“The young man from tough streets of Compton, CA has set a great example after winning $40,000 in a free-throw shooting contest at his former high school.  Well done, Allen Guei. Well done.”—Editorial comment at theblaze.com after Guei, an Ivory Coast immigrant and high school basketball player, who had already won a full college scholarship, gave all of his winnings to seven other participating classmates

Doing Good, Doing Well

SHOOTING FOR TWO KINDS OF HOOPS/Image: Michael Moffa

Everybody in the recruiting business wants to do well. But how many want to do good—to make some kind of positive moral contribution or any kind of contribution? Apparently, many, even if substantially more than those who actually try to and do good.

Environmental protection, animal welfare, work equity and other causes are increasingly on the minds and agendas of those on both sides of and in the middle of the employment supply-demand equation—job applicants, corporations and recruiters.

“Do-Wellers”

Yet, interestingly, there is no concept of a “do-weller” corresponding to the familiar concept of a “do-gooder”—which suggests that we have to be prodded to do good, and that in doing so we will be conspicuous by being few in number and seeming somehow odd. We have a concept of a “do-gooder” because do-gooders contrast with most people, who are not one.

On the other hand,  those striving to do well, at least financially, seem to need no prodding to want to be well-off, if not rich—unlike those whom we need to encourage to do good.

No, wanting to do well is a virtually universal ambition among professionals—even if it is limited to doing well financially, in contrast to doing the job well. Of course, the job pricing mechanism is supposed to ensure that those who do well in the one sense do well in the other. Still, it’s not guaranteed.

Strangely, even when someone has done something good, our culturally conditioned reflex focus on doing well can prompt us to conceptualize it as such, as the opening quote, above, suggests.

Being Good vs. Doing Good

Another missing professional guarantee: being good does not ensure doing good. For example, even if you scrupulously adhere to a professional code of ethics and are completely honest, trustworthy, etc., such conformity to that code will not assure that you will actually do good—make a positive contribution of moral value, rather than merely refrain from unethical conduct.

Even if “doing good” is broadened to include not only moral good, but also doing some psychological or financial good for another, e.g., helping an applicant cope with crushing rejection or steering an applicant to a recruiter who has a job better than the ones you can offer, doing good or trying to is still probably unlikely to be as common or seem as important as doing well.

Perhaps recruiter codes of ethics should emphasize doing good as much as being good. One obstacle to universal enshrinement of that dual focus is that the concept of a “code of ethics” almost always conjures up the key negative emphasis of the physician’s Hippocratic oath: “Above all, do no harm”, i.e., in recruiting terms, be good, even if you don’t do good.

In a sense, “doing good” is becoming a cultural anachronism: Doing good is something that might be expected of neighbors in small, tight-knit traditional communities—even if only because of the virtually certain reciprocity for acts of kindness, help and other good deeds, so-called “reciprocal altruism”.

Doing good is also certainly to be expected of members of organizations, crusades, missions and creeds that make it a centerpiece and central aim of their ideologies and causes, like the Salvation Army. But in the domain of commerce and recruitment for commerce, elevation of doing good above doing well is likely to be a harder sell—not impossible, just harder.

So, why is it that it is so much easier to interest most people in doing well than in doing good? Here are some possible arguments, presented and evaluated:

  1. “It is easier to know when I am doing well than to know when I am doing good.”: The idea here is that to the extent that doing well can be monetized as salary, commissions, etc., the success of one’s efforts is more readily gauged than it is in attempting to do good. For example, you know when you’ve earned $1,000; but you don’t know for sure that or how much of the $1,000 you’ve donated to charity will ever reach those for whom it is intended (after “administrative” expenses are deducted). The panhandler you’ve given cash for food may blow it on drugs. Even when you don’t receive the payment that you expected, you know for certain that you haven’t. But when you are attempting to do good with your money, doubts can linger indefinitely.

Reply:  This argument is easily countered. All you have to do is to inject your cash directly into the hands of the end-user, i.e., the intended beneficiary of your largesse. Even better, spend it yourself, on what they need and give it to them. In addition to feeding the homeless this way, you could buy a couple of electric fans for your office colleagues, if they are broiling in an unventilated office: clear, undeniable benefit.

A second rejoinder is that the good you do doesn’t have to be monetized. It can be effort, rather than money—clear, effective and just as valuable as cash. You do your best to constructively advise and maybe even critique a failed candidate, even though it may add nothing to your bottom line to act on a higher plane. (On the other hand, and as a bonus, doing good in ways like this is very likely to generate good will and reputation that can translate into doing well, by attracting more applicants, positive attention within your company or clients, if you are an agency recruiter.)

  1. “It’s not my responsibility.”: Consider the example of helping an applicant cope with rejection, or steering him to another recruiter when it’s clear you can’t place him. The facile response is, “It’s not my responsibility.”  Or, even more defensively, “It’s not my fault.” If you are a recruiter under the age of 12, you might also declare, “It’s not fair!”

