Archive | March, 2009

Alsop’s Law Two: Reputation Measurement

29 Mar

When reading my Facebook link to yesterday’s post on the topic of Ronald Alsop’s corporate reputation tome, a good friend said:

That book sounds ridiculously boring and tedious. Try Harry Potter.

This same friend also said to me 12 years ago, just after my daughter was born, when I was getting zero sleep and never thought I would leave my house again:

Don’t worry, things will go back to normal soon.

Well, that good friend now has a two-year-old son that is keeping him very busy these days. “Soon” is a relative term, I have reminded my friend. He is a person that my husband and I have regarded as an older brother of sorts, and he is our children’s godfather (all the better since his last name is Italian). It makes me think of how much has changed in the time since my daughter was born.

images1What does my friend’s advice have to do with Alsop and corporate reputation? It’s all about perspective. The second law points out the importance of taking the pulse of your corporate reputation. Assessing reputation, through industry-proven metrics like Harris’ Reputation Quotient, Hay Group/Fortune’s Most Admired Companies or CoreBrand’s Brand Power, is big business. People pay for this insight, and for good reason.

Alsop’s point with law two is similar to the sorting hat in Harry Potter. Like the hat’s process for sorting people into different houses at Hogwarts, the public’s process for sorting a company’s reputation will differ depending upon circumstances. Those who’ve read Harry Potter know that his house was a toss-up between Gryffindor (open-hearted and good-doing) and Slytherin (power-hungry and possibly up to no good).

As Alsop schools us, reputation management is not customer satisfaction. The best measures are painstakingly researched reputation attributes that align most closely with each company’s core values. So it’s all relative, up to a point. Sure, there are basic reputation do’s and don’ts, following along the same themes as the Ten Commandments or the Hippocratic Oath. But depending on what part of the world a company selling its products or services, the measure for corporate reputation will vary. Europeans put more stock in a company’s social responsibility. Value-added differentiators are more important in Japan. In China, respect for history makes a difference.

Media monitoring is key in reputation measurement. Are news media discussing your company favorably, unfavorably or neutrally? Or not at all? Depending upon who you are and what you do for business, any one of those could be optimal. Social media measurement is a newer capability of PR firms, leveraging the insights of tools like Radian6. Those active in the social media world know that listening is one important part of sharing in the conversation. If corporations do not take the time to listen to what’s being said about their reputations in the social media space, they ignore an important reputation metric.

Companies are capable of stellar reputations, yet brands are sullied by missed details or missteps that make all the difference in the end. Little things DO count when it comes to reputation. One day you’re in Gryffindor, the next day it could be Slytherin, depending on how you deliver (or not) on your promises. Reputation measurement is undertaken to provide feedback to companies to help them sustain over the long haul, with a series of carefully chosen steps towards stellar public perception.

Alsop’s Law One: Maximize Reputation

28 Mar

reputation-balloon_041This post is the first in a series discussing Ronald Alsop’s The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation. I just started reading this book. It’s been on my shelf for a while. What could be a better time than now, in the aftermath of Madoff and AIG nationally, or  DHL’s decision that is impacting the entire southwest region of Ohio?

Alsop is a fan of being prepared. His first law illustrates FedEx’s successful crisis scenario testing. At the time the book was written, one of the company’s trucks was in an accident and caught on fire. FedEx’s legal, PR and operations team sprang into action together. They worked to substantiate facts about the accident, bring them forward for news media and clearly communicate with families and the public. Another big part of their job was to minimize news coverage, as any continued replay of the accident would be damaging to their brand. One of the benefits to having a company name emblazoned on trucks and other transport is the mobile billboard effect, but in a crisis this can be a detriment. By quelling the telephone effect of word-of-mouth news and speaking as an informed source about their own accident, company spokespersons helped out media and protected their reputation.

Just a few days ago, on March 23, a FedEx cargo plane with two pilots on board crashed at Tokyo’s Narita airport, tragically killing both on board. Significantly, Bloomberg’s headline detailed this as FedEx’s “first fatal” crash. I didn’t see the accident replays on news programs, but I watched the looped footage captured by airport security cameras and put up on YouTube. I wonder what Alsop would say of this. It isn’t something you can keep people from accessing, and news coverage is becoming one among many information sources. As with the video, the still shots I saw on various online sources did not show the FedEx logo on the plane. I wonder whether FedEx PR worked with media to suggest these shots? On January 27, a crash of a smaller FedEx plane at a Texas airport was not fatal, with both pilots safe. News footage clearly showed the arrival of emergency vehicles and extinguishing of the flames, but the logo was not visible.

