Online Reviews Written by Attractive People Carry More Weight

A study published in Consumer Marketing found that reviews written by more attractive rather than less attractive reviewers lead to “enhanced brand evaluation.” The Cornell and Penn State researchers swapped out photos of reviewers to test the impact of bias.

Marie Ozanne, assistant professor of food and beverage management in the School of Hotel Administration, explains the result:

“More often than we think, we are replicating our offline behavior online, and we don’t know the impact of all our general offline thinking on our online thinking. Hopefully, understanding it can help us be more conscious about it and find ways to focus more on the information that matters.”

Negative reviews didn’t see the same effect, which Ozanne believes illustrates how people think about products or services. When reading negative reviews, people may think more deeply about the product or service, and then the reviewer’s image becomes less important.

Image source. (Confession: I added a period after the first sentence.)

Discussion:

  • To what extent do you rely on online reviews?

  • How do you think appearance might influence your judgment—of online reviews or in other situations?

  • How can you ward against the effect of appearance bias?

British Airways Labor Dispute Arguments

On Thursday, British Airways pilots went on strike for the second time this week, grounding about 1,700 flights. Wanting a greater share of profits, pilots have turned down the company’s offer of 11.9% in pay increases over the next three years.

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Typical in these situations, the union and company blamed each other. The union, the British Airlines Pilots Association (Balpa), claims that company management chose to cancel flights instead of negotiating with them in good faith:

“Balpa set a gap between the first and second periods of strike action to give BA time to work with us to settle this dispute with their pilots. We had today been exchanging new ideas to do that via [the arbitration service] Acas and so it irresponsible and inconsiderate to its customers that BA has pulled out and decided to start cancelling flights now, just to save money on compensation. BA did not respond to our latest proposals before cancelling these flights.

“Passengers who will be affected by these cancellations should know that we have given BA multiple opportunities to work with us so we could call off this action.”

The company blames pilots for walking out:

“It is now a month since we shook hands on a pay deal. We urge [Balpa] to call off their strike and return to negotiations.

“To give our customers as much certainty as possible, we are now contacting all those affected to offer them a full refund or a rebook on an alternative date, destination or airline. We are very sorry that Balpa’s actions will affect thousands more travel plans.”

Discussion:

  • How effectively does each side express its perspective in the above quotes?

  • Research both sides of this debate. What are Balpa’s strongest and weakest arguments? What are BA’s?

  • What persuasive strategies does each side use in its arguments: logic, emotional appeal, and credibility?

Google Reassures Employees They Can Speak Out

The National Labor Relations Board has ordered Google to allow dissent among its workforce. Although you might think of Google as a place of open ideas, some employees feel stifled.

The first public incident was the infamous “Google Memo,” which argued conservative ideas about women. The employee was terminated—a decision some thought essential for the company, and others thought unfair.

More recently, employees have complained that management puts restrictions on what they can say, including how they express attitudes about the company on social media. But employees in the U.S. are allowed to engage in potential union organizing activity, which includes discussing pay and issues with management.

The Wall Street Journal explains the agreement between NLRB and Google, which does not include a statement of responsibility:

“The settlement orders Google to inform current employees that they are free to speak to the media—without having to ask Google higher-ups for permission—on topics such as workplace diversity and compensation, regardless of whether Google views such topics as inappropriate for the workplace.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What is the value of allowing debate in the workplace? What are the drawbacks?

  • How can managers draw the line between employees’ right to dissent and what’s right for the company?

  • Have you expressed political opinions at work? When and how were they received? Have you ever felt uncomfortable during others’ discussions? What did you do?

Howard Schultz Update

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Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has decided not to run for president, after all. He communicated the news in an email and on his website. In the email, fonts changed in the middle, but it looks better online. At right are the first few paragraphs.

The full message explains his reasons, which include the election process and his health.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the message. Consider the audience, communication objectives, writing style, organization, and reasoning. What works well, and what can be improved?

  • At what point does he announce the news?

  • What are his strongest and weakest arguments for not running for president?

  • What causes fonts to change in the middle of an email, and how can you avoid this in your own writing?

Creative Charts

The Wall Street Journal created a chart to show what Americans value—and how those values have shifted over time. The graphic is a variation on a line chart with generations represented by color.

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Understanding the chart may take a while. At first glance, the generation identifiers at the top look like headings, but they point to small bar colors.