Reply: You don’t have to be responsible to be responsive. If a stranger’s child carelessly tumbles into a raging river, any passerby who dives in to rescue the toddler is responding without any sense of being responsible for the emergency. The same applies to you: Being “responsible” is a only a sufficient condition for being obliged to do good, not a necessary condition.  Equally, even though being responsive is not required, it is permitted—allowing you another way in which to do good and not merely to do well.

  1. “I’ll do good after I’ve done well.”:  Call this a “convenient truth”. The claim here is that I have to succeed before I can help, much like a farmer who might claim he has to grow enough food to feed his own family before he can allot any to others. So, the argument goes, when I’ve done well enough to do good, I will—but not before then.

Reply: Although such a “scarce resource” argument may be cogent in some circumstances, e.g., “I can’t spend extra time with candidates, e.g., notifying each one about the placement outcome,  unless I somehow reduce my workload”, it can’t be used in all. That’s because your resources come in various forms: time, energy, money, space, contacts, job listings, resumes and technology, to name several. Accordingly, a constraint on one usually does not entail constraints on all the others. For example, as suggested above, even though you may lack or be discouraged from allocating dollar-denominated resources to help an applicant out, you still have your own energy—to be expended as effort, as a resource you are free to allocate to doing some good.

Likewise, if you don’t have contacts that could serve as extra help to applicants, you could offer some time to help them address the weak points in their resumes (something I used to do with applicant writers when I was screening them for Business Insight Japan Magazine in Tokyo, e.g., letting them know when there were grammatical and spelling errors that killed their chances).

Chances are that those who will use this argument will focus on limitations of time, since it is likely to be their most limited resource and also one required to utilize most of the others, such as energy, information and technology.

Doing Well vs. Being Well

In the modern age, doing well, being well, staying well and becoming well seem to have gradually displaced doing good, being good, staying good and becoming good. Financial success, fitness and health have, in the last thirty years or so, become a new and secular Holy Trinity of our New Sparta. Health, which used to be a prerequisite for everything else has, for many—especially numbers of aging baby-boomers, become everything—a case of the means replacing the ends. For many among the rest, health is the key prerequisite for fitness, which apparently is now, in turn, widely regarded as a prerequisite for general life success.

Since achieving and maintaining success, health and fitness not only occupy so much of our time and energy, but also make the self the primary focus of most effort and imagination, the impetus to do good, rather than well, has been reduced in the psyches of many to an imperceptible moral and psychological nudge that barely and rarely registers in consciousness or conscience.

“Survival of the Buffest”

Why is that? It seems that what can be characterized as the Schwarzenegger-Darwinian credo of “survival of the buffest” has influenced this Neo-Spartan zeitgeist.  It also appears that it took root in North America for the following reasons, among others:

  • The rise of the perfectly chiseled and powerful machine icon, the robot, as the new standard of physical/physics perfection, e.g., “Iron Man”, “Transformers”, as we steadily lumber toward a “post-human” machine-dominated age
  • A broad cultural shift to preoccupation with power in all of its forms, as the age of flower-power hippies morphed into power-lunching yuppies,  power-lifting bodybuilders, power-plow SUVs, gang-banger gangsta power poses,  lots of power politics and the endless exercise of military power (despite the earlier high hippie hopes). If this is not clear, listen to mainstream music, e.g., rap, and its lopsided celebration of the love of power at the expense of the power of love.
  • A  historical dialectical blend of the “spirituality” of the hippie era with the “materiality” of the yuppie and recent historical period in the form of the modern credo “my body is sacred”.
  • Outsourcing of altruism, in the form of the commercialization and institutionalization of many earlier community and personal forms of assistance, charity and social safety nets. (When was the last time you made chicken soup for the soul sick with the flu in a neighboring home? No need when there are walk-in clinics and Advil.)  This outsourcing of altruism created a vacuum filled in part by a greater preoccupation with the self—especially the physical self, as a complementary and competing interest.
  • The Age-bomb: An affluent aging baby-boomer generation is understandably going to have a robust interest in and easy access to health and fitness products, services and information—especially since living with their children is now unlikely to be a widely available option.

Keeping an Eye on the Ball

Amplifying the effect of these factors are the challenging economic realities of the modern job market: When, for a given recruiter or applicant, the eye has to be kept on the financial ball, he or she can perhaps be forgiven for being more concerned about having good luck and good leads than about doing good deeds.

Still, Allen Guei, the Compton, California high school hoopster who gave away his $40,000 free-throw contest winnings, somehow managed to keep his eye on the ball and do good, while doing well…

…thereby earning his hoop while shooting them.

in Recruiting Career Advice]