If corporations were people they would be psychopaths. Or so concludes an award-winning documentary coming out this month called The Corporation. Writer Joel Bakan and directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott use the diagnostic criteria of the American Psychiatric Association to make their case, highlighting traits such as "deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying or conning others for personal profit or pleasure" and "lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another." Anyone who runs a company can use these parameters as a litmus test for his or her own organization.
The filmmakers show how corporations fit the profile by, for example, elevating profitability as a goal above employee, customer, or community health. At a generous 145 minutes, The Corporation makes its most compelling arguments when focused on psychologists, defectors, and corporate advocates. Former Royal Dutch Shell CEO Sir Mark Moody-Stuart politely serves tea to Earth First! protesters parked on the lawn of his country home, yet never admits to doing nothing to save nine Nigerians hanged for speaking out against Shell's practices in the Delta. Such examples serve as cautionary tales: Grow too big and you might bobble the controls. Power can be blinding.
Still, The Corporation conveys that all hope is not lost. People who hold themselves and employers to high standards are among 40 interviewed (including director Michael Moore). Fox News investigative reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson were fired after refusing to alter a hard-hitting story about the milk industry. Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, the world's largest carpet manufacturer, reforms the environmentally damaging practices of his company. You're never too big -- or small -- for good behavior.
If you don't see your business reflected in the film, carry on. If you do, a deeper examination may be in order. As the Greek saying goes, the fish stinks from the head down.