What do you think? Is this strategy smart, or overly risky?
Whether you want them to or not, someone who has been a public representative of your company for many years carries that association with them even after they retire. That means whatever they decide to do with their personal life…well, it’s going to impact your organization. Now often folks simply head off to play a bit of golf, but if they decide to jump into the political arena that’s a whole ‘nother story. Cue the story of Starbucks and former CEO and chairman Howard Schultz, who announced that he was considering a 2020 presidential run.
Anticipating questions from customers – both legitimate and staged for social media I’d assume – Starbucks circulated some talking points for baristas to use when pinned down on the topic.
The coffee chain’s “Barista Need-To-Know” update for the week of Jan. 21-27 included instructions on how to “diffuse [sic] the situation” should anyone “share aggressive political opinions,” as well as what to do if someone asks about Schultz’s “political intentions.”
From the weekly update (emphasis not ours):
“… partners [i.e., employees] may be asked questions by customers or hear media speculation about Howard’s potential political intentions. We encourage you all to take a moment to review the talking points below with your partners.
If a customer asks if we are selling Howard’s book at Starbucks:
No, the books are available at bookstores and online.
If a customer attempts to investigate, or share aggressive political opinions, attempt to diffuse the situation by sharing:
We respect everyone’s opinion. Our goal is simply to create a warm and welcoming space where we can all gather, as a community, over great coffee.
If asked about Howard’s political intentions:
Howard’s future plans are up to him.
So, is this plan smart, or is it overly risky? You can catch Erik Bernstein’s take on it over at the Bernstein Crisis Management blog, but we want to hear from you! Share thoughts in the comments or hit that contact button to let us know directly and you could be featured in a future post!
[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is vice president for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]
For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management