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?



Announcing a Restaurant Closing

Danny Meyer gives us a great model of how to write a bad-news message. In his announcement about closing the restaurant North End Grill, Meyer demonstrates communicating with humility and transparency.

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Meyer describes the pain involved in closing a restaurant, including the effect on employees. He admits to mistakes and relates this closing to Tabla, which closed four years ago. He didn’t need to remind us, but he does so humbly, and as a lesson to learn from failure.

Meyer’s message is encouragement for compassionate, transparent communication planning:

All too often in our industry, a padlock on the front door might be the very first notice employees, landlords, and suppliers receive that a restaurant will be closing. 

He also teaches us that leading requires courage:

[W]hen reality dictates closing, we have a choice: to do so in secrecy and shame, or instead, with dignity, integrity, and pride.

Restaurant image source. Meyer image source.

Discussion:

  • Analyze Meyer’s full statement: audience, objectives, writing style, organization, etc. What works well, and what could be improved?

  • In what ways does Meyer’s statement illustrate vulnerability as a leadership strength?

Reversal at Maryland

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The University of Maryland has reversed its position on keeping football coach DJ Durkin. At first, Durkin was reinstated after a damning report about player abuse which resulted in the death of a student, Jordan McNair. Critics say the University’s Board of Regents overstepped in disallowing Loh to terminate the coach.

Now, pressure from students, players, the McNair family, and politicians left the University with no choice but to fire Coach Durkin. In a letter, President Loh explained the decision, including his previous concerns about Durkin’s return.

McNair’s father made a statement, including a message to President Loh when asked:

“The same thing I’ve always said to Dr. Loh. I’ve always commended Dr. Loh for having a level of integrity and doing the right thing even since he first initially came to the hospital, and secondly, when he came to us as a family to apologize and to take full moral and legal responsible for the tragic events that happened.”

In the meantime, Maryland players were involved in an altercation. It seems as though this situation has divided the team as well.

UPDATE: James T. Brady, chairman of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, resigned last week, and President Loh is winning back his power. A Chronicle article notes that Loh won the “battle waged in the court of public opinion,” and whether he will leave the University as planned is now unclear. In a statement, Brady explained his decision and, using the word “proud” three times, cites board accomplishments during his tenure.

Discussion:

  • How is this situation an issue of integrity?

  • The regents had planned to terminate President Loh. Should they reverse this position too?

  • What should the University do now to repair its image?

  • We have heard nothing that I found from the regents (except their confidence in Coach Durkin). Should they communicate something now? What could they say that could help instead of hurt the situation?

Emotions and Political Views After Synagogue Shooting

A shooter killed eleven people and wounded several others, including three police officers, in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Officials report that the act was motivated by hate, and the shooter is quoted saying, “I just want to kill Jews.” The Washington Post calls it, “The deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States.”

President Trump condemned the shootings: “This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil . . . . hard to believe and, frankly, something that is unimaginable.” The president also promoted the idea of armed guards: “If there were an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop them. Maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him, frankly.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto disputed this view: “The approach we need to be looking at is how we take the guns—the common denominator of every mass shooting in America—out of the hands of those looking to express hatred through murder.”

During a news conference, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich gave an emotional statement, calling the crime scene “horrific.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • We see Hissrich’s emotions during the news conference. He demonstrates authenticity and vulnerability. How do you view his delivery?

  • President Trump’s comments during this time are controversial. What’s your view? How might your own feelings about gun advocacy or gun control affect your perspective?

Tesla Investigated for Fraud

Tesla is facing a new challenge this week: a U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal probe into whether the company misstated production data and therefore misled investors. The investigation will focus on Model 3 sedans.

A Wall Street Journal article explains part of the issue. CEO Elon Musk tweeted on July 2, 2017, “Looks like we can reach 20,000 Model 3 cars per month in Dec.“ But reports at the time showed a less optimistic picture. The result was only 2,700 cars produced for the entire year.

