OurBus Handles a Mistake with Humor

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OurBus sent an email with a link that wasn’t yet working and quickly corrected the mistake with some fun. The company offered a $7 discount for rides booked on St. Patrick’s Day and corrected the link with the subject line, “Our Bad. That code doesn't quite work yet...”

In the first email, the date is clearly March 17, but the subject line, “It's your lucky day. Our flash sale starts NOW,” is certainly deceiving.

Discussion:

  • Assess the second message from OurBus. How well did the company handle the situation? What changes would you suggest? (Hint: alignment.)

  • Are people still saying “my bad”? Did they intend to play on “OurBus” with “Our bad”? If so, would it have been better to write, “OurBad”?

  • Which leadership character dimensions does this situation illustrate?

Walking Meetings: "Take a Hike"

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According to a Wall Street Journal article, employees have had enough of “walking meetings,” typically initiated by a manager who wants to get some exercise. Employees cite exhaustion, bug bites, overcrowding, uncomfortable height differences, crashing into things, and losing people along the way.

On the plus side, people say it boosts creativity and energy, as this infographic shows. Some say it reminds them of college, when their professor held class outside in nice weather. (Do people still do that?)

Comparisons to “The West Wing” abound, but it’s not quite the same without the cameras following you.

Walking meeting image source.

Infographic image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of walking meetings? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

  • Should managers be more sensitive to people who have physical challenges or just prefer to meet inside? How should managers handle these situations?

MSU Gets Another New Interim President

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Michigan State University hired a second interim president. First, President Lou Anna Simon resigned after 13 years following criticism that she didn’t do enough to stop Dr. Larry Nassar from abusing girls. John Engler replaced her as interim president in 2018, but he, too, faced criticism for insensitivity to Nassar’s victims.

Most recently, Engler commented after a $425 million fund was approved for 332 current claimants and another $75 million was approved for additional victims. Engler said, “The people who got the $425 million are probably OK." Engler said he was thinking more about the potential additional victims who haven’t been part of the process yet. He made things worse when he said more:

"You’ve got people, they are hanging on and this has been … there are a lot of people who are touched by this, survivors who haven’t been in the spotlight. In some ways they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition. And it’s ending. It’s almost done.”

People took great offense to his implication that the earlier claimants have “enjoyed the spotlight.” So now, MSU has a new interim president, Satish Udpa.

MSU image source.

Udpa image source.

Discussion:

  • Try to see Engler’s point of view. What was he trying to convey with his comments?

  • We might say that Engler’s comments lacked compassion. What else is problematic about his comments?

  • What’s your view? Was forcing Engler’s resignation the right thing to do? Why or why not?

T-Mobile Replaces Automated Systems with People

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

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

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

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

Discussion:

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

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

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

Facebook's Rules for Managing Political Speech

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A New York Times article describes a complex rulebook to help employees decide whether to address political speech on the site. The decision process is daunting, and guidelines include extensive examples of content—text and visuals—that may indicate hate or inspire violence.

The author questions whether Facebook employees are making rational, consistent decisions:

The guidelines for identifying hate speech, a problem that has bedeviled Facebook, run to 200 jargon-filled, head-spinning pages. Moderators must sort a post into one of three “tiers” of severity. They must bear in mind lists like the six “designated dehumanizing comparisons,” among them comparing Jews to rats.

Others say Facebook has too much power because the company controls speech in international political situations. For example, before an election in Pakistan, during a 24-hour media blackout, Facebook may have been the go-to source. Before this time, Facebook distributed 40 pages of “political parties, expected trends, and guidelines” to its employees. But guidelines sometimes contradict each other, and Facebook relies of Google Translate, which may not be accurate or precise enough.

Cover image source.

Discussion:

  • When Facebook faced criticism about sharing information with technology partners, company leaders responded in a blog post. If they were to do something similar in this case, what should they say to rebuild confidence in the site?

  • Although the rules can be a “bit baffling,” as the author says, Facebook is trying to address other criticism about its response to hate and violence on the site. What, if anything, can the company do differently to accept accountability?

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.

Image source.

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?



Google Translate Decreases Bias

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

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

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

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

Discussion:

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

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

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.”

Image source.

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?

Too British for British Ads

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

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

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

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

British image source. Microphone image source.

