Should Your Business Take a Political Stance Or Not

As you know, we live in a pretty divided time in our country (for those of us who live in the US).

Note: since most Americans don’t think about and/or know much about our history (or for that matter, the rest of the world), many tend to think that we’re now living in the “worst of times.” We’re far from that. The advent of 24/7 news coverage, the need for click bait to drive ad revenue, the ubiquitous internet, social media, and the major news media outlets in the US (on both sides of the aisle) moving more toward opinion than fact, it can appear that the “sky is falling.” But we are far from this being the “worst of times.” Just open a history book.

So, let’s take a step back, breathe deeply and ask the strategic level question, “Should your business take a political stance or not?”

As I’m writing this post, we’re in the midst of another battle between the left and the right, “Is it okay for a professional football player to take a knee and choose to NOT stand for the flag and our national anthem?”

Regardless of which side of the aisle you personally stand on, I’m asking the business question because, after all, this is a website about how to scale your business. So, on a business level, is it a good business decision to take a political stance or not?

No matter what you may or may not think about American football, or what your stance is on standing or kneeling (pro or con), football is a business—which means this question should be asked and answered on a business level.

Likewise, with your business, you should ask and answer this question on a business level because how you answer it may affect your ability to grow your business and its revenues … which is what makes it a question worth asking.

Now, in order to help you think through how you should answer it, here are four questions worth pondering.

Q.1 – What’s The Purpose of a Business?

Hang with me for a moment. While individual football players may like to think that the game is all about them, the reality is that it’s not. They’re employees hired to produce a result. They’re not the purpose of the business, nor is winning the Super Bowl the purpose of their business.

The purpose of their business, like every other business on the planet, is to solve a problem for a group of people at a positive value exchange.

In the case of football, the problem they solve is one of entertainment. Which means that the job of any professional football organization (or any executive team) should be to ensure that purpose is fulfilled through a positive value exchange (i.e. that fans feel like they got a great deal of entertainment value and in exchange were/are willing to pay X amount for that value in such a way that the value of all those transactions (tickets, food, trinkets, TV royalties, etc.) exceed expenses (and the bigger the gap between the two, the better)).

This is just as true for you and your business. You have a target market of people, a universe of people, for whom you’ve identified a problem. Maybe you create workflows that increase efficiencies that they can’t solve on their own. Or maybe you create legally binding documents that allow business owners to sell their businesses for a decent multiple. Or maybe you help people who are experiencing back pain in their SI joint and need to find relief quickly.

But whatever form your solution takes, it’s always in response to a problem a group of someones have where they’re looking to find a solution that either they can’t solve on their own or you can solve better, faster, cheaper, more efficiently or effectively or with a higher ROI, etc. than they could on their own (or your competitors could).

And, when you think strategically as a good business leader, you want to solve that problem at a positive value exchange. In other words, it makes no sense to do all that work and lose money. If your business’ expenses equal $2.6M per year, you need to generate, on average, more than $50,000 per week to make sure you end up with a profit at the end of the year (and the more you average above $50K per week, the better).

While you and I want to take good care of our employees, they are not the business—nor are we the business. Our businesses are entities separate from us and our employees, as well as our opinions. They exist to solve a problem and to do so at a positive value exchange—and the bigger the profit margin the better.

Q.2 – Will Taking a Stand Negatively Or Positively Affect Our Purpose?

Realizing that our employees (or contractual agents, like football players, despite their wages) are not the business, the business level question is, “Will taking a stand negatively or positively affect your purpose?”

In the case of the NFL, judging by the responses I’ve seen, the answer has been, “Yes.” There are probably some who decided to watch this past week’s games to support those players who took a knee, but I’d venture a guess that far more chose either NOT to watch or lost some respect for those players/teams who took a knee (which could lead to a negative impact on their purpose) and clearly, it took a negative impact on the problem they solve, that of entertainment.

