In the wake of their controversial ad featuring a multi-racial family, Cheerios’ stock is up. André Branch insists this is no coincidence.
By now, most of you have heard about the unfortunate controversy over the Cheerios “Just Checking” ad. Enough has already been written about the small-minded, pathetic ignoramuses who began the stir with their vitriolic commentary, so I’ll ignore the urge to pile on. Instead, I would like to call your attention to something that most certainly happened further upstream in the decision making process at General Mills that I found quite inspiring: the courage displayed by the responsible marketing executives to champion such an idea in the first place.
I would submit to you that courage is a virtue in short supply in the workplace. How often have your colleagues shared an idea or position with you, or vice versa, only to remain silent when the opportunity to be vocal about it arises? People do it for many reasons: some aren’t confident enough in their own thinking; others might be reluctant to take an opposing viewpoint of a much stronger personality; or some are worried about their mortgage and making waves simply doesn’t fit into their retirement plans. If you are among this group, I urge you to reconsider your stance. The ones brave enough to be authentic, truly courageous leaders, are the real heroes of any organization. They are the ones who unlock stakeholder value. They challenge the status quo. They force their firms to look at themselves in the mirror. They keep organizations out of trouble. They push them out of their comfort zones and inevitably into higher levels of performance.
Turning our attention back to General Mills, one can only imagine the internal debate that ensued when the idea of using an interracial couple for this leading American brand surfaced. Interracial unions have been on the rise for decades, and now represent about 10% of all marriages in the US, according to the US Census. That still represents a minority, however, and the event is still often mulled over and scrutinized by every demographic group. Nonetheless, General Mills execs had a finger on the pulse of the nation. With minority kids under the age of five years old making up approximately 50% of that group, according to the US Census, an interracial President in the White House, and the continued explosion of growth in the Hispanic population, there is something in the demographic trends of America that made the idea a well-calculated risk. Still, it was a step in a bold, new direction that no doubt required a huge amount of courage through the executive ranks.
And early bits of data seem to indicate that the move paid off. According to a recent article on Adweek.com, Cheerios’ brand exposure was up +77% vs. the week before the ad ran and beat the average content views of eight other top cereal brands by +137%. When I last visited the official commercial on YouTube on June 16th, the ad received 46,279 likes compared to 2,171 dislikes. It will be interesting to see the effect on sales from this campaign but if consumers’ voting is any indication, “Just Checking” will be a positive for Cheerios.
I often hear individuals lament that their organizations do not support candor; that somehow the leadership does not allow it. This is the circumstance where courage is needed most. If you really believe in what your ideas find other champions in your organization that can support your agenda.
The long-term viability and ultimate existence of any organization will be a reduction of nothing more than the courageousness of its leaders. True leaders are visionaries who think boldly and have the courage to follow through with their convictions. To be clear, this is not a ploy for martyrdom; one need not die on her sword to make a point. You can be courageous without being bombastic and dealing in ultimatums. Try these tactics:
1) Take the emotion out of the issue by being fact-based in your assessment.
2) Be respectful and thoughtful in your approach, particularly when dealing with an unpopular theme. There are other agendas at play that require understanding and finesse in handling.
3) Always demonstrate the value in what you’re proposing. Quantify it as much as possible and ensure that the potential benefits outweigh the cost.
4) Stay committed to the cause. There are times when you may be the only champion and sometimes building alignment can take time.
5) Realize that there are times when you will be wrong or may not win. Ultimately, you must understand that your successes are just as valuable as your failures. If you fully embrace this notion, being courageous becomes easy.
Courageous leaders are the most valuable asset of any organization because they are value creators and game changers. Speak up and be heard. Do not let your ideas wither away. You are there to have an impact; whether you will or not will be determined by the courage you display.
Originally appeared on Uptown Magazine.
Image Credit: Y’amal/Flickr
About André Branch
André Branch is a successful business leader who has led some of the world’s most iconic brands. He is currently a beauty industry executive in New York City where he also resides. Branch holds an MBA from the Ross School of Business at The University of Michigan.