Posts Tagged ‘Communications’
Lessons on dealing with a crisis are always helpful, especially when your company’s reputation is in jeopardy. I found this list particularly worthwhile because it was written by Sallie Krawcheck, one of the most senior women on Wall Street. I heard her speak at a Forbes conference years ago and really enjoyed her tales of juggling work, family and husband. She was very down-to-earth, approachable and humble. She recently wrote on her LinkedIn page about the lessons she learned from leading through various crises and as she says, watching others make career-ending mistakes handling crises. Here is a brief synopsis of what she advises:
1. Be heroically available. I wholeheartedly agree with her that there are times when executives wish they could just close the door and wait until a crisis fades. We all also know that this strategy does not work and rarely happens. She mentions a colleague who hosted a call for Financial Advisors when investments had gone south and how he said he’d stay on the call until every last question was answered which lasted late into the evening.
2. Allow people to ask real questions, even if you don’t want to hear them. We have all been in meetings when no one wants to ask the hard question and most people just throw softballs. Leaders have to create an environment where the hard questions can be asked and there are no repercussions. Sometimes I advise a leader to ask the question himself, provide the answer and get on with it. Once the question is asked, others might have the courage to speak.
3. Frequency matters more than perfection. Krawcheck mentions how her management team had a call at the start and end of every day when the economy was tanking a few years ago. She says that some of the calls were not all that good and packed with answers but at least everyone knew they would be getting an update on a regular basis.
4. On your message: Repeat it, repeat it, repeat it. And do in different media. That is dear to my heart because those of us in public relations understand that to reach people who need certain information, you have to reach them where they are. And they are often not where you think they are. Some people read company emails, some ignore them. And as Krawcheck says, some people are readers and some are listeners. Some are in facilities where there is no easy access to electronic information. Make it easy to find out what needs to be known.
5. Bring in people who know more than you do or provide a different perspective. I found this one unusual since so many companies keep all their information and goings-on close to the vest. And rarely do they want to admit that they might not know something. She mentions how during the recent downturn, her company brought in some experts to bring a new voice into the conversation even if they were saying the same thing she was saying. This is good counsel.
6. Let them see you sweat, but don’t let them see you tremble. Another piece of good advice and a good way to end this post. It is okay to work super hard and show that you are not home for dinner with the family night after night when crisis is on your doorstep but make sure that your team does not see you scared. Being confident “goes a long way.” Yes indeed.
It has been an unusually warm couple of months here in New York. I can’t help but think that global warming is staring me right in the face. I often think of myself as a bear that hibernates when cold weather arrives. I often joke with my neighbors that they won’t see me until spring because I’ll be going into my bear cave for my “winter sleep” when the first chill arrives. So the past couple of months have been an anomaly as I have wandered out doors more often than usual on the weekends. Of course I have to go to work and do the ordinary errands that surround my life but given the choice, I stay inside. Maybe that is why I like to write about reputation because it gives me an excuse to sit in my little office cave that is closed off to the world.
All of this got me to thinking about how climate change gets communicated today when there is criticism about the science after controversies arose from the release of stolen emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. This happened a year or two ago. Undoubtedly this is the perfect case study for how an industry (climate change scientists) suffered reputational damage and now has to recover and restore reputational equity. Climate change skeptics were fairly adept at effectively persuading many in the general public to doubt the scientific validity of global warming.
I was glad to see an article in the New Scientist (sorry, you need a subscription) by Robert Ward (policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics) on how some of the reputation recovery methods that I recommend in my book might be applied to regain confidence and trust in climate science. He sees the situation right, “Even if the claims of misconduct and incompetence are eventually proven to be largely untrue, or confined to a few bad apples, mud sticks.” This is a truism — no matter how much science you have on your side, it is sometimes never enough when it comes to public opinion. Sometimes the facts just don’t matter as much as they should in a perfect world.
Ward is right that hope is not a solution to rebuilding reputation. Many CEOs used to think they could outlast controversy but in fact learn the hard way that it only extends the problem. ”Communicating tirelessly” — one of my recommendations — is the right path forward. ”No comment” does not work as it used to. Whether it is finding neutral partners or independent coalitions to bring additional voices into the discussion or actually training climate scientists to transparently talk about and defend the science — its certainties and uncertainties, communications will do more good than harm in this digital world.
