The modern CEO needs to know how to handle politics in the office. Greg Blatt has a few thoughts.
It could be said that this is perhaps one of the most politically charged environments in the history of the United States. Over the past two decades, corporate activism has seemed to grow exponentially; the difference between actions a company is willing or expected to take even in the last five years has changed dramatically.
This is partly due to growing calls for transparency in the corporate world. Stakeholders are more interested in which companies they do business with and why, and have used social media as a platform to voice their concerns. Politics in the office has always been a difficult area for leaders to navigate, and that has proven to be all the more true in recent years. Whether your investors have backed you, your customers who support your business, or your employees who bring the company’s mission to life, the likelihood that everyone shares similar opinions is slim, as is the likelihood of everyone being satisfied by taking a stand.
“When Michael Jordan was asked in the 80s or early 90s, ‘why don’t you get involved in politics?’ His response was, ‘Republicans buy sneakers too,” Blatt said. “It was a brilliant synthesis of what I think the traditional view of business leaders was about politics: they can have personal politics. , but the company’s mission is apolitical. And if their or someone else’s policy affects the company, it hinders their ability to fulfill their mission. There was no advantage. But companies are finding it increasingly difficult to comply with the “Jordan doctrine”.
Greg Blatte witnessed firsthand the rise of politics in the office, having held senior positions in various industries. He was general counsel for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, helping to raise awareness of the company before becoming general counsel for the American holding company InterActivCorp (IAC). Known for his early investments in some of the biggest internet companies of the 21st century, such as Expedia, Ticketmaster, Hotels.com and the Home Shopping Network, Blatt went on to become CEO of IAC, along with a number of other companies. under its umbrella, including Match.com, Match Group and Tinder.
“Taking political positions for a big company is inherently heavy. A corporation may have many legal rights of a person, but it is not a person. A corporation is a legal entity that involves many people. Even in a management team, there can be different political convictions. And then you have all the other stakeholders – consumers, employees, directors, investors. The idea that a unified vision of all these people constitutes the “vision” of the company is unrealistic. So, in essence, establishing a company’s political opinion becomes a business decision. There is no way around this. And this is where things get complicated. »
Blatt thinks that if you surveyed executives in the United States privately, 99% of them would say they wish they could keep their businesses out of politics. However, unlike the days of the “Jordan Doctrine”, the world has changed considerably. There is no compartmentalization of politics today. It’s all political, especially generationally for tech companies where Gen Z and Millennials make up a larger portion of the workforce. There is a general reluctance to accept an apolitical approach to doing business, so staying out of politics itself becomes a political position subject to scrutiny and criticism.
“Like anything, once you get out of a world of clear rules, which is ‘we don’t get involved in politics,’ everything gets messy,” Blatt said. “You don’t want to be involved in everything, but you can’t be involved in anything. Being involved in politics becomes a distraction, but not being involved in politics becomes a distraction. Again, you are now faced with a business decision. What do you get involved in and what don’t you get involved in? What is the company’s position? Making this decision is not the raison d’être of for-profit companies.
It’s a trap that every modern CEO is caught in. To appease stakeholders, you have to get involved in politics, but by getting involved in politics, you inevitably alienate some of your stakeholders. From a purely economic point of view, you would still prefer not to engage, but our company no longer offers that as an option. So what should a CEO do?
According to Blatt, because total avoidance is no longer an option, the next best course of action is to approach the issue rigorously, with analysis and discipline. According to him, a common mistake that companies make in the current environment is to hold the quality of political speech at lower standards than its commercial speech.
Information is promulgated for political purposes on both sides of the spectrum by the media. They wrap things up in very small soundbites which then annoy their followers, often denying the facts in the process. If someone went to a business leader wanting to develop a product and in response to a request for data supporting the development, they would say “I saw it on CNN” or “I saw it on Fox”, he would laugh at the play. And yet, many companies seem to make policy decisions based on far less rigorous analyzes than they apply to their other business decisions.
“If it’s going to be part of your business, you need to treat it as part of your business and make sure there’s an informed discussion,” Blatt said. “When I ran one of my companies, we had a culture committee that met every week. Representatives of different business groups were elected there. And we would meet and talk about whatever everybody wanted to talk about. If someone had a political problem, we discussed it.
If people didn’t have the facts, which they sometimes did, we would. Sloganing and doing boycotts and walkouts can be good activism, but it doesn’t really make good decision-making. After a while, people began to realize that many of these issues were more complex than they had previously believed. The positions the company should take were less clear. But we were trying to get to a place that made sense together. I’m not saying we succeeded. Because there is going to be a disagreement between the stakeholders. And it was already another time, so it was not as intense as today.
But I think something like this is a model for trying to manage the many competing interests that a business faces when considering any kind of political discourse, protecting yourself so that you can meet your business needs while still being sufficiently informed and accurate about why you do what you do. This improves business decision making. Not to mention that you may be doing a little bit to improve the quality of political discourse in the country.
One of the most common lessons in running a successful business is to be proactive rather than reactive. Times are different than they were when Michael Jordan made the decision to remain apolitical, and to ignore that is to fail to prepare your organization for the inevitable. Businesses today need to build a modality whereby management, employees and the board can all have a regular and ongoing method of dialogue to avoid reactionary situations. It’s no longer a question of whether or not to engage in politics, but whether you have an effective plan to navigate the troubled waters when you are forced to engage.
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