The information is interesting, and some points probably aren’t surprising. Older Americans value patriotism, religion (which the poll describes as “belief in God”), and having children more highly than do younger Americans.

Discussion:

  • Assess the graphic design. How intuitive do you find the chart? What works well, and what could be improved?

  • What are your reactions to the data? What do you find surprising—and not?

  • What implications do you see for companies’ attempts to keep employees engaged at work?

HP CEO Resigns

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HP CEO and President Dion Weisler will step down after about four years in the position. In a news release titled, “HP Announces CEO Successor, the company identified Enrique Lores as the next company executive.

The announcement has the typical quotes, from the incoming and outgoing executives and from the board chair. Weisler’s decision is positioned as “due to a family health matter” and notes that “he will be returning home to Australia.” Chip Bergh, the board chair, reinforces the message in his quote:

“On behalf of the board, we respect Dion’s decision to support the needs of his family. We thank him for leading HP post-separation, building a strong team and restoring the company to drive strong shareholder value creation over the last four years.”

In after-hours trading, HP shares dropped more than 6%, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

Weisler image source.

Discussion:

  • How does this company news release compare to others announcing CEO resignations, for example, Overstock?

  • What’s your view of mentioning Weisler’s personal situation in the announcement? Why would the company include this? From Weisler’s point of view, what are the reasons to include or exclude this information?

Research About Befriending Your Boss

A Wall Street Journal article describes the positive and negative effects of being friends with your boss. Research shows that managers do give preferential treatment to employees they consider friends.

However, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology demonstrates that managers may favor others when decisions are public. To avoid perceptions of bias, Alex Shaw, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, offers three solutions for managers:

  • Recuse yourself. I’m skeptical about this because a manager’s job is to make such decisions, but I see the point: if you can get out of being the final decision maker, that might be best in some situations.

  • Make the criteria public. This is a good practice, anyway, to ensure transparency in decisions, particularly those that are sensitive and affect people personally.

  • Ask for opinions. This could work, for example, when peer feedback may be as relevant—or more relevant—than the manager’s point of view.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Have you considered a boss a friend? How might the relationship have affected decisions?

  • What’s your view of the strategies suggested here? In what types of situations could each work or backfire?

Shirtless Video Calls

Child interruptions, toilets flushing, clinking ice—I’ve seen and heard it all on video and audio calls. The Wall Street Journal reports that more remote workers have brought more mishaps, like a coworker appearing shirtless, forgetting to turn off his camera. And who can forget the adorable kids who walked in on a BBC interview.

The article suggests signs outside a home office door to indicate when calls are in progress—”On Air” or “Do Not Disturb.” Double-checking your mute button is a good idea too.

I would also suggest being clear about whether a call will be video or audio. A job candidate was surprised to know that her interview was via video. The employer insisted that she turn on her video, and she wasn’t dressed for it.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What mishaps have you experienced on audio or video calls?

  • What other ideas do you have to prevent embarrassing situations?

  • How does this story relate to the concept of authenticity?



Republican Google Employee Claims Bullying

Google engineer Kevin Cernekee was fired because, as the company claims, he downloaded information and used software inappropriately, violating company policies. But Cernekee says he was fired because of his political views, particularly because he was outspoken and conservative.

Cernekee is an “outlier,” according to a Wall Street Journal article that describes how rare his beliefs are at Google:

“Some 95% of Google employee donations to candidates in the 2018 midterm elections went to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, citing public disclosures.”

Google contends that open dialogue is encouraged and valued, but some of Cernekee’s internal posts were deemed offensive. In one, Cernekee wrote that “many Googlers strongly disagree with Social Justice theory and even more Googlers are concerned about the ‘internet mob’ shaming and intimidation tactics employed in support of this agenda.”

This situation echos the 2017 case when another Google employee was terminated after his memo criticizing diversity and inclusion initiatives at the firm was made public.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of these situations at Google? After researching these two cases further, do you tend to side with the terminated employees or with Google management?

  • How do you think your own political views might influence your feelings about these situations?

Why Political Campaign Emails Are Successful

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With more than 20 democrats still in the 2020 presidential race, campaign emails are sounding more “desperate,” according to a Wall Street Journal article. The emails may be annoying, but they reap high rewards.

