Monday, July 30, 2007

What Today's CEOs Can Do For Tomorrow's Leaders

Think about all the issues that face CEOs at major companies: everything from ethics, safety and diversity in the workplace to environmental sustainability and regulatory compliance … all on a global scale. Failure to successfully manage such issues can cost a company its profitability or even its ability to survive.

The challenge is compounded by the fact that the world can change in a minute. With the advent of the internet any single person on a mission among any of a CEO’s constituencies — customers, employees, shareholders, vendors, analysts, reporters, etc. — can bring down a company with the click of a mouse.

So one would think that CEOs of tomorrow would address such challenges in special educational programs in today’s graduate business school curricula. Yet just two years ago, Ron Alsop reported in The Wall Street Journal that it was the rare business school that provided MBA graduates with a solid grounding in corporate reputation issues and management. And recently I took a look at the curricula of the top five U.S. business schools, Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan and Northwestern’s Kellogg , according to U.S. News & World Report , and not one teaches strategic communications — unless I missed it because it’s camouflaged in a marketing course.

In an era when democracy is being reinvented via the internet … at a time when every company exists only because of public consent and two- and three-way conversations are multiplying faster than you can say “blogosphere,” how can potential CEOs and other senior executives hope to be on top of their game without formal training in the strategic management of corporate reputation? Would MBA candidates not take basic courses in finance, accounting, marketing and human resources?

The public relations profession has certainly taken note of this educational void. Nevertheless, various efforts by the Public Relations Society of America to move business schools in the right direction have not yielded much in the way of tangible results.

And so I pose a challenge to our industry’s leadership, and particularly the heads of corporate communications in our nation’s leading companies: let us join together to motivate your CEOs to encourage action in the major schools of business. Businesses pour millions into business schools; if the CEO of a Fortune 500 company (such as Credit Suisse, Novartis, Thomson on General Motors or Exxon Mobile, for instance —
all major philanthropic sponsors of Harvard B-school) should call Dean Jay Light and make a cogent argument for a course designed to train our future leaders in strategic communications management, Dr. Light will surely listen. So will all the others in like situations.

But this will not happen unless we, as professional communicators, stimulate and push such action. Every CEO today must recognize that profit-making is dependent upon the ability to forge strong connections and build trust with every stakeholder. I have every expectation that they will share our interest in educating the generations that follow us.

Technorati Tags: CEO, graduate business school, The+Wall+Street+Journal, MBA, education, PRSA, Dean Jay Light, Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, MIT+Sloan, Kellogg,business, communications, public relations

Monday, July 23, 2007

Client Advocacy at Its Best

Because I have always seen myself as an advocate, I have trained myself to rapidly identify with a client’s cause and do everything possible to achieve the end result desired by the client. Without understanding and meeting the client’s goals, the chances for a successful outcome are slim.

But what is at the heart of successful advocacy? Obviously, you need to know the issues and develop strategies that will work, and you need to be aggressive. Nevertheless, at its very foundation, I believe it requires two skills:
1) a very deep understanding of the client’s situation, and
2) being able to fully imagine how he or she feels — personally and professionally — to the point of being able to feel it yourself.

In a nutshell, I’d call it “empathy.” To me it’s at the heart of our closest personal ties. It’s equally as essential in a professional environment.

A study, reported in the July 2007 issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, indicates that humans are wired to connect. Conducted by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, the research suggests that the success of psychotherapy is strongly linked to the patient’s perception of the clinician’s empathy. When positive emotions are at the highest levels, patients and therapists are most in sync, in terms of facial expressions, body language and verbal exchanges. The more in sync they are, the greater the empathy. The greater the empathy, the better the outcome.

While this particular study specifically addresses the patient-psychotherapist relationship, I feel the findings have much broader relevance — for business, in general, and particularly for counselors in public relations.

If the client feels that the counselor truly empathizes and they are emotionally in sync, the counselor can be a better advocate, enhancing chances for success. The attributes of empathy — including listening intently, sharing information and showing an emotional closeness — can create a feeling of connectedness among people with all kinds of divergent interests, from parents and children to labor and management or a company and its employees.

Empathy is often considered an inborn talent but, in reality, it is a skill that can be learned, according to lead researcher Dr. Carl Marci. It’s a skill that’s worth acquiring, since we now know that it can change everyone’s fortunes for the better if it’s in play.

Technorati Tags: client advocacy, empathy, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Massachusetts General Hospital, emotions, Dr. Carl Marci, business, communications, public relations

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Role-Model" Recognition

Everyone likes to be recognized and appreciated for a job well-done. That’s Management 101. According to Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of The Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First, companies that manage people right outperform companies that don't by 30% to 40%. Nonetheless, many managers unintentionally neglect giving recognition to their subordinates, as well as others in the company who deserve it, even though studies have shown that recognition motivates staff, increases morale, productivity and employee retention, and decreases stress and absenteeism.

I am not suggesting that everyone is equally dependent upon external recognition. (As one former client, who was a chairman of a Fortune 500 company, said, "How do I motivate people? I hire motivated people!") But occasional doses of recognition can stimulate even the self-motivated to greater heights.

At Makovsky we help our managers acknowledge superior achievement by our people through the “We Achieve” recognition system, which honors those who embody — and role-model — the firm's values, all of which relate to creating an environment in which quality work thrives:
… all in the name of excellence
… all with integrity

Employees who role-model these values are always client-focused — client advocates, client loyalists — outstanding team players, they impart knowledge to others and, last but not least, are great to work with.

