Amazon Response to Employee Walkout

Open Letter.PNG

Like many around the world during the Global Climate Strike, hundreds of Amazon employees walked out of their offices yesterday. Employees have been urging Amazon leaders to take more steps to reduce fossil fuel dependency and wrote an open letter back in April. The pressure seems to be working.

On Thursday, CEO Jeff Bezos announced The Climate Pledge, with the following commitments:

  • Commits to net zero carbon by 2040 and 100% renewable energy by 2030

  • Orders 100,000 fully electric delivery vehicles, the largest order ever for electric delivery vehicles

  • Invests $100 million in reforestation projects around the world to begin removing carbon from the atmosphere now

  • Launches new sustainability website to report progress on commitments

The Pledge encourages other businesses to sign on, with Amazon leading the way. Bezos said, “We’re done being in the middle of the herd on this issue — we’ve decided to use our size and scale to make a difference.” Amazon employees reacted positively.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the employees’ open letter. What persuasive strategies do they use? Look for examples of logical argument, emotional appeal, and credibility. What organizational strategies do the writers use?

  • The Amazon announcement doesn’t mention employees’ influence in the decision, although news articles and employees make the connection. Should Bezos include this recognition? Why or why not?

  • Describe a CEO’s dilemma in situations like these. When is it appropriate for leaders to meet their employees’ demands, and when should they resist? Did Bezos take the best course of action?

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?

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?

The Purpose of the Corporation

BR2.png

The Business Roundtable published a statement, The Purpose of the Corporation, signed by 181 of its 193 members. The Roundtable, a corporate lobbying group, includes CEOs of the largest U.S. companies.

In essence, the CEOs write that they have responsibilities beyond shareholders—to customers, employees, suppliers, and communities (including the environment). The statement is a step to improving the perception of businesses as solely driven by creating shareholder value through short-term profits.

Skeptics abound. A writer for the Washington Post called the statement a “truism”:

“What’s significant about the statement is what it does not say. The corporate signatories do not suggest in any way weakening the fiduciary duties of the boards and managers of ordinary for-profit shareholder corporations to manage such companies’ affairs for shareholders’ benefit.”

The CEO of Allstate and head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times encouraging businesses to pay people more if they’re serious about serving more stakeholders.

A writer for Forbes argued that these companies are multinationals and have global responsibilities as well. He also accused the executives of being self-serving, warding off criticism about executive compensation.

Others noted company CEOs who didn’t sign, for example, Alcoa, Blackstone, GE, NextEra, Parker Hannifin, and Wells Fargo (whose representative said the CEO is interim and wasn’t asked to sign). Some companies, for example, Kaiser and State Farm, say they didn’t sign because they don’t have shareholders.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the statement: significant, placating, diverting, or something else?

  • Assess the statement itself. Consider the audience, purpose, writing style, organization, and so on. What works well, and what could be improved? What’s extraneous and what’s missing?

Overstock CEO Resigns

Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne resigned after admitting to a relationship with Russian agent Maria Butina. Butina is serving prison time because of her attempts to gain political access during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Byrne announced his decision in a letter to shareholders. He begins with the news:

“In July I came forward to a small set of journalists regarding my involvement in certain government matters. Doing so was not my first choice, but I was reminded of the damage done to our nation for three years and felt my duty as a citizen precluded me from staying silent any longer. So, I came forward in as carefully and well-managed fashion as I could. The news that I shared is bubbling (however haphazardly) into the public. Though patriotic Americans are writing me in support, my presence may affect and complicate all manner of business relationships, from insurability to strategic discussions regarding our retail business. Thus, while I believe that I did what was necessary for the good of the country, for the good of the firm, I am in the sad position of having to sever ties with Overstock, both as CEO and board member, effective Thursday August 22.”

MW-HP995_Overst_NS_20190822141401.png

Byrne’s letter then describes his thinking about Overstock, including blockchain technology, retail, and strategy.

This announcement came 10 days after Byrne wrote a news release titled, “Overstock.com CEO Comments on Deep State, Withholds Further Comment.” In that post, he refers to “Men in Black” and his “Omaha Rabbi,” reinforcing perceptions that Byrne is a controversial figure.

MarketWatch shows the stock performance during this period.

Byrne image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Byrne’s decision to resign? Consider his history with Overstock, company performance, and the company trajectory.

  • CNN referred to Byrne’s first news release as “strange.” Do you agree?

