Working in a Hyper-Political World

america politics divided

Perhaps it is due to the recent mid-term elections in the United States, but it seems to me that political discussion, references and opinions have entered more and more into our professional lives. A Fortune magazine article recently detailed the ban that Meta has put in place on the discussion of “sensitive” topics at work. A few recent interactions of my own on LinkedIn have gone awry based on some political inferences. A well-known thought leader on Twitter recently opined that you should be on Twitter for personal reasons, or for business reasons — but when you try to mix the two, it becomes dangerous. Even the Harvard Business Review recently got in on the action with stories in its magazine about company values, and how to work in a hyper-political world. Heck, the Supreme Court even heard a recent argument that could affect AV companies.

This blog is not meant to push any particular political view, but rather to examine where we are today in this industry and how we navigate the hyper-political environment. This is somewhat difficult to do because like everyone else, I have opinions and feelings about issues, and some are pretty strong. As you read this, please excuse any assumptions I may make, as they are not intended to influence a specific view.

I will start with the HBR articles because I believe it gives a solid base upon which to start. The article discusses how to determine your company’s values. According to the authors, one of the best ways to do this is to ask your employees what they value. They argue that It is very difficult to change the values of people, and so a few executives determining what the values of a company are, may directly conflict with the opinions of the employees, and the values they are actually exhibiting. Some hyperbolic examples of this would be firms that represent politicians. A firm that represents Democrats but hires Republicans would likely not run very well, and there would be a lot of conflict.

The recent 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis Supreme Court case may further push politics into our industry. In a nutshell, the case is arguing whether someone who is expressing artistic expression has the option of turning away customers who ask for a message that is in contradiction to the artist’s personal or religious views. I think many in our industry would argue that much of the work we do in live event production, digital signage, projection mapping, etc. has an artistic element. This particular case deals with a website designer for weddings, turning away gay couples who want their services. It would be very easy to relate this to a live event company not wanting to provide AV services at a same-sex couple’s wedding. While not guaranteed, the pundits are currently predicting that the Supreme Court will say that people can not be forced to provide services that are against their values. Your company may very likely have to deal with this issue within the next year. What are you going to do when employees refuse to support such an event, or when as the owner of the company, you feel like you need to turn down these gigs as they go against your values?

Now, let’s think of social media. In my experience, Facebook is generally considered to be a personal site and experience. You can clearly accept only “friends” on that platform that you feel comfortable seeing all your personal views and experiences. There are other sites that tend to be more business-oriented, like LinkedIn, and for some people, Twitter. Many of those in our industry are active on both of these platforms. Even if you say you are not expressing the views of your employer (the well-known “views expressed are my own”), people know the companies you work for, and it is very difficult to separate the person from the company. For example, if you have a sales rep for your company who is posting, or reposting stories that support or defend the well-publicized dinner between the former president and two public anti-semites and racists, it would be very difficult for a Jewish person, or a person of color to meet with that sales rep.

With all this said, it seems that now would be a good time for AV companies of all sizes and services to consider working with their teams on determining what they value. Will you take a route similar to Meta and ban staff from discussing “very disruptive” topics while at work? What about when they are in the field? What about what they do with personal social media? Are there differences in how your company views “private” social media and “professional” social media? The November/December 2022 edition of Harvard Business Review has some great suggestions for how to get started on determining the values of your company. This does not necessarily mean your company has to take a stand on a particular issue, but you could value, respect or privacy. Or perhaps, you want to take a stand and your company values activism. In 2023 the new presidential election will start in earnest and the Supreme Court will hand down major rulings. Perhaps facing head-on the challenges this will present to your workforce is a good resolution for the new year.