I have heard of an apology tour but not a contrition tour to repair reputation. While reading about the travails of JPMorgan which seem to be finally ending after a long period of fines and flashpoints, the article spoke of how the CEO, Jamie Dimon, had “embarked on a tour of contrition that featured Mr. Dimon holding town-hall-style meetings with regulators.” I can’t imagine anything more uncomfortable but teachable. This penance brought to mind a post I had just read by Jeff Stibel on LinkedIn about his company’s failure wall, a great successes he says. One of his lessons about the failure wall that they instituted at his company where people write down how they have failed for all to see is that over time the failure fades. This lesson came to life because the Sharpie-written failure they post fades over time. Stibel wrote: “This physical property of the Failure Wall mimics how failure works in the mind: as long as you acknowledge failure, it slips away both in your own memory and in the memories of those around you. Unacknowledged, it tends to fester. Getting it out is the only way to go.” Contrition tours and failure walls probably lead to the same endpoint — showing vulnerability and learning to learn from it. Reputation repentance.
I wanted to mention this terrific conference I went to last week. It was hosted by PRWeek and featured a stimulating array of speakers. Suzie Welch, author and journalist, spoke about how hard it is for companies to get themselves into the “conversation.” She was thinking back to her days as editor of Harvard Business Review and the many times CCOs would call with what they thought was an explosive idea: “If you’re coming in, trying to be a thought or idea leader, and you don’t have the results to back it up, you’re just beating against the wind. And it backfires later, because when you actually have something to talk about, you already have the stink on you from having tried to sell yourself too soon.” PRWeek has more on her talk.
She mentioned that timing matters, having something uniquely new (Amazon’s drone shipments), knowing how to exit the conversation if in crisis, authenticity and “likeability.” Suzie was incredibly likeable herself and appeared very approachable and “real.” Seems odd that she is so accomplished but goes by what I presume is her grade-school name, Suzie. When it comes to thought leadership, she also reminded the crowd of mostly senior pr professionals how critical it was to have the courage to tell your CEO when their breakthrough idea might just not be ready for prime time. After all, as Suzie said, there are very few new ideas in the business today. I think we’d all agree. Of course, she brought up the topic of CEO celebrity. She was right in saying that no CEO starts out saying they want to be a CEO celebrity. It just happens because everyone wants to know about them. Richard Branson was mentioned as a good example of an individual who became a celeb CEO in service of his brand, Virgin.
Dan Roth, executive editor of LinkedIn, gave some fascinating examples on how CEOs were posting on LinkedIn’s influential Influencer Program and how they eventually find their authentic, human voice after some false starts. He used Prime Minister David Cameron as an example of a leader who over time went from third person to first person in his posts. Roth also mentioned how some CEOs were big on asking for feedback when they submitted their posts. His comment reminded me of a CEO who continually asks anyone within earshot how his company was doing in the marketplace. What was the word on the street? It was a terrific signal that he was interested in hearing as much as talking. Roth ended his talk with some fine advice about the Influencer program — CEOs should realize that they “are not creating content, they are creating conversation.” We all sometimes focus too much on content and getting our corporate message across and not enough on establishing arelationship or demonstrating how human we might actually be.
Although everyone uses the word “authentic” today, I have to make a case for “likeability,” to use Suzie Welch’s word. For most companies and leaders, working on likeability would go a long way in making their companies great places to work. It’s a good word for reputation-building.
Always good practice to learn from crises or disasters. If they have to happen and tragedy occurs, at least we can try to apply lessons from them going forward. Crises, disasters or issues are sure to come to companies or organizations at one time or another. No one is immune — every company faces their 15 minutes of shame, not just their 15 minutes of fame.
The derailment of Metro-North Railroad in the Bronx one week ago today that killed four people and injured many is rightfully capturing a lot of attention on how to make trains safer.
I was reading this article about the derailment on my subway trip home Friday night and at its close, I came across this important best practice. “The railroad administration instructed the authority to adopt a confidential system to report ‘close call’ incidents.” Many companies could do a better job of understanding their close calls. Close calls are similar to “near misses” which are defined this way according to the National Safety Council:
A Near Miss is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage – but had the potential to do so. Only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented an injury, fatality or damage; in other words, a miss that was nonetheless very near.
A faulty process or management system invariably is the root cause for the increased risk that leads to the near miss and should be the focus of improvement. Other familiar terms for these events are a “close call,” a “narrow escape,” or in the case of moving objects, “near collision” or a “near hit.”
