Business Leaders Sign Letter to Top Officials

GMAC.PNG

Fifty CEOs and business school leaders signed a letter to President Trump and other top-ranking politicians urging action to allow for more international applications. The letter comes after a report by the Graduate Management Admissions Council showing declining applications.

Report conclusions follow:

[A]llowing top talent to study and work in the country of their choice helps create jobs, not take them. It offers insight into changing trends for historically talent-attracting and talent-supplying countries. Business school applications are a powerful metric—and forecast—of the success of individual economies in prioritizing talent and therefore leading innovation and growth. A survey of these latest metrics shows change in our midst—and for certain economies, warning signs for the future.

In their letter, the business leaders write that the U.S. is “needlessly capping our growth and can do better.” They urge U.S. politicians to allow more movement by taking the following action:

  • Removing “per-country” visa caps, modernizing our visa processing system, and reforming the H-1B visa program to make it possible for the most talented people to have a reasonable chance of gaining entry to the United States.

  • Creating a “heartland” visa that encourages immigration to the regions of the United States that could most use the vitality of these talented individuals.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the letter. Who are the primary and secondary audiences? What are the communication objectives? How do you assess the organization and writing style?

  • What persuasive communication strategies do the writers use? Which are most and least effective?

  • Analyze the report using the same questions.

  • How well does the infographic summarize the report conclusions? What could be improved?

WeWork: "Humbler"

Several articles in the past few weeks have scolded WeWork CEO Adam Neumann and the investors who followed his story.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to describe Neumann’s odd behavior and published another article, “WeWork Investors Turned Off by ‘Sloppy’ IPO Filings.” The recent article explains one problem in the filings (shown below):

“A section headed ‘illustrative annual economics’ that assumed 100% workstation utilization vanished, for example, as did two graphs portraying a typical location going from ‘-$’ to ‘+$,’ with no y-axis showing the actual dollar amounts being depicted.”

A New York Times article, “Was WeWork Ever Going to Work?” criticizes investors for missing obvious problems with the company’s initial business plan, such as the reliance on start-up revenue when most entrepreneurial ventures fail. According to this report, it took people finally looking at the data to realize how much We is losing and how hard it will be for the company to succeed.

WeWork filing.JPG

The article includes other examples of investors’ blind exuberance:

“It is not merely money that separates the ruling class from the rest of the country. Often it seems as if it is the gaping difference in the application of common sense. Ultimately, it was the bankers, technocrats, statesmen and acolytes of the data-junkie class who were willing to believe that Elizabeth Holmes, a 19-year-old college dropout who thought a black turtleneck would make her Steve Jobs, was going to revolutionize blood-testing. It didn’t seem to matter that she could not deliver any real evidence to prove it.”

An Inc. article, “The Future of WeWork: Leaner, Humbler, and Duller,” suggests a new path for We. The author suggests less hype, fewer employees, and more discipline for the company to survive.

WeWork image source.

Discussion:

  • Who do you blame for WeWork’s failed IPO?

  • If you believe the New York Times article, investors are gullible. Do you agree with this assessment? If so, why might this be the case?

  • Read the “Note”—the fine print—under the table, shown above. How do you interpret this information?

  • What should We do now to build credibility and save the business?

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.

Generations.PNG

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?

Graphical Resumes

Resume.jpg

Are employers becoming more open to graphical resumes? The boring, standard resume format hasn’t changed much despite some attempts at infographics and video.

A Wall Street Journal article indicates that acceptance may be increasing for resumes that look more like a social profile:

The stodgiest of business documents is in the midst of its most extreme makeover yet—whether employers want it or not. Gone are the utilitarian, black-and-white documents covered in bullet points. As Gen Z enters the workforce, companies are seeing digital CVs filled with artistic flourishes, including illustrations of college mascots, logos of past employers and icons to denote hobbies such as home renovation and watching movies.

Particularly for jobs in fields like marketing, graphical resumes are more common. Candidates might include an avatar or a section called “By the numbers.”

For more traditional fields, it’s a bigger risk: a visual resume might get you noticed but not for the right reasons. For any jobs, bitmojis and other images that seem childish don’t represent candidates in the best light.

Resume image source.

Discussion:

  • How traditional is your resume? Would you consider adding graphics? Why or why not?

  • In addition to marketing, which fields might be more open to a graphical resume?

  • What’s your view of the resume shown above? What about this Microsoft template resume?

