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?

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.

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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?

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.

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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?

British Airways Labor Dispute Arguments

On Thursday, British Airways pilots went on strike for the second time this week, grounding about 1,700 flights. Wanting a greater share of profits, pilots have turned down the company’s offer of 11.9% in pay increases over the next three years.

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Typical in these situations, the union and company blamed each other. The union, the British Airlines Pilots Association (Balpa), claims that company management chose to cancel flights instead of negotiating with them in good faith:

“Balpa set a gap between the first and second periods of strike action to give BA time to work with us to settle this dispute with their pilots. We had today been exchanging new ideas to do that via [the arbitration service] Acas and so it irresponsible and inconsiderate to its customers that BA has pulled out and decided to start cancelling flights now, just to save money on compensation. BA did not respond to our latest proposals before cancelling these flights.

“Passengers who will be affected by these cancellations should know that we have given BA multiple opportunities to work with us so we could call off this action.”

The company blames pilots for walking out:

“It is now a month since we shook hands on a pay deal. We urge [Balpa] to call off their strike and return to negotiations.

“To give our customers as much certainty as possible, we are now contacting all those affected to offer them a full refund or a rebook on an alternative date, destination or airline. We are very sorry that Balpa’s actions will affect thousands more travel plans.”

Discussion:

  • How effectively does each side express its perspective in the above quotes?

  • Research both sides of this debate. What are Balpa’s strongest and weakest arguments? What are BA’s?

  • What persuasive strategies does each side use in its arguments: logic, emotional appeal, and credibility?

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.”

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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?

Rossello's Resignation

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

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

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

Rossello image source.

Protests image source.

Discussion:

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

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

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





How to Deal with Being "Ghosted"

Too often, employers stop responding to candidates. Even after an in-person interview, candidates never hear back. The CEO of a job search platform advises people to follow up in a few ways:

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  • Send one email a week. Be thoughtful about your messages to express interest; maybe share new research about the company .

  • Try different channels. For example, send a LinkedIn message instead of email, but only once.

  • Reach out to others. Contact another recruiter or the hiring manager directly.

All of these actions come with risk, but the writer argues, and I agree, that the risk is worth it. None of these follow-ups are too annoying, and you may turn the tide in your favor.

Ghost cartoon image source.

Be a Human image source.

Discussion:

  • Why do you think employers ghost applicants? Consider what incentive they have to follow up.

  • What’s your view of these follow-up approaches? Which are you more or less comfortable doing?

Nike Flag Shoe Controversy

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Nike pulled shoes with flag decorations and is taking some heat for the decision. The shoes featured 13 white stars, reflecting an early version of the American flag created by Betsy Ross in 1776. But, according to a Bloomberg article, “The design recently has taken another meaning for some Americans as far-right groups have claimed it as a symbol of their cause. It has also been criticized as evocative of an era when slavery was still predominant in the U.S.“

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who endorses Nike products, and others asked the company to remove the shoes because they are considered offensive. The company complied but is facing backlash from some groups, and the Air Max 1 USA sneakers are selling for up to $2,500 a pair. The company also issued a statement:

“We regularly make business decisions to withdraw initiatives, products and services. Nike made the decision to halt distribution of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”

Sneaker image.
Colin Kaepernick and sneakers image.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the sneaker image: offensive, patriotic, or something else?

  • How do you assess Colin Kaepernick’s role in the controversy?

  • Did Nike do the right thing in pulling the sneakers? Why or why not?

  • Assess Nike’s statement in response to the controversy. What else, if anything, should company leaders have said?

How to Navigate Multiple Offers

It’s one of those “good problems”: getting more than one job offer. But navigating the relationships and making a decision can be tough.

A Wall Street Journal article tells the story of a man faking his own death to avoid telling a company that he didn’t want to take the job after accepting an offer. According to an executive at the staffing company Robert Half, “ghosting” a prospective employer is most common among people out of school between two and six years. More and more, employers receive last-minute text messages or no-shows on the first day of work.

A management consultant believes the trouble is that college students lack the communication skills to handle these situations more professionally: “This is the generation that breaks up by text message, so in a professional context, to have to let someone down or give bad news was terrifying.”

Twice this past semester, students asked me for advice in reneging offers. Overall, I’m not a fan of the tactic. To me, it’s an issue of integrity: when students make a commitment to one employer, they shouldn’t change their minds when a better offer comes along. I also worry about their reputation in the industry—and whether their expectations will be too high for the new job, and they’ll end up disappointed. At Cornell, students also give up their access to career services in the future when this happens.

