LeBron James Enters the Tweet Debate

As the NBA struggles to recover after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong protesters, LeBron James questioned Morey’s choice:

Yes, we all do have freedom of speech. But, at times, there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others, when you’re only thinking about yourself. . . . I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke. And so many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually. So just be careful. . . .”

The Wall Street Journal reports that people were “stunned” by his comment because James is typically careful about his public comments.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of James’ commenting on the situation? Should he have avoided commenting? Why or why not?

  • What’s your view of his comments? How well did he handle the situation?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by James’ comments?

NBA Tweetstorm

The NBA is thrust into a political quagmire after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protesters: '“Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet has since been deleted.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is dancing a line between protecting Morey’s free speech and staving off China’s backlash. Critics say the league is driven by profit instead of principle. He has tried to clarify his position:

“It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences. However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”

At this point, The Wall Street Journal reports better news:

“The situation appears to have de-escalated. After a week of blistering anti-NBA rhetoric in Chinese media, the government is signaling that it’s time to cool it, a message that includes the vitriol directed at the Rockets, according to one person familiar with the situation.”

But the Journal also acknowledges: “China’s love affair with the Rockets might not be the same again.”

Discussion:

  • Should Morey have avoided sending the tweet? Why or why not?

  • How do you assess the league’s response to the situation?

  • Analyze Silver’s news conference. What did he do well, and what could he have done differently?

Layoffs Planned at WeWork

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After a failed IPO and questions about its leadership and financials, WeWork is planning to downsize. New co-CEOs Artie Minson and Sebastian Gunningham warned employees to expect layoffs but said they will be handled “humanely.”

The new leadership had already prepared employees: "While we anticipate difficult decisions ahead, each decision will be made with rigorous analysis, always bearing in mind the company's long-term interest and health." The new information gives employees a better sense of what will come.

But news stories aren’t consistent. Fortune reports 2,000 layoffs or about 16% of WeWork employees affected, while Dice reports 5,000. Dice acknowledges differences in reporting.

Affected employees could be in business segments that will be spun off, so they may still have a job. WeWork may try to sell Meetup, Managed by Q, and Conductor brands.

Discussion:

  • Assess WeWork’s communications to employees so far. Even if the percentage were clear, the number of layoffs may change. Are the new leaders doing the right thing in giving an estimate now?

  • Employees know layoffs are coming “soon.” Should they have more specific dates? Consider whether this is a good idea.






https://fortune.com/2019/09/25/wework-new-ceos-memo-employees/


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.

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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?

East Carolina University Leader Placed on Leave

East Carolina University’s interim chancellor is being investigated for inappropriate behavior with students. One video shows Dan Gerlach chugging beer and dancing with students, and photos show him with his arm around a student at a local hangout in Greenville, NC.

Gerlach wrote a statement in his defense:

ECU bar.PNG

When I first started here, and even before, one constant concern that I heard was that our students needed a leader of the university to be present and approachable, someone who can speak to them in their language. That’s what I’ve set out to do at ECU. I regret that these photos are being perceived as anything more than what they are.

A member of the board of trustees said, “This is very concerning without question.” However, the bar owner defended the chancellor in a tweet:

I wasn’t there, but two of the staff told me that several people were kind of excited to see the chancellor out and in the bar…It really is a damn shame. The guy came in with some off duty cops to have some beer. Just wrong place, wrong time.

Discussion:

  • How do you assess Gerlach’s response? Explain his perspective of the situation.

  • Analyze the bar owner’s tweet. How much credibility does he have in this situation?

  • What do you think of university administrators socializing with students in this way? Do you have a different perspective of faculty? Why or why not?

Forever 21 Files for Bankruptcy

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Retailer Forever 21 has filed for bankruptcy, and employees are not happy. In its Letter to Customers, posted on the website, the company explains the process:

This does NOT mean that we are going out of business – on the contrary, filing for bankruptcy protection is a deliberate and decisive step to put us on a successful track for the future.

Hundreds of employees are planning to unionize with United for Respect, which also represented employees from Sears and Toys R Us during their bankruptcies.

The Washington Post reports employees’ reactions to the Forever 21 decision:

[S]everal employees cited past instances where Forever 21 swiftly closed stores with little warning or explanation, which prompted their concerns over how the company would treat employees amid bankruptcy.