Backlash After President Trump Fundraiser

Equinox.JPG

Equinox and SoulCycle customers are not happy about a fundraiser for President Trump sponsored by the companies’ owner, the chairman of a real estate firm. Threats of boycotts and cancelled memberships provoked quick responses from both companies.

SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan also said, “SoulCycle has nothing to do with the event and does not support it. … We know who we are and we know what we believe in, and nothing will ever change that.”

Capitalizing on the brands’ distress, other fitness companies are offering discounts and free trials to try to win business.

Soul Cycle image source.

Discussion:

  • More company executives feel inspired towards political activism. What are the advantages and risks?

  • Did the real estate company owner, Stephen Ross, act inappropriately by hosting a fundraiser? Why or why not?

  • Analyze the companies’ statements. What persuasion strategies do they use to rebuild each brand?

  • Compare the statements. Does one work better than the other? What criteria do you use to compare them?

SoulCycle.JPG

Another Blackface Disaster

Belgium Africa Museum.jpg

Belgium’s Africa museum hosted an event for which people arrived in pith helmets, blackface, and other offensive and stereotypical clothing. Understandably, the Congolese community is upset. As one representative said, "Ethnic, exotic or African is not a costume that you can put on and take off.” You can read about Belgium’s occupation of the Congo to understand the history.

The party was organized by a separate company, Thé Dansant, and one organizer defended the party: “Even if one person painted his face black, it was not meant to be offensive. Many people of African origin were enthusiastic about the concept and were present.”

So far, the Royal Museum of Africa is trying to distance itself from the event and hasn’t issued a statement or apology.

Museum image source.
Party image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Thé Dansant’s response?

  • What is the museum’s accountability? What should the leaders do or say?

Employees Pressure Walmart to Consider Role in Gun Violence

Walmart.JPG

Walmart is in a tough spot after recent shootings. Some employees are pressing the company to do more to fight gun violence, but no policy changes are planned. After previous attacks, Walmart stopped selling assault-style weapons and raised the minimum age to purchase guns and ammunition, but it’s unclear whether the leaders will do more. Employees are asking Walmart to stop selling firearms and to disallow customers from carrying guns into the stores.

The company seems divided about employees’ activism. Chief Executive Doug McMillon wrote, ”We are proud to be woven into the American fabric as a place for all people. We are more resolved than ever to foster an inclusive environment where all people are valued and welcomed.” At the same time, the company blocked two employees’ access to Slack, encouraging employees to use “more constructive ways for associates to offer feedback such as emails or conversations with leaders.”

A study recently published in the International Journal of Business Communication found that employees are more likely to “express dissent to managers and coworkers” when they are more socialized in the company and when they believe their company is “more ethical and reputable.”

A Wall Street Journal article explains the risk for Walmart to take more action against gun sales:

“[A]ny change to its gun policies risks alienating Walmart’s core customers, who often live in more conservative-leaning rural and suburban communities. The company faced some consumer backlash after raising the minimum age to purchase guns to 21.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • How can the company balance employees’ and customers’ perspectives? What else, if anything, should company leaders say and do?

  • Did the company do the right thing by blocking Slack access? In what ways are email and conversations more or less “constructive”?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Capital One's Response to the Breach

Breaches.JPG

A hacker got access to 140,000 Capital One customers’ credit information and social security information, and about 106 million people were affected by other leaked information. Officials arrested Paige A. Thompson, who goes by “erratic” and was a former Seattle technology company software engineer.

In a bar chart, a BBC article puts this breach in context of others. Capital One’s press release describes the company’s quick response:

“Capital One immediately fixed the configuration vulnerability that this individual exploited and promptly began working with federal law enforcement.”

The release also includes a statement from Chairman and CEO Richard Fairbank:

"While I am grateful that the perpetrator has been caught, I am deeply sorry for what has happened. I sincerely apologize for the understandable worry this incident must be causing those affected and I am committed to making it right."

In addition, as expected, the release includes information for customers, offers free credit monitoring, and provides an FAQ.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the press release. Consider the audiences, objectives, organization, tone, and so on.

  • How well does Fairbanks demonstrate humility in the press release? What other leadership character dimensions are illustrated? How well does he inspire confidence in Capital One?

  • Analyze the BBC chart shown here. What works well about the chart, and what else would be helpful to understand these breaches in context?

Rossello's Resignation

PR Protests.jpg

After initial resistance, the governor of Puerto Rico announced his resignation. More than a week of protests about inappropriate chats and financial mismanagement forced Ricardo Rosselló to step down, effective August 2.