An interesting analysis of temperature records appeared in an article in The Economist which speaks to the importance of bringing in a third, fourth or fifth party opinion to validate scientific findings. I read it on a plane to Europe in November but kept it because it made commonsense as an approach to understanding the climate change debate — is it getting warmer or not? Let me just add here that the topic of global warming is a lot more complicated than I will ever understand — gaps in readings, different criteria, different types of thermometers, urban settings where temperatures might be recorder higher, etc. But interestingly, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project stepped into the argument on climate change 18 months ago to test existing analyses. And they did so with the addition of skeptical scientists and funders as well as Nobel prize winners. As it is often said, let’s open the kimono and thus they did. And they found that the existing temperature records that the earth was warming was not far off the mark from what had been previously reported. A peer review is underway and I look forward to learning more about that when it is released. Next up, however, for climate scientists and institutions affiliated with climate change,would be communicating openly and collectively (and maybe relentlessly) to explain how the newest findings answer questions, raise new ones and guide us as to what we need to be doing Now not Later.
Took me a few days but finally found a chance to read a fascinating review in the Financial Times of the impact of the insider trading scandal at management consultant McKinsey & Company and its impact on their reputation. Andrew Hill did a fine job providing a historical review of McKinsey’s ups and downs over the many years of its storied existence and finding former partners and employees to offer their perspectives. As you already know from the trial of Raj Rajaratnam of Galleon Group, the hedge fund CEO is accused of insider trading using tips from former McKinsey partners’ Anil Kumar and Rajat Gupta, global managing partner who left after several terms in 2003. What intrigued me of course was how McKinsey was recovering from this reputation catastrophe and how it fit with the best practices in my book on reputation recovery. This is not just a bruise but a serious injury to McKinsey’s reputation. Here is what they did so far:
- Communicated regularly with employees and former employees
- Initiated an independent inquiry with the help of a law firm
- Improved processes over protecting confidential client information
- Reviewed its ethics policies and standards
- Redefined what constitutes ”material non-public informtion”
- Built a formal “stop-list” of client stocks that no McKinsey person can trade (not just those assigned to the account)
- Added new training procedures
- Strengthened governance
True to its highly analytical way of attacking corporate challenges (they work for 90 of the top 100 companies in the world, among others), they looked back at how they handled prior problems. Coincidentally, the article points out that they had been putting together a comprehensive internal history of the firm which luckily offered them insights on how they have historically dealt with challenges to their reputation and livelihood. The latter best practice is one I highly recommend to others. In my book, I talk about the importance of the Rewind period where companies study their mistakes to from the past to create a better future. Lord John Browne of BP did so after the refinery fire in Texas City and asked the question of how they did not see the pattern of errors that turned deadly sooner. Looking in the rearview mirror may take time that leaders do not think they have but critical warning signs are often present. Retromining is a critical piece of recovering reputation. As the new McKinsey global managing director, Dominic Barton, also did, he studied other thriving cultures that failed. As Barton said in the article, he had been “thinking what happened with the suppression of the Jesuits in the 1700s. This may seem strange, but [it was] an organisation that was thriving and doing well and all of a sudden was severely challenged.”
One of the reasons that reputation has become so complex has to do with the vast portfolio of stakeholders that companies are asked to engage with. Years ago, companies primarily worried about financial analysts and labor unions. Today the stakeholder audience is deep and wide, ranging from one to many. Some companies have to consider the entire general public and others only 25 people whose opinions and perceptions count. The question that often arises is what’s external engagement worth? For that reason, I like what I read in some research by Witold Henisz at Wharton, Sinziana Dorobantu, senior research fellow at Wharton, and Lite Nartey at University of South Carolina (“Spinning Gold: The Financial Returns to External Stakeholder Engagement”) As they said, external engagement pays. “The researchers’ goal was to figure out what role these stakeholder events played in companies’ efforts to maximize profits. The answer: a very large role.”
The researchers looked at 26 gold mines over a 15 year period and coded over 50,000 stakeholder events covered in the media. Stakeholder events included actions or expressions about cooperation or conflict with mine owners. As for stakeholders, they included just about everyone…”local and national politicians and community leaders to priests, war lords, paramilitary groups, NGOs and international bodies like the World Bank.” The researchers designed a stakeholder index that revealed the level of stakeholder cooperation or conflict. Communicating and building bridges with their stakeholders led to profitability according to the researchers’ anlaysis.
