Archive for January, 2010
Harvard Business Review’s January issue features an interview about charisma and social signals that people send. Research by MIT’s Alex Pentland who directs the MIT Human Dynamics Lab found that social signals or charisma can be measured and matters (better to have than not). He and fellow researchers found that it’s not what you say but how you say it. High energy and a positive point of view can drive success. “Honest signals” such as people’s gestures, expressions and tone change the receivers of those signals and change their behavior. “The more successful people are more energetic. They talk more, but they also listen more. They spend more face-to-face time with others. They pick up cues from others, draw people out, and get them to be more outgoing. It’s not just what they project that makes them charismatic; it’s what they elicit. The more of these energetic, positive people you put on a team, the better the team’s performance,” says Professor Pentland.
I am a big proponent of more face-to-face communications from CEOs and senior officers. To me, the best reputations are built that way. After all, aren’t we social creatures? In the HBR interview, a fact jumped out at me which business leaders should think twice about. The professor said that some of their research is showing that being face to face with colleagues is 2.5 times as important to success as additional access to information. In their research with call centers, they are finding a 10% increase in productivity by restructuring the environment to enhance more employee interaction. More positive or employee face to face and social interaction, listening and engagement delivers a higher return on investment. Although I am fairly “social” myself (have a blog, twitter and use email like crazy), I believe that the mix of face to face and electronic needs to find a better balance. CEOs really do need to walk the halls and send the right signals that show that they are listening to what’s on people’s minds. If I recall, there is a CEO who has “office hours” like teachers do. Not a bad idea.
Pentland ‘s research is not saying that charisma and energy alone can change company culture and performance. But he is saying that charisma and positive energy impact others, send positive signals that can charge up people and foster greater cooperation and collaboration. At least, that is how I read it.
As I wait to watch the President’s State of the Union address, I keep thinking about how presidents and CEOs face similar problems. They are both seen as miracle makers which we all know is impossible to live up to. People and employees expect them to succeed on all counts from day one when in fact, leadership is about steps forward and steps backward. It is a long journey of success and failure. The difference between presidents and CEOs and most of us is that they know that their jobs are mostly about handling the constant barrage of bad news. President Obama, like CEOs, gets all the blame when things go wrong (no jobs) and all the credit when things go right. Unlike CEOs, President Obama is facing some of the greatest challenges he has faced. The Obama festival is now looking like the blame game. CEOs are in better shape reputation-wise than the President because they are slowly climbing out of the economic hole. Growth is coming back and so are their reputations (a little at a time).
We are myopic when it comes to the President. I don’t think there has ever been a harder time to govern and lead a nation. The problems are overwhelming, the media splintered, citizens angry and the politics polarized. I am dying to survey Americans and ask how many are not watching their TVs or listening to the radio for news because it is so unpleasant and uncomfortable.
The President has done wonders for America’s reputation. Let’s see that as a positive. There’s fascinating research by Simon Anholt who estimates that the Obama brand has had a tremendous effect on how brand America is seen around the world. He estimates that premium from Obama on brand America to be $2.1 trillion. According to Anholt, “America is once again the most admired country in the world (having slipped to seventh place in 2008).” That’s a step in the right direction.
CEO visibility is a double edged sword. You can decline conference invitations, be selective about the ones you speak at or accept them all. For CEOs, external communications including conferences, interviews, industry events, seminars, etc. all carry some sort of risk . Today the audience can boo you via Twitter, blog poor reviews or erroneously extrapolate a sentence out of context and then accuse you of being a CEO celebrity (the worst offense ever these days). On the up side, CEOs can speak at conferences, network with others and get the company’s story told before a receptive and interested audience. In the many years that I have been advising CEOs and commenting on their behavior, I’ve always thought that speaking up and out is beneficial to employees, customers, the industry and the overall reputation of this select executive class (which needs mending). Today, more than ever, executive conferencing should be strategic, smart and as my friend Carol says, “advance the business.”
Weber Shandwick just released its new analysis on CEO and C-level participation at executive conferences. We compared the past year with 2007’s results on where All-Star CEOs (from Fortune World’s Most Admired Companies survey) took to the podium. Here are some of the key results. For more detail, check out the press release from our Voiceboxx team.