"We Achieve" is based on giving recognition cards to others. There is a separate card, about the size of a business card, for every value. On the back of each card, in addition to "from and to," it asks for the "purpose." Thus, for example, if someone has been amazingly motivated and worked into the wee hours of the morning, doing an excellent job on Project X, someone might give him or her the "motivate" and "collaborate" cards, indicating why in the "purpose" section. Every two months the person in the firm who has received the most cards wins a cash prize, and the announcement is made at a firmwide meeting.

Approximately 2-300 cards exchange hands every two months.

As businesswoman Mary Kay Ash, once said, "There are only two things people want more than sex and money — and that's recognition and praise." Recognizing this simple fact of human life can yield impressive returns for a company … and its customers.

Our program not only encourages managers to recognize others, but stimulates healthy competition, goodwill, enthusiasm and hard work. Recipients are touched when they receive a card. "We Achieve" always ranks among the top-rated programs in Makovsky's annual employee survey. Strategically, it not only works to our clients' benefit but every other audience who wants to know what makes us tick.

Technorati Tags: role-model, recognition, praise, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Mary Kay Asg, initiation, innovation, collaboration, motivation, education, business, communications, public relations

Monday, July 09, 2007

Publicity: Vice or Virtue?

When I think about the media circus created around Paris Hilton, in general, and particularly on the day of her release from jail, I imagine that “thinking people” in the U.S. and elsewhere must question not only her frivolity but the frivolity of journalism and the mechanism of publicity. As one journalist noted, the wayward heiress’s exit from jail “received more news coverage in some circles in the past month than the entire continents of Africa and South America in a year.”

But for every Paris Hilton, there are many other situations which remind us that publicity is often a towering virtue, and one we would not want to be without. It can serve as an important pressure tactic to bring justice, educate the public about the prevention of dangers and disease and build awareness of new products, ideas, opportunities and leadership, for example. One way or the other, it influences us positively, negatively, or not at all, but it may influence action that makes a difference.

I will just cite one example, so we can keep the use of publicity in perspective.

Adam Liptak’s article, "Prosecutor Becomes Prosecuted," which appeared in The New York Times on June 24, is about the disbarment of Michael Nifong, the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case, for withholding evidence from the defense, misleading the court and inflaming the public. According to Liptak, while other prosecutors have been found by the courts to have done similar things, very few have ever lost their jobs or their licenses to practice law. Even when prosecutorial wrongdoing has put an innocent man on death row, discipline has been light or nonexistent.

What made this case different is the fact that it was a huge media magnet. Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor in Manhattan who now teaches law at Pace University, said the Nifong case was handled differently because the national exposure it generated “put the disciplinary body and the entire system of justice under the spotlight.”

Publicity enables the court of public opinion. But its value is dependent on how and for what it is employed.

Technorati Tags: publicity, Paris Hilton, Adam Liptak, Michael Nifong, Duke lacrosse case, Bennett Gershman, Pace University, business, communications, public relations

Monday, July 02, 2007

Death To Spin

There is no word in the English language that I hate more than “spin.” It is used by politicos, business executives and many others to address difficult situations that they need to “put over” on the public. “How shall we spin it?” Or how shall we shape or even fabricate the story so that we can gain public acceptance or at least tolerance? Public relations professionals are often referred to as “spin doctors.” The media attribute “spin” to the quotes they get from their sources. And so the concept of “spinning” gains traction.

As a public relations professional who believes in and practices truth over “truthiness,” I long for the total annihilation of “spinning.” So it was with great pleasure that I read Tom Friedman’s column, “The Whole World is Watching,” in the New York Times, June 27, in which he emphasizes that transparency trumps spinning, whether you like it or not, and, most importantly, gives organizations a new opportunity to distinguish themselves.

The question is what does he mean by that? He cites the new book, “How,”
by Dov Seidman, CEO of a business ethics company. Friedman says:

Seidman’s simple thesis is that in this transparent world “how” you live your life and “how” you conduct your business matters more than ever, because so many people can now see into what you do and tell so many other people about it on their own, without any [newspaper] editor…More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased…So the only way to get ahead in life will be by getting your “hows” right.
Seidman points out, according to Friedman, that today “what” you make is quickly copied and sold by everyone. But “how” you engage your customers, “how” you keep your promises, and “how” you collaborate with partners – that is not as easy to copy, and this is where companies can really differentiate themselves.

According to Seidman, “The tapestry of human behavior is so varied, so rich and so global that it presents a rare opportunity, the opportunity to outbehave the competition.”

How can you outbehave the competition? Friedman cites several examples from Seidman’s book: “One hospital taught its doctors to apologize when they make mistakes, and dramatically cut their malpractice claims…A New York street doughnut-seller trusted his customers to make their own change and found he could serve more people faster and build the loyalty that keeps them coming back.” A large auto dealer allowed every mechanic to spend whatever it took to do the job right, and saw costs decline as customer satisfaction increased.

Friedman concludes: Seidman says “we do not live in glass houses (houses have walls); we live on glass microscope slides…visible and exposed to all.”

Thus, companies or people can try to “spin” all they want, but everyone will know the truth about it. So, Friedman advises, get your “hows” right, because people will know about that too…when you do and when you don’t.

Technorati Tags: spin, Tom Friedman, Dov Seidman, transparency, truth, outbehave, business, communications, public relations