Category Archives: General Corporate

July 17, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , , , ,

King James’ Return to Cleveland – A “Rebound on Reputation”?

lebron cavsLast Friday afternoon, NBA superstar LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, his original team, after a four-year stint with the Miami Heat through an exclusive essay conducted by Sports Illustrated. James, an Ohio native, stirred controversy throughout America’s sports fan base in 2010 by publicly announcing his long-awaited free agency decision (aka “The Decision”) on a live ESPN special, with the message “I’m taking my talents to South Beach”resonating in villainous fashion.

For those who don’t know, the reputational domino effect on James ensued shortly after, with Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert penning a blistering open letter to fans calling out James for leaving. This followed with countless No.23 jerseys burned or banished, and a chorus of “boos” directed at The King in every corner of the country.

No matter the timing or his sincerity in the letter, was this enough to repair King James’ reputation?  After the 2010 decision, I looked at James’ reputation though a branding lens: a personal brand that caters to his advocates and ignores his detractors through an extremely narrow view of his stakeholders. From the grandiose television spectacle to the “What Should I Do” commercial that took a victimized approach in his decision, LeBron’s reputation has been anything but all-star caliber.

In a king-like manner, James wants to have his cake and eat it too with his recent announcement to return to Cleveland. James wanted his cake – an NBA championship – and didn’t care what it took it to get it; even if it meant ditching the Cavaliers’ castle that’s starving for its first title. Now with two titles under his belt, James has deemed it appropriate to return home without retribution while proclaiming the words, “I’m not promising a championship.” This begs me to wonder, if he had not won in Miami during his four-year stay, would he be back as a Cav this upcoming season?

In the world of sports where memories are short and winning is everything, James does score some major reputational points this time around for a sound, operational announcement.  However, when the book is written on James’ legacy, his blunders of the past will not be forgotten. I’m not sipping from the Lebron Kool-Aid, or should I say Sprite 6 Mix, just yet.

July 3, 2014 | seis | Tagged , , ,

The Power of a Diverse Workplace

diversegrouplargeLess than a month after Google disclosed its disappointing diversity numbers, Facebook followed suit with a nearly identical diversity report. At Google and Facebook, men make up 70 percent and 69 percent of both companies’ respective workforces, and combined, Caucasians and Asians represent a staggering figure of over 90 percent of both companies’ labor pools. These figures are representative of a troubling trend among far too many companies and are out of line with a U.S. workforce in which people of color make up nearly a third of the total labor force. This lack of diversity is simply inconsistent with the type of business strategy America’s most innovative companies should pursue and the message they should be communicating.

While the days of “othering” are gone, there’s growing societal emphasis placed on acceptance and inclusion, creating a diverse workplace is not only a moral imperative; it’s a smart business strategy. Deloitte’s 2014 Human Capital Trends survey describes a diverse and inclusive workforce as “a company’s lifeblood.” Numerous studies from organizations such as Deloitte,  McKinsey & Company, and The Center for American Progress have proven the various benefits diversity has for a company.  From helping to understand customers’ differing needs and cultivating relationships with new customers, to increasing employee retention rates and inspiring new ideas through varying backgrounds and viewpoints, a diverse workforce leads to more opportunities and ultimately, positive bottom line impact.

Creating a diverse workplace is critical from the standpoint of both the employee and the employer. According to Cone Millennial Cause group, in a sample of 1,800 13-25-year-olds, 80 percent said they wanted to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society, and over half said they would refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation.  A 2011 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that while Millennials believe companies talk about diversity, they are not taking tangible action to create equal opportunities. As Millennials continue to pour into the workforce and companies increasingly seek to engage a global, diverse audience, creating an inclusive, accepting culture is the key to attracting and retaining talent.

Given its influence over employee retention and acquisition, its power to foster creativity, and increase productivity and efficiency, having a diverse workforce can mean the difference between stagnation and innovation…and outwardly communicating this diverse culture is just as critical. By taking tangible steps to transcend tolerance and shift towards embracing differences at every decision, at every level of an organization, businesses can increase their competitiveness in a dynamic global economy.

July 2, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

When Values-Based Organizations Go Wrong: Why Hypocrisy is the Enemy of Reputation

hobby lobbyFree speech is alive and well – at least on social media – and it has never been more evident than it is with the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision.  Placing religious freedom, personal liberty and other Constitutional arguments aside, watching this situation unfold begs the question about the reputation implications of being an organization that is “values-based.”

