Why would any organization choose to mobilize its people on social networks and why would employees go along with the idea? What technologies, policies and skills are needed to get a program off the ground without wasting time or putting your firm at risk? Susan Emerick, author of The Most Powerful Brand on Earth, addresses these questions and more in an interview with our CEO, Ethan McCarty.
Do you ever find yourself asking or being asked the following...
How many employees read the latest newsletter article? Did you generate awareness about open enrollment? Has the CEO's strategy video gone viral on your intranet yet?
Wait. Who cares?!
In an age of diminished institutional credibility, all organizations have a powerful, often-overlooked asset to directly influence customers, industries, and communities: their employees.
Our CEO, Ethan McCarty shared 5 trends we're seeing in the industry in 14 minutes at the Dynamic Signal Summit. Have a few? Watch below.
Want to think together? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Integral Team
Now more than ever, leaders facing political, technological and societal tumult in their industries must create rather than suppress environments enabling employee activism. Wait, seriously?
As more employees stand up for what they believe in, including petitioning within their organization, employers can either hope the trend abates (not a good strategy) or make an effort to direct this potential energy productively. Microsoft’s recent experience with employees gathering online to voice concerns about the company’s contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a prime example of why business leaders need to know where they stand, have mechanisms at their disposal for authentically addressing their teams, and shift their thinking to “employees are the first public” before an issue arises, not after the fact.
CEOs must equip themselves -- and seek the counsel of forward-thinking communications professionals -- to navigate muddy waters, encourage employees to support the organization’s values, and voice their own opinions. It’s daunting, but there are ways for your CEO to enable employee activism. Here are five examples of how to start today:
Know your values
A recent and phenomenal example of this is Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian who made the decision to end discounts for NRA members after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Bastian knew Delta’s values and realized this was not a discussion the airline wanted to be a part of. He was so confident in the decision that he did not ask the board for their permission or warn them of the decision. Knowing your company’s values will not only help in a time of crisis or quick decision-making, but it will encourage and guide employees to live by them.
Have open and accessible methods for employees to channel their activism
Salesforce’s “Volunteer Time Off” gives employees six paid days per year to participate in volunteer activities. Having this type of policy in place shows employees that the company invests in their ability to make a difference and get involved -- on their own time. Rather than forcing employees to take personal vacation time or sick days, this policy gives employees the availability to take days, when needed, for causes they care about.
Know where your executives’ hearts lie
Executives serve as role models to all employees within an organization. Ensuring executives understand the causes supported by the firm is crucial to radiating values throughout an organization. When the government came calling to ask Apple’s chief, Tim Cook, to open a backdoor to customers’ iPhone data, Mr. Cook declined. He has since said that “privacy is a fundamental human right.”
Put in place a robust employee advocacy program before the crisis
Initiating an employee advocacy program aligned to your company’s preferred causes provides an outlet to reach your people and inspire action. Bloomberg LP offers employees the ability to have their donations matched by its foundation and also uses social media employee advocacy software to encourage employees who have volunteered for a particular cause to share related content from the foundation.
Prepare to talk (and listen) to all sides.
To successfully and appropriately encourage activism, employers must engage all sides of any debate dispassionately. It’s important to have company values, but it is even more important to ensure none of your employees feel they are inaccurately represented or discriminated against. All activism policies should be put in the context of the service or product your company delivers to its customers rather than politics. Above all, be prepared to tolerate respectful dissent. This encourages your people to have and express their opinions, but also makes room for them to support the company’s brand.
We’ve been doing some very exciting work with Rachel Casanova and Dana Asher for companies moving offices, so we thought why not share our top tips for orgs making a big move.
First and foremost, there’s a difference between change communication and change management. It’s important to manage the tension between creating excitement for a move and allaying fears about it.
Secondly, firms tend to overemphasize the upside and leave the downsides unaddressed – sure we’re going to get sit-stand desks, but will I lose my sense of place and comfort?
