Always good practice to learn from crises or disasters. If they have to happen and tragedy occurs, at least we can try to apply lessons from them going forward. Crises, disasters or issues are sure to come to companies or organizations at one time or another. No one is immune — every company faces their 15 minutes of shame, not just their 15 minutes of fame.
The derailment of Metro-North Railroad in the Bronx one week ago today that killed four people and injured many is rightfully capturing a lot of attention on how to make trains safer.
I was reading this article about the derailment on my subway trip home Friday night and at its close, I came across this important best practice. “The railroad administration instructed the authority to adopt a confidential system to report ‘close call’ incidents.” Many companies could do a better job of understanding their close calls. Close calls are similar to “near misses” which are defined this way according to the National Safety Council:
A Near Miss is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage – but had the potential to do so. Only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented an injury, fatality or damage; in other words, a miss that was nonetheless very near.
A faulty process or management system invariably is the root cause for the increased risk that leads to the near miss and should be the focus of improvement. Other familiar terms for these events are a “close call,” a “narrow escape,” or in the case of moving objects, “near collision” or a “near hit.”
If companies could include “close call” discussions on their internal monthly or quarterly calls, they’d be in far better shape to deal with disasters that do arise. Management could do better by discussing how they might handle near misses, how to make sure they do not happen, who else should be included in the discussion to prevent them and how to prepare should they actually happen. It could be an informal or formal hearing or process. A more formal best practice is sponsored by the American College of Physicians and the New York Chapter of the American College of Physicians — The Near Miss Registry. The online registry collects medical near misses before they actually occur with patients. The registry allows healthcare workers to voluntarily report medical “near miss” events” using a web based tool located at www.nearmiss.org and hosted by NYACP.
Unfortunately the tendency is to bury the near misses in the hopes that they do not reach top management. However, that’s exactly the point. If top management does not know how close a call they missed, they won’t be able to prevent them.
I think it is a good step that Metro-North is adopting this process.
How do women build reputations that get them to the top? What’s the secret sauce or what’s the recipe for getting there? (Enjoyed using those cooking metaphors). On a near annual basis, we investigate top conferences for CEOs and other senior executives. For this year’s study, the firm examined speaking engagements, board memberships and honors of the most powerful women in business, based on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women (MPW) U.S. list.
One of the ways to get to be a successful businessperson in the U.S. is by proactively connecting with external audiences. We are finding that speaking engagements are increasingly important and we are not the only ones who have noticed. If you read this article that appeared on the booming conference business, you will agree that the podium is the new LIVE MEDIA channel.
In our research and as you can see in this infographic, we found that the majority of women (72%) on the list spoke at one or more conferences in 2012, and, on average, had 2.1 speaking engagements during the year. The leading speaking forums in 2012 for these most powerful women included Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit*, The Wall Street Journal’s Women in the Economy, MIT Sloan Women in Management, Catalyst Awards Dinner, Fortune Brainstorm TECH and the World Economic Forum in Davos. A categorization of all of the conferences found that, by far, these women spoke at more industry-focused events than other event types. (*Not every woman who makes Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business list has a speaking role at its annual conference.)
Weber Shandwick’s research also shows that these executives are being acknowledged for their roles as leaders. On average, these female business leaders sat on 2.6 boards, the most prevalent type being industry/professional. Six in 10 women received an award or a place on a rankings or “best of” list. Of the honors bestowed upon the most powerful women in business, most (72 percent) were rankings compared to awards.
My colleague and friend Carol Ballock who runs our conference business had this to say: “Conferences, rankings and awards are essential for company storytelling. Women business leaders are leveraging these tools to communicate their companies’ messages and reinforce their company brands.”