Rossello’s video was posted on Facebook. In his statement, Rossello first described successes of his administration, for example, “We raised the salary of teachers in the middle of a bankruptcy.” Then he said, “I was willing to face any challenge, fully understanding that I would prevail against any accusation or process.”

But Rossello admitted he could not continue, having “heard the demand of the people,” and recognizing that his failure to resign “would endanger the successes we have achieved.” He also tried to quell protests: “I hope this decision serves as a call to citizen reconciliation.”

Rossello image source.

Protests image source.

Discussion:

  • Did Governor Rossello make the right decision by resigning? Why or why not?

  • Analyze his speech (if you understand Spanish or find a translation). Consider his audience, communication objectives, word tone, organization, and tone.

  • What similar business situations come to mind? Think about a CEO who was under pressure to resign and what happened. What conclusions can you draw between the business and political situations?





Government Scandal in Puerto Rico

Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló says he will not resign despite protests about private messages that included personal attacks and crude language. With 11 of his top aides, Rosselló participated in chats via the messaging app Telegram. Almost 900 pages of text are now public, and we see insults about other officials with references to people’s sexual orientation, gender, and weight.

The news comes after government corruption chargers earlier this week. The governor admitted, “I committed inappropriate acts,” but also said, “I have not committed illegal acts.”

In a news conference, Rosselló used the words “improper” and “shameful,” but didn’t agree with the reporter that the chats were unethical.

Discussion:

  • Should the governor resign? Why or why not?

  • What’s your view of the private chats? Should government officials be able to message each other freely? Why or why not?

  • How well did the governor respond to the reporter’s questions? Did he convince you?

Nike Flag Shoe Controversy

CK and sneakers.jpg

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?

Noncompete Agreements for Interns

noncompete.jpg

A Wall Street Journal article reports that college interns are increasingly asked to sign agreements that restrict their job choices in the future. “Noncompete, nondisclosure and forced arbitration agreements,” which have been common for senior-level employees, have made their way down the ranks.

Now, interns are asked to sign agreements on their first day with a company, and they don’t always understand what they’re signing. An agreement can prevent a new grad from, for example, accepting an offer with a competitor within a geographic region.

Some agreements are important for companies to protect their intellectual property and preserve confidentiality, but critics say they go overboard. Also, such agreements may not hold up in court, particularly when they affect low-skilled workers.

Bottom line: interns should be careful about what they sign. An agreement may be more of a deterrent and might not inspire legal action, but students shouldn’t have to feel as though their choices are limited right after graduation.

Signing image source.
Noncompete image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your experience with these employment agreements?

  • What would you do if asked to sign one?

  • What should companies do differently to protect themselves?

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?

Rutgers Chancellor "Berates" Police Officers

The Chronicle reported that Rutgers Chancellor Nancy E. Cantor “apologized for berating campus police officers.” On her way to the airport, Cantor’s driver hit a parked police car. She was detained and said, “If I miss my airplane, you folks are in trouble!” When an officer asked, “I’m sorry, who are you?” she yelled, “I’m the chancellor!”

The episode, which happened in March, was recorded on the officer’s body camera. Part of the debate is about whether Cantor needed to be detained because she entered the vehicle after the driver hit the other car.

Regardless, the video became public, Cantor apologized, and the Rutgers-Newark police chief responded:

“I appreciate Chancellor Cantor taking the time to review the video. I along with the RUPD are appreciative of her kind words and support. The sentiment is extremely appreciated, and we look forward to continuing a positive working relationship with the Rutgers-Newark chancellor’s office.”

Discussion:

  • Watch the video exchange. What’s your view of the chancellor’s behavior with the police officers?

  • Should the officers have done anything differently in this situation? Why or why not?

  • Assess the police chief’s response. How well does he demonstrate forgiveness?




Mets Manager Admits Mistake

Mets 34.JPG

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?







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.

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?

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?

A Pie Chart Totals 128%

Morning Brew.jpg

A pie chart represents part of a whole, so how can numbers total more than 100%? They can’t. On Twitter, Dorsa Amir identifies additional problems.

The caption is also concerning: “High Support for Legalizing Marijuana.” Do we see evidence to prove this claim?

Note: This chart was created as a joke and posted on a sub-reddit.

Discussion:

  • What is the point of the chart?

  • What data would prove the point, and how could the designer have presented data differently?