Note: In full disclosure, if you haven’t picked up my preference yet, let me be clear. When I see our American flag and listen/sing our national anthem I tear up every time because, for me, this is about our nation and I can’t help but think of the men and women (Democrat and Republican, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Male, Female, Rich, Poor, Old, Young, etc.) who serve (or have served, who survived or who died) for our nation and do/did things I would never do so that people like me (and you, if you live in the US) get to enjoy our freedoms, including the right of free speech.

That said, based on the purpose of a business, do you think it was a good BUSINESS decision to

  1. Let players kneel if they wanted to
  2. Stand, arm in arm, in solidarity while the national anthem played
  3. Stay inside during the playing of the national anthem so no kneeling or standing would be observed
  4. Make a statement about kneeling

You decide. But it is a business decision. And it should be made at a business level. Do you think that taking a stand will have a positive or negative effect on your business’ purpose or not?

If the answer is, “It’ll probably negatively affect our purpose,” then it’s probably worth not taking a stand.

Q.3 – Will Taking A Stand Hinder Our Future Ability To Attract and/or Retain Customers?

Again, I’m looking at this question at a strategic business level, not a personal preference or moral level. Will taking a stand negatively affect us moving forward from attracting more prospects and keeping more of the people who’ve already bought from us in the past?

Remember, good business decisions are rarely made in the heat of the moment. The wise business leader is usually the one willing to step back and consider, “What are the possible risks, both positive and negative, as well as short-term and long-term, to making this decision?

From my perspective, I’m forever telling business owners and entrepreneurs, “Why would you want to create a smaller circle?” Note: this has nothing to do with niching. I’m assuming you’ve already figured out your niche. My question is,

“Why would you ever want to needlessly tick off people who are your ideal customers?”

There’s nothing wrong with ticking off some people. Every business has to decide, “Who do we want and who do we not want as customers?” But I’m asking the question, “Why needlessly tick off people who are your ideal prospects or customers?” Why take the chance at losing revenue and customers over something that’s not your core?

Now, to help you see this clearly, let me share a story with you from back in the early 1990’s that forever shaped my thinking on this subject. At the time, I was leading a small church outside of Washington, DC. Bill Clinton was the President of the US and there was a phrase that was used in the media frequently during that time, “Pull a Clinton,” which meant, “You don’t tell the truth.”

I was in a series on integrity and even though I normally stayed true to my written text for some reason, in the heat of the moment, on that particular Sunday, knowing I’d get a good laugh, I added that simple phrase to one sentence, “You know, you never want to pull a Clinton. You want to be known as a person of integrity, someone whose word can be counted on.” That week, we lost several church members.

When I asked them why, they said, “Because you said, “Pull a Clinton.” I said, “I’m sorry. It wasn’t part of my notes. It was an unwise, spur of the moment decision that popped into my head that I thought would get a laugh, but I shouldn’t have said it. I’m sorry.” They said. “Too little. Too late. It’s clear that you’re a Republican and that this is a Republican Church so we’re going to find another church.”

Now, whether or not their actions were correct (I don’t think they were), the reality is that just three words in the middle of a 40-minute talk caused several “ideal prospects/customers” to leave and never return. And guess what, I didn’t need to say those three words. They didn’t add anything to my message. I could have eliminated those three words and nothing would have changed. I’ve never forgotten that lesson. Why needlessly tick off people when you don’t have to?

Politics is bad for business. In a country where we’re 50/50 on most issues, why needlessly tick off 50% of the people—when taking a stance has nothing to do with your purpose?

  • Actors and actresses have no idea how many people no longer watch their movies or TV shows because of their overt political overtones
  • News networks have no idea how many people who used to watch them no longer do because of their overt political overtones
  • Sports franchises have no idea how many people who used to watch them no longer do so because of their overt political overtones

So, my question to you is, will taking a political stance help you attract or retain customers over the long haul? If not, avoid taking a stance. Why needlessly tick off people whom you could serve?

Note: an hour after writing this section I was talking with a friend (on a different topic) who said he went to turn on a football game this past Sunday and his wife walked by and said, “What are you doing? Turn that off. If they’re going to disrespect our flag we shouldn’t be watching.” Trust me. I’m not making this up.