Not a surprise. Today I read that maybe we need more CEOs like the new CEO of Citicorp who has a very low public profile. He is practically nameless according to the article. Barely noticed in the trendiest restaurant where banking moguls hang out for lunch. I probably could have predicted this. The headline reads, “Quiet Boss at Citigroup Setting Tone for Wall Street.” And as predictable, those CEOs who are in the news for good and bad reasons are being shunned for having a public profile when I am sure they’d prefer to under everyone’s radar screens too. The next time around we will be hearing that this low, quiet profile that Citigroup’s CEO now has is what got him into trouble when times get stickier. It seems like it is either too much or too little visibility and nowhere in between when it comes to CEO visibility and presence. Let’s see what the new year brings on this topic of neverending interest when it comes to CEOs. I think the common saying is, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”, which according to Wikipedia is described as having “two equally repulsive choices, neither of which results in a positive outcome.” I think that is exactly it — pros and cons and little in between to having any public profile for your company.
I’ve always said that every industry gets its turn at reputation downfalls. Every industry has to be prepared for clearing its name when crisis strikes. We’ve seen that in the oil industry, financial services industry, auto industry, pharma industry and so on. The one industry that seems to always fare well in the best industry rankings is technology. However, according to an article in The Economist on what to expect in 2014, we should be getting ready to witness a tech-lashing. The reputation of the Silicon Valley elite are soon meet their due if the tech-party extravaganzas and limosine crowd continue full throttle as they are. As Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist says, “Geeks have turned out to be some of the most ruthless capitalists around….The lords of cyberspace have done everything possible to reduce their earthly costs. They employ remarkably few people: with a market cap of $290 billion Google is about six times bigger than GM but employs only around a fifth as many workers. At the same time the tech tycoons have displayed a banker-like enthusiasm for hoovering up public subsidies and then avoiding taxes. The American government laid the foundations of the tech revolution by investing heavily in the creation of everything from the internet to digital personal assistants. But tech giants have structured their businesses so that they give as little back as possible.” These are not kind remarks about an industry that has been revered for so long.
Wooldridge might be onto to something as more information seeps into the public’s consciousness and the inequality divide starts to gain notice. One example cited by Wooldridge was a recent party where a 600lb tiger posed for revilers in a cage and a monkey was made available for Instagram pictures. [Where was PETA?] Another article on Gawker headlined this supposed joke: “If you ask people in Silicon Valley about the dismal job market, they’ll laugh and say, ‘What’s ‘job market’?’ A new mobile social networking app?” And if you are still not convinced that something is underfoot, The New York Times ran an article this week about how all the Silicon Valley million-billionnaires are changing the tenor of neighborhoods in San Francisco, buying up all the real estate and generally crowding out the long-timers. One person is quoted as saying she is surprised by how coldblooded these technorati are. Not a pretty portrait.]
All of this criticism is tied up with ill feelings about technology companies having handed over data to the NSA whereupon Edward Snowden exposed this wrongdoing to the world. These serial reputation-damaging incidents are beginning to chip away at the technology elite’s image-making and positivity they’ve done in making our lives more productive and interconnected.
2014 might just be the year when the technology sector loses its luster and customers and the general public begin to wonder what social good they are doing with all their riches and IPO shares. A reputation risk for the technology sector for sure.
A new study is out that shows that companies that engage in socially responsible behavior are also more likely to engage in socially irresponsible behavior. And the research found this to be fairly common among Fortune 500 company CEOs who work hard at setting a highly moral image and identity. How could that be? The paper, “License to Ill: The Effects of Corporate Social Responsibility and CEO Moral Identity on Corporate Irresponsibility,” was co-written by professors at London Business School and University of California, Riverside School of Business Administration. The author-researchers found that for approximately every five positive actions that a firm takes, it gives them license to commit one negative action. As one of the co-authors says, “These findings show that CEOs should be aware of this tendency so that they can prevent their companies from slipping into this pattern. Additionally, corporate boards can’t allow CEOs to rest on their laurels. They need to be vigilant in monitoring CEOs.” Good advice. They held up BP and Enron as examples of companies that proclaimed high corporate social responsibility (i.e., beyond petroleum and all the philanthropy engaged in by Enron’s Ken Lay) and yet transgressed.
