When Should Your Organization Take a Political Stance?
How many consumer boycotts can you think of in the last year? They're happening more and more frequently as consumers demand the organizations they support are operating within an ethical and moral framework that aligns with their beliefs.
In just the last year I can think of at least 5 highly publicized boycotts on a range of political topics:
· Organizations with ties to Israeli Settlements
· Wage Equality Concerns
· The #MeToo Movement
· Ivanka Brand Clothing
· National Parks Support
At this point, it’s not really a matter of if your business will be called to take a political stance, but of when. On the one hand the ’Xennial’ in me loves the optimistic collective nature of boycotts as a way to build awareness, drive conversation and occasional action. On the other I have the benefit of knowing corporate organizations are comprised of stakeholders on all sides of the table and all shades of the political spectrum, so it’s virtually impossible for an organization to take a political perspective without alienating at least one audience.
So how do we as responsible corporate leaders ensure we’re on the right side of history, while doing the right thing for our employees and our community? How do we understand when it’s appropriate for us to engage, and when we should defer to others with more expertise on an issue?
Social responsibility initiatives, while the not the full answer to understanding your role in a political discussion, can offer guidance to handing these organizational challenges when they come our way.
Here are 5 things you can do to prepare your organization to respond to social issues:
· BE PROACTIVE: Build a foundation that proves the mission, vision and values of your organization long before an issue arises. Considering the role of your business in the lives of your employees and the community makes it easier for your organization to demonstrate citizenship proactively and can help protect your reputation in a crisis.
· TAKE THE LONG-TERM VIEW: Michael Porter, Laurence Fink and countless others count Corporate Social Responsibility as an effective tool by which leaders can identify and understand the economic forces that may your business at risk. Some issues have long term, debilitating costs or reductive economic forces associated with them that must be considered as part of an organizational strategy. Others do not. Take care of first-things-first and address the social challenges that most strongly affiliate with your organization's activities before wading into territory that is not mission-critical.
· MAKE SURE YOU CAN LIVE WITH THE OUTCOMES: Consider how your anticipated action matches up with past processes, existing procedures (change them if necessary) and ensure your actions are sustainable. There’s nothing worse than taking a political stance and then being able to back it up. This is where the dreaded terms ‘greenwashing’ or ‘inauthentic’ come to play.
· DON’T TRY TO DO IT ALL: This is a tricky one, and even makes me cringe as I type it. It’s tempting to put our organizational weight behind a social issue, especially one that is highly visible, emotionally compelling or that we as leaders believe to be downright wrong. However, your organization does not need to jump into the fray for every topic - choose your battles.
· VALUE DIVERSITY: The hardest part of all of this work is balancing the desire for collective unity with individual values. You may end up just reminding your stakeholders that your organization has a variety of opinions and perspectives that make it difficult to take collective action. Then, put all your weight behind fostering an environment for dialogue and evolution. Then make sure you support your teams by giving them space for individual action.
It’s not going to be easy for our leaders to managing the mine-fields of political and social evolution that are crashing onto our shores constantly. At times we’re going to need to summon courage to act; at times we may need to summon courage to not react; and other times it’s appropriate to act by empowering our people to do so.
How has your organization prepared for political action?