Most organizations are built on core values – some through a purposeful design of mission and vision statements, followed by the core values the organization espouses.  Others have been less orchestrated – but not less meaningful – often derived from the personal values system of the founders – maybe even religious values. Some of the greatest, most iconic companies in America were built on a religious foundation.  The Hersey Chocolate Company was certainly influenced by Milton Hershey’s Mennonite values.  Marriott’s commitment to The Mormon Way is well documented, as is its refusal to offer pay-per-view pornography in its hotels.  Tyson provides Chaplains of multiple faiths for its employees and believes in spirituality in the workplace.  And Timberland’s CEO credits his Jewish faith for his commitment to treating all people with dignity, and severing ties with Chinese factories for human rights violations.

So why the backlash against self-proclaimed Christian companies like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A?

While the issue is very complex, the answer is simple.

  1. When a company proclaims a set of values – there is an expectation that those values will be applied consistently – not in a cherry picked fashion.   This piece about Hobby Lobby’s extensive sourcing from China sums it up nicely.  Consumers won’t tolerate hypocrisy – such as Forever 21 selling skimpy clothing to young girls, while printing bible verses on your shopping bags.  Or Chick-fil-A’s proclamation as an advocate for families (and closing on Sundays) but rampant disrespect for gay families.
  2. When your organization’s values benefit your employees and protect your customers– such as Tyson’s Chaplain program, or Starbucks banning weapons in their stores – this is a good thing for your reputation.  When your values are used as a blunt instrument to restrict or deny your employees – that is something else.  (And yes, I understand that some believe that restricting weapons is impeding the personal liberty of the lawful gun owners who believe in their right to bear arms…but that is a topic for another blog, another day.  I don’t think ordering a Venti Frappuccino requires being armed.)

So should you just forget about being a values-based organization?  Absolutely not.  But before you proclaim those values, remember that we live in a complex world, and that hypocrisy is the enemy of building and preserving your reputation.  You’ve got to walk the talk.

June 19, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

GM’s CEO Mary Barra Smartly Sticks with Strategy of Transparency in Congressional Hearing

GM CEO Mary Barra’s testimony to Congress Wednesday was a demonstration of true integrity. Too often, we find leaders giving empty apologies. But Barra offers a new way forward for leaders who find their institutions (in this case, and in others, themselves) under the microscope, and learn the raw, honest truth – they are deeply flawed. Barra’s strategy of transparency around the mistakes made by previous leaders is admirable, and her continued self-criticism and forward-looking, specific recommendation for change are critical in order to rally support around the “new GM” she is trying to create. Her decision to act on all of the Valukas Report’s recommendations is evidence that she’s not just talking; she’s really making an actionable commitment to turning the company’s reputation, business and culture around.

The Valukas report was indeed, as Barra herself puts it, “extremely thorough, brutally tough and deeply troubling.” However, Barra’s acknowledgement of the realities of the report and moreover, her suggestions to proactively address the issues raised shows that she is not afraid to rise to the occasion – her communication externally, if matched internally with a “we rise and fall together” mantra will serve her well.

The verdict is still out on how Barra’s communication strategy will pan out, and will rely on how well Barra acts on her convictions and ensures this doesn’t happen again.

Here’s what media and consumers have to say so far.

June 5, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Top Ten Quotes From the Reputation Management Institute Conference

As the Reputation Management Institute’s Annual Conference wraps up, my notes are peppered with some great quotes and food for thought about reputation – how to build it, protect it and measure it. In no particular order, my Top 10 quotes:

“If you aren’t out there talking, someone will do it for you. And you probably won’t like it.” – Jake Siewert, Global Head of Corporate Communications, Goldman Sachs

“Effective management of an issue that impacts reputation requires structure, and messaging. Not just messaging.” – Chuck Saia, Chief Risk, Reputation and Crisis Officer, Deloitte

“If you try to be a secret, you get recognition for the bad news, and not the good news. Even private companies need to engage externally.” – Charlese Wheeless, Principal Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, Bechtel

“Reputation management isn’t about firefighting. It is about putting up smoke detectors.” – Kasper Nielson, Reputation Institute

“We want employees to support corporate strategy, but we don’t ask them what they want in exchange” – Cees van Reel, Author of the Alignment Factor

