Where Does CEO Activism Go From Here?

Publish Date : 2021-05-03


Where Does CEO Activism Go From Here?

Are CEOs representing a brand or product doing what is, on balance, good for the business? Will their identification with an issue attract more customers than it drives away? Will it attract the kind of employee who shares the values implied by the CEO’s position?

Of course, executives implicitly make socially-influenced and socially-important decisions all the time. Decisions about what businesses to enter, what products and services to offer, and where to do business all have social implications that we rarely note. That’s just business as usual.

Sonnenfeld’s comment earlier implies that what is good for a particular business should no longer be the primary motivation for activism—that what is good for business in general (“the strategic environment”) should be an important criterion for action. Terms like “a new great awakening” and “a spiritual revival” were used by journalists to highlight the CEOs’ efforts.

Senator Mitch McConnell said in regard to the CEO-centered initiative, “If I were representing a business, I’d stay out of politics.” Regardless of an effort to position this as an apolitical piece, there will be those who will want to debate the politics. Instead, let’s focus on where CEO activism is taking us, regardless of the issue.

Whom do activist CEOs represent? Does the CEO open letter represent “an important turning point”? Can representatives of businesses “stay out of politics”?

Where does CEO activism go from here? What do you think?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.

References:
David Gelles and Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Hundreds of Companies Unite to Oppose Limits, But Others Abstain,” The Economist, April 14, 2021.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, “CEOs Lead America’s New Great Awakening,” The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2021.

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In order to be published, comments must be on-topic and civil in tone, with no name calling or personal attacks. Your comment may be edited for clarity and length.Experimenting earlier in the product’s life cycle takes only a few weeks, compared to months when the product is mostly finished. It's a better, cheaper alternative than bringing to life every idea your team has.

Running experiments on every idea might sound expensive, but it’s not nearly as expensive as building an entire product only to realize in the final stages that the product will fail. According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, more than 30,000 consumer products go to market every year, and 80 percent fail. Early prototypes' failures cause a lot less stress than a full-blown product failure (not to mention the lost revenue).

Related: The 7 Steps of Effective Product Development

In advertising and monetization, A/B testing small UX changes helps businesses fine-tune their signup processes. Slow rollouts of changes to hardware and software also provide opportunities for experimentation. The key is to test as early as possible using a close approximation of the final product.

Of course, the purpose of an experiment is to determine whether an idea will work -- meaning many won't. Early experimentation separates viable ideas from ones that looked better on paper. But, to make experimentation valuable, businesses need to recognize the warning signs of a bad experiment and know when to bail or change course.

When to kill an experiment -- factors to help you decide
1. Deadlines and budgets are blown. Whether for digital or physical products, experiments are supposed to be temporary. Ideally, a product stakeholder will follow both budget and timeline and then determine whether the idea is worth pursuing further -- but the unknown element of experimentation can knock plans off track. 

When working with the unknown starts inflating the budget or pushing the deadline far beyond initial projections, halt the project. Ask whether the potential outcome justifies the added investment. If not, give it up for good.

My company faced this situation when we were developing a mobile app for our client National Fitness Campaign. We wanted to experiment with Instagram’s API to build an integration that would make our client’s app more robust. But when we noticed both our deadline and budget cap looming without the accomplishments we’d wanted by then, it became apparent that we needed to change course. We ditched our original idea to find a smarter solution.
2. Data and analytics don’t support the hypothesis. Set reporting parameters before beginning an experiment, and check the numbers regularly. If the results of the experiment are discouraging, don’t ignore them. Recognize the need to adapt or cancel the project.

Twitter will rely on data to determine whether to keep the new 280-character limit. According to the blog post announcing the experiment, English users of the platform hit the current 140-character limit 9 percent of the time. Whether that group makes use of the extra space, along with many other factors, will determine the experiment’s fate.

3. Scope creep derails the initial experiment. Scope creep refers to experiments

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