Mets Manager Admits Mistake

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Mets manager Mickey Callaway admitted that an “administrative” error of switching pitchers “probably cost” the team the game. According to reports, the admission was unusual. As one news outlet explained, “His postgame press conferences can get combative, and his unwillingness to admit to any wrongdoing hasn’t played well with the New York media.”

Fans and players seem to be responding positively to the Callaway’s apology. One example is the response from first baseman Pete Alonso:

“Having a manager that’s not straight up and honest, that’s tough to play for a guy like that. But I’m fortunate enough to play for a guy like Mick. I love playing for Mick and all of the other guys love playing for Mick because he’s been honest and straight-up.” 

For years now, corporate stakeholders have expected more humility from leaders. Seeing an example in sports is refreshing.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Callaway’s admission?

  • Not everyone likes this approach. I haven’t seen the clip, but a friend tells me local sports commentators said they want to see more “leadership.” Is admitting failure not part of demonstrating leadership?

  • What other leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this example?







Analyzing an Infographic

PR Daily presents social media trends in this infographic. Categories include social selling, social listening, influencer marketing, ephemeral content, and social advertising.

The graphic is easy to read and uses several different data displays—some more meaningful than others. Data about social listening, one of the five categories, is at right.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the audience for the graphic and identify the communication objectives.

  • What works well about the entire graphic? Consider the organization, writing style, and data displays.

  • What could be improved?

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VW's New Ad

Volkswagen is still trying to rebuild its image after the emissions scandal in 2015. A new advertising campaign tackles the issue directly, beginning with audio news reports from that time. But the focus, described on YouTube, is on the future: “Every negative has a positive. Learn more about our all-electric vehicles and our plans to help make a better tomorrow at vw.com #drivefortomorrow #vw.”

With an emphasis on innovation, the ad is set to Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song, “The Sound of Silence.” Viewers can imagine company engineers during the past few years creating a new line of electric cars— while VW executives said little about the controversy.

The senior VP of marketing for VW of America acknowledged that the ad is risky but explains the rationale:

“[w]ithout mentioning the past...we would never have the credibility or authenticity to move forward with the brand. Through the last three-and-a-half years or so we kind of operated as usual in the consumers [sic] eye. We kept a very consistent message in the marketplace but didn’t really have a powerful point-of-view as a brand.”

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of VW’s new ad campaign? Did the company make the right decision by invoking the scandal?

  • Other companies facing scandals, such as Uber and Wells Fargo, placed large apology ads, but VW didn’t take this approach. Why do you think that may be the case? Compare VW’s strategy to other recent recovery campaigns.

Carnival Responds to New Charges

Again, Carnival Cruises is accused of polluting and cover-ups. In 2016, the company paid a $40 million settlement because of actions by its Princess Cruise Lines, including dumping oil-contaminated waste. Now, the company has admitted to violating the 2016 agreement and will pay an additional $20 million.

The Justice Department’s statement identifies violations of probation terms, such as falsifying training records, preparing ships before inspections, and discharging plastic into the water. The plastic discharge was from another Carnival Cruise ship, the Carnival Elation.

In response to the charges, company chairman Arnold W. Donald said, “I do take responsibility for the problems we have. I am extremely disappointed that we’ve had them. I know you have reservations about our commitment and who we are. I want you to know we are fully committed.”

The company also posted a response on its website: corrective actions, information about water treatment, and FAQs. The short press statement, at the top, includes the company’s commitment:

“Carnival Corporation remains committed to environmental excellence and protecting the environment in which we live, work, and travel. Our aspiration is to leave the places we touch even better than when we first arrived.”

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Image source.

Discussion:

  • Assess Carnival’s response. What persuasive strategies does the company use on its website? What works well, and what could be improved?

  • The chairman said, “I know you have reservations about our commitment and who we are.” Do you have reservations? Why or why not? How can the company change perception? Consider dimensions of leadership character.

Persuasive Writing

Trish Hall, author of an upcoming book, “Writing to Persuade,” offers advice in a New York Times opinion piece. Most of her suggestions follow principles taught in business communication courses:

  • Tell the truth. Hall says that emotions are usually more persuasive than facts, which is true, yet she cautions against losing trust. Her advice is backed by research on behavioral integrity—doing what we say we’re going to do.

  • Be quick about it. Hall emphasizes conciseness, a well-worn principle of business communication.

