Giving Back Black
A huge number of Black folk who have “made it” want to give back. This is especially true of Black management consultants. Having seen the huge returns that majority organizations and companies realize by using their services and insights, Black consultants often dream of the impact that these approaches will have on Black businesses, non-profits, and churches. Time and time again I have seen superbly credentialed Black consultants with enviable track records of successful organizational interventions start firms whose primary mission is to “give back black”. Unfortunately, almost all have failed.
I am not just a passive observer to this continuing debacle. I have personally tried and failed repeatedly to succeed at giving back black. As I have talked with others with similar motivations, I am struck by how ingrained a fundamentally flawed assumption in the psyche of hugely competent Black professionals. The assumption is that in the area of organizational dynamics Black people function lack white people but they just have black skins. It is a well-known fact that Black and whites generally are culturally different. They usually preach differently. They usually play basketball differently. They usually sing differently. They usually dance differently. Their fraternities and sororities operate differently. The list goes on and on. However, for whatever reason, we do expect Blacks and whites to operate organizations differently. I believe that this is at the root of the problem of Black consultants failure to successfully give back black.
Black organizations need help in improving their operations. Too many organizations have failed to live up to their potential because of antiquated or just inadequate management practices. Our community and nation has needlessly lost too many valuable companies, non-profits, and ministries because of managerial failing. The need for Black organizational development improvement is real and pervasive. It is obvious in HBCUs, Black churches, Black businesses, and Black non-profits. Traditional definitions of a business opportunity focus on identifying a real need. There is a real need. Requirement satisfied.
Black folk have money. Although it is true that African Americans are substantially poorer than American whites, African Americans are still the wealthiest black folk on the planet. Surveys of our spending patterns on cars, electronics, hair, clothes etc. show that not only do we have money. We are also predisposed to spending it. Black organizations also often have significant resources. Some of the largest churches in America are Black. While there are no black firms on the Fortune 500, entry onto the Black Enterprise 100 currently requires an annual revenue in excess of $15,000,000 (115 Million) while the top firm has revenue in excess of $4,000,000,000 (4 Billion) dollars. Black run non-profits accesses billions of dollars in grant and fee revenue. Clearly, the primary difficulty is not the lack of resources. Black organizations often demonstrably have adequate resources to afford organizational development or management consulting.
What then is the problem? Why is there such a legacy of failure among consultants trying to give back black? I believe that my definition of what a business is sheds light on this dilemma. A business is a profitable organic enterprise that produces products or services that customers want. This definition is pregnant with meaning and implications for starting businesses. However, let’s focus on one phrase, “that customers want”. Black organizational leaders generally do not want professional consulting services. Those that do want those services have been conditioned to expect them for free. The multitude of government or grant financed business support services have devalued better but far more costly services. Free denominational consulting support from organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention condition many pastors to expect free help. Those that do not want the help but need the help often do not appreciate the value-added benefit to be gained by addressing structural organizational deficiencies or repulsed by the concept of creating a process driven organization that replaces their personality driven enterprise. Although the need for organizational development consulting in Black enterprises is real, the lack of demand for those services must be addressed for a consultant to give back black successfully.
I use cigarette manufactures as an example of how the problem needs to be addressed. White folk seem to like brands like Marlboro, Winston and Camel. The cigarette makers did not wring their hands and criticize black folk for not appreciating the brands that white folk like. They developed and marketed Kools and Newports to the black smokers. I maintain that the task for black consultants who want to give back black is to discover the Kool/Newport approach to marketing organizational development consulting to Blacks. Consultants, you have an internal marketing problem that you must address before you are able to solve external organizational development problems.