Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Over the past week, I have been flooded with calls and emails requesting assistance in addressing the tragedy in Minneapolis and its pivotal aftermath. While following this situation has been heart-rending, advising clients on responses has been not only reassuring, but to my surprise, at times, even inspiring.
If you have already been addressing a commitment to racial justice internally and publicly, good for you—keep it up. If you haven’t done so yet, the time to begin is now. Not only is it the right thing to do, but your response to this issue (or lack thereof) will be an integral part of your brand—as well as your personal legacy—for generations to come.
Here are some guidelines I’ve been discussing with leaders in both large and small organizations. They will help you across the board—for television appearances, videos, written statements, social media, and in meetings.
Acknowledge the atrocity of current events. The country and much of the world is feeling the collective pain and disgust of recent events. Sharing in the heartbreak gives you a way to connect right from the start. It also increases the impact of what you say next. In describing his personal and visceral reaction, Tim Ryan, PwC US Chair and Senior Partner, leaves the reader ready and wanting to know what comes next.
Convey your values. Honda did a solid job of this, devoting 4 paragraphs (a substantial portion of their statement) to strong values put in place by founder, Soichiro Honda, and ending with the blunt declaration, “If you don’t believe in inclusion you are working for the wrong company.” An authentic expression of values will likely include the acknowledgment that we all need to do more and you may not have all the answers. This doesn’t weaken your position, because people already know that is true across the board. Recognizing this fact, however, is a show of commitment and strength.
Declare positive action. Neuroscience research suggests that when people see or hear positive action or credible plans for it, the brain emits feel-good and bonding chemicals. This enhances brand loyalty, as shown by the community work of many organizations, including Target. Not every firm can boast the size and scope of monetary and in-kind support provided by Target to communities of color, but you can certainly let people know about sponsorships, HR resources, a new advisory council or any other programs you might be planning. Even saying something as simple as, we are here to listen, can go a long way.
Keep it personal. When talking about values and company initiatives, it’s all too easy to slide into corporate-speak. Your statement must not sound like it was written by your PR or marketing team (even if they help). Talk authentically about your specific reflections and resolve, like Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, who received a very positive response from his statement.
Practice inclusion with these communications. It’s important to get input from the Black community. No matter how empathetic and insightful you are, if you haven’t lived the Black experience, the best way to demonstrate respect and hit the right tone in your communications is to include Black voices. (We’ve all seen too many well-meaning leaders plunge themselves into controversy by misreading a situation or misspeaking their thoughts, right?) I include input from the Black community in every racial justice statement I work on, and I encourage you to do the same.
Disclosure: PwC, Honda, and Microsoft are UniqueSpeak clients.