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.

Image source.

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.

Persuasive Writing

Trish Hall, author of an upcoming book, “Writing to Persuade,” offers advice in a New York Times opinion piece. Most of her suggestions follow principles taught in business communication courses:

  • Tell the truth. Hall says that emotions are usually more persuasive than facts, which is true, yet she cautions against losing trust. Her advice is backed by research on behavioral integrity—doing what we say we’re going to do.

  • Be quick about it. Hall emphasizes conciseness, a well-worn principle of business communication.

  • Banish jargon. Using simple language is another core principle of business communication.

  • Know your audience. Hall recommends listening to what your reader needs; for example, condolence notes should include something personal about the loved one. Tailoring to the audience is good advice for any message.

  • Just ask. Hall says people could ask more directly for what they want. I agree, but I’m not sure about her example, which is for “Getting someone to show up”:

    No:

    Dear Everyone,

    I’m involved with a group that gives scholarships to young people and I am hoping that some of you might be able to attend our celebration next Monday. Let me know if you can.

    Yes:

    Dear Trish,

    I’m involved with a group that gives scholarships to young people and I am hoping that you can attend our celebration next Monday. A number of people you know, including John and Jim, will be there. Can I leave your name at the door? It’s at 6 p.m. at the Historical Society Building.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What other persuasive business communication principles would you suggest for writers?

  • What’s your view of the “Yes” example above: too pushy or about right? What principles does the example follow, and what, if any, changes would you suggest?

  • I’m curious about the article title, “How to Get Every Email Returned,” which doesn’t quite match the content. What’s your view?

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.

Image source.

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?

A Pie Chart Totals 128%

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A pie chart represents part of a whole, so how can numbers total more than 100%? They can’t. On Twitter, Dorsa Amir identifies additional problems.

The caption is also concerning: “High Support for Legalizing Marijuana.” Do we see evidence to prove this claim?

Note: This chart was created as a joke and posted on a sub-reddit.

Discussion:

  • What is the point of the chart?

  • What data would prove the point, and how could the designer have presented data differently?

Carlos Ghosn Responds to Charges

The former CEO of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, who has been arrested four times on charges related to financial misconduct, responded in a video message. The key point: “I’m innocent of all the charges.” Ghosn also claims that accusations are “all biased, taken out of context, twisted.”

Ghosn was a celebrated business executive in Japan. His success in growing Nissan is “incontrovertible,” according to a New York Times podcast. He gained a reputation as a serious cost-cutter ("Le Cost Killer"), a strategy that was questioned at the time but brought about great profits for the company, placing it second in the list of Japanese automakers behind Toyota and ahead of Honda. Ghosn was CEO from 2001 - 2017, when he became chairman. He was then removed from the board in 2018, after his first arrest.

Charges against Ghosn include using company funds for multiple personal residences, hiding about half of his compensation, shifting $16.6 million in person losses to the company, and other accounting issues.

Nissan management responded to Ghosn’s video message:

“The sole cause of this chain of events is the misconduct led by Ghosn and Kelly. Aside from any criminal matters, Nissan's internal investigation has uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct. This resulted in a unanimous board vote to discharge Ghosn and Kelly as chairman and representative director, followed by a shareholder vote to discharge them from the board. Further discoveries related to Ghosn’s misconduct continue to emerge. The company's focus remains on addressing weaknesses in governance that failed to prevent this misconduct.”

Ghosn image source.

Discussion:

  • What persuasive communication strategies does Ghosn demonstrate in his video message?

  • What are the most and least convincing statements?

  • Assess his Ghosn’s delivery skills.

  • Which leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

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?

Charts About Uber and Lyft

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

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

Discussion:

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

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

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

Southwest Faces Customer Service Criticism

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Despite trading on the NY Stock Exchange under “LUV,” Southwest is taking some heat from customers because of the Boeing 737 MAX plane groundings. According to a USA Today report, customers says Southwest didn’t handle rebookings well:

They're peeved about Southwest's handling of passenger rebookings, especially last-minute flight cancellations that leave them with few options. And they're perplexed by Southwest's uncharacteristic lack of flexibility, with affected passengers given two options: take the alternate flight, even if it's days later or to a different airport, or get a refund.

