How do leaders respond to changes in corporate social roles?

Cheryl Fields Tyler is Chief Executive Officer or Blue Beyond Consultingbuilding effective organizations where both businesses and people can thrive.

It’s clear that today’s workforce expects business to be a force for good in multiple ways – both on a personal level, “for us” in our day-to-day work experience, and “for the world,” including our communities and the wider society. This “out-of-the-world” mission requires business leaders to take on roles that many never foresee – from taking a clear public stance on societal issues to building capabilities within the organization to engage in challenging conversations and leapfrog Differential learning.

Social leadership is now a core function of business.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, one of the most widely cited resources on the subject, reported earlier this year that the social role of business is here to stay. When considering a job, 60% of employees want their CEO to have a voice on controversial issues they care about, and an even higher percentage want their CEO to speak out about work and the economy (76%) and wage inequality (73%) ) and other topics to develop dialogue and policy).

This is especially true for younger employees. According to a recent survey, many workers under the age of 45 say their companies should be actively tackling the toughest controversial issues. A revealing statistic suggests that even as the economy cools, the ongoing war for talent persists: “When choosing an employer, young workers are 10% more likely to think that a company’s public stance on controversial topics matters 2.5 times more than older workers. But even among workers over the age of 45, almost a quarter say it is an important factor.”

A company is a microcosm of a larger society.

My firm’s research reflects these findings and raises the bar for companies to lead in new ways—both internally and externally. The workplace is now recognized as one of the most important sources of community, a veritable microcosm of our society, with an equally diverse diversity of perspectives, experiences and others. I like to call it the “new commons”—one of the only places where we come together for the common good and have enough shared values ​​to collaborate productively.

Our survey of 753 employees revealed that nearly 60% of employees — and nearly 70% of those who identify as being from younger and/or underrepresented groups — expect leaders to use the workplace for learning and discussion on social topics A forum for real discussions. Developing the ability at all levels to have conversations aligned with your cherished company purpose, core values ​​and cause, and characterized by psychological safety and a growth mindset is important to creating a workplace where all people can thrive.

How can CEOs navigate this paradigm shift?

It’s clear that CEOs and business leaders are expected to take a stand that they trust us to create a shared environment of value, information, capabilities and connections. So how do we deploy the moral capital that employees, investors, key stakeholders and society invest in us?

1. Establish a clear framework for addressing social issues.

This includes educating your leadership, staff and board (if any) why and how to invest in your moral capital; reaffirming the values ​​you stand for; setting expectations and building on how social issues are communicated to leadership and internally and externally A process for communicating; understanding and preparing for potential blowback and safety risks.

2. Create a social issue response team.

In this team, core members, such as CHRO, DEI, communications, legal and investor relations heads, can anticipate and raise potential issues for resolution. Adjunct members, such as subject matter experts within the organization, should be consulted for thought collaboration and necessary support. The team can then make recommendations to the CEO and they can agree on a course of action.

The CEO may also consult with the leadership team or board. Business leaders should be informed of any decision, ideally before employee and/or external communications, but recognize that this is not always possible.

3. Develop criteria for evaluation by social response teams.

Consider the following questions:

• What are the internal and external expectations for the response?

• What issues do we need to address to maintain credibility on this social issue?

• Does the question allow us to take a stand that is consistent with our company purpose and values?

• Could remaining silent or neutral erode our moral capital, negatively impact our company culture or undermine Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts?

• How might taking this stance lead to policy changes or affect philanthropy and community relations?

4. Prioritize internal learning and dialogue.

It is important to create and continually reinforce practices for active listening and continuous learning on issues that are important to those within the organization. As a leader, you may be afraid to say something offensive—but it’s also important to realize that remaining silent or neutral may be viewed as tacit understanding. At the same time, it is impossible to speak on every issue. Let your goals and values ​​guide you.

I understand that these expectations of employees can be difficult to navigate. Many business leaders never expected to be in the spotlight on sensitive, complex or polarizing social topics. While employees may want your company to take a stand, they almost certainly won’t be on the same page when it comes to these issues. However, as business leaders, we must understand the trust placed in us and rise to the challenge. Being a force for good is more than a catchphrase—it’s a business imperative.

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