October 30, 2023
How Heads of TA Can Influence Company Statements on Current Events
Over the last decade the cultural landscape shifted under the feet of companies. The norm was once that companies avoided weighing in on polarized issues; however, corporate political activity has accelerated rapidly, and now choices about whether to comment on significant social or political events are themselves viewed as taking a position by potential hires.
Our recent data show that 35% of potential hires say that it’s “very” or “extremely important” for companies to make public statements about significant political or social issues, with 62% viewing such public statements as at least “moderately important.” However, public statements, especially on charged issues, carry significant risk as some major brands have recently encountered, and companies often find themselves on the backfoot, struggling to navigate if and how to respond to social and political events.
Navigating these moments well carries huge potential upsides. More than half of job candidates report that public statements increase their interest in a company versus just 11% who say it decreases interest. In these moments, Heads of Talent Acquisition play a pivotal role influencing the conversation around whether companies should engage and, if so, how to do it effectively. This is not just about being in tune with the times; it’s about the profound impact taking a stance can have on a company’s brand and its ability to attract top talent. Below are four criteria to guide Heads of Talent Acquisition entering these conversations.
1) Set a principle-guided threshold for entering a discourse
Statements on current events are inherently risky, but done consistently and with a principled guiding rationale, these can be powerful proof points that recruiters and hiring managers can point to as demonstrations of lived values. However, for statements to serve this goal, organizations must be intentional in setting the threshold for the types of events on which to comment. Heads of Talent Acquisition can use the following guiding questions when working with Legal, Brand, and executive stakeholders to ensure that statements feel principled, equitable, and based on values rather than haphazard or ad hoc.
Is this directly relevant to your people, company, or brand?
If the issue directly impacts the company or its employees, a statement might be warranted. For instance, reproductive rights or discrimination or violence toward identity groups represented at the company are strong criteria for relevance.
Is there a natural place to enter the discourse?
Statements are likely to come across as more authentic and better support talent attraction goals when connected to issues where there are established corporate values, perceived expertise, or existing investment. For example, Patagonia’s statements on climate justice are a reflection of their brand and corporate values.
What is the balance of risk in making a statement versus silence on the issue?
Often silence on culturally significant issues is perceived as taking a stance in favor of the status quo rather than maintaining neutrality. While any public statement entails risk, there is no such thing as “no response.”
Is the moment acute enough that it warrants a statement?
The specific threshold for organizations to weigh in on current events will naturally differ by company size, visibility within their industry, and alignment with the company brand, but defaulting to a high threshold for issuing statements will minimize misses and maximize visibility for the moments when you do choose to take a stance.
2) Optimize for impact
Proactively aligning with the business on clear decision criteria for statements sets the stage to optimize statements for impact. Speed, in particular, is essential. People have a bias for viewing quick, intuitive statements as more revealing of people’s (and companies’) true values. So, prompt statements – for example, within 48 hours of the established facts being reported out – are most effective for establishing authenticity and perceived leadership on an issue. Moreover, moving quickly controls how organizations enter the dialogue versus potentially being drawn in by vocal employees.
The critical counterbalance is how quickly an event evolves. Issuing a statement before the facts are established can be costly, and so in extremely ambiguous or evolving situations, trading off a modicum of speed for incisive accuracy is most likely to produce the best outcomes.
3) Reflect on your “why”
One of the principal challenges for TA leaders flagged for 2024 is building an authentic, lived diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) brand. DEI is one of the top 5 most important employer brand factors for candidates, and this is even more acute for Gen Z and Millennials talent who say that working for a company that holds their values is “essential” for their employment decisions.
But the challenge for TA leaders and job seekers alike is that the market is flooded with messaging. The ubiquity of companies touting their commitment to DEI or environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments makes it hard to tease apart the authentic messages from the performative ones.
While the core of this work lives in embedding values and DEI into your organizational DNA – —the recruiting processes and organizational culture people experience day to day – , statements on significant political or social issues are important building blocks of authenticity that show, not just tell, your values by living them.
4) Prepare for blowback
Charged issues produce charged responses. There will inevitably be blowback from some quarters in response to any statement, but proactively anticipating critiques and tailoring messaging to blunt them and considering how statements will weather over time are key to successfully ensuring that statements are a net positive for the company.
Walking back statements is a damaging unforced error, and yet it’s an all too common mistake by companies, surprised by negative reactions to a public statement. Walking back a statement is nearly guaranteed to damage your brand with talent across the board. It is often perceived as a betrayal by the groups and individuals who are passionate about the issue, while it also fails to sate detractors. Be clear-eyed that critiques that will come and attempt to minimize them where possible, but weighing the potential costs and price them in to decision-making before deciding to release a statement.
It’s important to bear in mind that no single statement on any issue is going to be sufficient to drive outcomes. Rather, this is about Talent Acquisition influencing the business toward establishing a track record that empowers recruiters and hiring managers to enter conversations with confidence and tangible examples of your lived values. Heads of Talent Acquisition have a unique voice in this conversation. C-suite executives may naturally zero-in on current employees, stakeholder concerns, and brand perceptions, but not necessarily on attracting the next generation of talent for the company.