In Deloitte’s 2018 study of global human capital trends, “The Rise of the Social Enterprise,” we interviewed many CEOs and found them often in a quandary about how to treat social issues. Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck, told us he struggled to decide how to play out the Charlottesville topic and eventually decided to speak out, exit the Trump business leadership roundtable, and clearly state his views. Since then many CEOs have struggled with social issues (gun rights, Black Lives Matter, trade) and the traditional thinking has always been “just stay out of it.”
Well those days are over. New research by Edelman now shows that 56% of consumers have no respect for CEOs who remain silent on social issues, and a new study by a branding firm found that 64% of consumers say it is “extremely important” for CEOs to take positions on social issues, especially among the companies they buy from.
What’s going on? Are we rewriting the rules on corporate responsibility?
I would suggest we are. The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that only 33% of Americans now trust their political institutions, leaving CEOs and business leaders more trusted and more important than ever (44% of Americans trust CEOs). While most business schools may not have taught us about this role, we in business are now being forced onto the public stage, so what we do is more important than ever.
Nike’s most recent decision to give voice to Colin Kaepernick is a great example. As a result of taking a position on this issue, Nike’s stock took a small hit, but over time I believe the company will see a tremendous increase in PR and a tremendous reinforcement of its authentic brand. Nike essentially said “we stand with the athletes” and “we respect taking a position.” This is what Nike has done for decades. And as one writer in Inc. Magazine just put it, “great leaders stick their necks out” – bringing people with them.