“To improve your reputation, be bold. Allstate will refund the premium for any policy holder who has an auto claim and isn’t satisfied with the outcome. Less than one percent will do it, but 100 percent will view you positively for offering it.” – David Woolwine, Allstate

“Reputation and brand aren’t the same thing. Reputation is an indicator of how your stakeholders view your actual performance, and communications is part of that. To influence reputation, corporate narratives need to be clear and consistent”. – Nick Adams, VP Corporate Branding, Novo Nordisk

“Culture eats strategy for lunch. Recruit for talent, create skills based roles, invest in your people and you will achieve growth”. – Gerard Van Grinsvan, CEO, Cancer Treatment Centers of America

“Too much success is a reputational risk, because it can make an organization stop listening (to stakeholders)” – Majken Schultz, Copenhagen Business School

“When a CEO’s compensation includes reputation metrics, you can be sure that those priorities trickle down.” – Bob Calamari, SVP Enterprise Marketing Research, Bank of America

June 4, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

From Hotels to Healthcare – It’s All About Reputation

I’m at the Reputation Management Institute’s annual conference listening to great speakers talk about how to embed reputation considerations into business strategy and decision-making in order to achieve competitive advantage in the marketplace.

This morning’s panelist had me at “Hello.” Gerard van Grinsven is the CEO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, but ironically, he isn’t a healthcare guy. He is a former hotel executive, now running cancer treatment hospitals and outpatient clinics. With that unique background, he had some great insights to share on reputation management:

1. Every business is a customer service business, including healthcare. The customers own your reputation, and we need to deliver what they value most.

2. Don’t spend so much energy focusing on your competitors. It distracts from your mission, and managing your reputation with a “relative to your peers” approach is a guaranteed race to the bottom.

3. Reputation is built from the inside out. Employees need to understand and embrace your vision before anyone else will.

4. Reputation leaders decline to smell their own perfume. Every stakeholder needs a high level of emotional engagement from you. If they aren’t willing to rate you at the top of the chart, that means they’re likely to go looking for something better and “have an affair” with one of your competitors.

5. Reputation leaders value speed to market. They move fast. Bureaucracy is the enemy of speed. To do this, you stay focused on what the customer values, and everything else is a waste of your energy.

If a healthcare CEO whose customers only come to him when they’ve received a devastating cancer diagnosis can live by these standards, there’s no reason we can’t all operate the same way.

May 8, 2014 | dlauer | Tagged ,

Fields’ First 100 Days Starts Now

It’s official. Mark Fields will soon take the helm of one of America’s most iconic corporations of all time. And just as it is for any new chief executive, the pressure is on. All eyes will be on Fields’ every move, ears hanging on every last word, interpreting the hidden, strategic connection to layoffs, cuts, sluggish sales, or whatever the anxious situation du jour may be. The “first 100 days” – often thought of as the most critical period with the ability to make or break the reputation of a new CEO – has already started, even before his first cup of coffee in the corner office.

Once thought of as a CEO’s “honeymoon period”, the first 100 days has become nothing short of a test, and unfortunately, easing into it is not an option. In fact, now more than ever, the first two months leading up to the official start date plays a more integral role in the perceived success or failure of a new CEO’s reputation tenure. For Fields specifically, this is a time for strategy and planning…not necessarily for Ford, but for his own, personal leadership approach.

So what should he be doing starting today?

CREATE AN AMBASSADOR NETWORK. This is the time to ensure relationships are shored up where they will be needed most. It can be lonely at the top, and Fields or any chief decision maker needs a trusted inner circle consisting of confidants in marketing and communications, legal, HR and especially the Board of Directors. Getting to know now what motivates employees, developing a shared vision for the brand and understanding the expectations of the Board and its preferences in terms of communicating and working together will be invaluable to building long-term equity with these influential groups.

LISTEN, AND LISTEN SOME MORE. There will be plenty of time when Fields will be expected by the public (investors, customers, pundits, industry influencers) to speak his mind – on everything from sales in Canada to production forecasts on the new F-150 pick-up – but this is a rare moment where Fields can actually do more listening than talking and not be criticized for it. I suggest he continue to do more of what he and CFO Shanks are already doing – conducting field visits around the Ford map to talk with employees, customers and ask questions. Listen to the answers and leverage them to inform the long-term strategy everyone will be so eagerly waiting to hear when the time is right.

