By Neil Foote, President & Founder, Foote Communications
Today, we celebrate the life and accomplishments of the Rev.-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This celebration comes at a time when in just a few days the world will witness the inauguration of the United States’ 45th president – Donald J. Trump. This event sends a message to the world the U.S. has a stable, efficient democracy that has set up a system for the transfer of power from one president to the next. Undoubtedly, there is a great deal of anticipation on what happens next.
For all corporate leaders, regardless of their politics, it’s a time to make sure they gather their senior management teams to develop an internal communications strategy that is ready to deal with economic uncertainty and discomfort among some and within some communities. It’s time for every company to draw from a line from Dr. King’s 1962 speech at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa:
“…I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because that don’t know each other and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other…”
(An Address by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa October 15, 1962, full transcript.)
In this spirit, it is a time for companies to find ways for employees to “communicate with each other” – and to reach out to the community to facilitate conversations. If companies don’t currently have structures or methods set up within their corporate social responsibility teams, then here are some tips on how to they should get started:
- Communication from the top. The chairman/CEO needs to send a message to all employees that they need to embrace each other’s differences. These executives need to avoid digging their heels in to buy into a “we-don’-t-want-to-be-politically-correct” mentality. Now is a time for executives to step up, embrace their role as leader of all employees at their companies – and leaders in their communities. Their words – and actions – will be critically important in the days and months ahead.
- Community engagement. Invite local residents, community, and civic and political leaders to your company or set up “listening” sessions in the community to allow people to get over their fears of each other. I can’t help but think about the incident of Rakeem Jones, the African-American young man, who was assaulted by a white man at a Trump rally. The two men met each other at the court hearing. The Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy captured this encounter that ended with both men embracing each other. They are from two difference worlds, but both acknowledged that it was important for them to send a message that we need to talk more to learn how common we are – even if the color of their skin is different – and the communities from which they were raised are world’s apart.
- Use social media. There’s an opportunity for communications and CSR teams to collaborate on messaging campaign to its employees and the community that is fun, meaningful and engaging. In his essay on LinkedIn, Michael Spencer suggests that the key is tying this messaging to those values that are aligned with the company’s culture, brand, vision and mission. Companies need to develop a well-thought out strategy that is on going – not just a knee-jerk response to an incident at your company or in the community. It’s time for companies to create experiences for their employees that make them feel like they are part of a community – where they spend a great deal of their lives – that cares about them and the city in which they live.
Now, more than ever, corporate leaders can help us get over our fears – and get to know each other. If King were alive today, he would have wanted it this way. He would have been traveling from one end of this country to the next, spreading a message that is so appropriate for our time, “We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”