A spokesperson said the FBI document requests were voluntary and defended the company:

“When we started the Model 3 production ramp, we were transparent about how difficult it would be, openly explaining that we would only be able to go as fast as our least lucky or least successful supplier, and that we were entering ‘production hell.’ Ultimately, given difficulties that we did not foresee in this first-of-its-kind production ramp, it took us six months longer than we expected to meet our 5,000 unit per week guidance. Tesla’s philosophy has always been to set truthful targets –- not sandbagged targets that we would definitely exceed and not unrealistic targets that we could never meet. While Tesla gets criticized when it is delayed in reaching a goal, it should not be forgotten that Tesla has achieved many goals that were doubted by most. We are enormously proud of the efforts of the whole company in making it through this difficult ramp and getting us to volume production.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Musk’s statement compared to the result: arrogance, entrepreneurial optimism, or something else?

  • How well does the Tesla spokesperson address the investigation? What else, if anything, should the company say at this point?

  • In what ways does the company demonstrate a lack of vulnerability in this situation?

Google Admits Sexual Harassment Incidents

It’s been quiet until now, but Google has fired 48 employees for sexual harassment. A New York Times article exposed a number of high-profile departures dating back to 2014, including Andy Rubin, who developed the Android.

Rubin was paid $90 million when the company asked for his resignation, but executives never told the entire truth: that Rubin left because he was accused of sexual misconduct. Instead, then-CEO Larry Page, complimented him: “I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next,” and “With Android, he created something truly remarkable—with a billion-plus happy users.” Rubin denies the claim and the circumstances of his termination.

In addition to this situation, the Times article cites a number of relationships between senior-level managers and employees. An email from CEO Sundar Pichai and the VP of people operations to staff acknowledges the 48 departures, including 13 “senior managers and above.”

Hi everyone,

Today's story in the New York Times was difficult to read.

We are dead serious about making sure we provide a safe and inclusive workplace. We want to assure you that we review every single complaint about sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct, we investigate and we take action.

In recent years, we've made a number of changes, including taking an increasingly hard line on inappropriate conduct by people in positions of authority: in the last two years, 48 people have been terminated for sexual harassment, including 13 who were senior managers and above. None of these individuals received an exit package.

In 2015, we launched Respect@ and our annual Internal Investigations Report to provide transparency about these types of investigations at Google. Because we know that reporting harassment can be traumatic, we provide confidential channels to share any inappropriate behavior you experience or see. We support and respect those who have spoken out. You can find many ways to do this at go/saysomething. You can make a report anonymously if you wish.

We've also updated our policy to require all VPs and SVPs to disclose any relationship with a co-worker regardless of reporting line or presence of conflict.

We are committed to ensuring that Google is a workplace where you can feel safe to do your best work, and where there are serious consequences for anyone who behaves inappropriately.

Sundar and Eileen

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Should Google have been more transparent about the previous departures? Why or why not?

  • Should the executives say more in the email about the specific departures mentioned in the Times article? Why or why not?

  • Assess the email for audience analysis, objectives, tone, organization, and style. What works well, and what could be improved?

  • Which leadership character dimensions does Pichai demonstrate and fail to demonstrate?

Facebook's War on "Fake News"

Facebook has taken several steps to banish incorrect information on the site. The company provides three examples of questionable news items and the action they took, including what they missed.

In some of these situations, stories were doctored with images from related situations. One image, with the caption, “Man from Saudi spits in the face of the poor receptionist at a Hospital in London then attacks other staff,” represents a situation that happened at a veterinary hospital. The post explains, “On Facebook, we’ve seen years-old images of violent acts, protests and war zones reposted and used to inflame current racial or ethnic tensions.”

Another story promised that NASA would pay people $100,000 “to stay in bed for 60 days.” Although this may sound appealing—and it did garner millions of Facebook views—again, this claim referred to an older article in which a journalist was paid $18,000 for staying in bed for 70 days. But the offer no longer stands.

