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.

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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.

T-Mobile Replaces Automated Systems with People

In a new marketing campaign, T-Mobile promises more personal service: “Real customer service takes real people.” By introducing a “team of experts,” the company wants customers to reach actual people instead of spending too much time waiting for voice prompts and replies.

The message is clear on T-Mobile’s website and in the results. The company acquired 2.4 million new customers in the fourth quarter of 2018 compared to Verizon’s 600,000.

Humor is one strategy the company is using to steal rivals’ business. A 4.5-minute commercial shows actor Rainn Wilson trying to navigate a company’s voice response system. We can all relate: the system doesn’t understand us, we get transferred around—and then our phone battery dies. The video ends with this message:

“Calling customer service is the worst. The best customer service in wireless just got better. No bots. No bouncing. No BS.”

Discussion:

  • What are the risks of using humor for persuasive messages? How well do you think it works in this case? Why or why not?

  • What is your experience with voice response systems? When have you received exceptional service via the phone?

  • To what extent would the ability to reach a person right away influence your decision to do business with a company?

Congresswoman Responds to Criticism

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Some Republicans are having a tough time with newly appointed NY Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and she is firing back. Ocasio-Cortez complained about being unable to afford housing in D.C. until her salary went into effect, and critics commented on her expensive-looking clothing. When she stood up to vote for Nancy Pelosi as house speaker, Ocasio-Cortez was booed.

A Twitter user posted a video of her dancing at Boston University. Although the account has seen been deleted, the video went viral with the text, “Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like a clueless nitwit she is.” Ocasio-Cortez shot back a new video of her dancing to a couple of bars of the 1969 song “War.” Reactions have been mostly positive, with some conservative groups saying they thought the original video was “cute” and that negative reactions were overstated.

As the youngest woman elected to Congress, Ocasio-Cortez has a few hurdles to pass. She is 29 years old, represents the Queens-Bronx section of NY, and is an advocate for the working class.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Ocasio-Cortez’s initial video and her response?

  • In what ways is the congresswoman demonstrating authenticity? Or do you see it as something else?

  • Review several of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets. How do you assess her social media use? What advice would you offer her?

Robots Screen Candidates' Social Media

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A Wall Street Journal video explains how DeepSense uses artificial intelligence to analyze a job candidate’s personality. When companies post a job, recruiters or hiring managers identify what is most important for success; for example, how important is teamwork or project management? DeepSense then looks at a candidate’s social media profile to assess personality.

Founder Amarpreet Kalkat explains that the system may review a social media profile for only six seconds and will generate a report about the applicant’s DISC profile (a personality assessment) and “Big Five” personality traits. Using psycholinguistics, the computer analyzes language the candidate uses.

Kalkat says their results are 75% accurate, while traditional personality tests are 82% accurate.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of using AI in this way? How confident would you be applying for a job that uses this technology?

  • How relevant is personality to a position? What are the advantages to a company of using such a system, and what are the potential disadvantages?

  • The video refers to “DeepSense,” but the website shows “DeeperSense.” How do you explain the discrepancy?

Acting Attorney General's Credentials Questioned

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Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker seems to have inflated his self-description as an “Academic All-American.” The title appeared on a bio for his previous law firm’s website, on an application for a judge position in 2010, and on a resume discovered from 2014.

Whitaker played football at the University of Iowa for two years, but he didn’t receive the official honor, according to the organization that grants the title. In 1992, the title went to another Iowa player.

Part of the confusion may be caused by a media guide produced by the university. An assistant athletic director admitted to describing Whitaker as “District VII academic All-American,” which is not correct.

Whitaker image source. Resume icon image.

Discussion:

  • The Wall Street Journal report doesn’t include a quotation from Whitaker. What, if anything, should Whitaker say to defend himself?

  • What on your resume could be called into question? Have you exaggerated any of your experience that could be discovered? Should you change anything to be more accurate?

  • How is this situation an issue of integrity? What other character dimensions could be at play here?

Google Translate Decreases Bias

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In the past, if you entered “o bir doktor” in Turkish into Google Translate, you would get the result: “He is a doctor.” In a blog post, the company explained that translations were based on common usage, so “it would skew masculine for words like strong or doctor, and feminine for other words, like nurse or beautiful.”

Now, Google Translate will offer both a masculine and a feminine possible translation. The company plans more changes: “We're already thinking about how to address non-binary gender in translations, though it’s not part of this initial launch.”

A Gmail product manager identified the gender-bias problem in the Smart Compose technology, which is used to predict what users will type. Computer-generated follow-up questions to “I am meeting an investor next week,” included “Do you want to meet him?”

Gender pronouns is one issue AI programmers want to solve to improve natural language generation (NLG), which finishes our sentences for us.

Discussion:

  • What’s your experience with NLG? For example, how helpful do you find Gmail’s suggestions for finishing your sentences in email?

  • What’s your view of Google’s attempt to decrease gender bias? Is this a worthy goal? Why or why not?

Too British for British Ads

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British standards for voice personalities are changing. As one actor says, “I’m too posh, too middle class, too white, too male.” Jon Briggs was a popular choice for advertisements and is currently the British Siri.

But according to a Wall Street Journal article, voices like Briggs are “out of vogue.” Companies want voices that are less “commanding, elite-sounding” and “froufrou”:

For British consumers, the stiff-upper-lip speaking style of the nobility, where vowels are slightly flattened—so “happy” sounds like “heppy”—has become negatively associated with authority and privilege.

