It’s an easy exercise. Most brands went through it. You nudge a couple of C-level people in a room, you carefully mix it with a matured blend of external consultants with great corporate hair, and you end the day with GCV’s. Great Corporate Values. Things like ‘honesty’, ‘integrity’, ‘empowerment’, ‘diversity’, ‘respect’, etc. You know the lot. They are hanging in your meeting rooms. They ornate your hallways. They are part of your carefully groomed ‘culture’. They are the backbone of the manifesto you live by.
Martin Luther King Room
Or do they? It’s easy to chisel a couple of power words in the soft stone in your reception area, or to name your main meeting room “Martin Luther King”. But what do you do, as a brand, when the shit hits the fan? What do you do when the very values you so carefully stand for are openly attacked? Do you play ball? Do you wait till it’s over? Do you aim for Swiss neutrality?
The elephant and the mouse
Ethicists point out that not choosing sides in a situation where values are under attack is impossible. Not standing up to the attack on values is not neutral, it is a conscious choice not to defend that very value. Ergo: not neutral, but siding with the value-oppressor. Desmond Tutu stated it as follows: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
US brands diving in the deep
The impact of Donald Trump’s decision to ban Muslims from a selected list of countries from entering the United States hits so close to the core values of some brands, that they choose not to stand on the side-line. Facebook, Twitter, Square, Tesla, Google, Starbucks, Microsoft, Apple, Netflix, HP, Intel, Lyft, AirBnB and countless other brands have sided very openly against the resolution. Google going as far as to put 4 million dollar aside for this crisis. AirBnB giving free nights to refugees.
Starbucks on the barricades
Starbucks went as far as announcing it will hire 10.000 refugees, stating that the very core of its daily business is carried by immigrated baristas and associates, and that diversity is too much of a value not to take a stand. Starbucks’ CEO Schultz wrote: “I write to you today with deep concern, a heavy heart and a resolute promise. We are living in an unprecedented time, one in which we are witness to the conscience of our country, and the promise of the American Dream, being called into question.”
While the united taxi unions agreed to a pick-up stop at JFK, to protest against the ban, Uber decided to continue its service. This resulted in a nationwide boycott of Uber (#deleteuber) people massively deleting their Uber application and their Uber account, and opting for Lyft that openly and quickly sided against Trump’s decision, and donated over a million dollar to ACLU, to defend the constitutional rights.
No free values
There is not such a thing as a free value. Defending a value, or refusing to stand by that value both can cost you a lot of business, and will be the source of a lot of heat. In Europe, there is still an unwritten list of brands that choose the ‘wrong’ side in a war more than 70 years ago…
So, how important are your values? What is your line in the sand? What is the position that will show your integrity, will make your people and clients stay by your side? Do your people adher to your values? What if not? HR adviser David Maister’s stance is a firm one: “We treat our values as nonnegotiable minimum standards. If a person does not, or cannot, get into compliance with our values, we will help them find alternative employment.”
Did your crisis preparedness manuals prepare you for this? Are your social channels ready to carry your messages, defend against dis-formation? Are you ready?