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Stop Walking on Eggshells

It is time company boards stopped walking on eggshells on social and political Issues

Societies globally have become more polarized. As a result, companies are struggling with what to do about speaking out on social and political issues.

The old world in which businesspeople were told to refrain from discussions of religion and politics is gone. Judy Samuelson notes "the clearest signals to executives now come from within—from employees". As a result, "employees are focused on how executives utilize their power and political spending. They have become more public in voicing their discontent..." Companies like Patagonia, Chick-fil-A-Franchise and Hobby Lobby attract very different segments of the market. They have built a loyal following by being clear about their values and not being afraid to express them. You may not like their views, but each has taken that into consideration. They lose some and attract more. The delineation between social and political will continue to blur and companies will find it difficult, if not impossible, to "hide". Employees, political action groups, activists and others will urge action. You don't have to act, but you should have a strategic process for making decisions, and not allow yourself to become reactive or stymied. Here are some recommendations: 1. Clearly define your organization's values and purpose. What are the attributes for which you want to be known, by whom and why?

2. The current silos are no longer capable of representing or comprehensively assessing the ever changing marketplace and providing the board with a comprehensive view of the market. In fact, they do the opposite, seeing the world through their own "lenses".

3. Instead of silos, companies should create a Strategy and Stakeholder Value Group (SSVG), with representatives from the different stakeholder-facing functions, plus risk management. Together they should work to assess stakeholder expectations of value and how different decisions might impact various stakeholders, along with potential reactions and how to handle these.

4. The board should either put "the voice of the stakeholder" on the agenda at each meeting, or should consider creating a committee with a similar focus, interfacing with the SSVG.

No company can please everyone, nor should they try. But being stymied or reactive are not long term strategies, particularly in a world of growing stakeholder activism. Get out ahead of situations and gain competitive advantage by knowing if, when, why, and how to take action.

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