A Standard study reports that Facebook’s efforts are working to reduce misinformation, although we don’t yet see the same effects on Twitter: “Interactions then fell sharply on Facebook while they continued to rise on Twitter.“ A Mashable report explains:

“Mark Zuckerberg and company may be on the right track when it comes to fighting fake news, but as you can see from those engagement numbers, it’s not a success story quite yet. Even with the downward trend over the past 2 years, Facebook is still responsible for much more of the spread of fake news than a social platform like Twitter.”

Discussion:

  • How do you interpret Facebook’s progress?

  • Assess the Facebook post. How well is the company taking responsibility and explaining what still needs to be done?

Senators Send Harsh Letter to Google

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The U.S. Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation sent a strongly worded letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. The senators question what the company has done to protect 500,00 users whose profile information was stolen in 2015. Their anger stems from knowledge of an internal memo, cited in a Wall Street Journal article, discouraging disclosure because of fear of “immediate regulatory interest” and the requirement for Pichai to testify before Congress.

In the letter, the senators compare Google’s response to Facebook’s in light of the Cambridge Analytica breach:

“At the same time that Facebook was learning the important lesson that tech firms must be forthright with the public about privacy issues, Google apparently elected to withhold information about a relevant vulnerability for fear of public scrutiny.”

The senators then list specific information about vulnerabilities for Google to provide by October 30.

Google logo image source.

Discussion:

  • Read the Wall Street Journal article for more background information. Did the senators respond appropriately? Why or why not?

  • What is Google’s accountability in this situation? What is the committee’s accountability?

  • In addition to responding to the senators’ requests, what, if anything, should Google communicate to the public at this point?

  • Google may have been avoiding its own vulnerability.

British Rail Company Apologies

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

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

Discussion:

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

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

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

Kavanaugh and Ford Demonstrate Vulnerability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kavanaugh image. Ford image source.

Discussion:

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

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

Accusation and Defense of Brett Kavanaugh

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On the final days of interviews with Brett Kavanaugh to become a Supreme Court Justice, a woman has accused him of sexual assault when they were teenagers, more than 30 years ago. Professor Christine Blasey Ford wanted to stay anonymous, but she is now known as the one who claims Kavanaugh assaulted her at a Georgetown Preparatory School party when she was 15 and Kavanaugh was 17. She revealed her allegation in a letter to her congressman. Dr. Blasey believes that she would have been raped if Kavanaugh weren’t drunk. Both will testify on Monday.

For leadership and business communication students, let’s look at the arguments on both sides. Here is some of the evidence presented so far:

  • Twenty-four women who attended private school with Dr. Blasey supported her in a signed letter “to attest to her honesty, integrity, and intelligence.” (For some letter-writing history, read the defense of Professor Avital Ronell and the subsequent explanation.)

  • Dr. Blasey passed a polygraph test, but critics say the test is imperfect for proving truthfulness.

  • Although Dr. Blasey doesn’t remember some details (for example, whose house they were at), trauma experts say this is typical for people who experience such a trauma.

  • Kavanaugh denies the incident: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

  • Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s roommate at the time, said, “I have no memory of this alleged incident." Dr. Blasey claims he was in the room during the incident. Judge also said, "It's just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way.” He also said they were raised in Catholic homes that didn’t tolerate such behavior and that Kavanaugh was “brilliant” and not “into anything crazy or illegal.” Judge wrote a book, Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk, about his time at Georgetown Prep.

  • Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook has become public and is “raising eyebrows,” as MSNBC and CNN both report. The yearbook includes captions such as “Do these guys beat their wives?” and “100 kegs or bust,” indicating a party culture. Mark Judge’s yearbook page, shown here, includes a quote: “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.”

The FBI and/or congressional investigation is a nearly impossible task. Does this evidence help?

Cover image source. Yearbook image source.

Discussion:

  • Which of these evidence points do you consider most and lease relevant to the question of whether Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Blasey?

  • What biases might you bring to the analysis? Think about your own assumptions and how they might affect your interpretation.

  • What advice would you give to members of Senate Judiciary Committee as they decide what happened and, ultimately, whether Kavanaugh should be elected to the highest court position.

