There is no greater hindrance to business success than complacency. One minute things are going well, the next you’re facing a public crisis – just ask Brendan Eich.
It was today announced that the Mozilla chief executive would step down from his position after public outrage at his support of a California bill to ban gay marriage. In addition, he also resigned from his seat on the board of the non-profit foundation which owns the company.
Last week three members of the Mozilla board resigned after Mr Eich was promoted – it’s safe to say he’s had a nightmare fortnight.
So how did Mr Eich get to this unenviable outcome? Simply due to the weight of public outrage at his personal views on whether people of the same sex should be allowed to marry.
With growing transparency amongst businesses, the people who run them, and the public, facilitated by an extraordinary rise in the popularity of social media, it has never been more important for companies to stand for something real – something people can get behind. Mozilla do this well and for many have been viewed as the good guys, waging war on the corporate behemoth that is Internet Explorer. A fun, inclusive company which champions service and enjoyment – and certainly not one at which a CEO would have prejudice views on who should and shouldn’t be allowed to marry.
Modern business PR is all about delivering a clear, consistent and believable message so whilst a company can do one thing, if a senior employee does the opposite this disconnect is leapt upon in a second and in short you can be thrown to the wolves. In this case, Mr Eich’s comments were the equivalent of a Greenpeace representative supporting a bill for lessened regulation on seal clubbing.
All companies, regardless of size need to continually reinforce the importance of a united front and message to all of their employees, particularly visible senior ones otherwise a brand image which has been carefully crafted over a number of years can come tumbling down in one speech, one tweet, five seconds.
The company did the right thing to distance itself from his stance, exposing it as a rogue view rather than a company one, however as they conceded, ‘We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.’
Politicians are regularly told to tow the party line and perhaps Mr Eich should’ve done the same at Mozilla rather than letting his personal views cost him his job and Mozilla some of their credibility.