping the end client in order to truly take care of the end client.

Here's some great material to expand the understanding of how charities are being destroyed by the current evaluation tools and, conversely, how charities will exponentially grow with smarter evaluation tools.

March 11, 2013: Watch Dan Pallotta. It's excruciating to see his passion for helping others be squashed by antiquated thinking. Dan Pallotta Ted Talk

July 9, 2013: Watch Nat Ware hit every important aspect in this outstanding presentation: Nat Ware Ted Talk

September 23, 2013: Watch the HuffPost LIVE panel on Compassionate Management. Rena DeLevie of The Roundtable Business, Raj Sisodia of Conscious Capitalism and Andrew Himes of Charter for Compassion.

Join me in this effort to shift the thinking. Please share this post and keep the conversation going. Thank you.

P.S. Thanks Dad for your thoughtful contribution. And all your compassionate support.

Image by Cory Doctorow