JD.com CEO Arrested for Sexual Misconduct

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Richard Liu, founder and CEO of Chinese e-commerce company JD.com, was arrested in Minneapolis for sexual misconduct. Because of his high profile and billionaire status, Liu’s arrest was the most popular topic of conversation on social media in China last week.

Two people describe a case involving a student at the University of Minnesota, part of a joint doctoral program in business administration with Tsinghua University. Liu was released without bail and has returned to China. He denies any wrongdoing, and JD.com posted a statement in Chinese, translated by a student:

Sunday, Sep. 2, 2018

We have noticed that there are rumors and false accusations about Mr. Qiangdong Liu on Weibo (Chinese social media site, similar to Twitter) recently. We hereby declare as follows: Liu was falsely accused while in the US on a business trip, but the police investigators found no misconduct and that he would continue his journey as planned. The company will take necessary legal action against false reporting or rumors.

Monday, Sep. 3, 2018

So far as we know, Mr. Liu was arrested on Aug. 31, 2018 in Minneapolis for investigation. He was released from custody shortly. There was no accusation or bail required for the release. Mr. Liu has returned to China and will resume his business activities as originally planned.

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In addition to the stock price drop and embarrassment this causes Liu and JD.com, the company may have a governance problem. Liu is required to attend board meetings in person (although he may be able to join via video or telephone). Without him, as an 80% voting rights owner, the board may be unable to make decisions for the business.

A New York Times article focuses on China’s fascination with self-made billionaires as celebrities. Online discussions featured photos of Jack Ma laughing at Liu’s trouble.

Liu image source.

Discussion:

  • I don’t see a statement or press release from Liu or from the company in English. Should Liu or the company publish something at this point on the website? Why or why not?

  • What should the company do now to manage through this crisis?

  • How does the Chinese reaction compare to situations in the United States? Can you think of a similar situation when Americans were fascinated by a leader’s hardship?

Changes at Riot Games

Following allegations of sexism, Riot Games has apologized and is making changes. A long report by Kotaku placed blame mostly on the fast company growth and sexist working environment.

Trying to shed its “bro-culture” stigma, leaders have acknowledged that the company could be more inclusive. In a long statement last month titled, “Our First Steps Forward,” the company starts by apologizing to “to all those we’ve let down.” The statement then lists steps the company will take around inclusion initiatives, staffing, training, and so on

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In a more recent statement, the company announced hiring a “leadership and strategy expert,” Frances Frei, who had also worked with Uber. The statement includes this quotation from Frei:

“After spending time with Riot’s leadership and many others across the organization, it became clear that Riot is truly putting everything on the table and committing to evolving its culture. In my interactions with Rioters, I’ve seen extraordinary levels of engagement on these issues across the company. Every Rioter with whom I’ve met truly cares about inclusion, which means real change is possible. Riot isn’t interested simply in fixing problems on the surface, it has the ambition to be an industry leader and to provide a roadmap for others to follow. I share that ambition and am eager to help Riot navigate this process.”

Frei image source.

Discussion:

  • Read Kotaku’s report. How credible do you find the investigation and reporting? What could increase the credibility?

  • Assess Riot Games’ statement. Who is the audience and what are the communication objectives? How do the organization, writing style, and tone affect your assessment?

  • Now assess the statement about Frei. What’s your view of including Frei’s statement? What else, if anything, should be included in the statement?

  • Overall, how well is Riot Games demonstrating accountability? What other leadership character dimensions are demonstrated?

Disneyland Employees Speak Out

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Disney employees are on screen in a New York Times op-ed video, "I Work at the Happiest Place on Earth. Why Can’t I Pay My Rent?" A 30-year concierge and a cosmetologist are featured more prominently. One is currently living in her car, and another says, tearfully, that she has spent time in her car. Both say they love their jobs, but along with 75% of Disneyland employees, they can't afford to pay "basic expenses every month." Data comes from a questionnaire and report, "Working for the Mouse."

