Communicating during Political Change

Guidance for Turbulent Times: a Framework for Communicating during Political Change

February 9, 2017

On January 20, 2017, a new presidential administration took office in the United States. Since then, companies nationwide are facing changes that could potentially impact their employees and operations around the world. Striving to communicate with employees during uncertain political times? Here are some points to consider when communicating during political change:

What’s the Impact?

Before reacting to any news, do your homework to understand the nuances and how different stakeholders view what’s changing and how it affects your organization, versus acting on speculation or assumptions.

  • What facts do you have about the potential changes? Do you know enough to clearly understand the implications or is more info needed?
  • How do the potential changes impact your business?
  • Do the changes impact employees and their families? If so, how and what is the scope?
  • Do the changes impact customers, suppliers or partners?
  • Do the changes impact business operations?

Should You Go Public?

As you determine whether it’s appropriate to take a public stance on a particular issue, consider your business, industry and multiple audiences – employees, customers, partners and shareholders.

  • How is your position on the issue aligned with your brand, mission and values?
  • What are the different perspectives on the issue, held by employees? Customers? Partners? Shareholders?
  • Is a public communication appropriate and necessary? Why? What is the intent?
  • What are potential reactions by each audience? What is the risk of adverse impact on the business? What is the probability of a positive impact on the business?
  • Have your competitors or partners made public statements on the issue?

What Should You Say?

Given the wide range of viewpoints on any particular issue, it’s important when communicating during political change or other political topics to be clear, thoughtful and respectful.

  • What is your position on the issue and why?
  • What actions, if any, are you taking as a result of this issue?
  • What actions do you want employees to take?
  • Where can employees share questions and comments?
  • What resources are available for employees (e.g. HR, EAP, Legal, etc.)?

Bottom Line

  • Get everyone onboard – Before communicating during political change or on a political issue, ensure that your executive team is in sync and involved in the decision. Develop criteria and protocol for determining when the company will speak publicly on issues. With many people having strong personal reactions to political issues, it’s important to separate out the emotional desire to do something quickly from the more rational decision-making process.
  • Start with why – Once a decision has been made, get clear about the intent of the communication. Is it to make a political statement? Reassure employees? Reinforce commitment to strategies, direction or values? Provide resources? Call for action? Depending on the goal, the content and tone of the message will change.
  • Not everyone agrees with you – Recognize that everyone has a different viewpoint on political issues, so communicate with respect. When employees feel disrespected or even intimidated in the workplace, organizations can experience an increase in workforce tension and anxiety, a decrease in collaboration and productivity, and a decline in customer service.
  • Don’t follow blindly – Just because companies like Apple and Google sometimes make public statements, it does not mean your company should follow suit. What’s right for those companies might not be right for yours, even if some might agree with their public statements. Each company needs to weigh the pros and cons of becoming politically active.
  • Inside is outside – Know that anything communicated internally could (and probably will) be shared externally. Be prepared to respond.
  • Focus on the business – Now is the time for calm leadership. Separate your personal views from what is appropriate for the company. Any public comment made by an executive – even on personal social media – can reflect on the company.

Following the January 27, 2017 Executive Action that suspended U.S. immigration for 90 days from seven Muslim-majority countries, a number of companies made public statements. (Note: the action has since been halted by the courts). For example, here are links to press and social media coverage of statements made by the CEOs of Apple, Intel and Microsoft. The tech sector has been especially vocal. Overall, company reaction has tended to fall along industry lines.