Archive for November, 2009
The Economist’s The World in 2010 is out. I spent time reading it over the Thanksgiving holiday. The articles range from President Obama to Chinese workers to the FIFA World Cup to the swine-flu to museums to Shakira to the crisis in human genetics to e-readers. It has something for everyone. There were many insightful ideas but the one that I particularly liked was by the fairly new CEO of Yahoo! Carol Bartz. Her topic was Leadership in the Information Age which she knows a lot about as the head of one of the world’s largest information resources.
When it comes to CEOs, Bartz mentioned how unsettling it can be to learn how new employees know everything about you on their first day. They have scoured the Internet, read your speeches, seen your interviews and picked up all the gossip they will ever need to have a good conversation about your reputation in the cafeteria or online. She writes, “At some companies, insider information can barely be said to exist.”
She also says, and I totally agree, that one remark that is out of context or a slight misstatement can be debilitating to new CEOs. Reputations can be damaged over less than Twitter’s 140 characters. Old CEOs as well. Bartz writes: “Public companies in particular are so besieged by 24-hour commentary and instant opinion that many managers find themselves paralyzed.” After the long holiday weekend with Tiger Woods in the news 24/7 for his early morning car accident, I have to say that the commentariat have been very busy. But back to Bartz. She discusses in the article how hard it is to lead when everyone is second-guessing you and the competition is helping to feed the frenzy on how unfit leadership is. It is a high stakes game today.
How are leaders expected to lead when they are on stage for everyone to throw tomatoes or applaud madly? Bartz suggests that the old model of command and control is obsolete. Leaders have to change direction and be able to explain this new world order to those around them. To make that happen, she suggests listening carefully to employees. Leading from the bottom up. Second, she recommends finding the thought leaders within your organization. Why? Bartz says: “But equally pressing is finding those employees who, though perhaps not the best managers, have the ability to digest and interpret information for others. Grooming these in-house ideas people helps foster a culture of openness to fresh thinking—the greatest energy an organization can have.” Leaders need to lead by ideas, not by force of power. Products and services alone are not enough.
The CEOs of the next decade will need to take information from wherever they may find them. Inside. Outside. Inside out. One thing is for sure. They won’t find what they need to compete successfully at HQ. They need to be outside their corner offices and starting conversations with all types of people. As I see it, leadership will be all about making sense of this brave new world. Let’s call it sense-making leadership for 2010. That’s what will make CEO reputations worthy this time around.
Geoff Colvin’s article in Fortune this week was about problems that seem to crop up repeatedly in his interviews. The one that caught my attention was the complaint he keeps hearing that “My Leader Won’t Lead.” If you have been reading my blog, this is one of my recurring themes. Leaders need to step out of the shadows and speak up. Colvin recommends as part of his Recession Checklist that CEOs “Stand Up and Be Seen.” He says that it’s an easy and powerful way to be effective. He cites the raised profile of Warren Buffett who has helped calm the markets during these tough times. Colvin remarks that standing up and being seen does not require tons of investment and technological wizardry. I agree wholeheartedly. We’re not talking about celebrating celebrity CEOs, but building back CEO reputations and credibility when perceptions of this office are so low.
This morning I ran across an article in The Economist that went a long way in confirming what I already believe and hopefully outlined in “Resetting CEO Reputation” in the Huffington Post. The Economist describes how our rejection of celebrity CEO types resulted in too many companies full of “faceless” CEOs. I had to laugh out loud at this line: “Watch the parade of chief executives who appear on CNBC every day, or drop in to a high-powered conference, and you begin to wonder whether cloning is more advanced than scientists are letting on.” Pretty clever. The writer then carefully explains why most CEOs are faceless today and who’s to blame them! Everywhere you turn you find board-fired CEOs, public anger about overboard executive compensation and management consultants calling on CEOs to be more humble and Everyman. The Economist warns us: “Yet there is surely a danger of taking all this too far. A low profile is no guarantee against corporate failure… In general, the corporate world needs its flamboyant visionaries and raging egomaniacs rather more than its humble leaders and corporate civil servants. Think of the people who have shaped the modern business landscape, and ‘faceless’ and ‘humble’ are not the first words that come to mind.” A reasonable point. The article advises leaders to be bold, not bland. In another line that hit home, the writer says: “These are people who have created the future, rather than merely managing change, through the force of their personalities and the strength of their visions.” Less managing and more leading.