The argument is for Disney to pay a living wage, and the call is for citizens to vote for an Anaheim proposal that affects Disneyland employees and some local hotel workers. In the video, one claim is that real wages have declined because of inflation—what $15 per hour bought seven years ago isn't the same today.

Business leaders who are fighting the measure say that the increase would hurt jobs. One local Chamber of Commerce member argued, "We estimate 3-4,000 jobs lost over next year or two by companies having to absorb this new increased cost. They're going to reduce hours and reduce jobs."

Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is also featured in the video. He is proposing a bill he calls "Stop BEZOS" to tax Amazon and other large companies for public assistance received by their employees. The idea is for companies with 500 or more employees to pay the government back for support paid to their employees who cannot survive on earned wages.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • How well does the video make the case for higher wages? Which are logical and which are emotional appeals? What evidence is presented?
  • Assess the credibility of the questionnaire and report, "Working for the Mouse." From your assessment, what makes the report both credible and questionable? In what ways does the report reflect business communication standards, and in what ways does it fall short?
  • Research the impact of raising wages on industry, for example, this Cornell report. What's your view of this argument? It's a complicated question because of different industries, locations, labor supply, rates, etc.
  • In what ways do the employees featured in the video demonstrate courage? What risks did they take in appearing on screen?

Louis C.K. and Steve Wynn Are Back

Comedian Louis C.K. showed up unexpectedly at a comedy club in New York and performed his usual act. You may remember that five women accused Louis C.K. of sexual harassment, for which he wrote an apology, admitting to the acts the women described. Since then, he has been out of the spotlight.

Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman said the crowd responded positively and gave him a standing ovation as he took the stage. Dworman acknowledged the risk he took in having Louis C.K. perform:

“I understand that some people will be upset with me. I care about my customers very much. Every complaint goes through me like a knife. And I care about doing the right thing. . . .[but] there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.”

Some business leaders accused during the #MeToo movement are also trying to make a comeback. Steve Wynn, for example, has started an online art gallery featuring paintings by Picasso, Warhol, and others. When asked whether Wynn's history would have a negative effect on his venture as an art dealer, his lawyer, Michael Kosnitzky, said he, "didn’t believe so." Kosnitzky also said that Wynn still denies the charges and believes “people should look at the totality of the man.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What do you think factored into Dworman's decision to allow Louis C.K. to perform? Did he do the right thing?
  • Louis C.K. didn't include any material about sexual harassment or his apology. This would have demonstrated his vulnerability. What would have been the benefits and drawbacks?
  • What's your view of Steve Wynn's attempt to reinvest himself as an art dealer?
  • Wynn's name doesn't appear on the website. Do you think that's the right decision? Why or why not?

Pope Francis's Letter

Pope Francis has joined the conversation about sexual abuse in the Catholic church after 1,000 victims and 300 perpetrators were identified by a grand jury investigation report in Pennsylvania. The report also revealed how the church systematically covered up the abuse over a 70-year period.

In an open letter, which is posted on Vatican News, expresses empathy early and often, for example, in this passage:

In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims.  We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.  

Pope Francis's letter follows one by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, when abuse in Ireland became widely known.

Discussion:

  • Compare the two letters. In what ways are they similar and different? How might the circumstance and timing affect each approach?
  • How is the letter organized? How would you describe the tone?
  • Which character dimensions does Pope Francis demonstrate in his letter?

 

Maryland Apologizes for Football Player's Death

University of Maryland at College Park has taken responsibility for mistakes during training that caused a football player's death. During a news conference, President Wallace D. Loh said he met with the student's parents to apologize. After the investigation, Loh concluded:

"The University accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training-staff made on that fateful workout day." And to the parents, "You entrusted Jordan to our care, and he is never returning home again."

Such an admission is unusual and welcome in light of cover-ups and shifting blame.

As a result of this incident, the head coach was placed on leave and another coach, Rick Court, has left the university. Court had been accused of "name calling and other intimidation," according to a Chronicle report.

