Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, said the company’s next chief executive officer will bolster the company’s reputation as a source of stability in times of crisis. Talk about a shot of credibility if your company is in crisis or in doubt. He was referring to his infusion of funds into leading financial institutions when their stocks were slipping during the Great Recession.
At the company’s annual meeting in Nebraska, Buffet said the following:
“Berkshire is the 800-number when there’s really sort of panic in markets.”
I know I should get out of the house (the sun is shining) but I was so excited to read in the Wall Street Journal about a reputation committee being formed at Goldman Sachs. The lead director James Schiro is heading this effort as the lead director on the board and is apparenlty VERY focused on reputation, according to his first letter to shareholders. Reason I am excited? Because I am a chief reputation strategist, I am always looking for trends and firmly believe that reputation committees are going to being popping up in more Fortune 500 companies than in years past. For a speech I gave before women-directors-to-be a few weeks ago, I mentioned two companies who had reputation committees but that was all I could easily find in a quick search. Board attention to reputation is long overdue. Reputation is a form of wealth, a type of equity that you get to dip into when your company is in trouble or facing issues. You need a good stockpile to weather the everyday assaults most companies are facing day in and day out. It is heartening to see reputation recognized for the worth it is. Here are a few quotes I pulled from the WSJ article that give me hope.
“He [Schiro] said the board clarified the duties of its governance committee to manage Goldman’s relationships with the outside, guard its reputation and review philanthropic and educational initiatives.”
“We continue to be very focused on the reputation of the firm,” Mr. Schiro said in his letter. A “public responsibilities” subcommittee of the board’s governance committee was formed to focus on reputation, chaired by William George, he said.”
I was eager to read JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s Letter to Shareholders this year. Considering the London Whale episode of the past year, I thought his Letter would be revealing. He clearly did not skirt the issue. I cut and paste some quotes below which are direct, apologetic and conciliatory. Also, I used the picture from the Letter to Shareholders here because it was surprising in that it almost looked like a man running for office but mostly because it is something that we advise clients which is to make better use of photos of their CEOs and execs with people (preferably employees) and not alone in some corner office isolated and solitary. You can’t know what is going on in your company by spending too much time in the office. It derails CEOs all the time.
What I like was how he presented his lessons learned for his reputation recovery plan. They are bulleted below as follows and include a favorite piece of advice of mine — problems don’t age well:
- Fight Complaceny
- Overcome conflict avoidance
- Risk Management 101: Controls must match risk
- Trust and verify
- Problems don’t age well
- Continue to share what you know when you know it
- Mistakes have consequences
- Never lose sight of the main mission: serving clients
On Responsibility: “I also want our shareholders to know that I take personal responsibility for what happened. I deeply apologize to you, our shareholders, and to others, including our regulators, who were affected by this mistake.”
On Complacency: “Complacency sets in when you start assuming that tomorrow will look more or less like today – and when you stop looking at yourself and your colleagues with a tough, honest, critical eye. Avoiding complacency means inviting others to question your logic and decisions in a disciplined way. Even when – and especially when – things have been going well for a long time, rigorous reviews must always take place.”
On the Aftermath: “There are a few things, however, that occurred this past year that we are not proud of. The “London Whale” episode not only cost us money — it was extremely embarrassing, opened us up to severe criticism, damaged our reputation and resulted in litigation and investigations that are still ongoing.”
On Reputation Committees: “That’s why we have a risk committee framework within the firm with extremely detailed reporting and many other checks and balances (like reputation committees, underwriting committees and others) to make sure we have a disciplined process in place to question our own thinking so we can spot mistakes before they do real damage.”
On my travels, I met with the CEO of Ocean Park (disclosure: a client) in Hong Kong. Ocean Park is a theme park that promises to connect people with nature and provide memorable experiences for all. Although I had several memorable experiences seeing my first Panda and getting a personal behind the scenes tour of how Pandas are taken care of, I also had an unplanned memorable experience that had simply to do with people. After my presentation on Social CEOs to the executive team, Ocean Park’s CEO Tom Merhrmann joined us outside as we started our tour. Tom is a very social CEO as you can see in his discussion of the Halloween bash with Marketing Magazine or impersonating Elvis, let alone his presence on Facebook and LinkedIn.