- CEO participation at top global forums increased 96% from 2007 among the top 50 world’s most admired companies. The increase in the 2009 CEO speaking circuit roster was most probably the result of more CEO speakers from the financial sector and more CEOs who saw their rivals on stage and decided to “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
- Other C-level executives (CMOs, CFOs, CIO/CTOs) increased their participation by 40% from 2007. The Five-Star Events at which All-Star CEOs have been the most likely to speak in 2009 were (in rank order): Clinton Global Initiative, Chief Executives’ Club of Boston, the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, the World Economic Forum, Fortune Brainstorm: Tech, Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) Board of Boards, and the Detroit Economic Club’s National Summit.
- Top events for other C-level executives included (in rank order): FT (Financial Times) Innovate, Fortune Brainstorm: Tech, Massachusetts Institute of Technology CFO Summit, Conference Board’s Marketing Conference and the Milken Institute’s Global Conference. For C-suite executives in good times and bad, innovation and technology are attractive platforms for companies to position themselves competitively, to listen to trends and to interact personally with customers and prospects.
Some insights from the analysis are:
- Despite this past year’s tough economy, heightened executive scrutiny and limited budgets, top level conferences continue to attract executives from the most respected organizations in the world. Businesses are clearly hungry for channels to network with customers and communicate their points of view. Our results highlight how many of the world’s most admired company leaders selected speaking platforms in 2009 to demonstrate leadership strength and competitive differentiation.
- For the most part, a fair number of the most admired company CEOs did not shy away from the spotlight but instead participated in conferences that required their insights and ideas in economic problem-solving, corporate responsibility and innovative business practices. This class of respected CEOs appeared to understand that speaking up was one way of being part of the solution rather than the problem derailing the world economy. Some of these leading CEOs clearly decided to participate in the reinvention of business and help drive renewed prosperity. This is a good thing and we expect no less.
The reputation of business is certainly in need of repair. CEOs probably even more. Here’s a start to helping show that they do serve a purpose. President Obama turned to chief executive officers for ideas on making the government more efficient and modern. At least the President and business leaders were seated at the table together and acknowledging that business has something to teach government in return. Nearly 50 CEOs were invited to the White House this past week to “brainstorm” how to better streamline technology to improve government infrastructure. CEOs were placed in break out groups to discuss ideas on making government more responsive and customer service oriented with the help of IT. The sessions were called Forums on Government Modernization.
The President says that government can’t do it alone. He said that while the public can make dinner reservations or buy movie tickets online, people can’t electronically set up appointments with the Social Security Administration.” The general public could surely tell the President that the technology revolution has not reached government. Anyone applying for a government document knows this well. CEOs came up with several ideas such as producing performance report cards to reach goals, instigating a crisis to get things started, changing the culture, creating a Manhattan Project group, etc.
As the president said:
To this day, there are still places in the federal government where reams of yellow files in manila envelopes are walked from desk to desk, or boxes of documents are shipped back and forth between offices because files aren’t yet online. Believe it or not, in our patent office — now, this is embarrassing — this is an institution responsible for protecting and promoting innovation — our patent office receives more than 80 percent of patent applications electronically, then manually prints them out, scans them, and enters them into an outdated case management system. This is one of the reasons why the average processing time for a patent is roughly three years. Imminently solvable; hasn’t been solved yet.
Business has its problems but not this bad! Business leaders have teachable experience getting organizations moving forward on difficult and culture changing initiatives and changes. CEOs have faced many of these challenges many times over and can lend a hand. The White House videotaped the discussions (here’s one of them) and it didn’t take three years to get them up on their site. Progress.
The sessions on tape should go a little ways towards demonstrating that CEOs do more than go to the bank. Every little bit helps to improve the reputation of business. I am all for that.