College Applications Controversy

Apps.JPG

A Wall Street Journal article reports that colleges are making few changes to how they review applications despite the recent admissions scandal. University officials say they are overburdened by reading applications, which have increased dramatically in the past few years, shown here.

University leadership also argue that they should not distrust all applicants because of the few who misrepresent themselves. Other than school transcripts and test scores, as a spokesperson at Dartmouth said, “The rest of a student’s file is reviewed on an honor-code assumption that a student’s work is a student’s work. It is not our policy to suspect every student of falsifying records.”

On the other hand, some universities have implemented additional checks, for example, of athletes. Some hire outside firms to verify information, and admissions staff do check for inconsistencies, but the article concludes that “almost none have a formal audit process in which they select a random sample of applications to independently verify.”

Admissions image source.

Line chart source.

Discussion:

  • Should universities do more to verify the accuracy of students’ applications? Why or why not?

  • Analyze the line chart at right. How does the chart skew the data? How could this affect the arguments presented in the WSJ article? What recommendations would you make to the designer?

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?

Report on Minimum Wage

Min wage.JPG

The Congressional Budget Office has determined that raising the U.S. federal minimum wage to $15 per hour will improve pay for 17 million workers but leave about 1.3 million without jobs. A report explains the impact:

“[I]n an average week in 2025, the $15 option would increase the wages of 17 million workers whose wages would otherwise be below $15 per hour, CBO estimates. The wages of many of the 10 million workers whose wages would be slightly above the new federal minimum would also increase.”

Although it’s higher in some cities and states, the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009. The report explores changes related to increases to $15, $12, and $10 but concludes: “The options’ effects on employment and family income are uncertain.”

The report comes before a vote to pass the “Raise the Wage Act,” which is proposed by House Democrats to increase wages gradually to $15 until 2024.

Discussion:

  • Assess the graphic, at right, which is on the report cover. What does it mean, and how could it be improved? What’s your view of using the graphic on the report cover?

  • Assess the report. Which business communication principles are followed, and what could be improved? Consider organization, writing style, document design, and so on.

  • Finally, assess the report conclusions. What other data would be useful to know?

Analyzing an Infographic

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

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

Image source.

Discussion:

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

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

  • What could be improved?

Social Listening.JPG

Analyzing a Column Chart

Manhattan home sales.JPG

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

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

Discussion:

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

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

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



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?

Charts About Uber and Lyft

Uber.JPG

A New York Times article compares Uber and Lyft in four simple charts. As you might expect, Uber leads in bookings and revenue, but it has greater losses and expenses.

The graphics are traditional bar charts, which are horizontal. Although we call vertical graphics bar charts, technically they are column charts. Either way, the charts are easy to read and compare, but can they be improved?

Discussion:

Losses.JPG
  • How else can data about the two companies be compared? For example, would side-by-side bar charts work better? Or vertical instead of horizontal bars?

  • Can you think of a way to show all four categories of information in one chart? Would that help understanding or not?

  • What other suggestions would you make to the NYT designer?

Views About Social Media

Is social media influencing over lives positively or negatively? A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that Americans see more problems than benefits to society, although 70% of respondents use social media sites every day.

SM poll.PNG
Trust.PNG

Respondents also don’t have high trust in technology companies, rating the federal government as more trustworthy, with Facebook getting particularly low grades. This is tough news for the tech firms considering Gallup’s research on confidence in institutions. Given a list of 15 institutions, including small business, the police, and the military, Americans have consistently rated Congress last.

Discussion:

  • Do these survey results surprise you? Why or why not?

  • The Gallup question is different, asking about “confidence” rather than “trust.” Could the wording make a difference in responses? Why or why not?

  • Evaluate these Wall Street Journal graphics. How well do they convey the information? What could be improved?

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?

Equifax and Marriott CEOs Testify About Security Breaches

U.S. Senators grilled Equifax and Marriott CEOs about data breaches at the companies in the past two years. Equifax CEO Mark Begor responded to questions following a Senate subcommittee report titled, “How Equifax Neglected Cybersecurity and Suffered a Devastating Data Breach.” The report concludes an investigation of the 2017 breach of 143 million customers’ personal data and accuses the company of not prioritizing security, not following its own patching policies, failing to notify the public in a timely manner, and more.

Begor defended the company and blamed the increasing sophistication of hackers:

“These attacks are no longer just a hacker in the basement attempting to penetrate a company’s security perimeter, but instead are carried out by increasingly sophisticated criminal rings or, even more challenging, well-funded nation-state actors or military arms of nation-states.”