Discussion:

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

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

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

Student Is Escorted Out of Class

A biology lecturer at University of Texas at San Antonio called campus police about a student’s behavior. Another student in the class tweeted, “So this happened today in class, a girl had her feet up and the professor called the police after calling our class uncivil.” A video shows an African-American student being escorted out of the classroom.

The University posted a tweet soon after the incident:

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Later, President Taylor Eighmy sent a letter to students announcing that the instructor will be replaced for the rest of the term and that the student will be welcomed back. The university is investigating the incident, including potential racial bias, because the student is African-American.

USTA image source.

Discussion:

  • A student in the class posted that the instructor referred to the class as “uncivil.” What’s your view of civility in a classroom setting? What examples would describe an uncivil classroom?

  • Did the instructor do the right thing by calling campus police? Did campus police do the right thing by escorting the student out?

  • What other options are available to an instructor wanting to manage classroom behavior?

One Way to Increase Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

Image source.

Discussion:

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

  • What character dimensions does Kahane illustrate in this story?

Cultural Differences: Putting Your Hand on Someone's Knee

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On the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal, we see French President Emmanuel Macron’s hand on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s knee. A online WSJ article is titled, “Merkel and Macron got along so well in Paris that a 100-year-old woman thought they were married.” The two looked affectionately at each other and held hands during a weekend in Paris at a World War I commemorative event.

Physical touching in U.S. companies is generally frowned upon and could inspire sexual harassment claims. But in Europe, the cultural norms and laws are different.

An image search for “Merkel and Macron” shows embraces and touching throughout the years.

Cover image source. Embrace image source.

Discussion:

  • Describe the cultural differences from your own experience and knowledge.

  • What’s your personal view of this type of touching at work among colleagues?

Do Women Overuse Exclamation Points?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image source.

Discussion:

  • How do you use exclamation points?

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

  • Will this article change how you use the mark?

Megyn Kelly Terminated from NBC

NBC Today Show host Megyn Kelly said she thought it was acceptable to wear blackface for Halloween. Kelly might need to brush up on the history of blackface, which started in minstrel shows in the 1800s. Then, like now, blackface reinforced racial stereotypes and was terribly demeaning to black people.

Kelly apologized on the show, but people were still upset. Her colleague, Al Roker, said “she owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the country.” NBC waited two days, but insiders say she will be terminated.

Here’s the full text of her email to NBC staff:

Dear friends & teammates –

One of the wonderful things about my job is that I get the chance to express and hear a lot of opinions. Today is one of those days where listening carefully to other points of view, including from friends and colleagues, is leading me to rethink my own views.

When we had the roundtable discussion earlier today about the controversy of making your face look like a different race as part of a Halloween costume, I suggested that this seemed okay if done as part of this holiday where people have the chance to make themselves look like others. The iconic Diana Ross came up as an example. To me, I thought, why would it be controversial for someone dressing up as Diana Ross to make herself look like this amazing woman as a way of honoring and respecting her?

I realize now that such behavior is indeed wrong, and I am sorry. The history of blackface in our culture is abhorrent; the wounds too deep.

I’ve never been a “pc” kind of person — but I understand that we do need to be more sensitive in this day and age. Particularly on race and ethnicity issues which, far from being healed, have been exacerbated in our politics over the past year. This is a time for more understanding, love, sensitivity and honor, and I want to be part of that. I look forward to continuing that discussion.

I’m honored to work with all of you every day.

Love,

Mk

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Kelly’s original comments?

  • Assess Kelly’s email. Do you find her apology meaningful, insincere, or something else?

  • Did NBC do the right thing by firing her? Why or why not?

  • We await a statement from NBC. Draft one on behalf of the company.

  • Which leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Racist Comments on a Ryanair Flight

People are calling for boycotts of Ryanair because staff didn’t address a passenger’s racist comments on a flight from Barcelona to London. The man went on a rant towards a 77-year-old, Jamaican-born, British passenger, calling her an "ugly black bastard” and “a stupid ugly cow."

The passenger tried to get the woman to move to another seat: "I don't care whether she's f------ disabled or not. If I tell her to get out she gets out." He also threatened her: “If you don't go to another seat, I'll push you to another seat.” The woman’s daughter said she was taking her mother on a trip after her husband had died.

Although other passengers tried to silence the man and called for him to be removed from the plane, staff seemed to do very little. Even after the incident was reported, the company posted a meager response on Twitter.

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Later, the company also said, "As this is now a police matter, we cannot comment further."

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What could be Ryanair’s rationale for not removing the man from the plane? Was it the right decision?

