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?

Don't Ignore Email

A New York Times opinion piece by Adam Grant warns us not to ignore emails because it’s rude. He compares ignoring email to not acknowledging someone who says hello when walking by you in a hallway. He cites a survey that, on average, employees have 199 unread messages in their inbox.

But Grant addresses people who say they’re “too busy” to answer emails, and he makes several exceptions:

You should not feel obliged to respond to strangers asking you to share their content on social media, introduce them to your more famous colleagues, spend hours advising them on something they’ve created or “jump on a call this afternoon.” If someone you barely know emails you a dozen times a month and is always asking you to do something for him, you can ignore those emails guilt-free.

I wrote an article last summer encouraging people to respond to any email, including the type he says we can ignore. I’m not Adam Grant, so I’m sure I don’t get his volume of messages. I see responding to an inappropriate or misguided request as a learning opportunity for the sender. For most of us, a short response doesn’t take too long and, as Grant says, is the civil thing to do.

Cover image source.

Discussion:

  • How do you handle emails such as those Grant describes? How many do you receive?

  • Describe an email you sent that was ignored. In retrospect, was it appropriate to send? Why do you think the receiver didn’t respond?

More About Failure Resumes

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Two years ago, a Princeton professor’s “CV of Failures” went viral, encouraging all of us to admit our misses and view them as learning experiences. This week, The New York Times popularized the idea in an article, “Do You Keep a Failure Resume?

The author advises a strategy:

“When you fail, write it down. But instead of focusing on how that failure makes you feel, take the time to step back and analyze the practical, operational reasons that you failed. Did you wait until the last minute to work on it? Were you too casual in your preparation? Were you simply out of your depth?”

Of course, what he’s proposing is self-reflection. But the approach is rationale: to think through what happened. Research tells us that a more emotional approach—allowing yourself to actually feel negative emotions from a failure—leads to greater learning and makes it less likely that you’ll make the same mistake in the future.

We may avoid failure because we feel shame. The graphic above shows the difference between failing and “being a failure.” Experiencing failure instead of feeling like a failure helps us be vulnerable instead of feeling what could be debilitating shame.

Quote image source.

Being a Failure image source.

Discussion:

  • How do you typically view failure? Do you try to forget about it? Are you harsh with yourself? Or something else?

  • Do you have a process of regular self-reflection? What could you do on a daily basis to learn from both your successes and your failures?

Updates on the Virginia Govenor

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Whether Virginia Governor Ralph Northam resigns just got more complicated. If Northam steps down because of racist photos in his yearbook, the lieutenant governor would replace him. But Justin Fairfax faces his own challenges: a woman accused him of sexual assault.

Fairfax denies the claims and refers to the incident at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston as consensual sex. To complicate matters further, Fairfax has accused Northam’s supporters of a “smear” campaign:

“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this uncorroborated smear comes out?”

Fairfax also questioned whether Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond may have been involved in the accusation to which Stoney responded, “The insinuation is 100 percent not true, and frankly it’s offensive.”

For its part, Eastern Virginia Medical School is investigating how the racist photos got into the 1984 yearbook.

Justin Fairfax image source.

Election night image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Fairfax’s response?

  • Should a 2004 sexual assault charge prevent Fairfax from replacing Northam?

  • Should the replacement issue drive whether Northam resigns?

  • What is the medical school’s responsibility in this situation?

Governor's Racist Yearbook Images

Virginia State Governor Ralph Northam is facing calls for his resignation when images from his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced. After Northam was in the news this week for supporting women’s rights to an abortion, a conservative group posted the images on the website Big League Politics.

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Two people appear in one image: one in blackface and the other wearing a KKK outfit. Northam responded to the controversy with this statement:

“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.”

For some, the apology isn’t enough. Several democrats who recently entered the 2020 presidential race have weighed in: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), and Julián Castro (former mayor of San Antonio) all called for Northam’s resignation. He has been in office about 13 months.

UPDATE: Governor Northam now says he did not appear in the photo, and he refuses to resign:

Discussion:

  • What do you think Northam thought when he ran for office? Did he not remember the photo, or did he not think it was a big deal, or was he hoping that people wouldn’t find out? You have to wonder.

  • Should Northam have done or said anything in addition to the apology to garner more support? Would it have made a difference in the public response?

  • How do you interpret Northam changing position?

  • Should Northam resign? Why or why not?