Some reputations rebound. Today’s New York Times describes how Starbucks’ reputation is bouncing back. One of the drivers of that recovery came from its CEO ceding control to employees. In Seattle, employees held brainstorms that surfaced ideas to turn the ailing company around once CEO Howard Schultz told them to just do it! — break the rules and figure it out for yourselves. You have permission. Schultz gave the okay but employees took it on. As the article says, founder Schultz was determined to give its coffee chain “ a dose of the urgency, nimbleness and risk-taking of a start-up company.” Employees took on the risk of failing and the hunger to win. Not easy to do in a tough economic environment like this. What happened? A new Starbucks-owned coffeehouse arose that doesn’t resemble the typical mass produced furniture Starbucks look. Instead it heralds back to the coffeehouses of yore with its own local flavor and style. I like the big communal table with sockets in the center. The coffeehouse described in the article is 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea and sells microbrew beers, espressos, cheese and baguettes. A turnaround takes more than baguettes but is clearly in the works.
Good to hear that Schultz is listening to employees and customers who are helping to oil the turnaround gears. As we know, turnarounds take some time so we’ll be hearing more as time goes by.
Seems that “connecting the dots” is the new adage for 2010. The reference has become popular since the failed Christmas bomber incident and the recognition that making connections between scattered dots can prevent surprises. I read an article by Stefan Stern in the Financial Times that reminded me of my earlier days as a chief knowledge officer. I was in charge of connecting the dots and encouraging colleagues around the globe to share knowledge and contribute to a database to do just that. Information is not enough however as President Obama pointed out post-Christmas bombing incident, “It was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.” That was always the challenge for us….getting people to see the patterns in the dots….knowing what you don’t know. Harvard Business School author and professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter was quoted in the article that only “relentless follow-up” helps and that leaders should reward and recognize “pattern recognizers.” Stern rightfully adds that all of this information must be passed on to be of any use. The challenge is to find who in the company has the reputation for being the most “in the know” and likely to spot these patterns and scream HELP. A network map of these “first responders” needs to be developed. Trendspotters fit that description if their skills were only turned inward.
For reputation crises, which I care about a lot, always occurs when the dots are not connected or worse, totally ignored. The dots are always there before a crisis or an issue strikes. Today the media likes to call them “red flags.” Take the financial meltdown. All of the warning signs were there but most financial sector officers, ratings agencies and government officials did not connect the dots and do something about the mounting problems before the economic tsunami hit us. Reputation meltdowns always have early warning signs. The challenge is reading the smoke signals. Stern concludes that we might be in better shape if industry did not retire or fire so many of those people with long corporate memories. Their insights and deep experience might provide the headlights that so many companies and organizations need to avert disaster.
I am starting to think that plain old face-to-face might make do the trick better than any database but that seems to be a lost art.
Looking forward to this conference in February on reputation building through executive communications. Take a look. I will be speaking as well. Looks good. Hope to see you there.
Fortune has an article in its latest issue on the newest CEO accessory – a chief of staff. Some of the CEOs with office consigliores are Tim Armstrong (CEO, AOL), Tom McInerney (COO, ING), Paul Amos II (president and COO, Aflac) and Susan Lyne (CEO, Gilt Groupe). These chief of staffs serve as part advisors, gatekeepers and mountain movers. They get the jobs done that CEOs don’t have the time to do but would like to do if only they had the time. For corporate types, this is a whole new way of operating and perhaps a hard one to imagine here in the US. They are more common in Europe I believe.
I first learned about chiefs of staff at my previous employer. The CEO at the time was a political type and he and our COO each had chief of staffs. These attractive women (probably more common at the time) had super tough jobs managing the ins and outs of their bosses’ days – research on who was visiting, writing letters to clients and prospects, follow-up documentation, reviewing presentations, and making sure that things happened on time and as planned. They sat in on meetings and were endlessly busy and stressed out beyond belief. The women, however, were startling good at their jobs and I have to say utterly impressive. A few years later, I met another chief of staff when a new CEO arrived and again, this individual (a woman) was a powerhouse working several blackberries at once, scheduling every minute of the day and night for her boss, drafting emails and memos, deliberating at meetings, reviewing proposals and just being the surrogate spokesperson for the CEO when he was unavailable. She was the ultimate gatekeeper and in many ways, people interacted with her most of the time. As the Fortune article points out, these people become their bosses’ alter egos, mouthpieces and decision-makers because they know exactly what their bosses would want. There have been times when I have wondered why more CEOs don’t have chief of staffs to make companies run more smoothly and make them look efficient. In fact, for new CEOs, an assigned chief of staff who knows the company inside and out might not be a bad thing.