  • Why didn’t Ryanair say more after the incident? What, if anything, should the company leaders have said?


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?

Facebook Policy Executive Sat Behind Kavanaugh

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Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president for global public policy, sat behind his friend, Brett Kavanaugh, during the charged hearings to determine whether he would win support as the next Supreme Court justice. Because of his position at Facebook, employees questioned his loyalties and whether it was appropriate for him to be so visible during the judge’s testimony about whether he sexually assaulted a woman as a teenager.

His appearance was a “surprise” to employees, and hundreds wrote about their concerns on Facebook’s intranet site. One employee wrote, perhaps expressing the sentiment of Facebook’s liberal employees:

“Let’s assume for a minute that our VP of Policy understands how senate hearings work. His seat choice was intentional, knowing full well that journalists would identify every public figure appearing behind Kavanaugh. He knew that this would cause outrage internally, but he knew that he couldn’t get fired for it. This was a protest against our culture, and a slap in the face to his fellow employees.”

Kaplan defended participating, referring to their 20-year friendship, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he didn’t violate any company policies by attending, although he did say he would not have made the same decision. Employees wanted to hear from COO Sheryl Sanberg about Ford’s accusations, and she was not forthcoming, according to a Times article. But she did comment on Kaplan’s attendance:

“As a woman and someone who cares so deeply about how women are treated, the Kavanaugh issue is deeply upsetting to me. I’ve talked to Joel about why I think it was a mistake for him to attend given his role in the company.”

Cover photo source.

Discussion:

  • Read additional Facebook messages in the Times article. How would you summarize employees’ concerns?

  • What’s your view of Kaplan’s attendance? Consider the “optics” in addition to company policy.

  • Some might say that Kaplan was being authentic by sitting behind his friend. Do you agree with this view? Why or why not?

  • Which character dimensions are illustrated by this story?

British Rail Company Apologies

Great Western Railway is tripping over itself apologizing for thousands of canceled and late trains. Apologies by British train organizations are so common that a web designer created a site, https://www.sorryfortheinconvenience.co.uk, to chronicle statements, now totaling more than 420,000.

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A look at the railway’s Twitter feed shows two failures but no apology. Maybe the organization is catching on: over-apologizing isn’t a good strategy. At some point, customers just want problems fixed.

Discussion:

  • How can a leader know when the organization is apologizing too much?

  • Take a look at the GWR Twitter feed. How would you advise the organization to improve its communications?

  • What leadership character dimensions is GWR demonstrating and failing to demonstrate with its apologies?

Kavanaugh and Ford Demonstrate Vulnerability

During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford both displayed emotions for the media to analyze and compare.

A New York Times article reports, “Kavanaugh's show of both fury and tears was a cry from the flip side of the #MeToo movement.” We saw an angrier Kavanaugh than during his Fox News interview, perhaps a reaction to President Trump’s disappointment in his mild manner.

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A CNN article recalls a 2005 interview when President Trump said, "When I see a man cry I view it as a weakness. I don't like seeing men cry." The article also concludes,

“Judgments on Kavanaugh's emotional performance will likely depend on each viewer's perspective, but he demonstrated the wider latitude that men in politics have today to show their emotions. However, were he a woman, he would likely be dismissed as overwrought, even hysterical, which helps explain why the witness who testified before him, Christine Blasey Ford, was far more composed and restrained.”

The Times article describes Ford’s presentation: “[H]er voice cracking but her composure intact.” In another Times piece, “The ‘Tight Rope’ of Testifying While Female,” the writer confirms, “She teared up in her testimony — her voice cracking — but she did not openly cry or break down.” That article also cites her asking for caffeine and telling a joke: “These are all codes for ‘she is displaying proper expectations of femininity.’”

Gender experts and other reporters also noted the contrast. Referring to Kavanaugh’s tears, Alicia Menendez of PBS said, “If he were a woman, we’d be questioning if she were unhinged.”

Both demonstrated vulnerability and risked emotional exposure. Despite the public backlash, Ford came forward to tell her story. And Kavanaugh responded by displaying emotions often viewed negatively for a man. However, overall, reports of his anger seem to overshadow the tears.

Kavanaugh image. Ford image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the emotional displays during the testimony? How do you think gender differences factored into how each was judged?

  • Have you ever cried at work? Which emotions are seen as appropriate, and which are discouraged? Should we be more open to both anger and sadness in the workplace?