It’s not a newsflash that we have a politically polarized country. What is surprising is businesses that take sides in the culture war. No matter how strongly you feel, sharing your opinion on a controversial topic is a great way to hurt your business.
The nation was devastated by the recent school shooting in Florida. Instantly, the nation was divided. Dialogue was impossible. Rhetoric became overly heated. When new facts about the response of law enforcement officials before and during the event began to be revealed, circumstances became more confused and the nature of the debate, for many, shifted. Yet others felt it did nothing to change their original premise. All of a sudden, people were not even arguing about the same thing.
As a business leader serving consumers, the best response you could make was to keep your head down and let things blow over. Taking a stand was a way to arouse the ire of half the public. Taking a neutral position would irritate everyone. Thus, the best position was none, despite your personal feelings. After all, restrictions on guns is not an HVAC issue. Arming school teachers is not an HVAC issue.
People who want to restrict guns need air conditioning. People who support the 2nd Amendment need air conditioning. Contractors are not in the gun business, but the air conditioning business.
Nicole Friedman, writing in the Wall Street Journal reported, “Berkshire Hathaway Chief Executive Warren Buffett said it would be ‘ridiculous’ for the conglomerate not to do business with gun owners, noting that he doesn’t want to impose his political views on Berkshire’s investment decisions or business operations.”
It should be noted, that Buffet campaigned for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, he considers it unwise for his company to get involved in the culture wars and risk alienating current and prospective customers regardless of his personal views.
This should seem obvious. Yet, one major corporation after another very publicly took sides in the gun debate. According to Politico/Morning Consult, who polled the public on the companies who took side, “All companies who cut business ties with the NRA last week saw their public opinion decline this week.”
It seems idiotic that anyone would damage their company over an issue that has nothing to do with the business’ mission. Apparently, the standing of some business executives among their cocktail party crowds matters more than company performance and employee satisfaction.
Employee satisfaction? The employee of a company that severed its NRA member discount noted, “I work for one of those airlines that boycotted and I'm boiling. They put us in a bad situation. I don't agree with them at all, they don't speak for me.”
What happens when management infuriates and insults the team? At best, morale suffers, taking performance down with it. Worse, people become more likely to leave for a better opportunity. If they are truly disgruntled, it gets even worse when they stay and seek outlets to express their frustration
Move beyond the hot topic of the moment. What other issues divide your customer base? Do you take public stands on these? Do you allow your technicians to put stickers on their trucks supporting one position or the other?
It is one thing to take a stand on an issue that affects small business or the HVAC industry. At least then, you have some standing and authority to offer insight.
If an issue does not affect your business, your opinion is akin to that of a vapid Hollywood entertainer who weighs in on the weighty issues of the day. Do these people irritate you? Do you avoid some movies because of the public political views of the actors? People will avoid your business for the same reason.
It is easy to get sucked into taking stands on controversial issues on social media. It happens to me when I let my guard down. It takes discipline to avoid getting sucked into a debate and irritating or losing your customers. The more you are personally associated with your business, the more damage you can do with your opinions.
This is why your opinions are stupid. If customers agree with them, you merely serve as an echo chamber for their own opinions. If they disagree, you could cost yourself business. That is stupid.
The stupid opinions in this column are purely those of the author and should in no way impugn your willingness to join the Service Roundtable, which is the industry’s largest, most affordable, and best value contractor alliance. Join at www.ServiceRoundtable.com. Not joining would be stupid. Don’t be stupid.