The 2016 US Presidential Election has thrown political and social divides into sharp relief, perhaps more so than any in the country’s history. Effective leadership in 2017 will require navigating the aftershock, and companies across industries are evaluating how to best move forward in an uncertain environment.
Attitudes toward the new president can evoke strong emotions, which have serious consequences for organizations. Indeed, public sentiment has already shown its power through shifts in consumer trends. The CEO of ride share company Uber recently stepped down from Trump’s advisory council after perceived endorsement of the new administration sparked a #DeleteUber social media campaign; retail giants Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus dropped the first daughter’s merchandise from their stores, due to poor sales following a boycott of brands associated with the new President.
At ExecOnline, we sought to better understand current business leader sentiment and perceptions around this incoming administration. Our recently released Trump Leadership Survey assessed how 246 executives from 15 industries perceive their organizations’ opportunities, challenges, and readiness to execute against newly defined strategic initiatives.
Post-Election Conflict Poses Serious Risks to Organizations
Strong feelings about the new President also affect interpersonal relationships, adding a new layer of complexity to employee dynamics within organizations. Fifty-three percent of leaders indicated that managing team dynamics has become more important since the election, reflecting a growing concern about the risk of employee conflict and division.
“[The election] has split our teams. We’ve had many office chats/discussions that become heated and emotional due to the like and dislike of [Trump]. I’ve heard some employees say that they no longer respect someone due to their political beliefs. Leadership needs to be aware of these issues and provide support or guidance to the employees on how to handle the situation.” – Energy Industry Leader
In fact, 69% reported that employee division & conflict would have a negative or very negative impact on their organization, ranking second only to macroeconomic instability (76%), and they even considered it more damaging than geo-political conflict (61%).
To Navigate High-Conflict Scenarios, Communicate and Engage Employees
Forward-looking organizations are focused on managing talent effectively. Almost two-thirds (65%) of leaders considered it more important to communicate with employees and stakeholders since the election, and 53% were also focused on managing internal team dynamics. In this emotionally charged environment, now is the time for leaders to step up communication and engagement with teams to ensure that internal conflict does not damage productivity.
Leaders must communicate in a manner that drives inclusion and encourages diverse thought. As one Director of Food Services put it, leaders need to focus on “making sure [that] all viewpoints have a voice and [that employees] can voice opinions openly, without being viewed in a negative light.” To help employees on their teams learn to tolerate each other’s (potentially conflicting) perspectives, putting those perspectives in context is key. For example, explaining how regional or cultural differences may affect individuals’ beliefs may help them to accept different views among their peers.