My bet is that FedEx had a crisis plan in place that their staff followed to the letter. Based upon what Alsop describes of their internal preparations in his Law One, they talk through every possible situation and practice their response in rehearsed exercises. It’s funny, but I didn’t know that the movie Cast Away (with Tom Hanks) is about a FedEx pilot. I understand that the company carefully weighed pros and cons of working with the production team on this opportunity, because clearly a plane crash movie using their brand could have been a big PR nightmare. But it seems that the pros won out, and the overall message of penultimate service was the overriding theme of the movie, with the pilot intent on delivering a package even after being stranded on a desert isle.

Law One also provides examples of “don’ts,” from companies who have responded poorly in crisis situations, therefore damaging their reputation for years. He provides data indicating that it can take 3-10 years to repair reputation once damage is inflicted, and this is costly.  Cases in point: Audi’s defensive response to the claim that 5000 series models to suddenly and  inexplicably accelerate; Xerox’s fraud problems in the early 2000s that continued even after their spokesperson incorrectly declared that they had moved past the issues.

Alsop’s concept of “reputation capital” is key in Law One. He explains how companies carefully nurture reputation over time. Companies like P&G, who’ve been in business for years, have time to build up trust with consumers. Alsop is clear that this is not easy, and reputation-building is an ongoing process. He provides examples of DuPont and General Electric. Who can argue with the ultimate sign of positive reputation, when the public actually uses the brand name to describe the generic product (e.g., Kleenex for tissues)  or service (e.g., FedEx for delivery services).

Alsop’s 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation

22 Mar

I am reading Ronald Alsop’s The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation and will be posting my thoughts on each law for the next few weeks.

What a time to be reading this book…very a propos to the current business environment in America and the world.

Join me?

Two Approaches to Work: Reflection vs. Reaction

21 Mar

thinker1A friend suggested that I write on the difference between reflection and reaction in the workplace. So often at work we get encouragement to ACT rather than THINK. For some, the result is a lot of activity not preceded by careful preparation, and that can cause trouble.

This question made me cogitate on different kinds of thinkers at work, and how we get noticed for the “right” sort of behaviors, as valued by the business-place. My friend has a good point, one that I’ve struggled with mightily as well. In a world where people value “busyness” as a mark of productive “business,” what’s a thinker to do? How do we properly value the time spent in thinking, BEFORE doing, so as to be most strategic–and therefore proactive rather than reactive?

In other words, is it a bad thing to stare out the window, twirl my pen like a baton or throw wadded up balls of paper into the trashcan from a distance of five feet?

Here’s his exact question:

[I]n business being decisive seems to be valued over being reflective. Being decisive seems to be equated with being productive. Read: thinking about stuff too much consumes the time that could be spent on production. There is merit to this. But too many people I have worked with equate reflection with indecisiveness.

So here’s my question (rhetorical): what kinds of things can people like me—people predisposed to being reflective—do to structure reflection so it doesn’t appear to be formless to the “decision makers”? That being said, unstructured reflection through discussion and experimentation is really valuable. What can be done to preserve a space for this? Is it possible to argue that there is an ROI on unstructured reflection?

Here are some ways I’ve found to think, then work:

