New CEO activism: business leaders are defending rights by raising awareness & leveraging economic power

Author: Aaron K. Chatterji & Michael W. Toffel, Harvard Business Review (USA), Published on: 23 January 2018

"The New CEO Activists", January 2018

CEO activism has gotten lots of media attention lately, and public relations firms are now building entire practices around it...We believe that the more CEOs speak up on social and political issues, the more they will be expected to do so. And increasingly, CEO activism has strategic implications: In the Twitter age, silence is more conspicuous—and more consequential...CEOs argue that companies should have a higher purpose beyond maximizing shareholder value...[S]peaking out is a matter of personal conviction...[L]eaders have commented that a greater sense of corporate purpose has become important to Millennials...Though they’re motivated by diverse interests—external, internal, and deeply personal—activist CEOs generally employ two types of tactics: raising awareness and leveraging economic power...Smart CEO activists typically choose their issues; the issues do not choose them...Executives must balance...having an effect and other potential benefits—such as pleasing employees and consumers—against the possibility ... of backlash...We believe CEOs need a playbook in this new world. To effectively engage in CEO activism, they should select issues carefully, reflect on the best times and approaches to get involved, consider the potential for backlash, and measure results.

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