If companies could include “close call” discussions on their internal monthly or quarterly calls, they’d be in far better shape to deal with disasters that do arise. Management could do better by discussing how they might handle near misses, how to make sure they do not happen, who else should be included in the discussion to prevent them and how to prepare should they actually happen. It could be an informal or formal hearing or process. A more formal best practice is sponsored by the American College of Physicians and the New York Chapter of the American College of Physicians — The Near Miss Registry. The online registry collects medical near misses before they actually occur with patients. The registry allows healthcare workers to voluntarily report medical “near miss” events” using a web based tool located at www.nearmiss.org and hosted by NYACP.
Unfortunately the tendency is to bury the near misses in the hopes that they do not reach top management. However, that’s exactly the point. If top management does not know how close a call they missed, they won’t be able to prevent them.
I think it is a good step that Metro-North is adopting this process.
How do women build reputations that get them to the top? What’s the secret sauce or what’s the recipe for getting there? (Enjoyed using those cooking metaphors). On a near annual basis, we investigate top conferences for CEOs and other senior executives. For this year’s study, the firm examined speaking engagements, board memberships and honors of the most powerful women in business, based on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women (MPW) U.S. list.
One of the ways to get to be a successful businessperson in the U.S. is by proactively connecting with external audiences. We are finding that speaking engagements are increasingly important and we are not the only ones who have noticed. If you read this article that appeared on the booming conference business, you will agree that the podium is the new LIVE MEDIA channel.
In our research and as you can see in this infographic, we found that the majority of women (72%) on the list spoke at one or more conferences in 2012, and, on average, had 2.1 speaking engagements during the year. The leading speaking forums in 2012 for these most powerful women included Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit*, The Wall Street Journal’s Women in the Economy, MIT Sloan Women in Management, Catalyst Awards Dinner, Fortune Brainstorm TECH and the World Economic Forum in Davos. A categorization of all of the conferences found that, by far, these women spoke at more industry-focused events than other event types. (*Not every woman who makes Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business list has a speaking role at its annual conference.)
Weber Shandwick’s research also shows that these executives are being acknowledged for their roles as leaders. On average, these female business leaders sat on 2.6 boards, the most prevalent type being industry/professional. Six in 10 women received an award or a place on a rankings or “best of” list. Of the honors bestowed upon the most powerful women in business, most (72 percent) were rankings compared to awards.
My colleague and friend Carol Ballock who runs our conference business had this to say: “Conferences, rankings and awards are essential for company storytelling. Women business leaders are leveraging these tools to communicate their companies’ messages and reinforce their company brands.”
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.
I’ve always said that every industry gets its turn at reputation downfalls. Every industry has to be prepared for clearing its name when crisis strikes. We’ve seen that in the oil industry, financial services industry, auto industry, pharma industry and so on. The one industry that seems to always fare well in the best industry rankings is technology. However, according to an article in The Economist on what to expect in 2014, we should be getting ready to witness a tech-lashing. The reputation of the Silicon Valley elite are soon meet their due if the tech-party extravaganzas and limosine crowd continue full throttle as they are. As Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist says, “Geeks have turned out to be some of the most ruthless capitalists around….The lords of cyberspace have done everything possible to reduce their earthly costs. They employ remarkably few people: with a market cap of $290 billion Google is about six times bigger than GM but employs only around a fifth as many workers. At the same time the tech tycoons have displayed a banker-like enthusiasm for hoovering up public subsidies and then avoiding taxes. The American government laid the foundations of the tech revolution by investing heavily in the creation of everything from the internet to digital personal assistants. But tech giants have structured their businesses so that they give as little back as possible.” These are not kind remarks about an industry that has been revered for so long.
Wooldridge might be onto to something as more information seeps into the public’s consciousness and the inequality divide starts to gain notice. One example cited by Wooldridge was a recent party where a 600lb tiger posed for revilers in a cage and a monkey was made available for Instagram pictures. [Where was PETA?] Another article on Gawker headlined this supposed joke: “If you ask people in Silicon Valley about the dismal job market, they’ll laugh and say, ‘What’s ‘job market’?’ A new mobile social networking app?” And if you are still not convinced that something is underfoot, The New York Times ran an article this week about how all the Silicon Valley million-billionnaires are changing the tenor of neighborhoods in San Francisco, buying up all the real estate and generally crowding out the long-timers. One person is quoted as saying she is surprised by how coldblooded these technorati are. Not a pretty portrait.]
All of this criticism is tied up with ill feelings about technology companies having handed over data to the NSA whereupon Edward Snowden exposed this wrongdoing to the world. These serial reputation-damaging incidents are beginning to chip away at the technology elite’s image-making and positivity they’ve done in making our lives more productive and interconnected.
2014 might just be the year when the technology sector loses its luster and customers and the general public begin to wonder what social good they are doing with all their riches and IPO shares. A reputation risk for the technology sector for sure.