“We found in our research that the value of the relationship with politicians and community members is worth twice as much as the value of the gold that the 26 mines ostensibly control.”
Stakeholder engagement and cooperation helped companies deliver on budget and in a timely manner leading to competitive advantage and profitability. When cooperation was blocked, they found that mines were are open to delays, unrest and additional costs that led to closure or suspension.
“It used to be the case that the value of a gold mine was based on three variables; the amount of gold in the ground, the cost of extraction and the world price of gold,” he states. “Today, I can show you two mines identical on these three variables that differ in their valuation by an order of magnitude. Why? Because one has local support and the other doesn’t.”
This research can be applied to other industries and does a fine job of making the case for engagement and dialogue.
A reputation for cooperation and meeting stakeholders half way at least is critical. It is good to have data to back up the importance of minimizing conflict and its link to financial performance but I agree with the authors who say “it is not just corporate social responsibility, but enlightened self-interest.”
How much does charisma affect leadership reputation today? It seems to be an age old debate. Too much? Too little? Just about right? When we asked this question years ago in my research on how to build an enduring and long-lasting CEO reputation, we learned that it is was important – better to have than not have. Charismatic leadership is not what you say but how you say it. It’s not just what leaders communicate that makes them charismatic; it’s what they elicit from others. I think I read this somewhere and it stuck in my mind.
Among the new breed of CEOs today, a quieter charisma is now more important. It is not about CEO celebrity but building CEO credibility. Maybe we should call it “slow charisma.” Credibility or authenticity coupled with charisma can be electric. When you see it, you know it. However, it is not all there is to leadership. Leadership also includes sound judgment, ethical conduct, the ability to listen and serve others. Lets not kid ourselves.
The Economist just wrote an article about what we can learn from Lady Gaga and Mother Teresa about leadership. Apparently there is a lot to learn. The article infers that brilliant and flawless communications helps enormously, particularly with these two charismatic (in their own way) women. Here is an excerpt.
Mother Teresa was a “PR machine” who, whether talking to a dying leper or a rich donor, “always left her imprint by communicating in a language the other person understood”. Lady Gaga is “one of the first pop stars to have truly built her career through the internet and social media. Lady Gaga has what Messrs Anderson, Kupp and Reckhenrich call “leadership projection” and a layman would call charisma. The authors think this is because she tells “three universal stories”. First, a personal story: who am I? (She stresses that she was the weird kid at school, but driven to be creative.) Second, a group narrative: who are we? (She calls her fans “my little monsters” and herself “Mama Monster”, and she communicates with them constantly via Facebook and Twitter.) And third, a collective mission: where are we going? (She promotes gay rights and celebrates self-expression; she tells her fans that together they can change the world.)
Lady Gaga has the “ability to build emotional commitment” in those she leads, says Mr Reckhenrich. This ability is increasingly valuable in today’s business world, he believes. In “The Fine Art of Success”, a book he and his co-authors released last year, they examine it at length. They are now working with Egon Zehnder, an executive-recruitment firm, to figure out how to identify whether candidates for top corporate jobs have the ability to “project leadership” the way Lady Gaga does.
Charisma can be critical when a leader has to deliver an important message, whether the individual has it or not. I think former President George W. Bush demonstrated charisma when he faced the nation after 9-11, both on television from the oval office and when visiting the site of the World Trade Towers site in New York City. All eyes were on him and he delivered, as required. However, that charismatic leadership soon faded with the war in Iraq and debacle of Hurricane Katrina because the empathy, emotional connection and authenticity were AWOL. Former President Clinton has it in spades. President Obama has it and especially when he puts it to good use.
In this day and age, it is not enough for CEOs to bark orders or to manage the bottom line only. Being able to deliver meaning and purpose along with a dose of slow charisma and empathetic communications is required. It is a tall order, I know.