In this short video, we cover how your company can help make any move a smooth one by following these three steps:
- Recognize people will fear loss
- Prepare to adjust your plan
- Personalize the move
Companies can no longer stay in their comfort zone when it comes to taking a stand on social issues. Immigration, discrimination, the #MeToo movement, gun control, global warming, all polarize us in our personal lives and in our professional lives as well...and the list goes on. Not only do customers expect brands to speak up and take action, but so do employees.
In February, InMoment published a report showing that 58% of millennials, 55% of GenXers, and 51% of baby boomers think it’s important that brands invest in causes they care about. As companies feel the weight of public pressure to “fill a void”, Axios states, it is important that these firms determine which issues to avoid and where to engage .
This month, Morning Consult released a report about what millennials expect from brands. The graphic below from Axios represents a range of topics companies could advocate for and whether or not each topic will make millennials like a company more, less or neither.
As you can see, civil rights and gay rights are the least controversial, whereas abortion policy, supporting a republican candidate and stricter immigration are among the top controversial topics.
So, what does this mean for your company and filling the void? Could company values be the guiding light for navigating business decisions as well as the company’s stance on social issues? In a time when speaking up is more important than ever, organizations must use their voice and power to inspire social change. When it comes to many employees and consumers, there is no room on the sidelines.
Our CEO, Ethan McCarty had a chance to interview Vern Oakley, the CEO of Tribe Pictures, an award-winning film producer and the author of Leadership in Focus: Bringing Out Your Best on Camera. Vern shared his perspective on the relationship between authenticity and trust -- and how communications professionals can maximize both for their organizations. Take a look at their conversation below.
Q: How is authenticity related to trust when it comes to corporate communications?
Vern: Wow, that's a good one. I just gave a speech about trust being the most valuable commodity, and I told a story about being raised on my grandparents’ farm during the summers and one of the things he always taught me is a man's word is his bond. And so that becomes sort of one's character.
I believe the leadership, particularly the CEO, becomes the lightning rod for that kind of trust. You only have to think of companies like Wells Fargo or United Airlines or Uber to see what can go wrong for companies when they don't really have that trust in place. Trust can be a byproduct of authenticity. So, authenticity in itself isn't the currency its authenticity with trust and character that really complete the dots. Developing trust is a very fragile commodity easily lost and broken. And particularly in a digital society with all the tools and transparency that's out there we have to be even more authentic and be careful about building that trust.
Ethan: You can see what is happening across the board in a way that you never could before and that's a totally new thing. The new thing is, you know, all the behaviors, the things that we used to call internal communications because they were internal, all of that stuff has been exposed. I think the idea of authenticity and trust being related have a lot to do with the fact that the inside of organizations are revealed now more than ever.
It used to be that the first public that an organization had to deal with was its customers, but I really think of the employees of any organization as the first public. And I don't think most organizations are really geared to maximize that reality. There are a lot of folks who are kind of still thinking, “Oh, what we say and do internally stays internal.” I don't think that construct is very good.
I think about my own rides in Uber, when they first started, when that whole industry first started everybody got into the Uber and said like, "Wow, this is different." Here in New York taxi cabs are such an important feature of the landscape and of life here and then suddenly we're in these black cars or in people's personal cars. You ask the driver, "What's it like to be a driver for Uber?" And they start to tell you and they go into how they feel it's a rip-off and they're also driving for Lyft and they're treated better there or something. Well suddenly they're the expert on that company. There's no internal or external at that moment. It's just this total experience that you're having with the brand. And that's very, very authentic because it's coming from someone who really knows and you're either having a moment where trust is being built or trust is being degraded.
Q: Can you fake authenticity?
Vern: Well the way I think about this is that people do business with people and it's not that I do business with Southwest, it's that I get on a plane and I'm greeted by somebody from Southwest and that person either makes my experience good or not. And yes, really good actors can fake authenticity. There's that famous quote, “The most important thing in learning to act is to be truthful. And once you learn to fake that you're all set.”
If you look at some of the journal literature about authenticity, there's different levels of authenticity. Like listen, you and I are having authentic conversation, but if you were home talking to your parents you might have a different authentic conversation. When you're talking to your kids you might have a different one than talking to the Uber driver. Authenticity gets modulated in terms of the social circumstances we're in.