The number of candidate emails reached a high of 130 last weekend and are likely to continue. The article explains, “There is no such thing as too much. And the more cringeworthy the content, the more likely you are to click and give money.” Expect long subject lines, time-sensitive pleas, all-caps, contests, attempts at humor, and invitations to dinners and chats with candidates.

Candidates are trying to make themselves likeable and are practicing authenticity. Whether we know them any better from these emails is questionable, but the fundraising results are clear.

President Trump email source.

Discussion:

  • Have you received emails from candidates? What has been your reaction? Have you been inspired to donate to a campaign?

  • Assess President Trump’s email shown here. What principles of persuasion does his campaign use, and how effective do you find the message for fundraising?

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.

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?

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?

Carlos Ghosn Responds to Charges

The former CEO of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, who has been arrested four times on charges related to financial misconduct, responded in a video message. The key point: “I’m innocent of all the charges.” Ghosn also claims that accusations are “all biased, taken out of context, twisted.”

Ghosn was a celebrated business executive in Japan. His success in growing Nissan is “incontrovertible,” according to a New York Times podcast. He gained a reputation as a serious cost-cutter ("Le Cost Killer"), a strategy that was questioned at the time but brought about great profits for the company, placing it second in the list of Japanese automakers behind Toyota and ahead of Honda. Ghosn was CEO from 2001 - 2017, when he became chairman. He was then removed from the board in 2018, after his first arrest.

Charges against Ghosn include using company funds for multiple personal residences, hiding about half of his compensation, shifting $16.6 million in person losses to the company, and other accounting issues.

Nissan management responded to Ghosn’s video message:

“The sole cause of this chain of events is the misconduct led by Ghosn and Kelly. Aside from any criminal matters, Nissan's internal investigation has uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct. This resulted in a unanimous board vote to discharge Ghosn and Kelly as chairman and representative director, followed by a shareholder vote to discharge them from the board. Further discoveries related to Ghosn’s misconduct continue to emerge. The company's focus remains on addressing weaknesses in governance that failed to prevent this misconduct.”

Ghosn image source.

Discussion:

  • What persuasive communication strategies does Ghosn demonstrate in his video message?

  • What are the most and least convincing statements?

  • Assess his Ghosn’s delivery skills.

  • Which leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Alex Trebek Announces Bad News

Alex Trebek, the longtime host of “Jeopardy!” announced that he has pancreatic cancer. Since 1984, Trebek has been almost synonymous with the TV show, and now his Stage 4 diagnosis is casting doubt on the show’s future.

In a video, Trebek, announced the news with optimism and some humor, referencing his three-year contract. Unfortunately, the prognosis for pancreatic cancer is very poor. The ten-year survival rate is only one percent—the lowest rate of any cancer. Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer in 2011.

Cancer rates.JPG

Discussion:

  • Assess Trebek’s video announcement. How does he convey the bad news and display emotional appeal?

  • Did he do the right thing by announcing the news himself? Why or why not? How do the show and network benefit, and what are the downsides?

  • What leadership character dimensions does Trebek demonstrate?

  • Assess the cancer survival rate chart. What principles of business communication does the designer follow, and how could it be improved?

Open Letter to Amazon

After Amazon’s failed move to Long Island City, Queens, local executives, lawmakers, and others signed an open letter asking Amazon to reconsider. The letter focuses on the benefits NYC would gain from having Amazon, particularly 25,000 new jobs.

Also appearing as a full-page ad in the New York Times, the letter includes some emotional appeal about New Yorkers’ “charm” and acknowledges difficulties in getting community support for the project. Not until the last paragraph do we see a shift from New York to Amazon and how the company would benefit from building in Long Island City.

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Discussion:

  • What principles of persuasion does the letter illustrate?

  • How could the letter be improved?

  • What leadership dimensions are illustrated? Which may be lacking?

HBO CEO Departs

HBO CEO Richard Plepler is leaving the company. His announcement came shortly after HBO’s chair of the board spoke with the WarnerMedia CEO about possibly taking over HBO and Turner.

Here is Plepler’s email to employees:

My dad always gave the best advice. Whenever there was a difficult decision to make, he counseled that since no one could ever have perfect visibility into the future, the best thing you could do was trust your instincts. It has been a touchstone for me throughout my life, and I have found myself returning to it again recently as I think about what is an inflection point in the life of this wonderful company. Hard as it is to think about leaving the company I love, and the people I love in it, it is the right time for me to do so.

