Blog Post

Is Your Company Ready To Handle the Next Hot-Button Issue? How To Stay Two Steps Ahead

Published October 12, 2022 | by Jake Wood | 7 mins read
young fashion designers at a table

Crickets. That’s the sound coming from many companies over today’s most pressing hot-button issues. Yet there is an increasingly blurred line between business and politics, leaving business leaders wondering how they should weigh in. These issues are both plentiful and polarizing. It would be easy, if not forgivable, to remain silent from a business standpoint. However, it’s not so simple. The public supports and even expects companies to speak out. 

In recent years as the political landscape becomes even more divisive that expectation continues to grow. In a Forbes poll, 75% think that companies should be leaders and change makers. And why not? Thanks to employees, stakeholders and the communities they are privileged to serve, companies have the bully pulpit and the resources needed to make a difference. Moreover, recent polls indicate that people trust businesses more than the government

Leaders must ask themselves what role their companies should play in the evolving political environment. But before they decide how to engage, they must consider both the risks and the challenges. 

Current Landscape of Hot-Button Issues

It’s not just about the things that any good corporate citizen ought to do, like be a responsible steward  of the earth’s precious resources. It’s about values that cut to the core of every American. Issues like voting rights, vaccine mandates, Roe v. Wade and gun control. There are new issues arising monthly.

Impact on Business

Make no mistake: Taking a stand can have both good consequences and bad. For some companies, it may mean an increase in sales or a boost to their reputation. When Uber and Lyft offered to pay the legal fees for drivers sued under Texas law for driving pregnant people to abortion clinics, they saw an uptick in their stock. However, there was also a negative backlash. Purportedly, the company doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to supporting its drivers in other regards.  

Yes, taking a stand opens the company up to scrutiny. But it also helps keep leadership accountable and make them even more determined to ensure that their actions match their words, a good all-around strategy for every sustainable business. 

New Issue, New Strategy

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for hot-button issues. Most require case-by-case analysis. You may not want to issue a public statement at all, but that’s not the only option. 

Before you do anything, you’ll need to assess the potential impact on your business. It always pays to know your customers — not just the products and services they will buy but what they believe and value. What are they saying on social media? The same is true for stakeholders and employees, including the company’s affinity groups. What do they want you to do? 

Acknowledge and respect differing viewpoints while ensuring that the decision-making process is transparent. Of course, everyone will not agree but it’s important that the process is fair and that once the decision has been made, you are clear and unapologetic about how the decision aligns with company values. Follow through on your promises and be consistent.

L’oreal Paris learned the hard way how important it is to practice what you preach. After posting in support of Black Lives Matter, the fashion company was lambasted for dismissing one of their models  who had previously taken a public stance against racism and white supremacy. 

How To Be Proactive Against Hot-Button Issues: 3 Preparation Steps

In addition to making deliberate decisions, here are three concrete steps your company can take to ensure that they are prepared for the next hot-button issue.

1. Establish Safety Nets

Safety nets are resources that are set aside to protect employees and other stakeholders of the company against inequities and provide fair treatment across the board. They provide tangible benefits to all employees and to the community. A safety net allows the company to help without necessarily taking a public political stand. 

Despite their own business woes, consider the many companies that stepped up to the plate during the pandemic to provide, for example, support to first responders and vulnerable populations, or that adapted their supply chains to provide personal protective equipment. When companies establish a track record of pitching in during times of greatest need, they build the type of social currency that generates public trust.

A safety net could be considered the company’s own economic relief fund. There are no hard and fast rules about how it should operate. However, safety net funds could support:

  • Travel for health care that is not offered locally
  • Consistent levels of accessibility in all of the company’s offices, whether or not it is mandated by law
  • Volunteer activities in the community
  • Extended employee benefits like remote work, flex time, etc
  • Employee Assistance Programs
  • Trauma treatment across all of the various communities and identities
  • Temporary shelters for weather-related and other emergencies
  • Nonpartisan resources that support elections

2. Operationalize Your DEI Strategy

Hot-button issues present an opportunity to lean into the company’s core values and support them through your DEI strategy. To do so, however, the strategy must be operationalized. Until you formulate and actualize a plan, it’s just a mental exercise. Operationalization means making DEI part of your business and operating model. You will be most successful in your support of the underserved communities you’ve identified if your strategy establishes the following:

  • In-House DEI Team: Even if you solicit outside help to facilitate your DEI strategy, you still need an in-house team. Your in-house team plays a critical role in analyzing hot-button issues and making recommendations for a thoughtful and inclusive response.
  • Diversity Training: Training is key, and not just a once-and-done workshop. Rather, you’ll need an ongoing approach to ensure that your guidelines are put into practice and everyone understands what’s expected of them. Through regular training, you signal to the organization that diversity, equity and inclusion are important values that you take seriously and that these values extend beyond the doors of your organization. 
  • Affinity Groups: Your affinity groups provide the staffing and energy to take on issues. They play a key role in two-way communication that helps to bolster curiosity and empathy among the larger community. They will want to have a voice in the company’s response to these issues.

3. Fortify Your Corporate Giving Program

When hot-button issues arise, companies that have established corporate giving programs can respond internally, even without making a grand public gesture. The best programs are those that are flexible, easy to set up and require minimal administrative time. Corporate giving programs not only empower employees, they build engagement and morale, and encourage individuals to express themselves in meaningful ways. 

The Groundswell platform allows employees to pre-load charitable donations in a giving account for when and where they want to use them. There are a number of ways for employees to participate, including selecting from various volunteer opportunities or supporting a cause that the company champions. Employees are able to express their values to support something they believe in and they may be eligible, as well, to receive matching donations or use paid time off that the company provides. 

Groundswell makes it easy, allowing companies to offer giving as an employee benefit. Further, the Groundswell platform removes the hassle. There’s little administration, paperwork or reporting so that your company can easily shift gears for the next hot-button issue. Employees appreciate the opportunity to help the causes they care about year-round, as well as to be part of larger-scale, more impactful giving efforts.

Stay Ahead and Be Proactive

Hot-button issues can be tricky to navigate. But they don’t have to create internal headaches. They can, in fact, be opportunities to lean into the values that make your company unique, attract and retain diverse talent and drive innovation. You just need a good plan.   

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