The status quo just ain't what it used to be. Revered financial institutions are crumbling overnight, a Republican administration's seizing private companies, and the Phillies—the Phillies—just won a championship. Britney hasn't been arrested in, like, six months. To quote a famous psychologist, it's a season of "human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!" In other words, it's high time to rethink how we do business.
Business leaders who want to remain on top should view America’s overwhelming endorsement of President-elect Barack Obama—November 4th saw the highest voter turnout for any presidential election since 1964—as a rejection of the status quo. Unless you’ve been holed up in Amish country for the past year, you know all too well that global warming and America’s dependence on fossil fuels—along with the economic slump and wars potential and realized—shaped the national policy debate leading up to Obama’s coronation. These volatile days present an opportunity for you to reflect upon your business practices and reshuffle your company’s priorities. While it’s true that the so-called Bush factor can’t be misoverestimated, Obama set up his Election Day rout by presenting a platform (and, of course, an appealing image) that resonated among minority and young voters. The importance of the latter group to your company’s success is basic: The under-30 block represents your potential long-term employees—and, as Steve Forbes can tell you, continuity is essential to running a thriving enterprise.
An apathetic lot for decades, America’s youth are finally tuning in again: Roughly 20 percent more 18-to-29-year-olds voted in this year’s election than in 2004—and around two in three of them voted for Obama. Exit polls in the typically red states of Indiana and Virginia indicate that college students and young professionals—a/k/a your entry-level hiring pool—propelled the Democrat to victory there. (Around 5,000 more Indiana University students cast ballots this year than in 2004, while white-collar sprawl in suburban Washington, D.C., swayed the outcome in Virginia.) With its implicit endorsement of Obama’s environmental platforms—cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, for example—Generation Y sent a message to CEOs nationwide: Green up or go home.
Many Fortune 500 execs have already acknowledged this expectation and are addressing it via “corporate social responsibility” campaigns intended to demonstrate their commitment—sometimes real, more often PR-driven—to social equality and the environment. Companies at the forefront of the Big Business green movement—think Google and Virgin—have positioned themselves to attract the brightest young candidates, while outfits that lag behind will have to sift through the leftovers.
The sincere embrace of “Change,” a term marketed to exhaustion in recent months, is nonetheless vital to your company’s survival in the long run. The results of Election Day served as a warning from your twentysomething employees and future recruits—America’s educated young—that they are increasingly cognizant of—and proactive about—the urgent need to address global warming. To remain competitive in the job market, you should expect that they’ll hold employers to those same standards.