Unions are seeing opportunities in retail employees. Private-section union membership has been shrinking in the U.S. and is now only 6.4%, compared to 33.9% of government workers. As retail employees get discouraged by their employers, union organizing activity has been increasing.

Cover image source.

Image source here.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the Letter to Customers. Which principles of communicating bad news are followed? How could the message be improved?

  • Explain the ethics of a company filing for bankruptcy. Use an ethical decision-model, such as that in Chapter 1, to determine the effects.

  • What’s your view of retail employees unionizing? What are the benefits to employees and potential downsides of union activity and of forming a union?

Harvard Admissions Decision

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A federal judge has decided that Harvard did not discriminate against Asian students during the admissions process. The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, provides an analysis of the case.

In its defense, Harvard revealed its admissions process, which included personality ratings. The plaintiff group, Students for Fair Admissions, criticized the system as disadvantaging Asian students. However, in her decision, the judge cited testimony from admissions counselors, shown here.

The judge explained the role of diversity in her decision:

Ensuring diversity at Harvard relies, in part, on race-conscious admissions. The use of race benefits certain racial and ethnic groups that would otherwise be underrepresented at Harvard and is therefore neither an illegitimate use of race or reflective of racial prejudice.

Although she decided in Harvard’s favor, the judge did provide recommendations to Harvard:

 She recommended that admissions officers participate in implicit bias trainings, maintain clear guidelines on the use of race, and monitor any race-related statistical disparities.

She said the task of considering race in admissions is a “a particularly delicate job” to execute lawfully.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of this case? Read more about the case in the judge’s decision.

  • What’s your own experience during the college admissions process? How might this affect how you view the case?

  • Analyze the Harvard Crimson article. What business communication principles do the author follow?

WeWork Co-Founder and CEO Steps Down

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WeWork announced that Adam Neumann will leave his position after controversy about the company’s financial situation and the co-founder and CEO’s behavior. Within a week, the company went from preparing for an IPO to facing criticism that led to this ouster and a delayed public offering.

The company valuation has been reduced from about $47 to $15 billion based on governance issues and what the Wall Street Journal calls “ballooning losses.” The Journal also reported on Neumann’s “eccentric behavior,” including a heavy-party lifestyle that recently involved bring marijuana on a plane to Israel and saying that he might like to be the prime minister .

In its news release, WeWork provided scant information and a few quotations, including this from Neumann:

“As co-founder of WeWork, I am so proud of this team and the incredible company that we have built over the last decade. Our global platform now spans 111 cities in 29 countries, serving more than 527,000 members each day. While our business has never been stronger, in recent weeks, the scrutiny directed toward me has become a significant distraction, and I have decided that it is in the best interest of the company to step down as chief executive. Thank you to my colleagues, our members, our landlord partners, and our investors for continuing to believe in this great business.”

Neumann image source.

WeWork office image source.

Discussion:

  • Compare the company’s news release to others announcing CEO departures. How does this one differ, and why would the company take this approach?

  • What are the communication objectives of Neumann’s statement? How well does his quote meet those objectives? What else, if anything, should Neumann say or do?

Amazon Response to Employee Walkout

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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?

CEOs Advocate for Gun Safety

CEOs are encouraging senators to pass stricter gun regulations, such as background checks and a “Red Flag” law that allows guns to be taken from someone who poses a threat. The leaders of 145 companies sent a letter asking for the following:

“That’s why we urge the Senate to stand with the American public and take action on gun safety by passing a bill to require background checks on all gun sales and a strong Red Flag law that would allow courts to issue life-saving extreme risk protection orders.”

The Trump Administration has implemented a ban on bump stock devices, which allows a shooter to fire in more rapid succession, and President Trump has supported more thorough background checks for gun buyers.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of CEOs taking on this activist role? What is driving them, and what are the potential risks?

  • What observations do you have about the companies that are represented—and perhaps about those that are not?

  • Analyze the letter by considering the audience, communication objectives, organization, writing style, and so on. What works well, and what could be improved?

Google Reassures Employees They Can Speak Out

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

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

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

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

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

Image source.

Discussion:

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

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

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

Howard Schultz Update

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

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

Discussion:

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

  • At what point does he announce the news?

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

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

Creative Charts

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

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

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

Discussion:

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

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

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

The Purpose of the Corporation

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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?

Backlash After President Trump Fundraiser

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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?

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Another Blackface Disaster

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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

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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?

Republican Google Employee Claims Bullying

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion:

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

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

Capital One's Response to the Breach

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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?