I do think that despite chief of staffs’ abilities to help build their CEOs’ reputations as good leaders, employees in the U.S. might look askance at this function. Employee grumblings would go like this — “Hey, can’t you do your own job? I don’t have anyone helping me. ” and “Isn’t that why you get paid the big bucks?” and “Who does he or she think they are – President Obama?” So despite its many benefits, chiefs of staff could be a hard sell on these shores.
The holidays are over and work is back on my mind full-time. Actually it felt great getting back into the rhythm of work. Thankfully I work at a wonderfully-led, collaborative company. I do not take it for granted, believe me.
By the way, before I get going with this post, I should mention that I have an article on Huffington Post titled “Do Companies Care about Ordinary People?” You are welcome to read it.
Over the holiday, I saved some articles that are worth sharing as this new decade begins and 2010 is in its infancy. The first one in my pile is from the Economist. With all the doom and gloom about business greed and corporate no-no’s in the past decade, The Economist identifies several arguments in the defense of business’s reputation. Resetting the reputation of business seems to be an apt activity to start off this new year. For sure, business could use some reputation-building to replace the reputation-bashing we’ve all been witness too. Here are two to mull over:
1. Business “is a remarkable exercise in co-operation.” Businesses manage to get thousands, hundreds and tens of people working together to produce ideas and solutions to problems. The fact that people collaborate for the common good is pretty remarkable when you think of it. I work with my colleagues around the world all the time and some of us have never met. But we all come together to build the Weber Shandwick brand and help clients.
2. Business is “an exercise in creativity.” When business people put their heads together to solve a problem, we can invent the most amazing things such as “devices that can provide insulin to diabetics without painful injections” and One Laptop Per Child.
I might add one more.
3. Business is “an exercise in sense-making.” When I close my book ,CEO Capital, I have a plea for CEOs to infuse companies with meaning. I said and I repeat here, “…it remains a basic human need to be part of something larger than oneself. This essential yearning has not disappeared despite networked computers and the triumph of the Internet.” I urged CEOs to motivate employees and instill companies with a common purpose in the pursuit of worthwhile goals. As Max DePree, legendary leader of Herman Miller wrote, “Leaders owe a covenant to the corporation or institution, which is after all, a group of people. Leaders owe the organization a new reference point for what caring, purposeful, committed people can be in the institutional setting.”
With luck, committed leadership and an improving unemployment rate, business might be able to improve its reputation in 2010 (2011?). I am banking on it.
I have a strong affection for my book, CEO Capital: A Guide to Building CEO Reputation and Company Success. It was my first book and in many ways, very painful. I worked most weekends and vacations for two years and lost lots of sleep and cherished time with my family. Writing a book is a very humbling experience (an understatement). However, it is dear to my heart because it was a labor of love. I’ve always been fascinated by leadership and how those in charge “take charge” and build reputations on behalf of many. Yesterday, Paul Holmes wrote in his Holmes Report that CEO Capital was one of the best pr books of the decade. Below is what he wrote. CEO reputation (and my book) is not about CEO celebrity but CEO credibility. That is what I built the book is based on. This honor means a lot to me because I firmly believe that CEOs can make a tremendous difference if they add meaning to people’s lives and create value from the contributions that business can make to the world around us.
By Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross, now with Weber Shandwick, was B-M’s chief knowledge officer when she wrote CEO Capital: A Guide to Building CEO Reputation and Company Success, which built on the firm’s research and presented a roadmap for CEO’s who understand the increasing importance of both personal and institutional credibility. CEO reputation, Gaines-Ross said, is dependent upon three “C” factors—credibility, code of ethics, and communicating internally—and two “M” factors—attracting and retaining a quality management team and motivating and inspiring employees. The book built a formidable case that particularly in the post-Enron world, CEOs need to invest in their own reputations in order to build those of their organizations, a substantial addition to the literature of the profession, and a manifesto supported by compelling original research and informed by intelligent, sympathetic analysis. It was also a rare book about public relations that preaches not to the choir but to the choirmasters.