In the past weeks, I’ve thought a lot about the incredible journey of this company in the nearly 28 years that I have been blessed to be here. It’s a journey of great pride and accomplishment because so many of you, and many others before us, have made HBO a cultural and business phenomenon. Thanks to all of you, we are today churning on all cylinders both creatively and as a business. Thanks to all of you, I can move on to the next chapter of my life knowing that the best team in the industry remains here to carry on our continued progress and success. As I have said before, this is the team of teams.

It has been the great joy of my professional life to share this ride with you over these many years. And the great honor of my professional life to be your CEO. I don’t have the words to express my gratitude for the support and talent that made our success together possible. But suffice it to say, my love for this place, and for all of you, is deeply a part of me and will last a lifetime. I look forward over the coming weeks to thanking as many of you as I can for the thousands of contributions big and small that have made “this thing of ours,” to quote Tony Soprano, so special. I have told John, who has been nothing but gracious since we spoke, that I would work closely with him to assure a seamless and organic transition.

We’ve created a great and unique enterprise and I know that you will protect its legacy and do all to enhance its future in the years to come.

Know that I will always be cheering loudly, even when I am outside this building, as HBO continues to thrive.

With respect, admiration, and gratitude,
Richard

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Assess Plepler’s email. Who are his primary and secondary audiences? What are his communication objectives?

  • What principles of business communication does Plepler follow, and how could he improve the email?

  • What, if anything, does he give as the reason for his decision? Should he say more about this? Why or why not?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by his email?

Interview with Delta CEO

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In a LinkedIn interview, Delta CEO Ed Bastian discussed the decision to revoke the National Rifle Association (NRA) discount after the Parkland, FL, shootings, one year ago. The discount was for NRA members, and only 13 took advantage. But the real loss was in $40 million in tax benefits, which Georgia Governor Cagle fought to strike after the company’s decision.

Bastian admits that the loss was significant. But he concludes, “Our brand is worth so much more, and our values are not for sale.”

Bastian refers to the NRA’s “divisive rhetoric” and says that he didn’t want “to be seen as advocates” of the organization and its views. He also describes what we might call authentic or purpose-driven leadership:

"If you know who you are, you can make those decisions. And that you can make those decisions and sleep well at night.”

Discussion:

  • What leadership character dimensions are demonstrated by this situation?

  • Do you think Bastian did the right thing for Delta? Why or why not?

  • How well does Bastian address the interviewer’s question? Overall, how do you assess his delivery?

Emails to International Duke Students Sparks Controversy

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Faculty at Duke University Medical Center have been criticized for asking international students to speak only English. The controversy started when an administrator of the biostatistics program sent an email after hearing complaints from faculty members that Chinese students were speaking “VERY LOUDLY” in their native language in “student lounge/study areas.” The faculty expressed concern that students “were not taking the opportunity to improve their English and were being so impolite.”

Also in the email, the administrator said that faculty asked for students’ names so that they might deny them job and project opportunities.

Students took offense and started a petition. In response, the administrator of the program stepped down from her position, and the university posted a letter to students in the program.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of international students speaking in their native language at an American University?

  • Was the administrator out of line? Why or why not?

  • How do you assess the university’s response to the controversy?

  • What leadership character dimensions are at play?

Starbucks CEO Draws His Own Path

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Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson is identifying his own vision for the company—apart from Howard Schultz’s plan. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Johnson said that the previous plan to open about 1,000 Reserve cafes will be piloted with just a few stores. Reserve stores deliver a higher-end experience, selling artisanal products and cocktails.

The change is one example of how Johnson is distinguishing himself from Schultz, who was the company CEO for about 30 years. According to the article, Johnson often started meetings with, “I’m not Howard. I’m Kevin.” A couple of weeks after Schultz left, Johnson said about the business strategy, “Certainly, I tend to bring a much more disciplined approach to picking the priorities.”

Starbucks Reserve image source.
Kevin Johnson image source.

Discussion:

  • Is it important for Johnson to distinguish himself from Schultz? Why or why not?

  • Read more about Johnson as the new CEO. How well is he handling the transition? What, if anything, should he do differently? He’s in a tough spot, wanting to create his own path but needing to be respectful to the previous leadership.