It feels like every day we hear about some boycott of an organization. This org is being boycotted for being too “woke” and that org is being boycotted for not treating a minority group the right way. I have no issue with a boycott, we all make decisions about where and how to spend our money. Some do it purely on price, others do it on luxury or brand names, others for social reasons. That is one of the great things about capitalism.
This increased polarization will continue to cause issues for organizations and managers. How do they handle sensitive topics?
I remember a time when organizations simply avoided any issue considered sensitive. The thinking – which was accurate at the time – was that if you didn’t make a statement or act in any specific way, you couldn’t be held responsible by the public. In other words, if you took no stance, you didn’t get any blowback.
I’m not quite sure where that changed, but it changed in a big way. Now, organizations almost have to take a stand when an issue is in front of them. If it doesn’t upset customers, it could upset employees. Organizations may start to feel they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. They aren’t wrong.
Two of the more recent highly publicized incidents are Bud Light and Target. Both organizations were making a stand through actions for minority groups (trans and LGTBQ communities). Both tried to back away from the stances when they saw the initial response. In both cases, the criticism only intensified. They ended up getting the initial criticism and then additional criticism for reversing.
The impacts on the companies were not trivial. They had significant financial repercussions for the organization. Bud Light faced a backlash that led to a significant drop in sales.
So how should organizations handle these situations?
· Do not fall back on the playbook of saying nothing to be safe. That worked 30 years ago, it will not work now.
· When making decisions, try to anticipate any backlash. Some issues are clearly polarizing, so be prepared.
· Weigh the tradeoff between sales and employee goodwill. There may be times when an org has to take the hit to build up employee goodwill and engagement. It may create negative revenue issues but create positives in the long run.
For managers, be honest and direct with employees. Let them know the situation and let them have their say. Listen, be empathetic, and ensure that goals and objectives are still being met.