Business Gets Personal: Why Executives Cannot Decouple Individual Values From Company Values
Equinox and SoulCycle are feeling the burn. When headlines broke that Stephen Ross, chairman and majority owner of the fitness brands’ parent company, is hosting a fundraiser to support President Trump, consumers and celebrities vehemently called for boycotts. In response, Ross has tried to assume a moderate view by stating that he and Trump “agree on some issues [and] strongly disagree on many others,” while Equinox and SoulCycle, which advocate for left-leaning values like equality and inclusion, have tried to distance themselves from Ross by casting him as nothing more than “a passive investor.” But consumers aren’t buying it.
Values-based consumers have been assessing companies’ political and social affiliations for years — now, they prove that executives’ personal values are critical to their assessment. Today:
- Consumers call for executives to reveal their personal beliefs. Forrester’s newest data indicates that 42% of US online adults say that CEOs should be transparent about their political, social, and moral values, and data from Stanford University shows that 65% of US consumers believe that CEOs should use their position to advocate on behalf of social, environmental, and political issues.
- Employees are aware of and responsive to executives who live their values. The belief that management lives the company’s values drives employee engagement. Forrester’s Employee Experience Index reveals that, of employees who perceive management to live by company values, 88% plan to stay with their employer and 87% are productive at work. Comparatively, only 51% and 45% of employees who do not perceive a values alignment between company and management agree.
- Alignment between executive and company values drives business growth. Forrester’s Employee Experience Index data also shows that more than a third of companies helmed by values-driven leaders report double-digit year-on-year revenue growth, and 80% say they deliver a top-tier customer experience. Comparatively, just 20% and 31% of companies where leaders’ and company values are misaligned report similar success.
Consumer backlash on social media may cool down as quickly as it escalated, but this episode is more than an intense interval: It signals increasing consumer transparency and sensitivity toward executives’ personal beliefs and warns of the tension that arises when executive and company values appear to oppose each other.
Executives must prepare for rising values-based consumers and employees by trading diplomatic equivocation for clarity in their personal values — and by realizing that business is no longer a remote entity; rather, consumers associate businesses with leaders’ personal beliefs. Three-quarters of business leaders already say their perspective on their role has changed in the past five years; now, 57% consider their business as their vehicle to make a positive difference.