When we were outside the meeting room, we quickly ran into two Ocean Park visitors who were enjoying the park. Within seconds, I saw Tom offering to take their picture with one of the girl’s cameras. I had no doubt that the visitors had no idea who he was but were only glad to have their picture taken together to create their own memories of the day. It was nice to see that how observant he was of his customers’ concerns. A few seconds later, I turned around to see him picking up some litter that had fallen to the ground. Between watching a CEO connecting with customers and picking up a speck of garbage to keep a park pristine as it could be, he reminded me that being socially-media savvy is just one element of leadership.
As I mentioned, I am traveling in Asia to talk about social CEOs and generally spread the good word about our thought leadership and Weber Shandwick. It is so terribly interesting to present our research and learn what people have to say and listen to the kinds of questions they ask. Today in Shanghai someone asked me what type of emotional commitment a CEO has to make to become a social CEO. What a great question! It definitely takes an emotional commitment. Not only does a CEO have to commit time and resources but there is a genuine personal commitment as that goes hand in hand with being social. You are putting yourself on the line as well as your ego. It also takes courage. In our new upcoming research which we have not released yet, executives are quite aware that being a social CEO takes courage. It is not for the faint-hearted. However, one CEO reminded me that the CEO job is all about risk anyhow. True.
In addition, at a presentation yesterday in Beijing, someone mentioned that even if you cannot get your CEO to be social (meaning using social media in some shape or form), CEOs need to commit to “the intrinsic value of sociability.” He rightly said that sociability (whether online or not) should not be ignored in this business environment. It can make a significant difference. Smart advice.
As you already know, I am keenly interested in how CEOs manage their tenures. In my book on CEO reputation, I referred to the various stages of a CEO’s tenure as the seasons of a CEO. When I wrote it several years ago, it started with the Countdown period (pre-announcement), the first 100 days, the first year, the middle years and ends with the last 100 hours and legacy-setting. Since then, I have continued to follow CEOs closely but have been particularly fascinated by how CEOs can use social platforms to build their companies’ reputations and to some extent, their own. That is what I explained in this new article on CEOs getting social in their early tenure. (See also Weber Shandwick’s Socializing Your CEO II)
Surprising to me, despite billions of people communicating and socializing online, little has changed in experts’ advice to CEOs or other executives on how to navigate their early tenure by taking advantage of social tools. In three separate research investigations on how CEOs spend their time by Harvard Business School, the European University Institute and the London School of Economics, and Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti, the words “social” or “digital” did not appear once in the nearly 30,000 words written. Management consultants’ white papers on CEO transitions reveal little attention to how to effectively use social platforms. I have about 15 articles with smart advice on CEO successions and transitions that I send to new CEOs and not one mentions using social media. Further still, an online search of the most relevant 30 hits for “how CEOs should use social media in their first 100 days” does not retrieve a concise blueprint whatsoever. Instead, the mentions consist of lists of Twittering CEOs, reasons why CEOs don’t use social media, events and primers for getting into the social game, articles written by CEOs of digital agencies, and do’s and don’ts for CEOs who use social media.
Social media should be incorporated into new CEOs’ early playbooks. Whether CEOs are communicating, engaging in two-way conversation or simply listening in, social media platforms should be gradually adopted. As technology increasingly permeates all aspects of business and society, CEOs cannot afford to be out of touch with their cultures, how their products or services are being received and what their competitors are up to. Moreover, as the next generation of technology-literate CEOs start taking office as 77 million baby boomers leave the stage, being socially-literate will become the norm, not the exception.
For these reasons and because all these management consultants seemed to be overlooking social media as a leadership tool in their early CEO days, I wrote this article titled Get Social: A Mandate for New CEOs. It just appeared this week on MIT Sloan Management Review’s nicely redesigned Social Business site. Please take a look if you are a new CEO and getting the social bug! Or if you are advising CEOs to jump on the social bandwagon even a little. I firmly and proudly believe that this might be the first (or among the very first) articles on how and why CEOs should be social citizens at the start of their tenures and not wait til their seasons come to an end. There are some great examples from CEOs and presidents of companies such as Aetna, Etsy, GM, MassMutual, Best Buy and BAE.
