Lessons in Corporate Culture from the Eras Tour and the NFL Controversy

Do you know the highest grossing music tour of all time? You don’t have to be a Taylor Swift fan to know that she is absolutely crushing it. Taylor’s ‘Eras’ tour has generated a revenue of over a billion dollars. Love her or hate her — there’s no denying that she is an inspiration to women everywhere. 

Taylor Swift has been generating some serious noise with her tour, and it’s been fun to see her NFL star boyfriend, Travis Kelce, getting involved too. He thrilled fans when he made a surprise appearance on stage during one of her London concerts. But beyond just thrilling the crowd, his performance also showcased his respect, admiration and celebration of her success. 

Kelce’s supportive behavior  stands in stark contrast to the hugely problematic speech given by his Kansas City Chiefs teammate, Harrison Butker. The commencement speech received a ton of backlash for being misogynistic, homophobic, and insulting. Similar incidents in the corporate world can damage company reputations and employee morale. 

Now, the interesting part of all of this is how Butker’s sentiments – while given in a personal capacity at a college commencement –  reflect on the organization he represents. It’s not a good look to be in the spotlight of an angry media frenzy. Immediately after the internet got a hold of this news, the NFL quickly  tried to distance itself from the situation, saying that Butker’s opinions are not a reflection of those of the NFL. The NFL also reiterated their commitment to inclusion in an attempt to soften the blow of some of Butker’s controversial comments around the ‘sinful’ nature of gay pride and the role of women as ‘homemakers’. 

Most perplexingly, the NFL implied that Butker is an example of how the league values diversity and inclusion, which begs the question: how does the value of inclusion relate to people with clear bias and perhaps hatred? It’s a loaded question, and one that has really had me thinking. The NFL is almost convincing in their point that diversity of perspective also applies to people with problematic points of view, however the whole point of diversity and inclusion is to be progressive, and welcoming. When we make a point to also include downright offensively-minded people, who unapologetically promote inequality and criticize diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives as “tyranny,” it effectively undermines the purpose of inclusion and modern corporate culture. Now, it’s a tricky and nuanced topic — it doesn’t mean we should exclude people based on differing or even controversial views, because that would also defeat the goal of inclusion.  But, this type of divisive  statements – especially when echoed by company leaders – could make underrepresented employees feel unwelcome and undervalued.

Another key takeaway here is the way in which Butker’s speech paints the picture of a lesson we all learned as kids: one bad apple can spoil the whole cart. No matter what the NFL says, people are of course associating this antiquated point of view with the NFL organization. Actions speak louder than words, and you can preach your company values all day long, but the truth is that they aren’t what you say, they’re what every member of your team does.  In a corporate setting, these types of comments could significantly impact morale, productivity, and  team cohesion. 

Leaders: don’t underestimate how these types of events can essentially undermine your brand. Consumers have choices and can go somewhere else.  No matter what you say in the face of bad press, you can’t un-spill the milk. The only way to avoid having your reputation impacted by distasteful values is to  ensure the organization-wide clarity and upholding of your company values from the get-go. 

Here are a few ways to uplift your company values:

Define your values, and include them in your onboarding process.

Emphasize the importance of managers leading by example.

Implement accountability practices, and ensure employees understand that your values are not something to be shrugged off.

Administer surveys in order to understand how your values are and are not being upheld.

Keep your values front-of-mind by continually bringing them up in company meetings, team trainings, and employee check-ins.

Conduct quarterly reviews not just for employee performance, but also employee conduct regarding behaviors, comments, and concerns.

Enlist the support of a professional to help minimize bias among your team.

Lean into authenticity and transparency, because upholding values must be done wholeheartedly.

Nurture a welcoming and supportive environment, and look out for anyone who comes from a place of hate.

From football champs and musical superstars, lessons in leadership and culture are everywhere we look. Big organizations and small businesses may have varying degrees of complexity, but at the end of the day, the stakes are high for everyone. We all have the need to ensure our companies’ culture is not undermined by bias, and our values are not undermined by hate.

The Silverene Group is proud to be a 100% minority, woman owned business.