Emails to International Duke Students Sparks Controversy

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Faculty at Duke University Medical Center have been criticized for asking international students to speak only English. The controversy started when an administrator of the biostatistics program sent an email after hearing complaints from faculty members that Chinese students were speaking “VERY LOUDLY” in their native language in “student lounge/study areas.” The faculty expressed concern that students “were not taking the opportunity to improve their English and were being so impolite.”

Also in the email, the administrator said that faculty asked for students’ names so that they might deny them job and project opportunities.

Students took offense and started a petition. In response, the administrator of the program stepped down from her position, and the university posted a letter to students in the program.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of international students speaking in their native language at an American University?

  • Was the administrator out of line? Why or why not?

  • How do you assess the university’s response to the controversy?

  • What leadership character dimensions are at play?

Law Firm Faces Backlash About Diversity

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When a law firm announced its 2019 partners, they didn’t expect such a strong reaction. A photo shows the 12 members of the new group—all white and only one woman. Paul Weiss is an elite firm in midtown Manhattan and claims that this year is unusual.

The firm has since removed the photo from LinkedIn, where it drew attention. About 170 lawyers across the country wrote an open letter to express their wishes for a more diverse legal community.

Paul Weiss leaders took quick action to address the controversy and held a town hall meeting for employees. Firm leaders also say this group is unusually not diverse. In fact, the firm was recognized by a Microsoft initiative that offers bonuses to diverse law firms. In addition, 23% of the firm’s partners are women compared to about 18% of other law firms’ top leaders. The firm’s website boasts additional awards for diversity, including being ranked #16 in The American Lawyer’s 2018 Diversity Scorecard.

An email to Paul Weiss employees shows the words “diversity” and “associate professional satisfaction” in quotes, and a writer for the website Above the Law warns,

“…maybe there’s still some work to be done in mastering how to talk about these subjects. In general, don’t put anything in quotation marks that you wouldn’t be willing to sarcastically put air quotes around in conversation. That’s my advice.”

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the photo and the reaction: should the firm have avoided the composite, did people overreact, or something else?

  • How do you assess the firm’s response? What else, if anything, should the firm leaders do to improve its image?

  • What persuasive strategies do the attorneys use in their open letter? Which are most and least effective for the situation?

Gillette Ad Gets Mixed Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion:

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

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

  • Which leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this story?

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?

Starbucks CEO Draws His Own Path

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Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson is identifying his own vision for the company—apart from Howard Schultz’s plan. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Johnson said that the previous plan to open about 1,000 Reserve cafes will be piloted with just a few stores. Reserve stores deliver a higher-end experience, selling artisanal products and cocktails.

The change is one example of how Johnson is distinguishing himself from Schultz, who was the company CEO for about 30 years. According to the article, Johnson often started meetings with, “I’m not Howard. I’m Kevin.” A couple of weeks after Schultz left, Johnson said about the business strategy, “Certainly, I tend to bring a much more disciplined approach to picking the priorities.”

Starbucks Reserve image source.
Kevin Johnson image source.

Discussion:

  • Is it important for Johnson to distinguish himself from Schultz? Why or why not?

  • Read more about Johnson as the new CEO. How well is he handling the transition? What, if anything, should he do differently? He’s in a tough spot, wanting to create his own path but needing to be respectful to the previous leadership.

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?

Congresswoman Responds to Criticism

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Some Republicans are having a tough time with newly appointed NY Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and she is firing back. Ocasio-Cortez complained about being unable to afford housing in D.C. until her salary went into effect, and critics commented on her expensive-looking clothing. When she stood up to vote for Nancy Pelosi as house speaker, Ocasio-Cortez was booed.

A Twitter user posted a video of her dancing at Boston University. Although the account has seen been deleted, the video went viral with the text, “Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like a clueless nitwit she is.” Ocasio-Cortez shot back a new video of her dancing to a couple of bars of the 1969 song “War.” Reactions have been mostly positive, with some conservative groups saying they thought the original video was “cute” and that negative reactions were overstated.

As the youngest woman elected to Congress, Ocasio-Cortez has a few hurdles to pass. She is 29 years old, represents the Queens-Bronx section of NY, and is an advocate for the working class.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Ocasio-Cortez’s initial video and her response?

  • In what ways is the congresswoman demonstrating authenticity? Or do you see it as something else?