But Senators pointed out that credit company competitors Experian and TransUnion have managed to avoid similar attacks.

The Marriott breach affected 83 million guests of Starwood, which Marriott acquired after the breach took place. Compared to the Equifax situation, Marriott got a pass from senators, such as Tom Carper of Delaware, who said, “The data breach announced by Marriott this past November does not appear to have been caused by the same cultural indifference to cybersecurity the record indicates existed at Equifax. Rather, it looks like Marriott inherited this breach from Starwood.”

Marriott has been consistent in blaming Starwood for the issue, wanting to preserve the brand. In his testimony, CEO Arne Sorenson reinforced the company separation:

“We conducted an assessment on integrating the two systems, although this inquiry was legally and practically limited by the fact that until the merger closed, Starwood remained a direct competitor.”

Here is Sorenson interviewed on CNBC:

Discussion:

  • Watch some of the testimony. How well did each CEO handle the Senators’ questions?

  • Assess Sorenson’s appearance on CNBC. What did he do to try to rebuild the company’s image? What persuasive strategies did he use?

  • Review the subcommittee’s report on the Equifax breach. How is the report organized? How would you describe the writing style and tone? What suggestions would you have for the authors to improve readability?

  • From your perspective, what leadership character dimensions do the CEO illustrate or fail to illustrate?

Measles: Evaluating Evidence

The news about a resurgence of measles raises interesting questions about how we evaluate evidence. About a dozen years ago, a small study alarmed parents and caregivers that the measles vaccine may cause autism. Since then, several large-scale studies have debunked that theory, and the article was retracted.

But the damage was done—and it lingers. A few hold-outs still believe the vaccine may be dangerous, and so they do not have their children vaccinated.

Recently, about 100 measles cases have emerged in the U.S., and once again, the evidence is up for evaluation. How are people convinced? What makes people change their minds?

In his book Factfulness, Hans Rosling offers this advice:

[I]f you are skeptical about the measles vaccination, I ask you to do two things. First, make sure you know what it looks like when a child dies from measles. Most children who catch measles recover, but there is still no cure and even with the best modern medicine, one or two in every thousand will die of it. Second, ask yourself, “What kind of evidence would convince me to change my mind?” If the answer is “no evidence could ever change my mind about vaccination,” then you are putting yourself outside evidence-based rationality, outside the very critical thinking that first brought you to this point. In that case, to be consistent in your skepticism about science, next time you have an operation, please ask your surgeon not to bother washing her hands.

Along these lines, a Medium article, The Falsification Mindset, suggests ways for us to change our opinions. The author encourages us to consider what evidence we would need in order to change our minds. This process is particularly useful because we more typically look for reasons to continue believing what we believe—confirmation bias.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What examples can you identify of when you have experienced confirmation bias. In retrospect, could you have avoided the bias to make a better decision or to have a more accurate view?

  • What’s your view of the measles vaccination? How did you form this opinion? How has it changed over time?

  • Identify a belief. What evidence would you need to think differently?

  • How is humility relevant to this situation?

McKinsey PPT Slide Causes Problems

Boeing.PNG

Back in 2006, Boeing hired management consultancy McKinsey to help the company launch its 787 Dreamliner despite rising titanium prices. According to a New York Times article, McKinsey evaluated a proposal for Boeing “to mine titanium in India through a foreign partnership financed by an influential Ukrainian oligarch.”

On a PowerPoint slide, the consultancy suggested that Boeing “respect traditional bureaucratic process including use of bribes.” Included on the slide were names of eight “key Indian officials.” As the article notes, “Nowhere in the slide did McKinsey advise that such a scheme would be illegal or unwise.”

McKinsey admitted authoring the report only after learning that the Times had a copy. Details are fuzzy, and McKinsey isn’t offering more explanation.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of McKinsey’s responsibility in this situation? Do you believe they encouraged illegal activity, were just doing the job of management consultant firm and considering cultural realities, or something else?

  • The PPT slide seems to have implicated McKinsey. Should the consultants have been more careful about what was documented? Why or why not?

  • What character issues may be at play in this situation?

  • The NYT author wrote, “Nowhere in the slide…” I would say, “Nowhere on the slide…” Which is correct—or are both acceptable?

Lettuce Recall Data

CDC.PNG

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal highlights the value data for decision making. With the article title, “Lettuce Try Not to Panic,” Jim Prevor criticizes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) edict that “U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any”:

There are 43 people known to be infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli 0157:H7. The CDC interviewed 25 of them. Eighty-eight percent of those 25 people, as opposed to 47% of the general population, said they ate romaine lettuce in the week before they got sick.

