Over the past week I have been exploring the ethics of business closure and the idea of euthanisation. It is time for me to explain myself – what do I mean by business euthanization? and why use this metaphor for talking about business life-cycles?

My sense is that how we treat business closure is actually symptomatic of a much wider cultural and spiritual issue around how we perceive and deal with death and dying (stay with me!). For many people, death comes as a surprise and can be full of heartache – not just for the person dying, but also for the family. Research around organ donation for example shows that many families do not discuss the wishes of their loved one prior to their death. This lack of discussion and planning leads to sometimes difficult decisions needing to be made, and conflict amongst those left behind.

What can reincarnation teach us?

All cycles come to a close, and to the beginning of a new cycle. Yet we somehow treat business, strategy and life as if it is in a state of perpetual growth. This is simply not how life works. Of course all cycles will end. In life we have two main types of cycles – the major cycle of incarnation, and sub-cycles which could be seen as life stages. Each sub-cycle can include periods of creation (or innovation), growth, maturity, sustainability and eventually decline. Periods of decline can lead to business turnaround, which usually occur after some kind of midlife crisis or turning point.

In this blog series on business closure, I am talking about the major incarnation cycle – or end-of-life. In business closure, it doesn’t of course mean the end of the entrepreneur or the passion that drives the people in the business. Entrepreneurs will typically go on to start new businesses. This could be likened to Soul reincarnating into another body, ready to have new experiences that a new life will present. In this sense, the idea of business closure is not an ending, but a new beginning. Reincarnation can provide a useful perspective for approaching life-cycles and change.

So how does this relate to euthanasia?

Sometimes businesses will just die a natural death and will not require hospice or palliative care. In the case of businesses being terminally ill, it may require hospice care. In a way, this blog series could have instead focused on business hospice care, rather than exclusively on euthanasia. Euthanasia is an option that some people in hospice care would like, but it doesn’t assume that all people will.

Euthanisation can be defined as a planned and painless death for someone who is suffering an incurable disease. One aspect of euthanasia that is regarded as ethically critical is that it is intentional, planned and has the consent of the person who will die. Non-voluntary euthanasia is regarded as murder, so I am not talking about non-voluntary euthanasia or the unwarranted murder of non-profits or businesses. I am talking about assisted closing in the instance of the organisation recognising that closure is the only inevitable outcome.

By the time a business or non-profit knows it is terminal, it is often too late to intervene to reduce the fallout of the impending closure. Aside from euthanasia, the other aspect this brings up is when and how the diagnosis of closure occurs. In the medical field we see doctors to give an objective and professional opinion of how long we may have to live. In business, who do you go and see? and how do you listen to views that suggest an ending may be coming?

Hospice care is important for people who are dying. They are able to provide the compassionate assistance the person needs, and also support families who are dealing with the transition of the person.

Leadership, attachment and letting go

In business and perhaps even more significantly in the field of doing good, there is a lot of attachment caught up in leaders. The idea of letting go of an organisation does not often factor as an option for founders (especially) and leaders and stakeholders more broadly. On the positive side, this level of attachment and love for their organisation can lead to strong levels of determination to turn it around. On the downside, it can lead to prolonged pain and exploitation of people to keep the entity alive.

When this level of attachment exists, what processes or people should (or could) be involved to provide an objective opinion about the fate of that organisation? Some organisations have the resources to engage consultants in challenging situations, but from experience it is often those organisations that have the resources which could also potentially achieve a turnaround. Those organisations that do not have the resources – which is a significant number in the social sector – are not so likely to consult external stakeholders, or know which questions to ask.

In this case, when do you know and how do you approach business closure?

In my next couple of posts, I want to explore how you would know when to close, and what a business euthanisation service might look like.

If you are interested in aspects of reincarnation, you may like to check out an earlier post of mine on Ethics and Reincarnation. Otherwise, see you soon for more on business euthanasia.

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