Note 2: Not only were TV ratings down for most networks, but “former” team fans have taken to social media literally burning their favorite team’s jerseys and equipment over this issue. Again, not the kinds of actions you usually want as a business owner from long-term customers.

Q.4 – Does This Issue Rise to The Level of a Core Issue?

In case you’ve been wondering, “But when do we take a stand?” Or “Is it ever okay to take a political stand?” The answer is, “Yes.” In spite of all of the above advice, which is probably true 95%+ of the time, there does come a time when as a business, you have to take a stand. The question is, “When? And then, “How?”

Since this is a business blog, I’m not going to try to tell you when an issue rises to a core level because that’s a business decision you and only you can make. What is core to one business, isn’t to another. For Hobby Lobby, paying for certain medical procedures was a core issue, for most other businesses, it wasn’t. You, and only you, can answer, “Is this core?”

But this much I can say, far less is core than we think. The core ought to be a handful of issues, not every issue. The rest are preferences. And good people have a right to disagree on preferences. But to determine what constitutes a core vs. a preference, you have to be willing to step back, remove emotion, and ask the question, “Is this truly a core issue worth losing customers or potential customers over or not?” That’s the kind of question that can’t be asked and answered in a moment or even a day. For most businesses, that’s the kind of question that’s looked at, discussed and debated over time.

Sometimes the answer will be yes. For example, in America, a yes answer would be, “Should all people, regardless of skin color, be allowed to be customers and use the same facilities as anyone else with a different skin tone?” As Americans, equality, regardless of skin color, is a core issue. Equal protection under the law, is a core issue. Freedom of speech and the practice of religion are both yeses.

But most of the issues of our day, aren’t core, they’re preferences. I’m a conservative. My parents are liberals (I know, they’re disappointed as well.) . We see most issues radically differently but that’s okay because we see the core issues the same. We’re Americans first and we agree to disagree.

So the first issue you have to decide is whether or not something is a core issue worth losing customers over or not (or is it just a preference?). But even if you decide that something is a core issue, the second issue you have to decide is, “What’s the best way to address that issue?”

Realizing that taking a political stance can negatively impact business growth and continuity, is the best way to deal with that issue (for your business, not you personally)

  • Speaking out publicly on that issue
  • Writing an op-ed
  • Working quietly behind the scenes
  • Supporting an organization whose focus is that issue
  • Lobbying a politician (or politicians) for that cause
  • Tweeting or posting about it
  • Raising money for it
  • Marching for it
  • Organizing a political action group
  • Or something else

Only you can decide what’s core and what’s not. And then, once you decide if something is, how you should support that cause. But what I’d encourage you to do is to make sure you don’t rush into supporting a political position without first stepping back and asking some business level questions.

  1. What is the purpose of a business?
  2. Will taking a stand negatively or positively affect our purpose?
  3. Will taking a stand hinder our future ability to attract and retain customers?
  4. Does this issue rise to the level of a core issue? And if so, how should we respond?

There’s nothing wrong with taking a stand. And there’s nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree. It’s at the heart of our republic. But what an individual wants to do on their own time and what they get to do as an employee are two different things. If, as the owner/CEO of your company, you decide that from a strategic business level you want your organization to take a stand and you’re willing to take the risk of ticking off 40-60% of your prospects/customers, then take your stand.

But at no point should you ever let an individual employee (or group of employees) make a political stand that has business level implications for you and your business—that you haven’t decided. That’s not their job. You’re the one in charge. And in the NFL, that’s not even a coach’s choice. That’s an owner’s choice.

So, should your business take a political stance or not? It’s up to you. Sometimes the answer will be “Yes.” But, my guess is, most of the time it’ll be “No.” Why? Because people on both sides of most issues have a problem that you can solve for them. Why let anything needlessly hinder your ability to help as many of them as possible?

I think that’s a question worth asking.

To your accelerated success!

P.S. Note: this post says nothing about what you (or your employees) can or should do on your personal time. My comments are simply designed to help you as a business owner/entrepreneur/CEO stay focused on building a scalable business (and to help you stay in control of your business and not let any employee (or group of employees) reverse their roles and yours). Personally, I’m standing with you!

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