Q: Previously you were telling me a bit about maximizing authenticity when producing videos, particularly for executives. Would you talk a little bit about that?
Vern: Great question. Since I sort of started my whole journey in this theater world as a director and studying how to get the performance out of actors. In that field, what you're trying to do is take the twin masks of drama and comedy and sort of merge them seamlessly with the actors so they fully inhabit a character and that you, for that time in the movies or in the theater, enjoy that performance from that actor feeling that they're really a real person. Perhaps that's why when I come into authenticity in terms of putting leaders on camera, I think our job is to remove the mask.
Carl Jung says, "The privilege of a lifetime is just to become who you truly are." And so in my book, I am talking about this being a journey of really deeply embracing who you are so that a camera can actually capture that, which is a more exciting journey, a more real journey because the camera captures truth at 24 frames a second. Now some people, actors, whether they be Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump or Al Franken or others, faking in the public sphere. And they're very good at it. But most people don't have the training or the disposition to fake it. So the hardest part is to reveal themselves and to be vulnerable because these are high powered people, generally Type A, who are used to being in control of a situation. And when they come onto the studio, wherever they're being filmed, there are other people that actually have to help them, and other people that are in control. So there becomes a dynamic between the person who's interviewing you and the leader, and I call that the sacred space.
Q: How would you advise me to tease out that sacred space when I'm sitting there with my Senior Vice President of Sales and he has a little bit of anxiety about having a camera in his face?
Vern: Well, I can give some tips to people who aren't used to putting people on camera, but the first thing that I'm doing is having a conversation with them outside of the sphere of the set or the camera and just talking to them. And generally, in a conversation people are a little more candid, a little bit more who they are. And then sometimes they get in front of the camera and they become a different person. So, I think our goal is always to get that person to be who they are in the casual conversations with a bit more emphasis on words and communication and body language and tonality, but not to become someone else. Not to become the CEO or the leader of this particular group, but to be themselves and take their selves and their beliefs and communicate the message.
Q: How do you think people who do professional communications or communicate on behalf of organizations can engender this trust and deliver authenticity most effectively to their customers and their employees and the media?
Vern: Well, I have a very strong point of view about it. I said it earlier, but people do business with people. I think you have to humanize your leaders. You have to humanize your employees. You have to consistently do storytelling that, with a foundational base about the values and the mission and the purpose that surfaces up in the way that employees do their job. You have to hold the people who do exemplary jobs up and show them to everyone else and say, "This is what success can look like at our company.”
Peter Drucker used to say, "The purpose of a business is to create a customer." I think that is last century. Not that we don't have to create customers, but the purpose of sustainable business is to provide meaningful work to its employees. To provide profits for its investors. To provide a working and positive relationship with the community and all the stakeholders so that everyone is serviced because it doesn't work if everybody isn't winning.
The Trump administration has been getting a lot of heat for the separation of children from parents at border crossings. Employees of Microsoft began to voice concerns about their company’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Meanwhile, two former Facebook employees seeking to raise $1,500 to support families affected by ICE ended up with more than $5 million raised.
Later in the week, leadership from both firms as well as from Tesla, Google and Amazon denounced the separation of children from families. It’s reminiscent of earlier this year when Google employees pressured management to cancel contracts related to the company’s AI powering military drones.
So, what are we going to talk about?
- Employee activism
- How it’s playing out in the immigration debate
- What are tech firms doing?
- What could they do better?
We're curious to hear what will you do when employees at your firm protest a company position? Drop us a line or comment below to share what's on your mind.
Ethan McCarty, our CEO, was recently interviewed for a Page Society professional development program focused on training Communications professionals on the topic of leading through disruption. Here's a clip from the course -- which includes many notable and experienced people in our field.
Leading Through Disruption: Building Teams that Drive Transformation
Senior communications executives are now helping lead the digital transformation of entire enterprises. To do that, they also need to lead the transformation of their own teams—in terms of capabilities, team structures, tech stack, capacity to make data-driven decisions, and new ways of working together. This course helps forward-thinking Comms professionals to become stronger leaders and build more effective teams for a rapidly changing world.