CDF Key Takeaways: The CEOs Role in Social Issues

CDF Key Takeaways: The CEOs Role in Social Issues

A great deal of knowledge and wisdom were shared at our February 15th event, The CEO’s Role in Social Issues, featuring CEOs Lenny Comma, Hank Nordhoff and Chris Wollerman, and moderated by Tara Ceranic Salinas.

Regardless of your role, the “lessons learned” shared by our panelists can serve as a guide for decision-making at all levels. We hope you enjoy them.
  • While social issues are not a new thing, awareness of various issues have increased with the presence/speed of social media and the different values system(s) of millennials and Generation Z.
  • There can be pressure from customers to take a stand, but CEOs should only do so when it specifically concerns their industry/business. Their first goal should be to make sure their company is performing solidly and their company culture is healthy. The company should come before self or personal beliefs.
  • CEOs must be careful what they say at all times. Quotes are often taken out of context or they can be misquoted. They are also encouraged by their PR teams to not address some of these misquotes for fear of making the problem even worse.
  • When choosing philanthropic ventures, companies should stay away from divisive issues and/or issues that don’t specifically concern their industry/business. If this doesn’t happen, you run the risk of alienating half the customer base. More specifically, however, research on the demographics of the business should be conducted. If taking a stand (philanthropic or otherwise) increases profitability for the main target market, it is not necessarily a bad idea.
  • Dealing with employee behavior requires having a consistent company culture and consistent responses to poor behavior. Bias cannot enter the picture when responding.
  • “Common sense” is exercised differently by different people (aka – it’s not so common). Having clearly established values and training is necessary, even if it appears repetitive or unnecessary.
  • It is extremely important to encourage honest, open dialogue, without reprimand. This allows CEOs to know what is going on in the company. Talking to employees at all levels is the best way to ensure issues are not being hidden from executives and to make sure company values are being upheld.
  • “Whistleblowers” should not be reprimanded (“Don’t shoot the messenger!) and their identities should be protected. Depending on the situation, CEOs may have to wait a few days/weeks to take action in order to protect the whistleblower’s identity.
  • Getting ahead of issues and educating the public can help prevent backlash.
  • In global circumstances, the CEO still has to get out and talk to people, and be aware of cultural differences in presenting information. CEOs have to be able to read between the lines to truly know what is going on in their organizations.
  • Companies need to focus on the long-term. When they jump at opportunities to make a lot of money quickly, they generally don’t last long.
  • There is an automation paradox, in that the more automated you are, the more complex you are. This requires a personnel change. You need employees that can maintain and fix processes and issues.
  • AI can be expensive. The Board should determine whether the benefits outweigh the costs in such circumstances.
  • AI has limitations.
  • Some are concerned with cybersecurity, but this is an issue whether AI is present or not.
  • It can be a disruptor of many industries, but it is not for all industries.
  • It is difficult to predict the impact of AI and robotics, as well as their future, but it will be similar to the impact of the use of the Internet.
  • How much privacy do we really have? Not much is likely the answer.
  • Ethics and education on AI and robotics ethics should be taught. These will become ever more important as AI and robotics progress.
Words of Wisdom

Tara Ceranic Salinas: Doing a good job on social issues starts with good corporate governance, treating employees well and a willingness to discuss difficult issues.

Chris Wollerman: Be clear on your mission and hire people that resonate with it.

Lenny Comma: Have a genuine business connection to social issues and establish this before leaning into them.

Hank Nordhoff: “Company before self.” – (Attributed to) Malin Burnham

We look forward to seeing you at our next Breakfast Event, Susan Salka: Harness Your Vision to Make an Impact, on Thursday, March 29th from 7-9am at the Hyatt Regency. Details will be forthcoming.

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