Nike Flag Shoe Controversy

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Nike pulled shoes with flag decorations and is taking some heat for the decision. The shoes featured 13 white stars, reflecting an early version of the American flag created by Betsy Ross in 1776. But, according to a Bloomberg article, “The design recently has taken another meaning for some Americans as far-right groups have claimed it as a symbol of their cause. It has also been criticized as evocative of an era when slavery was still predominant in the U.S.“

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who endorses Nike products, and others asked the company to remove the shoes because they are considered offensive. The company complied but is facing backlash from some groups, and the Air Max 1 USA sneakers are selling for up to $2,500 a pair. The company also issued a statement:

“We regularly make business decisions to withdraw initiatives, products and services. Nike made the decision to halt distribution of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”

Sneaker image.
Colin Kaepernick and sneakers image.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the sneaker image: offensive, patriotic, or something else?

  • How do you assess Colin Kaepernick’s role in the controversy?

  • Did Nike do the right thing in pulling the sneakers? Why or why not?

  • Assess Nike’s statement in response to the controversy. What else, if anything, should company leaders have said?

How to Navigate Multiple Offers

It’s one of those “good problems”: getting more than one job offer. But navigating the relationships and making a decision can be tough.

A Wall Street Journal article tells the story of a man faking his own death to avoid telling a company that he didn’t want to take the job after accepting an offer. According to an executive at the staffing company Robert Half, “ghosting” a prospective employer is most common among people out of school between two and six years. More and more, employers receive last-minute text messages or no-shows on the first day of work.

A management consultant believes the trouble is that college students lack the communication skills to handle these situations more professionally: “This is the generation that breaks up by text message, so in a professional context, to have to let someone down or give bad news was terrifying.”

Twice this past semester, students asked me for advice in reneging offers. Overall, I’m not a fan of the tactic. To me, it’s an issue of integrity: when students make a commitment to one employer, they shouldn’t change their minds when a better offer comes along. I also worry about their reputation in the industry—and whether their expectations will be too high for the new job, and they’ll end up disappointed. At Cornell, students also give up their access to career services in the future when this happens.

But students do what is best for them. What matters after the decision is how it’s communicated. I always suggest a phone call rather than an email, which takes courage. A direct, honest approach is best, with an apology and some understanding of how the decision affects the employer, who’s left with an unfilled position and additional recruiting time.

Ideally, students get offers at the same time with the same decision deadlines, but of course, that’s not always the case, and comparing offers becomes challenging. The WSJ article recommends these practices for evaluating and accepting job offers:

DO

Make clear early what you’re looking for in a new job.

Ask employers their timeline for making a decision.

Express appreciation and enthusiasm when receiving an offer.

Take time to assess each offer carefully, weighing both financial and quality-of-life factors.

DON’T

Communicate important decisions by text or email.

Try to pit one employer against another in a bidding war.

Respond to a job offer by announcing that you already have a competing one.

Base your decision solely on pay.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Have you been in a situation of having multiple offers? How did you handle it?

  • Have you reneged on an offer? How did you communicate the decision, and how did the employer react?

  • What other advice would you give students who have multiple offers?

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.

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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?







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.

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?

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.

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.

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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?

Fisher-Price Recall

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At first, the company stood by their product, but after 10 infant deaths since 2015, Fisher-Price voluntarily recalled its Rock ‘n Play sleeper. The decision affects 4.7 million products, and the notice is now prominently displayed on the Fisher-Price homepage. When you follow the link, you see the page at right, which lists all “Recall & Safety Alerts.”

The announcement on April 5 points to a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) alert, which suggests that customers stop using the product for infants more than three months old, when they can turn over and suffocate.

The announcement on April 12 is a full recall, which urges customers to “immediately stop using the product” and return it for a refund.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the communication situation. Who are the primary and secondary audiences of Fisher-Price’s messages? What information do those audiences need? How might they react emotionally? What are the company’s communication objectives?

  • Product recall messages typically follow a particular structure and provide specific content. What do you observe from this message?

  • Should Fisher-Price have issued the recall earlier? Why or why not?

New Zealand Announces Weapons Ban

Following a shooting at a mosque in Christchurch that left 50 people dead, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on certain types of weapons:

“Today, I’m announcing New Zealand will ban all military-style semiautomatic weapons. We will also ban all assault rifles. We will ban all high-capacity magazines. We will ban all parts with the ability to convert semiautomatic or any other type of firearm into a military-style semiautomatic weapon. We will ban parts that cause a firearm to generate semiautomatic, automatic or close-to-automatic gunfire,” she added. “In short, every semiautomatic weapon used in the terror attack on Friday will be banned in this country.”

She said the decision would accomplish one goal: “to prevent an act of terror from happening in our country ever again.” In a press conference three days prior, the prime minister had promised that the Cabinet planned to take action.

The New York Times compares the process for buying a gun in 16 countries, showing the United States as having the fewest steps.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the decision and how Prime Minister Arden communicated it to the public?

  • What leadership character dimensions does the Prime Minister demonstrate in this situation?

  • Watch Prime Minister Arden’s press conference and one or two others. How would you describe her delivery style?