But students do what is best for them. What matters after the decision is how it’s communicated. I always suggest a phone call rather than an email, which takes courage. A direct, honest approach is best, with an apology and some understanding of how the decision affects the employer, who’s left with an unfilled position and additional recruiting time.

Ideally, students get offers at the same time with the same decision deadlines, but of course, that’s not always the case, and comparing offers becomes challenging. The WSJ article recommends these practices for evaluating and accepting job offers:

DO

Make clear early what you’re looking for in a new job.

Ask employers their timeline for making a decision.

Express appreciation and enthusiasm when receiving an offer.

Take time to assess each offer carefully, weighing both financial and quality-of-life factors.

DON’T

Communicate important decisions by text or email.

Try to pit one employer against another in a bidding war.

Respond to a job offer by announcing that you already have a competing one.

Base your decision solely on pay.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Have you been in a situation of having multiple offers? How did you handle it?

  • Have you reneged on an offer? How did you communicate the decision, and how did the employer react?

  • What other advice would you give students who have multiple offers?

Mets Manager Admits Mistake

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Mets manager Mickey Callaway admitted that an “administrative” error of switching pitchers “probably cost” the team the game. According to reports, the admission was unusual. As one news outlet explained, “His postgame press conferences can get combative, and his unwillingness to admit to any wrongdoing hasn’t played well with the New York media.”

Fans and players seem to be responding positively to the Callaway’s apology. One example is the response from first baseman Pete Alonso:

“Having a manager that’s not straight up and honest, that’s tough to play for a guy like that. But I’m fortunate enough to play for a guy like Mick. I love playing for Mick and all of the other guys love playing for Mick because he’s been honest and straight-up.” 

For years now, corporate stakeholders have expected more humility from leaders. Seeing an example in sports is refreshing.

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Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Callaway’s admission?

  • Not everyone likes this approach. I haven’t seen the clip, but a friend tells me local sports commentators said they want to see more “leadership.” Is admitting failure not part of demonstrating leadership?

  • What other leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this example?







VW's New Ad

Volkswagen is still trying to rebuild its image after the emissions scandal in 2015. A new advertising campaign tackles the issue directly, beginning with audio news reports from that time. But the focus, described on YouTube, is on the future: “Every negative has a positive. Learn more about our all-electric vehicles and our plans to help make a better tomorrow at vw.com #drivefortomorrow #vw.”

With an emphasis on innovation, the ad is set to Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song, “The Sound of Silence.” Viewers can imagine company engineers during the past few years creating a new line of electric cars— while VW executives said little about the controversy.

The senior VP of marketing for VW of America acknowledged that the ad is risky but explains the rationale:

“[w]ithout mentioning the past...we would never have the credibility or authenticity to move forward with the brand. Through the last three-and-a-half years or so we kind of operated as usual in the consumers [sic] eye. We kept a very consistent message in the marketplace but didn’t really have a powerful point-of-view as a brand.”

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of VW’s new ad campaign? Did the company make the right decision by invoking the scandal?

  • Other companies facing scandals, such as Uber and Wells Fargo, placed large apology ads, but VW didn’t take this approach. Why do you think that may be the case? Compare VW’s strategy to other recent recovery campaigns.

Leadership Challenge at Uber

A New York Times article describes discomfort among Uber’s leadership as the company plans to go public. Founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick wanted to join the company to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, a tradition for IPOs. Kalanick still holds a seat on the board and, as founder, he wanted to participate in the company’s joyous moment—and to bring his father.

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Current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi denied the request. For two years, Khosrowshahi has been trying to shed negative public perceptions of Uber, partly attributed to Kalanick’s leadership style and the company’s “bro-culture.”

The article describes a fractured board that didn’t fully support Khosrowshahi and a company that has yet to turn a profit, losing revenue on almost every car ride. Uber follows Lyft’s recent IPO, which has lost about $26 per share since its IPO in March.

Uber image source.

Lyft image source.

Discussion:

  • Did Khosrowshahi make the right decision? Why or why not?

  • Consider Kalanick’s perspective. What’s his point of view? Should he have asked at all?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Whistleblowers at Boeing

On The Daily podcast, a former quality manager at Boeing describes safety concerns and efforts to report them. He is one of more than 12 employees the New York Times reporter interviewed who had raised issues internally and with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before the 737 MAX crashes—and dating back to the 787 Dreamliner, which was introduced in 2007.

Employees complained about debris left inside aircrafts, even as planes were going on test flights and getting ready for delivery, and about missing and doctored defective parts. The reporter describes a company under pressure taking serious safety shortcuts. 