Essentially, Colvin and the Economist writer are calling for leaders who may be talented guys and gals operationally but who also recognize that they can lead us out of this unprecendented economic downturn by putting a face on their companies and being memorable without being too glitzy. As the article notes at the end, “There is no long-term comparative advantage in being forgettable.” Amen. If the two can be combined and why not, we can have our cake and eat it too.
I always wonder how some words become the term du jour. Lately I have been running across “engagement” everywhere. I think that this word has become as popular in business circles as “innovation.” They might even be rivals. There are good reasons for this occurrence. Social media has pushed many of us to recognize that the best communications practices are about two way conversations or engaging your customers or employees. Talking at an audience just does not work (not that it ever did). To see if I was right about the ubiquitous “engagement,” we did a quick Factiva search of how often “engagement” appeared in all media over the past three plus years. I was not far off track. A 72% increase from 2006 to present day is big.
Of course, engagement leading to a wedding plays a major role in “engagement” mentions but I think that businesses’ affection for the word (vs. the bride and groom) is driving its increase.
Engagement Mentions in All Media
2009 to present—->157,864
Source: Factiva, Weber Shandwick
The CEO of HSN, Mindy Grossman, did something very smart when she joined the company as its 7th CEO in 10 years. As detailed in today’s Sunday New York Times business section, Grossman said the following:
“For example, my first day, I went through orientation just like everyone else, because I wanted to see what everybody else feels when they come into this company for the first time. There were 15 people — a guy who is in backstage TV, somebody in production, somebody in planning, and I just came in and sat down.
Everybody had to go around the room and say what their job was, including me. There were a couple of abrupt reactions, with people saying, “Really?” But the impact that had, and how viral it was throughout the organization, made a huge difference, because it was a signal of a new management philosophy.”
I have been advising and observing CEOs for a long time now and have to add that this is one smart lady CEO. Talk about sending a message of accessibility and heirarchy-lessness. If all CEOs presented themselves shoulder to shoulder with their employees on day one like this, we’d all have a better impression of CEOs. It should be standard operating procedure but sadly it is not. If it was a normal part of a CEO’s playbook for the first 100 days, this symbolic behavior would not stand out as much as it does.
The USA earned the top spot as the world’s highest-ranking country brand for the first time in the fifth annual Country Brand Index (CBI) from Weber Shandwick and sister agency FutureBrand. The USA rose from its previous third place spot one year earlier to snatch the top honor. Although the USA did not win the 2016 Olympics honor via its Chicago bid, in the CBI beauty contest, the USA beat out all other countries. As I expected, the Obama presidential effect of hope and optimism played a major role in the ranking. As it is with CEOs, Obama has become the face of the nation. The same influences that were at work in Obama’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize undoubtedly helped lift the reputational tide in favor of the USA in this widely publicized country brand ranking. The top 10 country brand reputations are:
- New Zealand
As it has been said, Yes, the USA can.
One of my favorite all time subjects is CEO reputation. I spend alot of time thinking about how it is changing, are there new shifts, who is doing what, how they can improve reputation and other meaningful and meaningless thoughts. Over the past few months I have mentioned on this blog my growing sense that CEOs are finally leaving their bunkers and starting to engage with stakeholders. They certainly have been communicating internally but signs are pointing to the resetting of CEO reputations.
I was lucky enough to have something published yesterday on the Huffington Post blog site about CEO re-emergence. Take a read.