  • Banish jargon. Using simple language is another core principle of business communication.

  • Know your audience. Hall recommends listening to what your reader needs; for example, condolence notes should include something personal about the loved one. Tailoring to the audience is good advice for any message.

  • Just ask. Hall says people could ask more directly for what they want. I agree, but I’m not sure about her example, which is for “Getting someone to show up”:

    No:

    Dear Everyone,

    I’m involved with a group that gives scholarships to young people and I am hoping that some of you might be able to attend our celebration next Monday. Let me know if you can.

    Yes:

    Dear Trish,

    I’m involved with a group that gives scholarships to young people and I am hoping that you can attend our celebration next Monday. A number of people you know, including John and Jim, will be there. Can I leave your name at the door? It’s at 6 p.m. at the Historical Society Building.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What other persuasive business communication principles would you suggest for writers?

  • What’s your view of the “Yes” example above: too pushy or about right? What principles does the example follow, and what, if any, changes would you suggest?

  • I’m curious about the article title, “How to Get Every Email Returned,” which doesn’t quite match the content. What’s your view?

Character Lessons from Bill Buckner

Every obituary about Bill Buckner mentions the former Red Sox baseball player’s fatal error in the 10th inning of “Game 6.” Playing against the Mets during the 1986 World Series, Buckner let a ball go through his legs and lost the championship, which would have been their first since 1918.

In 2008, with tears in his eyes and to a standing ovation, Buckner threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park when the team was honored for winning the World Series in 2007.

How does someone overcome such a mistake? The New York Times reports that fans were gracious, cheering him when he appeared on field in later years. Buckner did say that it’s “the ugly part of sports” that we focus on just one play in an otherwise stellar career:

"I don't think that in society in general that's the way we should operate. What are you teaching kids? Not to try because if you don't succeed then you're going to buried, so don't try?"

Buckner image source.

Discussion:

  • What character lessons can we learn from Buckner’s experience?

  • What mistake have you made and recovered from? What did you learn about yourself in the process?

Avis Announces New CEO

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Avis is looking for a new CEO while trying to navigate the changing rental car business. Larry De Shon was appointed to the position in 2016 after ten years with the company. I’m curious why he’s leaving.

News reports, such as a Wall Street Journal article, don’t provide an explanation. The stock has done well, and Avis has made strategic moves, including servicing Waymo’s self-driving cars. As part of its repositioning, Avis now considers itself a “provider of mobility solutions” instead of a car-rental company.

Avis’s news release presents De Shon positively, including his glowing quotes about the company and the board chair’s quote about his success:

“On behalf of the Board and the entire team, I’d like to thank Larry for the many contributions he has made to Avis Budget Group since he joined the Company in 2006, and for his exceptional leadership as CEO for the last four years. Larry has played an instrumental role in positioning Avis Budget for the future of mobility, while navigating through unprecedented industry challenges. Together with our outstanding management team, Larry has built a strong foundation for growth and continued success. We are pleased that we will continue to have access to Larry’s insights.”

Avis is also planning to keep De Shon on until the end of the year for a transition period, which is another sign that he isn’t being forced out.

Car rental image source.

Waymo image source.

Discussion:

  • What do you think is the reason for De Shon’s departure?

  • Should Avis or De Shon say more? Or should I mind my own business?

Analyzing a Column Chart

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A Bloomberg article shows Manhattan resale home prices in a declining column chart. At a glance, the graph shows a clear, fairly steady decline since 2017.

When you mouseover the chart on the website (not here), the date and percentage appear.

Discussion:

  • Assess the chart title, “How Low Can They Go?” Why would the author or copywriter choose this title? How effective is it for the audience of business news readers?

  • Assess the chart format. What works well, and what could be improved?

  • What’s your view of using the mouseover instead of labeling bars. What other choices could work well?



Polite Answers Are Perceived as Higher Quality

A study published in Management Information Systems found that the more polite an answer is, the more likely it is to be viewed as a good answer. Researchers studied conversations in Stack Exchange, a community site for posting questions and answers, on which question posters rate responses.

The only exception to this finding is when the person posting the response is considered to be an expert. Then politeness doesn’t seem to matter.

To avoid this “politeness bias,” which could falsely elevate responses, the researchers propose giving more weight to ratings by users other than the poster. And rather than marking a response as “best answer,” responses could be marked “accepted.”