According to U.S. Department of Labor data, whistleblowers have little success. This chart shows a very small percentage of government-reported cases considered of “merit,” although in the table below the chart, the author tells us that cases that are “settled” or “settled other” (a nonstandard procedure) should also be considered winners. Still, it’s a small percentage in light of what it takes to come forward to file a complaint.

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Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Boeing? Some employees say they felt proud when they first worked at the company, and now they are embarrassed. How, if at all, does this news change your perception of the company?

  • What does it take to be a whistleblower? What is at stake, and what are the potential rewards?

  • Assess the chart. Who is the audience, and what are the communication objectives? How could you change the chart to improve readability? For example, consider how the 3D effect might change how we interpret the data.

Philippines Town Bans Gossip

Could this work at companies? Or schools? Binalonan, a small town in the Philippines, passed an ordinance that bans idle gossip. Locals say the summer heat drives people beneath acacia trees to chismis, or gossip. Offenders are charged the equivalent of about $10 and will have to pick up trash if they repeat the crime.

Local officials believe much of the gossip is caused by conflicts, and they are trying to encourage people to resolve differences directly instead. I’m not sure it’s the same in organizations, where people tend to gossip when they have idle time and are missing more meaningful communication from company leaders.

Of course, gossip has a few positive benefits, including increasing our knowledge and understand of others and improving social relationships.

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Discussion:

  • Seriously, could a gossip ban work in companies? What could be the benefits and downsides? How could it be enforced?

  • When have you seen gossip used negatively and positively?

  • What are, perhaps, better ways to communicate?

  • What leadership character dimensions may be failing if we rely too much on gossip?

Fisher-Price Recall

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At first, the company stood by their product, but after 10 infant deaths since 2015, Fisher-Price voluntarily recalled its Rock ‘n Play sleeper. The decision affects 4.7 million products, and the notice is now prominently displayed on the Fisher-Price homepage. When you follow the link, you see the page at right, which lists all “Recall & Safety Alerts.”

The announcement on April 5 points to a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) alert, which suggests that customers stop using the product for infants more than three months old, when they can turn over and suffocate.

The announcement on April 12 is a full recall, which urges customers to “immediately stop using the product” and return it for a refund.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the communication situation. Who are the primary and secondary audiences of Fisher-Price’s messages? What information do those audiences need? How might they react emotionally? What are the company’s communication objectives?

  • Product recall messages typically follow a particular structure and provide specific content. What do you observe from this message?

  • Should Fisher-Price have issued the recall earlier? Why or why not?

New Zealand Announces Weapons Ban

Following a shooting at a mosque in Christchurch that left 50 people dead, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on certain types of weapons:

“Today, I’m announcing New Zealand will ban all military-style semiautomatic weapons. We will also ban all assault rifles. We will ban all high-capacity magazines. We will ban all parts with the ability to convert semiautomatic or any other type of firearm into a military-style semiautomatic weapon. We will ban parts that cause a firearm to generate semiautomatic, automatic or close-to-automatic gunfire,” she added. “In short, every semiautomatic weapon used in the terror attack on Friday will be banned in this country.”

She said the decision would accomplish one goal: “to prevent an act of terror from happening in our country ever again.” In a press conference three days prior, the prime minister had promised that the Cabinet planned to take action.

The New York Times compares the process for buying a gun in 16 countries, showing the United States as having the fewest steps.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the decision and how Prime Minister Arden communicated it to the public?

  • What leadership character dimensions does the Prime Minister demonstrate in this situation?

  • Watch Prime Minister Arden’s press conference and one or two others. How would you describe her delivery style?

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.

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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?

Jeff Bezos’s Medium Post

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News is swirling about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s long Medium post accusing the National Enquirer of “extortion and blackmail” for pictures of him and a woman other than his wife. Bezos claims that Chairman and CEO David Pecker acts of behalf of President Trump to discredit key people, and he cites an immunity deal between the Enquirer and the justice department for these actions. President Trump has openly criticized Amazon for not paying enough taxes.

A popular story about the piece is how Bezos used the word “complexifier”:

“My ownership of the Washington Post is a complexifier for me. It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy.”

A Slate article explores whether it’s a real word, and it is not in standard English. The “investigation” concludes that the word “appears most at home in the canon of self-help business gobbledygook.” As expected, memes, like the one here, are popular.

Bezos’s post is interesting from a business writing and character perspective if nothing more.

Discussion:

  • Analyze Bezos’s post: who are the primary and secondary audiences, and what are his communication objectives? How is it organized? What is the tone?

  • To what extent does Bezos meet his communication objectives?

  • Overall, what’s your view of his approach to address the situation with this post?

  • Which leadership character dimensions does Bezos demonstrate?

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?

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.

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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?