You might be scratching your head. It is hard to understand how this could be. The research which is pretty impressive found that leaders who direct their company’s CSR strategy end up with “moral credits.” These moral credits blind them to irresponsible behavior and being less vigilant about how they manage stakeholder needs. And this goes for employees too who also tend to internalize the prior ethical CSR image of their employers and feel that they too are untouchable when committing unethical behavior.
The best part of the article or at least one of the many best parts is how they use the term CSiR for corporate social irresponsibility. It’s a new term to me and one I will use again and again.
Someone recently said something to me that had me thinking. They were describing a CEO and said that they were amazed how willing he was to show his vulnerabilities. Leadership humility is very attractive these days because so many CEOs and leaders are being cut down to size as events careen out of control around them. A recent article in the Guardian echoed this same sentiment although the writer, Lynnette McIntire, referred to this trait as “humanity,” not humility. She says: “But the most persuasive CEOs are those who show how their personalities, histories, values and feelings are aligned with company culture. I have been charmed and disarmed when CEOs talk about what they’ve learned from their children, how a mentor changed their lives, how a hard lesson from life knocked them into gear or how a frank comment by an employee reset a decision.” McIntire struck a chord with the examples she gave. One was about Tom’s Shoes which has a business model of “buy one, give one” whereby a free pair is given to children in need when a customer buys a pair. She pointed out how the CEO, Blake Mycoskie, spoke about how unprepared he was for the criticism the company received about providing free shoes. People were criticizing how this policy was hurting local shoe producers. Tom’s Shoes is now committing to having a proportion of these giving shoes made in Haiti. She also wrote: “Now, Tom’s giveaway programs have a shoe replacement component, dispelling the in-and-out charitable giving image. For many children having black shoes – a school uniform requirement – means their education is not interrupted when their feet grow.” All very interesting to me because I did not realize that Tom’s Shoes’ reputation was being bruised by these criticisms. But also how the CEO listened, learned and began reshaping policy. And how the entire lesson made the CEO appear more human,vulnerable and teachable.
[I should add that I also was pleased that they quoted our research on CEO reputation.]
Leadership is very messy. I was asked the other night at dinner why President Obama was not coming out slinging on the repair of the healthcare website. Why was he not saying anything? And why were his advisors not telling him to speak up and put a stop to the constant naysaying? Well, for one, I think the reason is that there is nothing to say until it is fixed. He apologized and put a bookend on the mess for now. That was the right strategy. Now he should say nothing until it has been resolved. Why keep it in the headlines by saying something? No one wants another BP oil spill where the headlines went on for weeks regarding how much oil was spilling into the Gulf.
I read the New York Times columnist Bill Keller’s to-do list for President Obama on how tosalvage his reputation now that it has stalled. Keller basically says that now is not the time for “grand new initiatives.” True. He goes on to say, “ It’s not that I want the president to think small; by all means, address the threat of climate catastrophe and push ahead on early childhood education. But he needs to get a few wins on the scoreboard.” Absolutely. Now is not the time for the big speeches, big sweeping initiatives, big words. Now is the time for small, incremental steps that change the conversation and get him back on track. I also found it interesting that Michelle Obama chose this time to release news that she is going to focus on higher education for low-income students. Clearly, a great policy decision but the timing is not coincidental. The White House needs some positive news to overshadow the constant barrage of negative sentiment surrounding the White House. Everyone loves Michelle and who can argue with her for coming to the rescue. Wonder if we will be seeing more of the kids now.
However, this too shall pass. Maybe we should spend more time focusing on the devastation in the Phillipines and what we can do.