In the example, below, Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) workers discuss bank transfers.

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We can see that the impolite answer is harsh, telling the poster to check instructions before asking a question, as if to say, “You’re wasting my time.” However, that answer provides almost identical information with one exception: “go to the Earnings page.” I’m not sure how helpful this is, but otherwise, the responses—at least in terms of clear instruction—are very similar.

This study reminds me of another that found well-written online reviews to increase sales—even if the review was negative. Although this is more about writing style and grammar than tone, both have implications for getting ideas accepted online.

Discussion:

  • How would you assess the two responses above? Could you see the questioner selecting the polite answer over the impolite answer for “best answer”?

  • How, if at all, are you influenced by writing style, grammar, and tone in online discussions and reviews?

Restaurant Owner Forgives Manager for $4,710 Mistake

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The manager of Hawksmoor Manchester steakhouse accidentally served a $5,000 bottle of wine when the guests ordered one priced at $290. The owner forgave her publicly, on Twitter.

Naturally, the conversation doesn’t end there. Jokes abound, one announcing that the manager has since been placed in an “on-site incinerator.”

Others pounced on the expensive wine and criticized the restaurant, to which the owner responded in a tweet:

I’m sure you’re all getting tired of this now, so one last thing, to the people who put homelessness in Manchester next to ‘£4500 wine?!’ and suggesting we have no values: we’ve raised well over £1m for @ACF_UK, work with @WoodSt_Mission and @notjustsoupMCR. We have values.

Discussion:

  • What leadership character dimensions are demonstrated by this story?

  • How well did the owner respond to criticism?

Uber CEO Explains Disappointing IPO

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi sent email to employees about the company’s disappointing IPO. Shares sold for $45 but dropped the next day to a low of $37.08. In his email, Khosrowshahi encourages employees to take a long-term view and compares the company to Amazon and Facebook, which he says also experienced trouble after their openings.

Team Uber:

I’m looking forward to being in front of you at the All Hands tomorrow, but I wanted to send you a quick note in the meantime.

First off, I want to thank you all for your passion for and commitment to Uber. We simply would not be here without you.

Like all periods of transition, there are ups and downs. Obviously our stock did not trade as well as we had hoped post-IPO. Today is another tough day in the market, and I expect the same as it relates to our stock.

But it is essential for us to keep our eye on the long-term value of Uber for our customers, partners, drivers and investors.

Every stock is valued based on the projected future cash flows/profits that the company is expected to generate over its lifetime. There are many versions of our future that are highly profitable and valuable, and there are of course some that are less so. During times of negative market sentiment, the pessimistic voices get louder, and the optimistic voices pull back.

We will make certain that we communicate our incredible value as a company that is changing the way the world moves, but also the value that we are building for our owners. But there is one simple way for us to succeed – focus on the work at hand and execute against our plans effectively.

Remember that the Facebook and Amazon post-IPO trading was incredibly difficult for those companies. And look at how they have delivered since.

Our road will be the same. Sentiment does not change overnight, and I expect some tough public market times over the coming months. But we have all the capital we need to demonstrate a path to improved margins and profits. As the market sees evidence, sentiment will improve, and as sentiment improves, the stock will follow. We will not be able to control timing, but we will be able to control the outcome.

We will be judged long-term on our performance, and I welcome that. It’s all in our hands.

I look forward to being there at the All Hands to answer Qs and tell you more.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Why would Khosrowshahi write an email in advance of an employee meeting?

  • What persuasive strategies does he use to explain the IPO performance?

  • Which arguments do you find least and most convincing?

OpenTable Announces Privacy Changes

An email from OpenTable summarizes changes to the privacy policy and directs readers to the entire policy on the website. The company is using a lighthearted approach to convey what information is shared and how users will have better control over what they are willing to share.

We can view this as a positive message, although it uses some persuasive strategies. Overall, the company is trying to simplify a complex issue—and the email simplifies the far more complex policy.

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Discussion:

  • Analyze the message. Who is the primary audience, and what are the communication objectives? How would you describe the tone and writing style? What organizational strategies are used?

  • What persuasive strategies does the message use?

  • Overall, how effective is the message in meeting its communication objectives? What, if anything, could OpenTable do differently?

How New Grad Jobs Have Changed

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A Wall Street Journal article warns new graduates that they “will be thrown right into the fray.” According to the article, entry-level jobs used to be lower level, but today they involve more important work, and employers expect more from recent grads.

