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.
It is that time of the year. Last day of 2012 and the start of a new 2013. I posted an article to Huffington Post on what I see ahead by looking backward at reputation trends bubbling up and trends on the vast horizon. Here is the post if you want to settle into the new year with a clear lenses on reputation possibilities.
Wishing you a happy new year!
What spooks markets the most? If you closely follow crises, you probably think about how many different types of crises there are. For example, how do the markets react to a crisis that is due to the questionable behavior of the company or employees? What about product recalls? Or litigation? What about loss of customer data? All good questions to ask about reputational damage. International law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer decided to investigate how the markets react to different crises and how long the crisis lingers. This chart below is from their study:
Behavioral crises (company or employees acting questionably or illegally) have the greatest short-term impact on shares and the only type where the companies have the possibility of regaining their market share after six months. However, they spook the markets the most and can cause shares to crash by 50% or more on the day they become public, according to the researchers. Investors, however, forgive these types of crises more quickly than others.
Operational crises (when the company’s functioning is halted due to a major product recall or environmental disaster) have a modest impact in the first two days of the crisis breaking but the greatest long-term effect on share price…down almost 15% after six months. One quarter are still down one year later. These type of crises strike fear in companies and reputations are hit for the longest period of time.
Corporate crises (companies where the financial wellbeing is affected such as liquidity issues or material litigation) made up more than one quarter of companies experiencing a share drop on day one. Most often, these companies recovered quickly.
Informational crises (when companies IT such as system failures or hacking) were of moderate concern to the markets. They did not fall more than 3% on day one. According to the research, none saw shares fall more than 30% within a year of when the crisis struck. Possibly, investors figure these can be resolved and its everywhere today, not necessarily at the core of the company’s business.
As the research states, “Our research shows that directors typically benefit from a window of 24 to 48 hours, during which financial market reaction to news of a major reputational crisis will be relatively constrained.” In the public relations world, we often refer to the first hour after a crisis breaks as the “golden hour.” According to Freshfields, it sounds like there is an even longer” golden window.”
The natural question to raise is why does operational crises do the worst? Freshfields answers appropriately, “Crises that strike at a business’ core have a greater long-term impact on share price as markets are more likely to lose faith in a management team that cannot resolve a crisis that is intrinsic to its operations.” As Oxford Metrica’s research in 2012 for AON showed, management response is showcased for all to see when crisis strikes. The kind of CEO or executive response can make or break reputations and create reputation loss of great magnitude if done poorly. To prevent such reputation loss, prepare!
It is November and I remembered that the World’s Best Multinational Companies to Work For list must be out. I went to the Great Place to Work Institute and there it was. The list was released last week. I have to say that between Hurricane Sandy, the election and the Noreaster we had in New York, we lost two entire weeks to chaos. So I must have missed the awards announcement on November 12th.
To make it to this premier ranking is not easy. Companies have to meet the following criteria — chosen from 350 companies, appeared on at least five national Best Workplace lists, have at least 5,000 employees worldwide and have at least 40% of the workplace based outside the home country.
Some of the amazing facts about these companies are:
- On average, returning companies on the World’s Best Workplaces list increased their revenue by 9% this year.
- Over the past 12 months, these 25 companies created 120,000 new jobs globally.
- Furthermore, voluntary turnover at 15 of the 25 companies was at 8 percent per annum, compared with the all industry average in the United States of 9.1%, according to CompData Service.
- Country with the most companies on the list — Mexico.
- Average number of national list recognition awards — nine
- Percent of women in executive/senior positions — 27%
- Greatest improvement in Trust Index — work/life balance, professional development
- Region with the most companies on the list — Europe
- Most represented industry on list — Manufacturing and Production
The reputation of the companies on the list are all stellar. I am, however, trying to understand why the logo of this award uses a dinner plate. Or am I being too literal? Perhaps it is the dinner plate from a white-tie dinner. You think?
Thoughtful interview in strategy + business with the former CEO of Campbell Soup, Doug Conant. His internal focus on the Campbell culture was refreshing. He realized soon after joining and surveying employee engagement that one out of every three employees was looking for a job. As he said, nearly 6,000 of the 20,000 employees at Campbell’s were dissatisfied. He knew what needed to be done with results like that. Here are two quotes that illuminate his thinking: “I also knew that you can only win in the marketplace if you win in the workplace first.” Also, “You can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into. You have to behave your way out of it.” He is dead right. Employee satisfaction has to be taken seriously if a company wants to succeed and build the best reputation that it can. When I was recently in Brazil, the head communications person at one of the largest banks in all of Latin America told us that they strategically decided to put employees first in their line of stakeholders.