From population data, the Prevor concludes that you have a 1 in 11 million chance of getting sick from Romain lettuce, and a 1 in 28 million chance of ending up in the hospital. The author makes the odds even more concrete:

If this outbreak were active every day, and you ate one salad a day, on average you would be hospitalized for E. coli once every 77,000 years.

Even these data, Prevor argues, are overstated for most of us. Children, older people, and people with compromised immune systems are far more likely to get sick than the average adult. As a result of the CDC warning, the author estimates “tens of millions of dollars in losses.”

On the CDC website, a “Food Safety Alert” details the investigation results and advice.

Lettuce image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the CDC’s recommendation: better safe than sorry or overblown?

  • How well does Prevor argue his point? What persuasive strategies does he use? Which are his strongest and weakest arguments? What may be missing from his argument?

  • Help an audience visualize some of the data in Prevor’s article. What charts or graphs would be useful to help consumers make an informed decision?

Good News, Bad News About Student Preparation for Work

Figure.PNG

A survey of freshmen and seniors at 500 U.S. colleges shows that students feel positively about their career preparation. The According to the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), 93% of students say what they learned in school is relevant to their future career, and perhaps surprisingly, students with professional majors agree only slightly more than students in arts and sciences programs.

This is good news. But a Chronicle of Higher Education article identifies a disconnect: employers aren’t so confident about graduates’ preparation. Employers want students to immediately apply skills on the job, but faculty may not be teaching specific work-related skills, such as running a meeting or writing memos—two examples from the Chronicle article.

Discussion:

  • Students of business communication certainly know how to write a memo—or more accurately, an email. What other skills should be included in a college curriculum for any major?

  • One argument is that employers are responsible for skills training, while the university teaches critical-thinking skills. What’s your view?

  • What report writing principles does the NSSE follow, and how could it be improved? Particularly analyze the charts and graphs, such as the one shown here.

White House Tweets Doctored Video

There is no love lost, as they say, between President Trump and CNN Correspondent Jim Acosta. Now, Acosta has been suspended from the White House because of what Press Secretary Sarah Sanders described as “a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern.”

However, Sanders posted a video that Storyful compared to C-SPAN’s, and a different story emerges. In the C-SPAN version, Acosta’s hand inadvertently touches the intern’s arm. The White House version omits three frames, misleading viewers to see more aggressive touching—a “chop.”

Acosta video.PNG


A Wall Street Journal article and a Wired report show the videos frame by frame, side by side.

CNN posted that the news organization stands by Acosta, and Sanders tweeted that the White House stands by its decision.

Discussion:

  • One theory is that the White House obtained the doctored video from InfoWars, a conservative news organization. If this is true, should the White House staff have done a better job vetting the source?

  • Assuming the White House didn’t know the video was edited, what should they do or say now?

  • Analyze the unedited video. What, if any, responsibility does Acosta have for the incident?

  • #MicrophoneMeghan is trending. Who’s responsible for the (probably) unwanted attention?

University of Maryland President Resigns

Maryland.JPG

Following a report about a student death, University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh will resign. Loh had apologized for the loss of Jordan McNair, a football player who died during rigorous training. A Washington Post article quotes the McNair’s attorney about the apology:

Hassan Murphy, the McNair family’s attorney, said Loh “remains the only person thus far in this process who has accepted moral and legal responsibility and has spoken from his heart about what happened.”

“If the university will not do right by Jordan, we promise to explore every possible avenue that will,” Murphy added.

Since then, an investigation uncovered deep issues with the athletics program and a culture of silence: “problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.” An independent committee presented its findings and recommendations in a 200-page report.

Rick Court, the former strength-and-conditioning coach, was terminated, but the athletics director and football coach will remain in their positions. Despite Loh’s recommendation, the University regents encouraged Loh to allow Coach DJ Durkin to return after his suspension. According to the Post article, Loh was permitted to stay at the university through June 2019 only if Durkin stayed on.

Several senators have questioned the decision and accuse the University of putting “athletics over academics.”

The Post also reports that several players walked out during their first meeting with Coach Durkin.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Did the University regents make the right decision in asking for Loh’s resignation? Why or why not?

  • Did Loh do the right thing by allowing Durkin to return?

  • Analyze the investigation report: audience, organization, content, writing style, and so on. Which business writing principles are followed, and how could the report be improved?