War room meetings are now taking place throughout corporate America as board members evaluate the stunning collapse of Target’s market capitalization by a reported $15.7 billion, which is almost unprecedented for its own stock in over 20 years. The fundamental objective of any business is to meet the needs of its customers with exceptional products or services, while also prioritizing the well-being of its clients, employees and shareholders. Many shareholders are now wondering if we’ve lost sight of this core purpose.
A successful business needs to make money. When you stray too far away from this goal, the market will crush you, and we’ve seen it happen many times. For example, through the power of social media, it only took 32 hours to knock down Bud Light, despite the decades it took to establish it as America’s beer.
Politics are front and center in nearly every aspect of our lives, whether we like it or not. Our world has become increasingly polarized with people identifying themselves based on their political ideologies, and it seems the middle ground is gone. Business owners and companies often feel compelled to take sides, aligning themselves either with a target audience or their personal beliefs. However, I would argue that it is essential for businesses to recognize the importance of maintaining neutrality and avoiding the rocky road of political partisanship.
First and foremost, unless your customer base is extremely narrow, taking a political stance poses the risk of alienating a significant portion of customers. Within our family of companies, we have acquired a significant number of clients from competitors who were very vocal about their political and social positions. While we appreciate the business, it always surprises me how some businesses are willing to jeopardize significant financial losses, market share or long-term clients for their rigid political stances.
Secondly, as a business owner, I face enough daily challenges without the distractions and conflicts that often come with the political nonsense. Our clients are looking to us for answers and solutions to complex issues, not for us to push an agenda. They are bombarded with identity politics in nearly every aspect of their lives, and the last thing they want is to deal with it in business.
Thirdly, who can afford to lose valuable employees in this competitive labor market? Over the past two years, our enterprise has picked up some excellent hires as a result of other businesses implementing very strict policies or publicly endorsing political and social stances. While this has been great for us in an otherwise very challenging labor market, and we appreciate the help, I am surprised that others believed they could afford these losses.
Instead, I firmly believe that every business should have a core mission, set of beliefs and values that drive the operations. Within our family of companies, these elements are very important to us. By refraining from publicly engaging in political partisanship, businesses can stay focused on their primary objectives. With a steadfast focus on the core mission, businesses can build a strong brand identity and gain the trust of customers who value their commitment to their mission and value proposition rather than their political leanings.
While it may be tempting for businesses or business owners to take political sides and make noise on social media platforms to appeal to specific customer segments or fan bases, the long-term consequences often outweigh the short-term benefits, as we are seeing play out today. I understand the temptation, and I think we are all guilty of it on some level. But by maintaining a degree of neutrality, businesses can preserve their customer base, avoid controversies, foster employee cohesion, and stay focused on their core mission and values. Ultimately, businesses should recognize that their success lies in providing quality products and services, regardless of their political beliefs.
Donnie Brawner is CEO and owner of Paragon 360 and Paragon Fabrication
Originally Featured in Springfield Business Journal: Business is about profits, not politics