I also wholeheartedly agree with Conant that leadership has to own its behavior. Words are critical today, especially when you have employees all over the globe, but if actions do not match the words of leadership, your employees will be the first to know and tell others that this is a company that does not walk the talk. Interestingly, Conant instinctively knew that to get the front-line engagement he needed to turn the company around, he would need it from his top people. So he set his sights on getting them “wildly engaged” in the work.
Conant has written a book titled Touchpoints. The basic idea is that every contact is a chance to make that tangible, meaningful connection with others. It is about that quality interaction that can advance the business and enhance satisfaction. Conant talks about the 10 to 20 handwritten notes he sent out as CEO every day – 30,000 over a 10 year tenure. I know about those notes. I got one. They made the connection and to this day, I have not stopped talking about my shock receiving his handwritten thank you note for spending time with me discussing CEO reputation.
I have been traveling in Brazil and Peru for business to talk about reputation. It was a terrific visit because I confirmed once again that reputation is on the agendas of most companies wherever they may be. One of the challenges I heard several times on my visit was how non-U.S. companies do not have to deal with government relations as much as LatAm companies do. This challenge to reputation-building came up as well in several media interviews I did prior to my trip. Each time it came up, I had to chuckle. The truth is that government involvement and regulations in US markets also feel very real and intrusive. I always talk about how government used to be an “invisible hand” but today plays a decidedly “visible hand” in business affairs. For many companies, it is literally like a new line of business. In fact, I have been asked several times nowadays how government affairs departments are being restructured to more effectively manage upcoming policy and government regulations.
I was in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for two seminars on reputation management. In our research on corporate reputation, 91% of executives in Brazil told us that they were increasing their efforts at reputation building. Much of the discussions in the Q&A period in addition to government intervention centered around culture, B2B reputation-building and dealing with social media threats. In one market, we also discussed social CEOs, a favorite new topic of mine. Apparently there are fewer socialized CEOs in LatAm than in the U.S. due to security issues I was told. I found that illuminating.
When I was in Lima this week at an evening reception, I had a discussion with two businessmen who told me how optimistic they were about business growth in Peru. They were noticeably ebullient. Considering their past history, they said they had never seen so many doors opening to them. There seemed to be no ceiling on their optimism about the future. Refreshing.
As always when I travel, I catch up on magazines because I find myself on planes. I caught an article in The Economist that ties into this post’s train of thought. One line particularly stood out…”…place matters more than ever in a globalized world.” The writer was making the point that in a global world where everything has become so homogenized (like “a universal airport lounge”), people crave a sense of place and the more distinctive, the better. While I was in Brazil and Peru, it felt like there was a definite pride in their “place “for being different than the U.S. and other regions and for the boundless opportunities ahead. That could only be a good thing for sparking innovation, building top flight reputations and surprising the global competition.
You have probably read enough about our survey The Company behind the Brand: In Reputation We Trust. The first segment of the study, released in early 2012, reported on the growing interdependence of product brand and corporate reputation. The findings alerted marketing and communications executives to a tectonic shift in communicating the voice of the “enterprise” to key stakeholders. The survey, conducted with KRC Research, was among nearly 2,000 consumers and executives in two developed markets (U.S. and U.K.) and two developing markets (China and Brazil). The second release focused on CEOs and their role in reputation-building from the viewpoint of consumers and executives. This third release, just issued today, explores how executives in companies that market their products under multiple brand names differ from those companies who market mostly under one single brand name in their approach to building reputation. It addresses why it may be critical for product brands to be transparent about their ownership, even in cases where a company has made thoughtful and strategic decisions to lessen the exposure of the corporate brand.
We learned that 75% of executives at companies that manage products under multiple brand names now believe that a strong parent brand reputation is as important as the company’s individual product brands. As I was quoted in today’s release and executive summary: “Historically, multi-brand organizations more extensively marketed their product brands over their corporate brands, but their future success might entail determining how to bring the corporate brand forward to realize the full potential of all their reputational assets.”
I always get asked what surprised me. First, despite the advantage of leveraging the parent brand to enhance the reputation of the product brands, the survey found that many multi-brand executives aren’t fully embracing consumers’ increased scrutiny of the company behind the products they buy. While more than eight in 10 single-brand executives recognize that consumers are increasingly checking labels and doing research to identify the company behind the brand, significantly fewer multi-brand executives recognize how proactive and discerning consumers are about what they buy.
|Percent completely/mostly agree…||
|More and more, consumers are checking labels to see what company is behind the product they are buying||
|More and more, consumers are doing research to learn about the companies that make the products they buy||
* indicates the group is significantly higher
The second surprise was that despite the fact that multi-brand executives say they are promoting company reputation as much as product reputation (81 percent and 80 percent, respectively), they fall short in communicating some key drivers of company reputation compared to their single-brand counterparts, particularly how employees are treated. There was a particularly large gap between single- and multi-brand companies when it comes to communicating about their workplace (73 percent vs. 52 percent, respectively). Companies that are proud of their records for employee satisfaction should not be reluctant to communicate these qualities and tout their awards or placement on ‘best of’ lists. These credentials help drive the overall reputation of a company, regardless of how many brands it markets, and possibly influence purchasing behavior.