I attended the excellent Arthur Page Society conference late last week and took home some good ideas and insights into communications. The theme of the conference was “Cultivating Reputation in A Complex World.” Three different presentations got me thinking about context. Dick Parsons, former Chairman and CEO of Time Warner and current Chairman of the Board at Citigroup, was interviewed. Of course the discussion veered towards the whys and hows of the Great Recession. When the board was convening over the economic meltdown, Parson described how it became clear that everyone was learning about what was actually happening from the 24/7 news and social media coverage. Parsons mentioned that he would continuously hear “we read or we heard” from regulators who were reading the news like everyone else and talking to the same insiders, analysts, etc. The news coverage was providing the context as our economy and major institutions were trying to figure out what was actually happening and what was going to happen next.
The previous day, Anita Dunn, former White House communications director, described what the world looked like when she was gone from the White House. She said that reading the news on one’s blackberry eliminated all context to how people outside the White House were really seeing and absorbing the news. Capturing the news of the day on a small screen without learning what else was making headlines that day and what other stories were rising to the top led to extreme “tunnel vision.” Dunn said that she has since implored her communications collegues at the White House to make it their business to abandon blackberry myopia and get the full screen, the full view with all the context it deserves to listen and relay messages properly.
The third speaker that left me thinking about context was the global communications officer at Toyota. After he humbly and humanely described living through the Toyota recalls, he provided 10 Lessons Learned which I will share in my next post. The 10th lesson was not to take crisis personally and let it ruin your life. He described how easy it is to lose perspective or context and take each criticism to heart (literally). He told how he would have to tear himself away from the long days of anguish to attend a basketball game in order to get real — gain some context on his wider world and greater being in order to lower the pulse rate. It was a compelling example of reeling in that context to get through those sudden speed bumps of our lives and workplaces.
Reputation is all about context as well. Understanding where your company sits in the wider world of success and failure and ultimately who even cares.
My ears perked up when I read this sentence in a New York Times oped by Frank Rich today. The column was about how Obama could take some lessons from the late President Reagan. Rich wrote: “His White House spokesman, Larry Speakes, was only half-joking when he deflected critics with the old saw ‘if you tell the same story five times, it’s true.’” I think the same is true with the Internet today. If you search and see the same story online five times, it’s true. Of course, a rumor can be repeated in several places and now lives forever. I just wonder if the magic number online is five times, one time or ten times in terms of making something believable and unforgettable. Hard to know in this day and age. All I know is that it is harder than ever to get your message heard but if it is negative, you have a greater chance to be listened to.
My ears perked up a second time as well. I was thinking about how the horrific events in Tucson, Arizona are being discussed in terms of the growing incivility in this nation. As you know, a man killed six people, injured more and shot U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head. We conducted a survey last spring on the topic of civility in this nation. After reviewing the results then, I thought to myself that there was no turning back to the good old days. A vast sizeable 72% said that civility has worsened over the past few years. Although this killing rampage was not caused by out-of-control political rhetoric but by the hand of a disturbed individual , it does make one think about how divisive our public square has become. Let’s see if the heated dialogue we have become accustomed to simmers down for good or just a little bit.
If you have not read “Four Lessons in Adaptive Leadership” in the November Harvard Business Review, I highly recommend it. It was written by Michael Useem, professor of management and director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. There are many lessons to be learned from the article that are reminders on how leadership drives meaning and in turn, purposeful reputation.
One of his lessons is about creating a link with the people you oversee or work with. Building a positive company reputation is often as simple as thoughtful communications from the top. It may be just a glance, a handshake or asking someone what they are doing over the holidays. Useem wrote about an incident when the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff visited his business classroom that is a good reminder of how the most ordinary gesture can communicate the extraordinary moment:
It is 10 minutes before class time, and many of the 65 first-year students are taking their assigned seats in a tiered classroom. The general strides into the room—four stars on his epaulets and a half-dozen staffers and security agents close behind. He walks straight to the first row and introduces himself to the nearest student. He shakes hands, exchanges a few personal words, and then moves on to the next student.
Making a personal connection from the top can have a tremendous impact on company or employer reputation. It forges a connection that transcends the everyday rapid fire activity and isolation of working behind a computer that many experience.
Useem’s example has special resonance. When I wrote my first book, CEO Capital, I used many examples of how CEOs build reputation. I used an example of symbolic CEO leadership that I had heard about upon joining my former agency. I had been told that on our CEO’s first day at work at the agency, he (Chris Komisarjevsky) shook hands with every single employee starting in the mailroom and working his way up to the 13th floor where senior management sat. When people wanted to explain to me what kind of company I was joining, they always used this example as a demonstration of the kind of personal leadership that I would witness from the top. It certainly reminds me of Useem’s classroom example.
