Why are senior living leaders so shy about talking about anything that might even barely be controversial?

By Steve Moran

One of the things that has surprised me or more accurately continues to surprise me is how shy senior living leaders are about talking about anything that might even barely be controversial. Over the last 7 years, I have had dozens of people tell me they would love to comment or write articles but are either afraid to or prohibited from writing because of the fear of a negative reaction.

I guess I should be more sympathetic, because of the heat I have received about things I have written or said in public, and . . . those tough topics are really the ones that most need to be written about and talked about.

Over the last three or so years we have seen CEOs of large publicly traded companies take on politically charged issues like gun control, gender identity, and racial inequality. In some cases, those leaders have been challenged on their stands and backed down and, in other cases, they stuck to their guns. 

Against this backdrop when I got an invite to a webinar on CEO activism sponsored by Harvard Business Review I was curious and signed up. 

Mixed Results

There is not any really good data as to the impact on revenue and profits. The researchers on the webinar did take a look at consumer behaviors after Tim Cook of Apple took on Indiana over the issue of gay marriage and they found that those who were pro-gay marriage spent a little more and those who did not favor gay marriage did not reduce their spending. But because Apple has such a strong brand base, it would seem unwise to assume much from this one data point.

In a number of other cases, there have been threats of boycotts or promises to spend extra money depending on the side you are on, but there is no strong evidence that in the long term it makes much difference.

Employee Culture

All of the data shows that millennials are particularly attracted to companies that stand for the same things they stand for. This for many CEOs becomes the compelling reason to take these public and controversial stands. It becomes a way for the CEO to say, “I believe in what you believe in.” “We are on the same team.”

There is some evidence that suggests that in doing this it attracts new team members and grows loyalty. But . . . like most things, it is a two-edged sword. It also has the potential to alienate employees on the opposite side of any given position.  

In addition, it sends a message to employees that the CEO is committed to doing the right thing.

It is also unclear how important these issues are to frontline staff.

A Cause Everyone Cares About

It seems like there is a real opportunity to create a highly attractive culture for teams, families, residents, and families by taking on a cause that everyone (or most everyone) can agree is a good idea. Some ideas might be leadership diversity (a real problem in senior living), childhood nutrition, literacy, and ageism.

What are your thoughts?