Take a look at the summary for greater detail. When I was talking to PRWeek about the findings, they said they were surprised how little information was available on this topic. We agree. When we did the background research on the increasing indivisibility of the corporate and brand reputation today, we were floored by how little had been done and how companies had been relying on “this is how we’ve done it” thinking. We hope that we at Weber Shandwick are filling in some critical gaps on this dimension of corporate vs. brand reputation in a no-secrets-consumer-is-in-the-driver’s-seat Internet world.
Hard fact of the day: “The percentage of engaged employees in world class organizations is double that of average organizations. In the U.S. alone, Gallup estimates that the cost of disengaged employees in lost productivity is $370 billion per year.”
To move the reputation needle, engage your employees.
Just finished reading the new IBM CEO survey, Leading Through Connections. There is alot of great information about how CEOs see the world, particularly the new workforce. Instead of the usual command and control state of affairs, CEOs now realize that they will be building their company reputations on their employee intelligence networks and shared values. As the report says about CEOs, “they are arming the people who represent their brands to the world.” Without knowing what the values, mission and purpose of an organization is, there is little hope that reputations can be steadied and differentiated in the present sea of information chaos and overload. ”For organizations to operate effectively in this environment, employees must internalize and embody the organization’s values and mission.” Companies with the best reputations will have employees who help build and safeguard their companies reputation every minute of every day because they understand what the company stands for. They will guard their company reputation as their own because they will implicitly understand the character of the organization. It is now the CEO’s job to arm them with the tools to understand how best to represent their brands no matter where they are or what time zone they are in. Shared beliefs, up and down the ladder, will create winning cultures and winning companies.
The survey touched a teeny bit on CEOs and social media. Here is what they said. “Though CEOs frequently mentioned dipping their toes into social media waters, few claim to be personally immersed. This arms-length involvement puts CEOs in a precarious position.They are making critical judgements about a disruptive technology without much firsthand knowledge.” A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with a corp communications officer for a major global companywho told me that he knew little about social media and depended totally on a younger guy in his department to handle it. The time is ripe now for CEOs and other company officers to take the leap forward and get to understand social media more deeply. That’s where the future is headed and headed at light-speed. In fact, in the survey, the most startling stat for me was how social media was the least utilized customer interaction method today. Yet, CEOs predict that in three to five years, social media will become one of the top two ways to engage customers. They expect a 256% increase in usage! The number one way to engage in the future was face to face and sales interactions, as it is now. But social media is going to ramp up quickly as the best way to engage with customers and CEOs know it. They just have to get their companies in gear for 2015 when social media reaches its full potential. Unfortunately, the study shows that traditional media will lose out (CEOs predict a 61% decrease in three to five years) as social media gains acceptance.
(The IBM study talks about “future-proof” employees. I borrowed it here for my title. I like the phrase! Also really like the infographic. )
Just read this article in Forbes about Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ number one leadership secret. I’ve followed him for years and enjoy reading about how Amazon has grown from a bookseller to an everything store online. I had already been thinking about about the importance of employees and customers for new CEOs when I read that Bezos’ number one leadership secret is that the customer is always right. There is this example described in the article that when Bezos calls meetings, he leaves an empty seat at the conference table for what he calls the customer’s seat. A potent reminder to bring the customer’s point of view to the table. The article hints at the fact that Bezos has built his hugely successful business bent on “coddling his 164 million customers, not his 56,000 employees.” This has me wondering that in this age of the Internet and social media galore, if customers are now more important than employees, maybe because of sheer size? The pendulum seems to be swinging again anyway. It used to be that all business activities were primarily all about customers, then all about employees and now… it’s all about equal parts’ employees and customers but with customers gaining the upper hand again. The Internet has created a sense of urgency about how satisfied your customers are. Probably because they spread word of mouth more quickly and seem to have more power than employees. They can advocate or criticize your business approach or customer service online for all to see. They have more power because they have so many choices from which to buy from. The answer for new CEOs, however, appears to be focusing on employees with a healthy dose of understanding what your customers want and quickly scaling to reach them online to confirm what employees are telling you. Something to think about over the next few weeks. Whose more important — employees or customers for new CEOs and CEOs who’ve been in office for some time?