HONE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE. Fields has won the recognition and respect (and now vote of confidence from his peers) that he is capable of penning the next chapter in Ford’s history. As accomplished and proven as Fields’ contributions as COO have been to the Ford Company, he still has some very big visionary shoes to fill upon Alan Mulally’s departure. Being a great leader is more than great execution. Inspiration has just become a significant part of Fields’ job description. A dynamic CEO can build trust and equity for the brand, and now is the time for Fields to consider the legacy he wishes to leave at Ford. This begins with a deep and thoughtful dive into the platforms Fields wants to be associated with, the areas of the job he feels most passionate about, and, ultimately, the point of view and messaging that will both authenticate and differentiate him.

We’ll be rooting for Fields as he transitions into his new role. The good news is he’s embarking on a well-paved path, thanks to Mulally’s successful turnaround. He’s a long-time Blue Oval veteran, he understands and lives the culture and for many new CEOs, this is half the battle. The question we’ll all wait to see answered is … what will Fields’ legacy be?


May 5, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Opening a Window of Goodwill

One of the cardinal rules of PR is that the status of your reputation will determine people’s initial response to any situation. If you’ve worked hard to build a good reputation, then people will be more inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong, which buys you a magical window of time to right the ship before things get too ugly. By stockpiling goodwill among your stakeholders when times are good, you can even lengthen the amount of time that window is open.

On the other hand, if you haven’t spent the time to enhance your reputation or stockpile goodwill, then that valuable window of time is most likely shut tight, and righting the ship becomes an even bigger challenge in the onslaught of public scrutiny.

A perfect example occurred recently when the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration released a report outlining how the IRS distributed over $2.8 million in bonuses over the last two years to employees who had been disciplined for various offenses, including giving $1 million in bonuses to over 1,100 employees who hadn’t adequately paid their own taxes.

For an organization that rates as the least popular federal entity, it’s clear the IRS does not have a good reputation and has not banked much goodwill among the public. As the media continues to swarm all over the story and members of Congress begin demanding answers, it is also clear that the window of opportunity to prevent this report from becoming yet another PR disaster is already closed, if it was ever actually open to begin with.

This case provides a valuable reminder that, regardless of your industry, goodwill and a solid reputation can work wonders to smooth over the occasional negative headline. The American public can be very understanding when they choose to be. Unfortunately, for the IRS, the taxman never gets the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, another cardinal rule of PR is that facts trump communications. The fundamental facts of your situation will ultimately carry the day. In the case of the IRS, no amount of crisis communications can gloss over the glaring hypocrisy of paying bonuses to tax collectors who haven’t paid their taxes.

May 1, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

When it comes to corporate reputation, trust begins at home

It’s always fun, and OK, even a bit vindicating, when you find actual data to support something you’ve always believed. Like the notion that reputation and trust begin at home, with your organization’s employees. If you haven’t seen this little tidbit here on this blog, perhaps a study featured in HBR will convince you.

You may have seen the headline that a quarter of employees don’t trust their employers. But what is more interesting than the headline, is the deeper dive into why and what that means. MWW friends, colleagues and clients may recognize a few of these tidbits:

  • Communication is key to trust….but what you do is more important than what you say
  • Two-way dialogue is more important that top-down communication
  • Telling people how and why is more important than the “what” or factual information

And for those among us who are challenged with managing multiple generations in the workplace (spoiler alert: we are going to talk about Millennials here) – workplace stress is defined very differently by the generations. And what your parents described as “knowing your place” Millennials describe as a major source of workplace stress: lack of participation in decision-making.

HBR is full of great information – too much for most of us to fit into our reading list. But this one is worth the read.

April 30, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Buffet Backtrack on CEO Pay: Reputation Buster, or Just Buffet Being Buffet?

The Oracle of Omaha has spoken, or in this case, not spoken. After boldly pronouncing large shareholders as the last line of defense on CEO pay just a few years ago, Buffet declined to vote against the Coca-Cola compensation packages he termed excessive. In fact, he declined to vote at all.

Is abstaining a cop out, or sending a signal, as Buffet suggests? And will his apparent lapse in backbone damage his reputation as the tough-talking, common sense billionaire who makes headlines any time he issues a pronouncement?

Buffet has built a reputation as being a contrarian voice, with results that consistently outperform the market. And that is his secret sauce: performance. So long as he continues to perform, any perceived “flip flops” in position will likely be chalked up to eccentric billionaire behavior. But should that performance wane…then we may see Buffet’s reputation decline like an OTC stock.