When Employees Demand The Wrong Things, Change Doesn’t Help

Business leaders are feeling the pressure from employees who are just as confused as the rest of us on matters ESG

B. Lorraine Smith
9 min readAug 25, 2022

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Near my old hood in NYC, where on a good day I got to bump into Judith Samuelson.

There are a few things I miss about living in New York City. I miss jaywalking without getting dirty looks. I miss those huge trees at the north end of Central Park, and the turtles in the south end. I miss the spontaneous focus groups that formed on random street corners if one asked a question out loud.

And I miss bumping into the fantastic Judith Samuelson, head of the Aspen Business & Society program and author of the seminal book, The Six New Rules of Business. Whether running into each other along the East River Esplanade, or hanging out in her office, sparring over the latest news or who is the bigger fan of Marjorie Kelly (I’m sorry but, me), her openness to ideas and people was a big part of what made a decade on that crazy, crowded little island a great experience for me.

So open and encouraging of the ideas is she, that I know she won’t mind when I offer an addition to an article she recently published about the role of employees and our future, “ESG: not woke capitalism or greenwashing but an opportunity for employee voice.”

Radical agreement on the power of the employee voice

It’s not that I don’t agree with her premise: that employees are a critical — possibly the most critical — stakeholder in holding business leaders to account on key environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. In fact, I think that’s absolutely true.

Further, I radically agree with her comment that employees have “the most accurate take on a company’s true ESG performance”. And others will back her up here: 10 minutes into this podcast with Mark C. Crowley interviewing Alan Murray (CEO of Fortune Magazine Media) we hear a similar argument, i.e. that businesses, specifically CEO’s, are changing because employees are demanding change from within.

Give the people what they need: a healthy world

But what if employees are demanding the wrong things? What if, given the way most people have been educated and…

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B. Lorraine Smith

Recovering ESG "expert"; yarn spinner; distance runner; magical realist. Sensing a path to an economy serving life. also at https://blorrainesmith.substack.com/