Technology handles more routine tasks, so even new entrants into the job market may find themselves meeting with clients and making presentations. These jobs more commonly include external components.

The article also blames organizations’ “cost-cutting and flattening,” so training and close supervision are no longer available. New grads have to figure things out on their own.

Fortunately, students feel more prepared today because universities focus more on career preparation. Also, as a new grad, you’ll have more autonomy and can design the job you want. But you have to be self-reliant and have strong communication and influence skills.

Cover image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your reaction to this article? Does it excite you, scare you, or something else?

  • How does this relate to your internship experiences? What were the expectations, and how well did you achieve them on the job?

Typo on Australian Banknote

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Australia printed 400 million $50 bills with a typo, and about 46 million of them are in use.

On the front of the bill, we see a picture of Edith Cowan, who was a social reformer and Australia’s first female parliamentarian. Near her shoulder, we also see a transcript of her first speech to the the Western Australian Parliament. In tiny print, but clear when it’s enlarged, is a misspelling of “responsibility,” missing the third “i.” The bills were in circulation for about six months before discovered by a radio station.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has since confirmed the mistake, saying it will correct the error in the next print run. A spokesperson explained the error:

“The process of designing and printing a banknote is complex and iterative. We have strict quality assurance processes, but like any manufacturing process, errors can occur. We have reviewed our processes to remove the likelihood of such an error occurring in the future.”

Discussion:

  • How does an error like this happen? How could it have been prevented?

  • How do you assess the bank’s response? Who is the audience, and what are the communication objectives? What, if anything, should the bank say or do differently now?

Leadership Challenge at Uber

A New York Times article describes discomfort among Uber’s leadership as the company plans to go public. Founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick wanted to join the company to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, a tradition for IPOs. Kalanick still holds a seat on the board and, as founder, he wanted to participate in the company’s joyous moment—and to bring his father.

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Current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi denied the request. For two years, Khosrowshahi has been trying to shed negative public perceptions of Uber, partly attributed to Kalanick’s leadership style and the company’s “bro-culture.”

The article describes a fractured board that didn’t fully support Khosrowshahi and a company that has yet to turn a profit, losing revenue on almost every car ride. Uber follows Lyft’s recent IPO, which has lost about $26 per share since its IPO in March.

Uber image source.

Lyft image source.

Discussion:

  • Did Khosrowshahi make the right decision? Why or why not?

  • Consider Kalanick’s perspective. What’s his point of view? Should he have asked at all?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Facebook Announces Plans for Privacy

After several scandals and escalating criticism, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced new products and several new features to move from public posting to private conversations. The new Facebook design focuses on groups instead of the newsfeed and adds interactivity, such as posting jobs. Some of these features, of course, compete with existing social platforms, such as LinkedIn.

In a post, Facebook described the focus of its two-day conference: “how we’re building a more privacy-focused social platform — giving people spaces where they can express themselves freely and feel connected to the people and communities that matter most.” 

Communication, friends, and community are themes in the message. Zuckerberg’s keynote is titled, “The Future Is Private.”

Discussion:

  • Assess Zuckerberg’s keynote. Who are his primary and secondary audiences? What are his communication objectives? To what extent does he meet them? How would you describe his delivery skills? Does he convince you that Facebook is addressing criticism? Do you think Facebook is moving in the right direction?

  • Zuckerberg opens his keynote by saying, “Privacy gives us the freedom to be ourselves.” How does this relate to concepts of authenticity? Do you agree with his conclusion?

  • Also assess the post announcing changes for Facebook and other apps. Which features or new products most and least excite you?

Whistleblowers at Boeing

On The Daily podcast, a former quality manager at Boeing describes safety concerns and efforts to report them. He is one of more than 12 employees the New York Times reporter interviewed who had raised issues internally and with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before the 737 MAX crashes—and dating back to the 787 Dreamliner, which was introduced in 2007.

Employees complained about debris left inside aircrafts, even as planes were going on test flights and getting ready for delivery, and about missing and doctored defective parts. The reporter describes a company under pressure taking serious safety shortcuts. 

According to U.S. Department of Labor data, whistleblowers have little success. This chart shows a very small percentage of government-reported cases considered of “merit,” although in the table below the chart, the author tells us that cases that are “settled” or “settled other” (a nonstandard procedure) should also be considered winners. Still, it’s a small percentage in light of what it takes to come forward to file a complaint.