  • Review several of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets. How do you assess her social media use? What advice would you offer her?

Robots Screen Candidates' Social Media

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A Wall Street Journal video explains how DeepSense uses artificial intelligence to analyze a job candidate’s personality. When companies post a job, recruiters or hiring managers identify what is most important for success; for example, how important is teamwork or project management? DeepSense then looks at a candidate’s social media profile to assess personality.

Founder Amarpreet Kalkat explains that the system may review a social media profile for only six seconds and will generate a report about the applicant’s DISC profile (a personality assessment) and “Big Five” personality traits. Using psycholinguistics, the computer analyzes language the candidate uses.

Kalkat says their results are 75% accurate, while traditional personality tests are 82% accurate.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of using AI in this way? How confident would you be applying for a job that uses this technology?

  • How relevant is personality to a position? What are the advantages to a company of using such a system, and what are the potential disadvantages?

  • The video refers to “DeepSense,” but the website shows “DeeperSense.” How do you explain the discrepancy?

McKinsey PPT Slide Causes Problems

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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?

Juul Employees Can't Juul at Work

The e-cigarette company has decided to follow the law and prohibit its employees from Juuling at work. The law isn’t new: The California law against vaping in the workplace has been on the books since 2016.

A Wall Street Journal article describes vaping etiquette from the American Vaping Association:

There is etiquette for in-office vaping, says Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association. Foremost: Don’t blow clouds. Take a puff and hold your breath for three to five seconds, and the vapor evaporates in your mouth. “If it’s 10 degrees outside and I want a single puff, I just take a puff and hold my breath” when indoors, he says. “Ninety-nine percent of people don’t care so long as they don’t see anything.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Surgeon General just released a warning against vaping. Experts say e-cigarettes have toxic chemicals, and users are at higher risk for a heart attack. Studies indicate that teens who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes later on.

Discussion:

  • The situation is a confusing issue of integrity. Some might question why employees were allowed to Juul, against the 2016 law. What’s your view of their decision?

  • Juul is popular among young people even though the product is intended for people 21-and-over. To what extent is that the company’s responsibility?

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?

Dolce and Gabanna Cancels Show and Apologizes

Italian fashion designer Dolce and Gabanna cancelled a major show scheduled in Shanghai and apologized to the Chinese people for an offensive ad and comments on social media. The ad showed Chinese-French model Estelle Chen, in separate videos, eating pizza and pasta with chopsticks. With stereotypical music in the background, the ads seem to mock the woman and a Chinese pronunciation of the company’s name.

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After criticism on Weibo, the company made the situation far worse. Co-founder Stefano Gabbana posted negative comments, at right, about China and its people on Instagram, and then denied the comments, claiming his account had been hacked.

Later, Dolce and Gabbana leaders tried to recover by posting a statement on the company’s Instagram account: "We are very sorry for any distress caused by these unauthorized posts. We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China." Another post read, "Our dream was to bring to Shanghai a tribute event dedicated to China which tells our history and vision. It was not simply a fashion show, but something that we created especially with love and passion for China and all the people around the world who loves Dolce & Gabbana.”

They also posted an apology video.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the ad series? Can you see how people would think they are offensive? Why or why not?

  • How well did Dolce and Gabanna eventually recover from the incident? Analyze the apology video.

  • Which leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Negative Reports About Facebook

Two recent articles cite trouble at Facebook. The first is a New York Times story titled, “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis.” The report is a damning criticism of how the company, and particularly Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, handled recent situations:

But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.

The article accuses the company’s response to Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections, data privacy issues, and hate speech and propaganda. The article describes aggressive lobbying and efforts to conceal Russia’s infiltration of the network.

The second article, a Wall Street Journal report, describes declining employee morale at Facebook. Criticism about the company and the declining stock price are getting difficult for employees to stomach. According to the Journal article, employees are questioning the company’s growth strategy and are concerned by a lack of innovation. Employees are also less optimistic about the company’s future. One year ago, 87% employees said they were optimistic; today, that number is 52%.

The Times article reports that Zuckerberg has been asked whether it’s time for new company leadership, and he has repeatedly said that he will not step aside.

Zuckerberg image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the situation at Facebook? Is the Times article on target, too harsh, too lenient, or something else?

  • One possibility is that the company is experiencing a natural progression—a growth cycle that most companies experience. What do you think?

  • What are the value and potential downsides of employee surveys?