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.
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.
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.
You have to love him. Was just reading from Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit and came across Warren Buffett’s latest description on great reputations. He obviously has the insanity in Washington D.C. over the debt in mind.
A great reputation is like virginity – ‘it can be preserved but it can’t be restored.’ Once you default, it’s hard to go back.
When I travel to speak in different countries , I spend a good deal of time investigating the reputation of the country I am traveling to and any recent reputational problems they are experiencing. I always want to know what the biggest business scandal, best example of a reputation recovery and what were the most widely covered social media assaults on a business. I usually get asked to comment on these types of questions one way or another during a media interview or in a Q&A session and I like to be prepared.
On my last trip, I was all prepared to talk about Turkey’s issues with the protests in Gezi Park. But everywhere I turned, I was also asked what I thought about the reputation of the United States in light of the government shutdown? Did I think its reputation was being harmed? I have to say that I was somewhat startled by the question because I am always so focused on the country that I am visiting that I forget that it goes both ways. But this time, I realized without any doubt that the reputation of America was being seriously damaged abroad by the incivility and absurdity of the standoff. It felt awful.
This week, we saw something I have posted about before….how companies are increasingly becoming involved in political issues, sometimes against their own will. And this week we saw first hand another form of Starbucks Diplomacy. The CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, posted a note on his company website deploring the shutdown — “Please join me in pleading for civility and a respectful, honest discourse among politicians to bring a solution to the current stalemate.” And today, another note about Americans coming together for the collective good and signing a petition demanding that Congress put an end to the shutdown. Since I really want to get our reputation back on track, I’m all for this.
It has been a crazy few weeks — traveling to Berlin, San Francisco and Istanbul. But I am back in the USA. So here are a few observations about things I’ve read and learned that I wanted to share:
1. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu just issued a new report on reputation risk. Reputation risk was the top strategic risk among 300 global C-suite executives surveyed. The survey found 40% of respondents listed reputation as their top risk concern today, with their business model second at 32% and economic trends/competition third at 27%. In 2010, reputation risk was at 26% so we can see that it has moved to the very top of the C-suite agenda. Henry Ristuccia, global leader of governance, risk and compliance at Deloitte had this to say (love this quote): “Reputation risk is going to always be the meta of all risks…how you manage the underlying factors that could affect the organization’s reputation or brand…how resilient are the people, the culture?” The meta of all risks!
2. In Istanbul, I spoke about Reputation Warfare, the theme of my Harvard Business Review article. The occasion was the 2nd International Reputation Management Conference at Kadir Has University. It was very impressive because there are not many reputation management conferences in this world (Reputation Institute holds one annually) and here I was in Istanbul. Very forward-looking of the university. The summer protests in Turkey at Gezi Park was an interesting backdrop to my discussion on using social media as an opportunity to defend one’s reputation in addition to the risk. Additionally, there was discussion about how the protests had affected the reputation of the country. Tourism took a hit in July but from the looks of it, it was pretty healthy this week. I am going to keep a watch out for how Turkey repairs its reputation and what types of reputation recovery strategies are employed. All very interesting and doable. I also experienced some of the Turkish hospitality that they are so well-known for.
3. Just this past week, I read two articles on how Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are repairing their reputations. All in one week. Clearly this is a topic that has grown exponentially and particularly in the financial sector. The Economist article on Goldman Sachs was fascinating because it described the scenario setting that is being used to train vice presidents to better understand their responsibilities to the firm when faced with ambiguous and complex challenges to doing business today. The case study is preceded by a film that is described this way: “…an emotive documentary on the history of Goldman Sachs, filled with interviews of luminaries and former executives, each hammering home the virtues that supposedly make the firm distinctive—teamwork, personal accountability and the legendary exhortation by Gus Levy, a former leader of the firm, to be ‘long-term greedy’, by which he meant it should forgo short-term profits if they came at the expense of client relationships.” I mentioned in a previous post how Goldman Sachs is super-engaging in training which included their CEO from the start. In addition, incentives have been revampedd and tied more to collaboration and teamwork. The WSJ article on JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon focuses on how he is converying “business as usual” as he faces an imminent federal lawsuit, another revealing reputation recovery strategy. He has been touring midsize cities such as Cleveland, Oklahoma City and St. Louis meeting with local businesses and community leaders that are supported by JPMorgan’s philantrophy. According to the article, Dimon’s message are fine-tuned, upbeat and focused on the customer.
The Arthur Page Society just issued a new report on The CEO View: The Impact of Communications on Corporate Character in a 24X7 Digital World. The 20 interviews with global CEOs reveals many insights on the evolving role of the CCO (corporate communications officer) in companies today. What is special about this report is that it provides a view from the very top, from the CEO himself or herself. In a section on what’s expected from CCOs in this brave new always-on world, one of the findings caught my interest because of the reputation angle. They refer to it as ”High-Resolution Measurement.” The report states:
Today, CEOs expect their CCO to deliver an accurate, data driven picture of their company’s reputation at a level of detail that is often very granular. Some CEOs report measuring as many as 30 different brand attributes as experienced by as many as 15 discrete stakeholder groups. While the levelof detail and timeliness demanded by CEOs vary, the new emphasis for 2013 is the demand for hard data.
It sounds to me like CEOs want it all because they now understand that the single employee loner or the most vocal customer detractor or the regulatory body in another country or the evolving patient group launching a new website or the members of a NGO group can easily harm the company’s reputation within seconds and make the damage last days, weeks or months. Instead of just worrying about how reputation is faring among a set portfolio of key stakeholders, CEOs now expect CCOs to be on top of those peripheral stakeholders that can rise up and reap havoc. Hard data has the potential to answer many of these questions. I always say that managing reputation by anecdote does not tell the whole story (or even some of it).
There are many more insights worth discovering in the report. Give it a read to understand how the role of the CCO is changing and how vital that position is to the company, the CEO and to the reputation universe.
Love this quote from the Oxford Metrica/Aon 2012 Reputation Review and it applies not only to corporate communications but to CEO communications. A good CEO narrative can make all the difference to reputation:
“Communications that strengthen reputation are far more valuable than is recognised. We can make companies worth hundreds of millions more simply by making them better understood.”