Our first clue about problems came with Southwest’s first statement about the plane groundings. Little guidance was offered for customers to rebook. The first three comments on a Southwest message posted on March 13 illustrate the problem.

A Southwest spokesman said it’s a challenging situation—like a snow storm that lasts for many weeks—and claimed that the airline did everything it could, including offering "massive flexibility'.'

Discussion:

  • Southwest could not have prevented the Boeing 737 MAX disaster, but what about its own customer service situation? What, if anything, could company leaders have done differently?

  • How should Southwest react to customers’ complaints now? I see nothing on its website or blog.

Boeing System at Fault

According to investigators, the flight-control system caused trouble before the Boeing 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia. The report also concluded that pilots followed procedures and did nothing wrong.

On its website, Boeing posted a video and statement of CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s apology.

April, 4, 2019

We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 MAX accidents. These tragedies continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and minds, and we extend our sympathies to the loved ones of the passengers and crew on board Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. All of us feel the immense gravity of these events across our company and recognize the devastation of the families and friends of the loved ones who perished.

The full details of what happened in the two accidents will be issued by the government authorities in the final reports, but, with the release of the preliminary report of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accident investigation, it’s apparent that in both flights the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information.

The history of our industry shows most accidents are caused by a chain of events. This again is the case here, and we know we can break one of those chain links in these two accidents. As pilots have told us, erroneous activation of the MCAS function can add to what is already a high workload environment. It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it and we know how to do it.

From the days immediately following the Lion Air accident, we’ve had teams of our top engineers and technical experts working tirelessly in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and our customers to finalize and implement a software update that will ensure accidents like that of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 never happen again.

We’re taking a comprehensive, disciplined approach, and taking the time, to get the software update right. We’re nearing completion and anticipate its certification and implementation on the 737 MAX fleet worldwide in the weeks ahead. We regret the impact the grounding has had on our airline customers and their passengers.

This update, along with the associated training and additional educational materials that pilots want in the wake of these accidents, will eliminate the possibility of unintended MCAS activation and prevent an MCAS-related accident from ever happening again.

We at Boeing take the responsibility to build and deliver airplanes to our airline customers and to the flying public that are safe to fly, and can be safely flown by every single one of the professional and dedicated pilots all around the world. This is what we do at Boeing.

We remain confident in the fundamental safety of the 737 MAX. All who fly on it—the passengers, flight attendants and pilots, including our own families and friends—deserve our best. When the MAX returns to the skies with the software changes to the MCAS function, it will be among the safest airplanes ever to fly.

We’ve always been relentlessly focused on safety and always will be. It’s at the very core of who we are at Boeing. And we know we can always be better. Our team is determined to keep improving on safety in partnership with the global aerospace industry and broader community. It’s this shared sense of responsibility for the safety of flight that spans and binds us all together.

I cannot remember a more heart-wrenching time in my career with this great company.  When I started at Boeing more than three decades ago, our amazing people inspired me. I see how they dedicate their lives and extraordinary talents to connect, protect, explore and inspire the world — safely. And that purpose and mission has only grown stronger over the years.

We know lives depend on the work we do and that demands the utmost integrity and excellence in how we do it. With a deep sense of duty, we embrace the responsibility of designing, building and supporting the safest airplanes in the skies. We know every person who steps aboard one of our airplanes places their trust in us. 

Together, we’ll do everything possible to earn and re-earn that trust and confidence from our customers and the flying public in the weeks and months ahead.

Again, we’re deeply saddened by and are sorry for the pain these accidents have caused worldwide. Everyone affected has our deepest sympathies.

Dennis Muilenburg
Chairman, President & CEO
The Boeing Company


Discussion:

  • Analyze Boeing’s communications so far. After the report was published, who were the primary and secondary audiences for these messages? What are the company’s communication objectives, and to what extent were they achieved?

  • What’s your view of the timing? Should the CEO have communicated via video and statement earlier or wait, as he did, for the investigation report results to be published?

  • What leadership character dimensions are demonstrated by this situation?

Southwest Responds to Boeing 737 Grounding

Southwest sent an email to customers about the grounding of Boeing 737 planes following two crashes.

