CEOs, You're Making This Harder Than It Is...
I was forwarded this link to a Huffington Post article on the issues CEOs are having taking stands for or against the policies of the Trump Administration. Ignoring the false premise in the headline (CEOs don’t have to take a stand), let me give a bit of blanket advice to those who are struggling with the demands of communications in a new administration.
Stop it. Just stop it.
The current political environment will make can make a business leader throw hands into the air, wondering what should be done to fuel company growth. Travis Kalanick decided that his role on President Trump’s business advisory council would serve to help Uber grow. Two months later, he left the council, prompted by boycotts of Uber after the presidential executive order that banned immigration from Muslim-majority nations.
Editor’s note: Uber is in the news today, but the following analysis could be done for any of the companies represented on the council. Today happens to be Uber’s (lucky?) day.
In his memo to employees about his decision, Kalanick cited a concern that the public considered his participation on the council as an endorsement of the president’s policies. While that concern could have been anticipated, that is not the only reason this was an avoidable PR issue.
Ultimately, there are two things I always ask clients. What is your competitive advantage? And what is the one strategic risk that can kill your company?
Since Uber is still a private company, the risk factors for investors are not readily available as they would be on the annual report of a publicly-traded company. So, let’s deduce risk from what information has leaked regarding their financials.
The technology behind Uber allows them to seamlessly handle transportation logistics for millions simultaneously. It is an enormous advantage upon which the company is capitalizing with tremendous revenue growth. But with massive losses expected, it is clear that Uber needs to take an enormous share in the ride-sharing market to make the profit they desire.
So, what will kill Uber? Anything that keeps them from massive market share. You know, like #DeleteUber boycotts.
An argument could be made that Uber’s well-documented local political battles would be helped by participating in the council. Not a good argument, mind you, but bad arguments seem to get attention these days. Remember, Uber’s political issues are local, not federal in the American market. There was every reason to think that the risks outweighed the benefits in this case.
Now, does that mean Uber had to take a stand against a sitting president? No. Unlike the premise in the Huffington Post headline, principle is not a necessity here. Much like doctors, the play in this case is first do no harm. In a polarized political environment, what is the benefit being perceived fully stand with the candidate that lost the popular vote, even if he has the power of the office? Advise on the side if you choose. Say that your schedule would not allow you to make the meetings. Say the dog ate your homework. But if you are a company who will need majority market share in the U.S. to be successful, find a way to gracefully decline that council.
We would all like our business leaders to stand for principles that enhance the greater good. Ultimately, they are charged to make decisions that are in the best interests of their stakeholders. Knowing your advantages and risks makes your decisions in situations like this an easy call. It makes communicating your rationale even easier.
If a situation like this has you struggling, you have not thought enough about either your advantages, or risks that can be fatal to your company.