Some are calling for Loh's resignation as well. Trouble started with the athletics director around the same time. Loh has publicly expressed concerns about how these situations might affect his presidency:

“That’s the sad part,” he said. “I think most presidents have to hold on for dear life. Many, many presidents have not been able to bounce back.”

Discussion:

  • In what ways does Loh make himself and the University vulnerable, and how might this work in their favor?
  • Did Loh do the right thing? Should he resign?
  • Assess Loh's news conference. What does he do well, and what could he improve?
  • How well does Loh express compassion during the news conference?

Sacha Baron Cohen: Questions of Ethics and Integrity

Most famous for this Borat movies, Sacha Baron Cohen is at it again. He has a new Showtime series, "Who Is America?," and pranks mostly people with conservative political views. Impersonating something who might favor his target's position, he gets people to make embarrassing statements and do humiliating acts.

On a recent episode, Cohen convinced a gun-rights advocate to bite on a sex toy. (I didn't watch it.) Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was duped recently and wrote a scathing Facebook post, calling Cohen “evil, exploitative and sick." For her interview, Cohen impersonated someone who appeared to Palin to be a disabled war veteran.

His strategy is to make people vulnerable: by impersonating someone who appears to be a person in need or a supporter, he lowers the interviewee's defenses so they are more easily humiliated.

Cohen's stunts remind me that companies send employees to impersonate customers to get competitive data. Or maybe this is a stretch?

Cover image.

Discussion:

  • What's your view of Cohen's work: mean, exploitative, demeaning, clever, funny, or something else?
  • Now consider his work using two frameworks: ethical decision making and integrity. How do his interviews measure up?
  • What about my analogy to getting competitive data? What are the similarities and differences? Have you been asked by a company to use this tactic? Did you comply? Why or why not? It's a common practice.

Fun Funeral Ads?

Death is inevitable, and we don't like to talk about it. A UK company is trying to change that with "edgy" ads, for example, people running on a beach carrying coffins as surfboards.

The ads are causing a stir. Transport for London, which regulates the city's ads, rejected them as  potentially causing “serious and widespread offense," although officials hadn't actually seen the ads. Still, on social media, people referred to the ads as "shocking,” “vile,” “insensitive,” and “tasteless.”

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The ads compare burial and cremation prices, and one offers "one-way" travel with "roasting temperatures." The ad company founder defended the approach:

“Our reluctance to talk about death is the reason funeral costs continue to spiral and why you pay far too much for writing a will or settling an estate. That’s what we seek to change.”

Discussion:

  • Why do we have a difficult time talking about death?
  • How would you describe the ads and the agency's strategy?
  • Could the ad strategy bring about a positive change? Will the ads bring in business?
  • What if these ads ran in the U.S.? How, if at all, do you think the response might differ?

Airline CEOs Defend Seat Size

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American and Delta Airlines CEOs sit in small plane seats to explain the rationale and defend shrinking seat sizes. Doug Parker and Ed Bastian, both 6' 3" tall, agreed to talk to a WSJ writer, while United CEO Oscar Munoz declined.

Both CEOs say they fly coach for short trips. Bastian started a policy that Delta directors must fly coach when traveling less than three hours. Of course, as the article points out, suffering three hours in a small seat isn't quite the same as 24.

The executives say that flight amenities, such as WiFi, make up for any discomfort from smaller seats. American's Parker says that customers don't complain and that the airline hasn't "done anything that makes the main cabin product less desirable than it was before." The airlines are also focused on providing larger seats for higher fares.

Another WSJ article explains what airlines consider when making seats comfortable.

Image source.

Cover image source.

Discussion:

  • How does this story illustrate character dimensions such as compassion, vulnerability, and humility?
  • Did the CEOs do the right thing by agreeing to participate in the article? What are the risks and benefits?
  • Why would United CEO Oscar Munoz decline? Was this the right decision for him and the airline?
  • What persuasion tactics do the CEOs use to convince us that flying coach is not so bad?
  • Do you agree with the CEOs' assessments about small seats? What has been your experience?