CEO reputation is still incredibly important. As I have always said, it’s nice to say that it should not be so important or to say that it is should be more about the company than the CEO, but ultimately the CEO sets the tone, style and destiny of a company. A recent survey of top communications officres in Europe confirms the uber-importance of the CEO to a company’s success. What I found most interesting, however, were the findings on CEOs and communications. Considering that these are communications officers, the study has some good inside info on CEO activity:
- 83% said that their communications teams are working on positioning their CEO
- 67% are working on the CEO’s profile (probably online) and a CEO-focused communications strategy
One of the more interesting articles I have read recently describes how the conference business is surging and providing better outlets for CEOs and other executives to speak. All this “live media” or “live journalism” (what it is now being called since you can repurpose it, livestream it, twitter it, YouTube it, etc) is perfect for positioning CEOs (reflecting the findings above) and other top executives you want to shine a light on. Weber Shandwick has a thriving business run by Carol Ballock helping CEOs and top executives find the right platforms to speak at and helping shape content. Our research on the best conferences has finally put some metrics behind this burgeoning phenomenon. Here are a few examples if you don’t believe me. The Huffington Post is hosting three conferences of Arianna Huffington’s marvelous Third Metric idea, Atlantic Media now does over 200 events per year including exclusive dinners and week long conferences. The New York Times is convening 16 conferences in 2013, up from one last year. The Wall Street Journal is hosting its 6th CEO Council. Tina Brown left the Daily Beast to get into the conference business. Many of these conferences, including Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business, are expanding overseas too. Digital media companies are also hosting live events that help position executives, pundits and influencers. It is a gold rush. As the New York Times says, “Live events promote their brand” and “..conference centers are considered just another social platform with Twitter, Facebook and online video.”
Worth taking a look at NYC mayor-elect Bill De Blasio’s transition web site. It is very transparent and user-friendly. You can apply for jobs, review who the transition team is, send an idea. volunteer, or read blog postings. It is a great idea that matches with what he promised in the run off. Nice fit. Transitions are important times to set the tone and style of the incoming individual or executive. The large photo on the home page with De Blasio reaching out to constitutents sends the right message that he aims to be a man of the people (I think he said “we all rise together”). How it turns out will be another story but for a start, it’s a good one. CEOs should consider this transition site as a good way to mark their first 100 days internally.
I attended the Council of PR Firms Critical Issues Forum a week or so again. I always enjoy attending because I learn something that sticks with me. The topic was all about Content Frenzy which certainly resonated with the attendees. The panels were stimulating and overall, an A+ event for those of us in this industry who are watching what is content change before our eyes. Of course, I have to tie everything back to my main interest in reputation, so here goes:
1. Media pundit Jeff Jarvis said that “messages are dead.” He said that we should be in the relationship business and worry less about messaging. Makes sense to me if you are building reputation. Communicating that want to be perceived as the most innovative company, the most admired company, the best place to work, the most global, etc. does not stick for long in people’s minds as much as creating the feeling that a company cares about you as a customer, wants to listen to what you have to say and works hard to retain your business.
2. News Corps’ Strategy VP Raju Narisetti said that companies are not competing for audiences but for our time. That’s the honest truth. Companies have to recognize that there are so many hours in the day and everyone is overextended and bombarded with messages. Good storytelling is the answer and knowing how to do it well is an art as well as a science. Six second Vine videos might just do the trick. He also said that native advertising was a faustian pact that could cause serious credibility problems (ouch!) and damage reputation (ouch!).
3. Harvard Business Review’s editor-in-chief Adi Ignatius said something that certainly perked up my ears. He said that everyone today is a thought leader. He is right. Everyone provides content. I consider myself a thought leader and it did not feel good to hear that my competitors are everywhere. I have been learning too that everyone is a reputation management expert. I might have to figure out something else to do. Reputation-wise, companies and CEOs with a thought or two of their own are competing with everyone else’s content storms. Everyone is overwhelmed with a glut of content, so said Amy Webb of webbmedia. She is someone worth following.
4. Small data is more relevant than big data. I dont know who said it but it is profound. I agree. We are so focused on the very big data, that we are missing the more relevant, localized, individualistic insights that can break through our universal content overload. When it comes to reputation, maybe we should be focusing on the small conversations and not the “most popular” ones. We might learn alot more by following one person over time than following an entire army of tweets and posts. Maybe, also, it is the smaller and more incremental reputation enhancement steps that matter than the large, broad big efforts that companies tend to embark on and hammer us with. I am not sure but I know it is true when it comes to reputation recovery.
Tomorrow is Monday…have a good week!