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Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Boeing? Some employees say they felt proud when they first worked at the company, and now they are embarrassed. How, if at all, does this news change your perception of the company?

  • What does it take to be a whistleblower? What is at stake, and what are the potential rewards?

  • Assess the chart. Who is the audience, and what are the communication objectives? How could you change the chart to improve readability? For example, consider how the 3D effect might change how we interpret the data.

Boeing's Crisis Response

At a shareholder’s meeting, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg addressed 737 Max safety concerns following two fatal crashes. He started, as predicted, with an apology and sympathy for the “loss of life,” acknowledging the “devastation.” He contrasted these losses with the many Boeing flights that run safely—”roughly every 1.5 seconds.”

Muilenberg didn’t explicitly address issues raised in the past couple of days, particularly a Wall Street Journal article the previous day accusing Boeing of failing to report the safety feature shut-off to airlines (including pilots) and the FAA.

When asked during the Q&A about accountability, Muilenberg spoke mostly about plans going forward. When asked whether he would resign, he talked about his and his employees’ commitment to safety.

At about 9:00 on the video, a reporter asks about whistle-blowers at Boeing, referring to recent reports that employees tried to alert senior management and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Muilenberg says the question is “fair” but doesn’t quite respond to the accountability issue. At about 14:15, a reporter asks, “Can you admit that the design was flawed?” This is after Muilenberg skirts the previous question, blaming a “chain of events.” Still, he would not admit to a design flaw.

And then he ends the news conference, as a reporter shouts, “Sir, 346 died. Can you answer a few questions here about that?” Earlier, another reporter noted that this was the first time they had a chance to meet with him to ask questions.

Discussion:

  • Assess Muilenberg’s delivery skills. What does he do well, and what suggestions would you have for his future news conferences?

  • How well did Muilenberg address reporters’ questions? What, if anything, could he have said differently?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this story? How well did Muilenberg demonstrate them?

Do Women Apologize Too Much?

The short answer is yes. But the reasons are important. A New York Times writer distinguishes between apologizing as “an acknowledgment of an offense or failure” and other reasons to say “I’m sorry.”

Women are more likely to apologize when it’s not their fault. I was in another woman’s path in a doorway, and she said, “I’m sorry.” She did nothing wrong—and neither did I, but she meant it as a sign of politeness. In these situations, “Excuse me” may be more fitting.

Worse, some women seem to apologize by habit. If I accidentally step on your foot, please don’t apologize. That’s squarely on me.

But apologizes also express sympathy or empathy. The author gives an example of a woman who dropped her bag in a puddle. She said to the woman, “I’m sorry,” and was told not to apologize. But it wasn’t that kind of apology. She really meant, “That’s too bad your bag is all wet,” which is an expression of sympathy. And maybe, “I’ve been there and can relate,” which is closer to empathy. Similarly, we say, “I’m sorry,” as an expression of sympathy when someone dies.

The article references studies published in Psychological Science that conclude, “[M]en apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.” Good point, but that’s not what all apologies imply. The Times author suggests understanding why you apologize and gives us permission to apologize just for politeness, at times. This may be more expected of women, anyway.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Do you observe women apologizing more than men do? In what situations?

  • Write down all of your apologies for a week—in person and in writing. Assess the reason for each. What do you conclude about how and how often you apologize?

  • How do apologizes demonstrate accountability as a leadership character dimension?

Philippines Town Bans Gossip

Could this work at companies? Or schools? Binalonan, a small town in the Philippines, passed an ordinance that bans idle gossip. Locals say the summer heat drives people beneath acacia trees to chismis, or gossip. Offenders are charged the equivalent of about $10 and will have to pick up trash if they repeat the crime.

Local officials believe much of the gossip is caused by conflicts, and they are trying to encourage people to resolve differences directly instead. I’m not sure it’s the same in organizations, where people tend to gossip when they have idle time and are missing more meaningful communication from company leaders.

Of course, gossip has a few positive benefits, including increasing our knowledge and understand of others and improving social relationships.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Seriously, could a gossip ban work in companies? What could be the benefits and downsides? How could it be enforced?

  • When have you seen gossip used negatively and positively?

  • What are, perhaps, better ways to communicate?

  • What leadership character dimensions may be failing if we rely too much on gossip?