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?

Jeff Bezos’s Medium Post

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News is swirling about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s long Medium post accusing the National Enquirer of “extortion and blackmail” for pictures of him and a woman other than his wife. Bezos claims that Chairman and CEO David Pecker acts of behalf of President Trump to discredit key people, and he cites an immunity deal between the Enquirer and the justice department for these actions. President Trump has openly criticized Amazon for not paying enough taxes.

A popular story about the piece is how Bezos used the word “complexifier”:

“My ownership of the Washington Post is a complexifier for me. It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy.”

A Slate article explores whether it’s a real word, and it is not in standard English. The “investigation” concludes that the word “appears most at home in the canon of self-help business gobbledygook.” As expected, memes, like the one here, are popular.

Bezos’s post is interesting from a business writing and character perspective if nothing more.

Discussion:

  • Analyze Bezos’s post: who are the primary and secondary audiences, and what are his communication objectives? How is it organized? What is the tone?

  • To what extent does Bezos meet his communication objectives?

  • Overall, what’s your view of his approach to address the situation with this post?

  • Which leadership character dimensions does Bezos demonstrate?

Gillette Ad Gets Mixed Reviews

Gillette took a risk with its new ad campaign. Spinning its 30-year slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get,” the company introduced, “The Best a Man Can Be.” A new video references sexual harassment, challenges the expression “boys will be boys,” and encourages men to “hold other men accountable.”

Gillette explains the rationale in a press release. In addition, the URL thebestamancanbe.org redirects to https://gillette.com/en-us/the-best-men-can-be, where the company explains the campaign:

Thirty years ago, we launched our The Best A Man Can Get tagline.

Since then, it has been an aspirational statement, reflecting standards that many men strive to achieve.

But turn on the news today and it’s easy to believe that men are not at their best. Many find themselves at a crossroads, caught between the past and a new era of masculinity. While it is clear that changes are needed, where and how we can start to effect that change is less obvious for many. And when the changes needed seem so monumental, it can feel daunting to begin. So, let’s do it together.

It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.

From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.

As part of The Best Men Can Be campaign, Gillette is committing to donate $1 million per year for the next three years to non-profit organizations executing programs in the United States designed to inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal “best” and become role models for the next generation.

Our tagline needs to continue to inspire us all to be better every day, and to help create a new standard for boys to admire and for men to achieve… Because the boys of today are the men of tomorrow.

We’ve all got work to do. And it starts today.

Not everyone appreciates the new campaign. The YouTube video received 582,000 likes and 1 million dislikes. Some feel that the video unfairly accuses all men of not doing better.

A Gillette spokesperson said the campaign “is much more than a video—it is a commitment to spark and contribute to positive change through our voice as an advertiser and our actions as a brand and a company.” Analysts say the current boycotts probably won’t last long and will have little bottom-line effect on the company.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the video? Do you appreciate the message, find it offensive, or something else?

  • What else, if anything, should the company say in response to the controversy?

  • Which leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this story?

Report on Larry Nassar

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A new report on the former Olympics coach and doctor, Larry Nassar, blames officials at Michigan State University, the U.S. Olympics Committee (USOC), and USA Gymnastics for allowing his abuse of hundreds of girls over decades. The investigators concluded, “Numerous institutions and individuals enabled his abuse and failed to stop him.”

In some cases when officials learned of an abuse allegation against Nassar, they waited weeks or months to report to; in other cases, officials reported claims but didn’t do enough to follow up. In still other cases, officials did nothing at all.

Nassar was finally convicted and sentenced to what will be life in prison. With the report results, some hope the USOC will now be investigated.

The report aligns with an NPR podcast, Believed, tracing claims against Nassar and his medical defense, which was accepted by too many for too long.

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Discussion:

  • How do you think the abuse continued for so long? If you listen to the podcast Believed, you’ll hear Nassar’s defense during police interviews.

  • Analyze the report. What business communication principles are followed, and in what ways could the report be improved?

Cheesecake's Failed Promotion

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To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Cheesecake Factory offered free cheesecake delivery, but stores ran out and deliveries were slow.

Through the app DoorDash, customers ordered a free slice of the cake. The company said 40,000 slices were available, and people who didn’t get their promised piece got angry. Drivers were put in uncomfortable positions, sometimes waiting hours for orders to be ready for delivery. A flight between drivers broke out in Arlington, VA, and one got arrested.

The company responded by expressing gratitude for the tremendous interest and by complimenting themselves for delivering 60,000 slides—but no apology came. DoorDash tweeted, “A huge shoutout to all of the hardworking Dashers who made this exciting day possible! You’re the real MVPs.” A Cheesecake Factory spokesperson said, “Our Day of 40,000 Slices promotion had such a tremendous response from our guests that we extended it and delivered more than 60,000 complimentary slices. We were truly humbled by the popularity of the offer and by how quickly our fans responded as all of the 60,000 complimentary slices were ordered within an hour of the promotion's start time."

Discussion:

  • How could Cheesecake Factory have done a better job planning the promotion?

  • Should the company response be different? Do you think the leaders should apologize? Why or why not? If so, what would be an appropriate apology?