One ad executive said today’s jobs are going to those who are “able to hold a conversation . . . in a pub.” Companies are looking for voices that reflect the diversity of Britain, particularly, as the article says, “people from working-class backgrounds.”

British image source. Microphone image source.

Discussion:

  • With what types of British accents are you familiar? What’s your perception of people with those accents?

  • How does this article translate to the United States? What are the most common accents you hear in TV ads? Listen to a few examples. What does the person’s accent say about the brand?

  • Explain the relevance of authenticity or authentic communication to this story.

One Way to Increase Understanding

Wanting a break from technology, singer and songwriter Gabriel Kahane traveled the United States by train, meeting people and hearing their stories. Right after the 2016 presidential election, Kahane rode Amtrak trains for almost 9,000 miles to understand how people across the country think and feel.

Kahane describes his strategy for what he calls “radical empathy”:

I set some ground rules for myself when I was on the train. One of the things that I was really interested in doing wasn't arguing with people. And I think that that is sort of one of the fundamental problems that we face right now, is this idea we all sort of have contempt for the other side.

We say, well, I just can't engage with that person. And there were some cases where I failed, and I would then go back to my sleeper car and write in my journal: You argued. You said you weren't going to do that.

Kahane challenges how much importance we place on “efficiency.” He says that downtime gives us space to reflect about shared, complex problems: “I think there's a real consequence to not having that space to just sit silently and think, what is it to be in this other person's body.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of “radical empathy,” as Kahane describes it? What is the value, and what are the downsides of his approach?

  • What character dimensions does Kahane illustrate in this story?

News Conference About Shooting

A former marine shot 12 people in a California bar, and local officials delivered a news conference. Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean spoke first (about 5:00 on the video) to explain officers’ response and what they knew at the time.

We see the sheriff get emotional when answering questions about his deputy, Sergeant Ron Helus, who also died.

The shooting was particularly painful for people at the bar who also survived the Las Vegas shooting about a year ago. One young man, Telemachus Orfanos, survived the earlier incident but not this one.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Assess Sheriff Dean’s statement for content, organization, and delivery. What worked well, and what, if anything, could be improved?

  • Assess how well Sheriff Dean responded to media questions.

Google Employees Protest Sexual Harassment

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Thousands of employees walked out of more than 20 Google offices around the world on Thursday to protest how the company handled sexual harassment charges. Employees in California, Berlin, Dublin, London, Singapore, Tokyo, Zurich, and other locations organized under the group, “Google Walkout For Real Change‏.”

The reaction came after a New York Times article revealed several senior-level managers left the company, quietly, because of sexual harassment. Some were given large financial payouts.

In addition to a more transparent process, employees are asking for an end to pay equity and forced arbitration, which requires employees to settle cases within the company and denies them the right to sue.

In response to the walkouts, CEO Sundar Pichai said, “Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes going forward. We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • How do you view the walkouts: a waste of time, overstepping, a productive way to protest, or something else? Respond to the same question for their list of demands.

  • What, if any, impact do you think the walkouts will have on company practices? Googlers did encourage the company’s decision to end an artificial intelligence contract with the Defense Department.

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by the situation?

Do Women Overuse Exclamation Points?

They sure do! But a Wall Street Journal article says women are expected to use more exclamation points, and they face a dilemma:

Male bosses who write in blunt, terse prose aren’t noticed much. Plenty of management research has shown, though, that women bosses tread a thin line. Too few softeners like exclamation points, and they’re viewed as hard and unfeeling; too many, and they lack gravitas.

The authors of a Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication article conclude that the exclamation point isn’t as much a “marker of excitability,” as former research claims, but is more about “friendly interaction.” They also found that 73% of exclamations were made by women and 26% by men.

A Wall Street Journal video shows three female executives talking about their own use of exclamation points. Barbara Corcoran, of Shark Tank fame, says women use the mark partly because they want to please others, while men, particularly senior-level men, “don’t even bother to put a period at the end.”

Advice varies, but for business communication, you might use the mark sparingly. Corcoran says she assumes women who use a lot of exclamation points are insecure and know they are unlikely to get what they ask.

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But for friendly communications, one or two are okay. Corcoran also suggests, as does a previous WSJ article, that exclamation marks may be appreciated by people who report to you. This is illustrated in the tweet here.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • How do you use exclamation points?

  • Have you noticed a difference between how men and women use the mark?

  • Will this article change how you use the mark?

Emotions and Political Views After Synagogue Shooting

A shooter killed eleven people and wounded several others, including three police officers, in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Officials report that the act was motivated by hate, and the shooter is quoted saying, “I just want to kill Jews.” The Washington Post calls it, “The deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States.”

President Trump condemned the shootings: “This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil . . . . hard to believe and, frankly, something that is unimaginable.” The president also promoted the idea of armed guards: “If there were an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop them. Maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him, frankly.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto disputed this view: “The approach we need to be looking at is how we take the guns—the common denominator of every mass shooting in America—out of the hands of those looking to express hatred through murder.”

During a news conference, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich gave an emotional statement, calling the crime scene “horrific.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • We see Hissrich’s emotions during the news conference. He demonstrates authenticity and vulnerability. How do you view his delivery?

  • President Trump’s comments during this time are controversial. What’s your view? How might your own feelings about gun advocacy or gun control affect your perspective?