  1. Schedule Thinking Time. I once worked at a place where the pace was such that I often forgot to eat, use the bathroom or breathe. These are basic, life-giving bodily requirements best not ignored, and I paid the price for not taking care of my body at the expense of productivity. Once the basics were under control, a good friend suggested that I carve out dedicated thinking time every Friday afternoon, since Fridays tend to be quieter. This worked, somewhat. Another way to do this is to get to work a bit earlier than others OR (not both) stay a bit later, to give yourself some quiet time without distractions. Point being that quality thinking may require some scenario examination, research, and pondering pros and cons. This is hard work, and it can’t be done in a matter of minutes. Thinking goes beyond the billable 15-minute increment.
  2. Remind Yourself and Powers That Be of Expert Wisdom. If you work at a place where people are constantly hovering over you, keeping the pressure on to produce, produce, produce, carving out time is not so easy. It’s not always simple to control what’s coming at us at work. Some days feel like getting shot off inside a bottle rocket. You just hang on for dear life. Thomas Friedman and Richard Florida discuss the importance of the knowledge worker in the 21st-century economy, and YOU are that person. Knowledge workers are people who have a particular expertise and skillset that cannot be automated. Teachers, writers, skilled technicians, designers…all of these careers fall into the knowledge worker category. A distinguishing feature of knowledge workers is that they are a HOT COMMODITY. Your employer cannot afford to lose you, because training time to get someone else up to your level is costly. Another distinguishing feature is that the knowledge workers are precise and can move quickly when the need presents itself, because of their fine-tuned abilities, but they are valued for their THINKING. And sometimes it does take time to think well. Maybe I am overstating the obvious, but I believe that a deftly worded explanation of this logic is the polite version of “back off and let me think a minute here!”
  3. Know Thyself and Others. I recently retook the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. As was the case in my 20s when I first took this test, I am still an INTJ. Guess what? Like all personality types, this means that I have some great qualities. The nickname for this type is “mastermind”–sounds kind of diabolical (MWHAHHHAAAAHHHAAAA). I have tendencies toward strategic thinking and enjoying work on seemingly insurmountable problems. But it also means that I can be extremely annoying at times, like every other personality type. For me, this means that I can get stuck on things and appear very stubborn and a stickler for quality. I can also have an easy time seeing the big picture and get frustrated working with people who get “caught up” in the details, which are clearly also very important. The most important thing about knowing myself is knowing how my way of approaching work meshes with my managers’, peers and supervisees’ ways of work. My impatience to moving on towards “what’s next” is one of my best and worst traits, and this probably makes me one of those people that my friend would get frustrated with at work. With my MBTI, I am a Thinker and want to have a clear thought process before taking action, but I am a Judger and therefore apt to make decisions fairly easily. In working with colleagues who want to weigh all the options before deciding, I try to give them the space to do so. I will admit that I’m not always perfect in this area and probably am a person who others think (at times) is “in their face” checking to make sure there’s forward movement. But I try not to be a pain about it. I am also driven by the need for some sense of workplace harmony, so that helps.

All of this is to say that having some clarity on one’s own inclinations and how they interact with others’ goes a long way in the workplace.  Appreciation of the balancing act between action and reflection is critical. Both are important, and one cannot be sacrificed for the other.

An Indulgent Poem on the End of Winter

7 Mar

This crocus is blooming in my yard, thanks to my favorite gardener.

Flung wide window, March 7:

Things are growing.

The smell of opening,

Children will go out to play,

And the dog will root around.

My husband has planted shoots of herb,

Lenten rose and organically correct seeds.

You’ll want to keep that door ajar,

Nothing is wrong today.

Something will come of green air and bright rays,

Sitting against bricks with southern exposure,

The neighborhood all in shorts.

Working with Difficult People: Final

5 Mar

sbangeldevil1This post is the final in my series on Working with Difficult People, and it’s about me. Or you. Because face it, at some point, each and every one of us is a difficult person. That’s the most important lesson to be learned. Even when the difficult person is someone else, there’s something to be learned about oneself.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of talking with the Columbus Young Professionals on this very topic. I was struck by their level of interest. Here are some of their questions, and my answers:

  1. If you are working with a difficult person, why not tell your boss? While there are certain circumstances that warrant this response, be careful about the unintended consequences. Every work environment is different. Some would perceive this as whining and hold the discussion against you. Others might use the information you share against the “difficult person” in ways you had not imagined. Others would rightly help you to see your way through the process, perhaps having very appropriate discussion with the difficult person so as to fine-tune their interface.  And finally, other supervisors ARE the difficult person in question, in which case you will need to devise a clever strategy to preserve your sanity. NOTE: Heinous behavior such as sexual harassment should be handled by frank discussion with your supervisor, but use discernment to determine your course of action for run-of-the-mill difficult behavior.
  2. When do you know if it’s time to leave a workplace with an out-of-hand difficult person? Only you can know the answer. Everyone has their own limits. Most situations are manageable. The great thing about workplaces is that most times we are working with a group of others, not just one other person. In all likelihood, we get along with some in the group, are neutral towards some and downright don’t like working with a minority.  This is work, and this is life. It’s the natural order of things.
  3. How do I know if I’m the problem or if the difficult person is just the issue? This is a good opportunity to take a reading from the people you work with. Ask around without gossiping. Describe the scenarios that have created tension and assess whether or not they ring true with others. It’s important to gather a lot of information in the workplace so that you can know the lay of the land. Having awareness of yourself and others in the ecosystem of work is critical to long-term success and productivity. Once you’ve collected information from a few trusted sources, think on it and you will have an answer.

Tell me about your dealings with difficult people…there are always new stories that prove this point: You can’t make these things up!