As the year ends, I wonder how CEOs can more effectively build workplace reputations through communications, both tangible and intangible. It is important to figure out what really counts and will make the difference in keeping your best employees and getting them to go that extra mile.
Interesting leadership tactic surfaced when I was reading the New Yorker article on James Dyson of Dyson fame. Dyson forbids the writing of memos at his administrative headquarters so that people have to talk to each other. Since it is an open office, sounds alot easier than the usual dispersed office infrastructure. But I thought that he might just have a good idea. Years ago I recall reading how IBM’s former CEO Lou Gerstner forbade internal memos when he found out early on how much time people spent on them instead of dealing with customers. He wisely regarded this as an early warning sign. It was just a small part of the things he changed early on in the giant’s turnaround. This practice resonated with me because earlier in my career I worked for a company where the internal memos and internal toasts made or broke careers. It was an art form unto itself and I learned to take it very seriously. When I went to another company, I was surprised how little it mattered as long as the message was clear and the writing grammatical. This also brings to mind a company where they took out all the elevators and made people walk the stairs so they would run into each other and interact. Not the best idea for skyscrapers but a good idea nevertheless. The fundamentals are always the bottom line in leadership.
Before I forget. As I travel to Weber Shandwick offices around the network in Europe, some things resound in my head. One constant is that I am always reminded how much I enjoy and respect the people I work with inside our network. As colleagues, they are immensely collegial, collaborative, client-first focused and committed. Reputations are built on these types of factors and it is good to be reminded how deep it goes. But returning to a few other things that caught my eye as I traveled last week and look ahead to this week…..
• My colleagues in Berlin told me that the day before I arrived, there had been a march protesting “work.” I found it fun to think about. Down with work! How would we pay our bills? I meant to follow up with this online but forgot because I had to work.
• In a taxi back to my hotel in Berlin, I saw a restaurant named White Trash Fast Food. Wonder what that was? I think it is a place for music, food and tattoos.
• In some research our parent company IPG did on New Realities among consumers, one of the findings was that people were not suffering from data overload. In fact, US citizens and our German brethren (in a separate study) by Respondi said that they were energized by being their own researchers and not frustrated, overwhelmed and inundated as people think they are. In fact, people felt smarter and in greater control over their choices than ever before. One of my colleagues in Germany mentioned that there was a big debate in his country about information overload and that the abundance of data was making us dumber not smarter. I think not.
• In Brussels, I learned that the head of NATO is a frequent Twitterer. I also learned that the EU’s broadcast service….EbS…Europe by Satellite, provided such good up-to-date information that journalists were losing their edge in being able to report on EU news. I was told that EBS was so good that it broadcasted negative as well as positive information about itself. What’s a journalist to do?
• One well-known and large Fortune 100 company communications professional told us how the company had established an “amplification” room, not a war room, to deal with two years of criticism in order to get their story properly told.
• Another company at our lunch in Brussels had recently won approval from management to develop a word of mouth program that would allow for the negative with the positive. He talked about how hard he had worked at getting it to happen and how a pilot was about to begin that would telegraph the program in consumer language, not corporate speak. He was reading a book titled The Conversation Manager. One victory at a time.
• Our Milan office organized a superb event with the American Chamber of Commerce, a well-known journalist, one of our Milan office’s leaders and the US Consul General who spoke about the rising “green economy” in the U.S. I was there to talk about The New Normality that I mentioned in my last posting. The US Consul spoke highly of President Obama’s efforts and I have to say it felt so good to hear some pro-Obama talk after weeks of backbiting at home.
• I ran into someone in a large department store off the beaten path in Milan who had been at the event with the American Chamber of Commerce. It was Saturday morning around 11AM. Could the world be smaller? He had just bought sunglasses.
• I made it to Amsterdam despite the volcanic ash debacle. It was a long day.
• The Economist wrote an article where they mentioned “headline risk.” Since I often write about reputation risk, I think this is an increasing factor in reputation recovery….reducing headline mentions. At what point does headline risk start to dissipate? And what has to happen? One course of action is a CEO apology or CEO dismissal. That’s been proven to work but not always the best solution.
More later on the rest of my trip. Will update you on Amsterdam, Paris, London and Madrid in due time.