Balancing Act: Taking a Stand on Political Issues Without Creating a Corporate Crisis

Gone are the days when companies could comfortably stay out of the U.S. socio-political morass.

The old strategy of remaining silent or neutral quickly riles customers and other stakeholders in today’s charged, social media-savvy culture.

The voting rights controversy in Georgia provides lessons on how not to respond to an important issue.

For most brands, it is hard to imagine how taking a stand on a political hot potato won’t alienate customers. Yet, when done correctly, taking a political stand can build brand and employee loyalty.

Delta Airlines faced criticism for its about-face on Georgia’s voter law. It supported the bill while in development; then, in the face of a boycott, changed sides and opposed it.   

With voter rights, it is clearly not enough to disagree with legislation that many view as suppressive. A company must elucidate the action it will take to support its position.

Those actions might include providing paid time off for employees to vote, supporting efforts to get disenfranchised people to the polls or donating to a nonprofit that fights for voter rights.

Previous Stands

Taking a social or political position publicly can be messy and difficult, especially for brands that have not said previously that social, religious or political beliefs are integral to them.

Consumers have little patience for organizations that take positions incongruent with previously stated values.

Further, employees look for companies whose values mirror their own. They want an employer to take a stand on issues important to them. A recent Workforce Mindset Study from Alight Solutions found employees were deeply disappointed with companies that communicated about inclusion and diversity, but took little action to support their words.

Words and Action

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. If a company decides to speak to an issue, it must act too.

The most important consideration in determining to get involved in a controversial issue is whether or not it aligns with company values.

As with most endeavors, preparation is key. If the issue and your stance align with your values, it is best to speak up.

Even better, anticipate the issue and discuss the company’s position, preparing to voice an opinion publicly if deemed appropriate.

Seek broad input. Understand where your stakeholders stand on the issue. Don’t wait to speak until it is too late to influence the conversation. And make sure that you identify next steps to align actions with words.

–Deb Hileman

Deb Hileman, SCMP, is president and CEO, Institute for Crisis Management.