I attended the Council of PR Firms’ Critical Issues Forum last week. It was terrific from start to finish. The lunchtime interview was with David Gergen, American political consultant and presidential advisor during four administrations. He is currently Director of the Center for Public Leadership and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. I often watch him on CNN too and am always interested in what he has to say. Several of his comments are worth repeating:
- Business is on probation. Perception of big business is at an all time low. CEOs are needed who can play a role in rebuilding the image of business. CEOs might give some thought to gathering all their industry associations to attend the ultimate summit on rebuilding this country’s business reputation once and for all.
- Subprime leadership, not subprime mortgages, brought down this economy. One way to restore leadership reputation would be to spend more time committing resources and time to the greater social good. Many companies now understand this and should be proud of their efforts to be good corporate citizens. Gergen mentioned how the graduating class of 2009′s Harvard MBAs developed an oath to create value ethically and sustainably. This idea appears to be gaining ground and other universities are committing to its principles. Maybe business leadership can be restored from the ground up.
- The death of Walter Cronkite was more than it appeared on the surface…it was the passing of an age. There is a growing viciousness on the blogosphere that is pervading our political culture and media outlets. Gergen mentioned that it is getting increasingly difficult to even know where to advertise due to the unpredicatability of various media environnments. I have to agree with him that this age of name-calling has grown worse under President Obama than it was under former President George W. Bush. And that is no easy feat. Media’s reputation is falling faster than business leaders’ because of the mean-spiritedness that we see all around.
- Civility has left the house. Gergen remarked that he heard President Obama mention recently that he had to figure out a way “to make civility interesting.” This is a very big idea that might take the heavens to turn around but would be well worth the try. Presidential thought leadership at its best.
The interview touched on many points that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about. How do we restore the reputation of business to benefit us all? How do we restore the reputation of media that seems to enjoy attacking people’s points of view? How do we build our reputation for resilience when we appear to be so intractable?
CEO turnover seems to be topical right now. Perhaps it is because quarterly CEO turnover results are being reported or because everyone is still interested in these captains of industry, despite the poor reputation of CEOs. In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed several articles about why no one at the top is playing musical chairs like they used to. Here is an article that I was recently quoted in on CEO turnover because of my keen interest in CEOs and what’s happening to their reputations.
Luckily I noticed an article on the last page (hard copy) of today’s WSJ “B” section on apparel CEO William McComb of Claiborne. Joann Lublin called him a “survivor chief executive” or what I might rename a survivor-in-chief. This nomenclature is presumably due to the fact that boards are not as trigger happy as they used to be because they cannot afford to rock the markets nor their stock prices anymore than they have been this past year. There are several other reasons why CEOs are remaining in their suites:
- Boards are abiding by the proverb: “Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t.” Familiarity does not always breed contempt. It may breed job security and comfort instead.
- CEOs themselves are less likely to be looking for new jobs because of the slim pickings and accompanying risk. There are no risk-free companies anymore.
- There are fewer mergers and acquisitions. In most M&As, one of the CEOs usually leaves for greener pastures or the golf course. Just being sarcastic. Most CEOs do not want to be seen on the golf course these days.
Everyone is sitting tight right now to weather the economic headwinds. My sense is that CEO turnover will heat up again once the economy stabilizes and boards are willing to take on more risk without angering investors and raising questions from the media.
I was a panelist at a thoroughly enjoyable event for NYU masters of communications students earlier this week. Joining the panel was Ray Jordan, corporate VP of public affairs and corporate communications at Johnson & Johnson. He began his presentation on the importance of reputation in this ever changing world and talking about how he was convinced that reputation is not a noun but a verb – something that is done. The three steps to reputating are to make sure people understand who you are, second to do the right thing and third get caught doing the right things. The ideas of getting caught at doing the right things is plain infectious!
At the Reputation Institute, their fine work focus on “reputable” companies and companies of ”repute.” I guess no matter what you call it, reputation is still all about building one’s good name for lasting advantage.