The New York Times’s coverage of Francis Haugen’s testimony at the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce struck a chord with me. Tech correspondent, Sheera Frenkel, joined The Daily’s host, Astead Herndon, in discussing the horrifying glimpse into Facebook’s moral demise that has filled the airwaves this past week.
Haugen, a former Facebook employee, became a household name after stepping forward as a whistleblower, sharing concerns about the harmful practices and decision-making at the leadership level of the company. Haugen, a Harvard grad with an extensive resume in big tech, worked on the Civic Integrity Team at Facebook. As a result, she was intimately involved with the inner workings of Facebook’s algorithm, a major source of the current controversy.
What has revealed itself in Haugen’s testimony? Facebook repeatedly encountered conflicts between profit and public safety. Each time, profit won. In Haugen’s words, “they chose to grow at all costs.”
Throughout the commentary and coverage of this news story, one question continues to surface: Do private businesses have a moral obligation to act in the best interests of their customers? Of society?
The fact that this is even a question demonstrates that something is seriously missing in our conversations about business.
Frenkel reported that Zuckerberg used to be known for “[pumping] his fist in the air and [saying] ‘company over country’ at the end of every meeting.”
It’s an image that, as a business owner, makes me physically ill.
How did we get here? How did we become so short-sighted? How can we rediscover our purpose and lead with intention?
It Has To Start With Intention
When I set my intentions and keep my intentions at the forefront, I lead with integrity. When I lead with integrity, I make decisions that aid in my pursuit of prosperity, for myself, my team, my clients and my community.
It’s easier said than done. Unfortunately, we can all lose our way from time to time.
Listening and reading about the issues at Facebook has left me reflecting over my many years as a business owner. One former client keeps coming to mind:
The client was in debt. A lot of debt. They consistently pushed back against my advice. I would raise concerns, and they’d tell me not to worry. I would point out a red flag, and they’d say that I didn’t understand the situation.
Our conversations, our back and forth, it just wasn’t sitting right. The field felt fertile for committing fraud. While I don’t have a criminal mind, I’ve heard that it often starts with a simple justification, “I’ll just do it this one time.” From there, it can quickly snowball.
I was losing sleep. The client made up 30% of my business. I couldn’t just walk away. Could I? It suddenly dawned on me: I was out of sync with my purpose by serving this client. I had lost my way.
I ended the relationship with the client. The following year, the FBI shut down the company. I don’t know the details of what happened, but my inner wisdom had sensed tension. My inner wisdom was calling out to me, reminding me to lead with purpose. My inner wisdom knew there was more to my business than profits.
We’ve been conditioned to think otherwise, but money isn’t everything.
Mark Zuckerberg claims that he wants to connect the world. But is he achieving that goal? Often it feels that Facebook does more to divide us than to bring us together. Perhaps he has lost his purpose.
When we’re out of sync with our purpose, it’s a sign that it’s time to make a change. Sometimes those changes fill us with fear. Sometimes those changes don’t prioritize profit. The decision to walk away from my client was not an easy one. I was taking a financial risk. I had payroll to make and bills to pay. It was scary! But it was the right thing to do. I had to trust that if I held true to my purpose, I’d find my way.
Doing the right thing often leads us to discover a new business model for our future. A better business model. A business model that sees money as a tool for achieving prosperity and not the end goal.
A Case for Self-Regulation
Capitalism requires some degree of regulation. The degree to which a government should regulate capitalism is not the point I’m trying to explore. Instead, I think there’s an important question that needs to be asked:
Shouldn’t we, as leaders, have some sort of moral fiber that calls us to self-regulate?
“Company over country.” Zuckerberg’s words continue to echo through my mind.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a CPA that the concept of self-regulation comes to me naturally. After all, we’re an example of an industry that joined together to self-regulate our practices. And as a result, we’re a group of professionals with very little government oversight while also being perceived as one of the most consistently trusted groups in the workforce.
What about our people? What about our purpose? What about our contributions to society?
We must think more broadly than our bottom lines.
Money Is a Tool. It’s Not the Answer.
When money is the be-all and end-all of a business, there’s a significant problem. At MACKEY, we talk about the three freedoms of prosperity. Not one. Three: money freedom, time freedom, and mind freedom.
Yes, Facebook is an incredibly financially successful company. But I wonder about the worry that plagues those at the leadership level. Are their minds free from worry? Or does it hang over their heads, following them like a cloud?
They may be financially free, but are they worry-free? I doubt it.
Achieving true prosperity requires a business owner to look beyond the bottom line; to think more broadly about the ripple effects of their business.
I stumbled upon Certified B Corporations through a client. Intrigued, I did some research and discovered that we were already meeting a lot of the requirements.
I pitched it to my team. They affirmed my interest when over 70% of my employees enthusiastically volunteered to assist in pursuing our certification. It has become a point of pride at MACKEY. And rightly so.
B Corps believe that “society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone.” B Corps companies “use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.”
It’s an actionable way for businesses to lead differently. To self-regulate. To grow with purpose. To profit while also contributing to the richness of our broader communities.
Putting It All Together
Francis Haugen insightfully shares in her testimony that Facebook has convinced us to “believe that [the misinformation] is just part of the deal.” She challenges us to change our thinking: “I’m here today to tell you, that’s not true.” She explains that Facebook uses its metrics as a scapegoat for the platform’s problems, claiming that it is at the mercy of the metrics. “[They claim] the metrics make the decision. Unfortunately, that itself is a decision,” she says.
It’s easy to convince ourselves that we have no choice when making difficult decisions that challenge our purpose and integrity. But the harsh truth is this: as business leaders, we always have a choice.
When discussing how Facebook can solve its glaring issues, The Daily’s host, Astead Herndon, poses an essential question: “Why would a for-profit company do something that they know will make them less money?”
Sheera Frenkel answers: “To make a healthier ecosystem for everyone.”
Peter Diamandis’s ideas about how to get people to do extraordinary things come to mind. He believes that if you want your employees to do extraordinary things, you must first understand that they’re driven not by money, but by purpose.
Purpose isn’t about money. Purpose is driven by how we feel about ourselves when we wake up each morning. Money can never soothe those feelings. Money will never fill that void.
Zuckerberg boasts his belief in company over country. What do you believe?