The message, which is also posted on the Southwest website, expresses sympathy for the lives lost and emphasizes safety as the top priority, yet touts the 737. What remains unclear is the effect on passengers. At the end of the website, Southwest could be clearer about what passengers should do now:

I realize this disruption will inconvenience our Customers during this busy spring travel season, and we will do everything in our power to mitigate the impact to our operation. For that, I offer my sincere apologies. To support our Customers, we are offering flexible rebooking policies for any Customer booked on a canceled flight.

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Nothing is more sacred to all of our Southwest Family Members than the trust our Customers place in our airline every day, on every flight. You have our commitment to minimize the disruptions to our Customers’ travel plans, while adhering to the FAA’s requirements and ensuring the Safety of our fleet.

Southwest may have received feedback because additional text is included in a box at the bottom of the page:

Until further notice, you will not be traveling on a 737 MAX 8. Our goal is to operate our schedule with every available aircraft in our fleet to meet our Customers’ expectations during the busy spring travel season.

Due to high call volumes and extended hold times, we strongly encourage Customers to check their flight status at Southwest.com.

For more information, see the 737 MAX 8 Travel Advisory.

The last link, the 737 MAX 8 Travel Advisory, doesn’t seem to clarify. The company was also criticized for the image on “A message from our CEO.”

SW plane image.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the Southwest messages. Who are the primary and secondary audiences, and what are the communication objectives? Assess the organization and writing style.

  • How could Southwest improve its communication to customers? Do you agree that the messages for affected customers could be clearer? For example, how do they know whether they’re booked on a 737, and what should they do if they are?

  • In Southwest’s later messages, the woman’s image is omitted. Should Gary Kelly’s photo be placed there instead? Why or why not?

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?

Equifax and Marriott CEOs Testify About Security Breaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Sorenson interviewed on CNBC:

Discussion:

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

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

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

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

Interview with Delta CEO

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In a LinkedIn interview, Delta CEO Ed Bastian discussed the decision to revoke the National Rifle Association (NRA) discount after the Parkland, FL, shootings, one year ago. The discount was for NRA members, and only 13 took advantage. But the real loss was in $40 million in tax benefits, which Georgia Governor Cagle fought to strike after the company’s decision.

Bastian admits that the loss was significant. But he concludes, “Our brand is worth so much more, and our values are not for sale.”

Bastian refers to the NRA’s “divisive rhetoric” and says that he didn’t want “to be seen as advocates” of the organization and its views. He also describes what we might call authentic or purpose-driven leadership:

"If you know who you are, you can make those decisions. And that you can make those decisions and sleep well at night.”

Discussion:

  • What leadership character dimensions are demonstrated by this situation?

  • Do you think Bastian did the right thing for Delta? Why or why not?

  • How well does Bastian address the interviewer’s question? Overall, how do you assess his delivery?

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?

Amazon Changes NYC Plans


After months of searching for a new headquarters location and deciding on Long Island City, Amazon has changed course and withdrawn the plan. In a blog post, the company explained the decision:

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After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens. For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term. While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.

We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion—we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture—and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams.

We are deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and their staffs, who so enthusiastically and graciously invited us to build in New York City and supported us during the process. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have worked tirelessly on behalf of New Yorkers to encourage local investment and job creation, and we can’t speak positively enough about all their efforts. The steadfast commitment and dedication that these leaders have demonstrated to the communities they represent inspired us from the very beginning and is one of the big reasons our decision was so difficult.

We do not intend to reopen the HQ2 search at this time. We will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville, and we will continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada.

Thank you again to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and the many other community leaders and residents who welcomed our plans and supported us along the way. We hope to have future chances to collaborate as we continue to build our presence in New York over time.

Amazon claims the new office would have created 25,000 jobs, but NYC lawmakers questioned the subsidies the company would have received. Critics also oppose Amazon’s anti-union stance and cite concerns about how the growth would affect Queens. In the end, officials say Amazon was inflexible; one local politician referred to the company as “a petulant child.”

According to a New York Times article, “Amazon’s decision is a major blow for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had set aside their differences to lure the giant tech company to New York.”

Long Island city image source.

Discussion:

  • Analyze Amazon’s statement. How well does the company announce the decision, while maintaining relationships?

  • What else, if anything, should the company say at this point?

  • Should Governor Cuomo or Mayor de Blasio make their own announcements? Why or why not?

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?

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?