With all that’s going on about the 2016 presidential candidates, I thought it was time to visit an important issue about company support of candidates. Back in 2012, the HBR (Harvard Business Review) blog had a lead posting by Gregory Casey, arguing that employees want their bosses to talk politics—ostensibly so they can make “better decisions.” So what do you think about that?
My first response was total skepticism, leading to questions about the writer’s person and actual agenda. This is how he was identified on HBR: President & CEO of the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), Gregory S. Casey has a long record of public service, including as Chief of Staff to members of the US House of Representatives and the Senate. Casey is also a senior partner in the Idaho-based consulting company, Veritas Advisors, LLP. Not enough info to reveal his party relationships or vested interests, but since he was writing from the standpoint of a CEO I could guess.
So, thanks to the internet, I dug still deeper. Yep, I was correct: “Prominent Republican Greg Casey. . . .” Democrats have their strategies for this kind of stuff too, but that was a classical Republican strategy. You know, an appeal to authority (the boss) rather than community (all of us peons). Casey is an admitted political operative.
The blog presents survey “research” from privately held companies. On numerous occasions, I’ve pointed out the inherent weaknesses of survey research. At bottom, survey research is fundamentally polling—just like election polling. Trustworthiness is very, very difficult to achieve by surveys. So, looking closely at his survey research, I immediately noted numerous opportunities for building in bias—thus I seriously doubt its validity. What bugged me was that HBR let an obviously politico put up a post backed by obviously specious research.
In sum, Casey is a political operative using questionable research to achieve a political agenda.
The HBR conflict
What’s going on with HBR’s vaunted political neutrality? Hmmmm. HBR can’t afford to tell you how to vote—even if they could get agreement on a single candidate. But, scrolling down the blogs, I found another post by Stanford’s Jeff Pfeffer, with the contradictory and amusing title, Don’t waste your time telling employees how to vote. So HBR was posting conflicting ideas—smart approach to a conflicted issue. . . if, that is, the readers analyze both blogs.. They put up Casey’s blog first, believing it would gain more immediate attention than Pfeffer’s. You know, it’s always wise to put the most eye-catching post first.
Jeff Pfeffer’s vested interests are very clear. He intends to maintain his reputation as an impeccable scholar and researcher in business and human realities. The few scholars like Pfeffer are exceedingly cautious in drawing conclusions from their research. His livelihood both as consultant and Stanford professor is built on his knowledge base.
Pfeffer, rationalizes his conclusion on more disparate and far better research. Basically, Pfeffer concludes that “given the power dynamics involved in the boss/worker relationship, this (telling employees how to vote) is a bad idea, and not only because it’s, well, a bad idea. It makes no sense because . . . you probably won’t sway them (especially because of today’s employee dissatisfaction, distrust and disengagement [see data in his posting]), It diminishes your influence in other realms. . . . It takes you off-message.”
Ultimately, Pfeffer argues a viable perspective, not only because given today’s world, it’s highly realistic. But also because he uses clearly valid research as evidence in his arguing.
Moral of the blog: (1) Always check out the vested interests of the writer, and (2) always check the research evidence before you before you bother with the reasoning. To sum it up, Casey’s recommendation is political nonsense. (3) You really, really need to do your own homework on candidates. And since I’ve heard a lot of complaints about all the possible candidates, I have one reality suggestion: you may need to select the least worst–and live with him or her. That’s very often the choice in life.