Trump Undocumented Workers Speak Out

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Employees of Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ, say they are undocumented in the U.S. and express disappointment at the president’s comments about immigrants. For five years, Victorina Morales has worked at the property, and her responsibilities sometimes include providing housekeeping services for the president’s private quarters.

Although the president may not have known about their status, Morales and a former employee say several within the housekeeping, maintenance, and landscaping crews don’t have papers to work legally in the U.S.

Morales said her status is known at the club, and she was hurt when she heard the president comparing recent immigrants to criminals:

“We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money. We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation.”

During the presidential campaign, President Trump said of his businesses, “We didn’t have one illegal immigrant on the job.”

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Discussion:

  • What risks does Morales take by speaking out? Why might she forge ahead and not be deterred by those risks?

  • How is this a potential issue of integrity for President Trump?

  • Should President Trump be held accountable for undocumented workers on his properties? Why or why not?

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.”

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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?

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.”

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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?

Reversal at Maryland

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The University of Maryland has reversed its position on keeping football coach DJ Durkin. At first, Durkin was reinstated after a damning report about player abuse which resulted in the death of a student, Jordan McNair. Critics say the University’s Board of Regents overstepped in disallowing Loh to terminate the coach.

Now, pressure from students, players, the McNair family, and politicians left the University with no choice but to fire Coach Durkin. In a letter, President Loh explained the decision, including his previous concerns about Durkin’s return.

McNair’s father made a statement, including a message to President Loh when asked:

“The same thing I’ve always said to Dr. Loh. I’ve always commended Dr. Loh for having a level of integrity and doing the right thing even since he first initially came to the hospital, and secondly, when he came to us as a family to apologize and to take full moral and legal responsible for the tragic events that happened.”

In the meantime, Maryland players were involved in an altercation. It seems as though this situation has divided the team as well.

UPDATE: James T. Brady, chairman of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, resigned last week, and President Loh is winning back his power. A Chronicle article notes that Loh won the “battle waged in the court of public opinion,” and whether he will leave the University as planned is now unclear. In a statement, Brady explained his decision and, using the word “proud” three times, cites board accomplishments during his tenure.

Discussion:

  • How is this situation an issue of integrity?

  • The regents had planned to terminate President Loh. Should they reverse this position too?

  • What should the University do now to repair its image?

  • We have heard nothing that I found from the regents (except their confidence in Coach Durkin). Should they communicate something now? What could they say that could help instead of hurt the situation?

Marriott Labor Strikes

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More than 8,000 Marriott employees are going on strike to fight for higher wages and more input into decisions that affect them. Represented by the union Unite Here, workers represent 23 hotels across the country, and the number may grow.

A Marriott International spokesperson told Skift:

“We are disappointed that Unite Here has chosen to resort to a strike at this time. During the strike our hotels are open, and we stand ready to provide excellent service to our guests. We continue to bargain in good faith for a fair contract. While we respect our associates’ rights to participate in this work stoppage, we also will welcome any associate who chooses to continue to work.”

The GM of a Westin property told guests they would put their sustainability program “in effect for all guests for the duration of the work stoppage. Your room will be cleaned every third day of your stay, and any additional cleaning services you would like are available on request.”

According to the article and online reviews, guests are noticing. As one wrote, “The normal services you associate with a hotel were severely reduced, along with the attention provided with a RC [Ritz-Carlton] stay, were no longer available.”

Unite Here is negotiating with Marriott for three improvements:

(1) Wages high enough so that workers do not have to work multiple jobs to earn a living wage; (2) a voice in determining how much automation and what kind of automation makes its way into the hotel industry; and (3) better measures for workplace safety.

Marriott image source. Striker image source.

Discussion:

  • If successful, the strike could inspire more hospitality workers to join the union. Is that a good result? Why or why not?

  • What’s your view of the employees’ requests: not enough, reasonable, outrageous, or something else?

  • What leadership character dimensions are demonstrated or not demonstrated by this situation?

Woman Fired for Racial Profiling

A woman refused to let a black man into her apartment, and she was subsequently fired from her job. Hilary Mueller is shown on video, taken by D'Arreion Toles, asking to see his key fob and questioning who Toles was going to visit in the building. Toles eventually moved past Mueller, who followed him to his apartment door.

When the video was posted, it attracted more than 5 million views. Toles included the captions, "to be a black man in America" and "this is America in 2018." Complicating matters, Mueller called the police after the incident. Also, Mueller’s husband posted a video condemning her behavior. They have been separated for more than a year.

Mueller’s employer, real estate firm Tribeca-STL, also saw the video and terminated her employment. An ABC report includes a statement from the firm:

"The Tribeca-STL family is a minority-owned company that consists of employees and residents from many racial backgrounds. We are proud of this fact and do not and never will stand for racism or racial profiling at our company."

As of this writing, both the company website and its Twitter feed are unavailable.

Discussion:

  • Explain how this incident is an example of racial profiling.

  • Do you agree with the firm’s decision to fire Mueller? Why or why not?

  • In what ways did Mueller demonstrate and fail to demonstrate integrity and humility?