The expectations of business to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have placed corporate values, and leaders’ willingness to put them into action, at center stage. 

On Wednesday, March 9, 2022, Page Chair Brian Lott, CCO of Mubadala moderated a discussion among Page and Page Up members about the business implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and how stakeholders expect organizations to act in response. Brian was joined by Michelle Giuda, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs and current Executive Vice President of Geopolitical Strategy and Risk at Weber Shandwick.

Michelle presented insights from Weber Shandwick’s Home Country as Stakeholder report, which surveyed over 1,200 executives from 12 countries, and used the Russia/Ukraine crisis to contextualize key findings. These findings, along with the insights shared during the conversation, included:

  1. Home Country is considered a top three business stakeholder—on par with shareholders. In recent years, nation-first slogans (Brazil Above Everything, Made in China, Brexit, Made in All of America) have started to fracture the global economy, creating new choices, risks and challenges for MNCs who need to be mindful of their home country stakeholder’s interests while still continuing to do business globally. The actions and statements of many companies regarding Ukraine have paralleled that of their home country stakeholder. 
  2. National security exceeds D&I, ESG and climate change in decision-making importance - according to executives. This crisis has shone a light on the national security component of critical business agenda items. The U.S. and UK ban on Russian oil, for example, has renewed the conversation around energy independence as a national security imperative and the ability to continue meeting climate change goals.
  3. The pressure is on to speak out on geopolitical issues. 87% of executives agree their organization needs to be prepared to take more public positions on geopolitical issues over the next 5 years. But as one member from an EU nation brought up, there is hesitancy among some to speak out against a large, powerful country like Russia. This highlights the necessity of preparation and planning, realizing that all or most decisions on geopolitical issues include a degree of risk and trade-offs.; organizations must workshop their response based on their unique operating environment, and involve all relevant members of the C-Suite to determine risk. 
  4. The employee and customer stakeholder groups are both underutilized. Executives across the enterprise do not rate employees or customers as a top source of information to determine geopolitical risk, despite their overall importance. Communications leaders have the leadership requirement to elevate insights from these key constituencies to guide the C-Suite, gaining an advanced perspective in a complex situation. One suggestion: Comms establish a channel for employees across markets to share their concerns and perspectives during a crisis.
  5. Executives say they are unprepared for geopolitical risk. While most companies feel reactive to geopolitical threats, now is the time to identify potential crises on the horizon. Workshop with your senior leaders when you will speak out, identify which criteria must be met before acting and map out which actions your organization will take. Only 25% of executives use their own organizational data to determine geopolitical risk—strengthening and utilizing internal risk reporting can help your organization stay ahead of the next crisis.

One last thing: If the past 2 years have taught us anything, it is that the CCO should be at the helm during any crisis. From their broad purview across the organization, to their multi-stakeholder approach to problem-solving, CCOs are best equipped to guide their organizations through crises as they arise. Michelle recently wrote about this, as it relates to Weber Shandwick’s research, for Page Turner - read her blog here.