Boston Consulting Group issued a new report about debunking the myths of the first 100 days. It is worth reading if you are a new CEO. Several facts are worth sharing here however and I already dropped some into my presentation on steps CEOs should take in their First 100 Days. Since I wrote a book on the various stages of CEO tenure and how CEOs build reputation from day one to the very last hour, I try to update it as often as I can to keep up. CEOs have to keep up too because their first 100 days provides them with less time than ever before to get it right.
In one sidebar, the article describes how the CEO job has changed due to the growing complexity facing the modern day CEO. BSG found that organizational complicatedness (their word) has risen by a factor of 35 compared to 1955 (when the Fortune 500 was first created!). Many of these changes we already feel but BCG attaches facts and figures to these changes which are good to have.
Far more complex world for CEOs
• Number of performance requirements is 6X more than in 1955. Then, CEOs were measured against 4 to 7 KPIs vs. the typical 25 to 40 KPIs now.
Far more scrutiny for CEOs
• Many more stakeholders are now watching every step that new CEOs take These include activist shareholders, board members, regulators, lobbyists, online pundits, NGOs, consumers, media.
Far more dispirited workforce
• New CEOs are starting when falling employee engagement levels have dropped as much as 14%.
• Among U.S. employees, job satisfaction plummeted about 60% in 1990 to less than 43% in 2010.
I truly believe that the disengagement of the workforce is one of the biggest challenges facing CEOs. And what CEOs do in those first 100 days can make or break their tenure’s success. This is why I believe it is time for new CEOs to get a bit more social, like online!~
Reputation mandate. The new CEO of Barclays made it clear to employees at the beginning of the year what it would now take to repair the bank’s reputation and equally clear about what they did not want. The new CEO pointedly said in his memo to 140,000 employees that things were going to be different now and employees should know that…”The rules have changed. You won’t feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won’t feel comfortable with you as colleagues.” Anthony Jenkins took over from CEO Robert Diamond who resigned when news broke out about Libor manipulation or rate-rigging.
Jenkins believes that the prior regime put short-term profits ahead of values. Now that he was in charge, people have to commit to their reputation restoration program or hand in their IDs. Their program is called the TRANSFORM program and is based on living their values to restore Barclay’s reputation, not just to restore their bottom line. As part of their rebuild, all employees viewed a film of the bank’s history (“Made by Barclays”). Their new values and purpose, developed by their senior leadership group and Executive Committee along with many others, were also unveiled. Their Purpose is to help people achieve their ambitions “in the right way.” Their five values are Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence and Stewardship. As this new program rolls out, people will be measured and rewarded according to these values. Sounds good. Ambitious. Doable. Will be watching.
How much do I love this quote….A lot. It was in an article on Davos. Amen.
“If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know. He listens: not only to the other bigwigs in Davos, but also to the kind of people who don’t get invited, such as his customers.”
A former colleague sent me an engaging article from Gawker about CEOs and hubris. The first half of the article was actually about powerful CEOs sock exposure when their legs were crossed on stage. But the article hit the nail on the head when it comes to CEOs. “A Wall Street CEO primarily serves as the human embodiment of the firm—the competent, reassuring face that the many-tentacled monster projects to the world. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb once said, ‘A C.E.O.’s incentive is not to learn, because he’s not paid on real value. He’s paid on cosmetic value.’ This is not to say that these wildly successful men are dumb; it is simply to say that their job is not about muddling in the details, or tinkering with the gears of the machine. The CEO’s job, in public, is to frame the perception of what his company does, to cast the company’s activities in the proper terms, so that it sits in the public’s mind in an acceptable way.”
I thought that this quote and the part that I bolded sums up well the role of the public CEO — positioning the reputation of the company to its many publics in the most effective way. Of course, I could go on about how important the narrative is and how it should be distributed to maximum effect. But it does go to the central core of the CEO’s external job today. Internally, the CEO’s job is vastly different — modeling the values of the company, inspiring and motivating employees, building a top team, and communicating its mission and purpose. Creating meaning for the workforce and making sense of it all. A massive job.