Monday, March 27, 2006

How's Your Hearing?

Last month, I blogged about "truthiness," the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wants to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. I talked about how the tidal wave of celebrity disinformation, corporate scandals and political corruption seemed to be swamping the old-fashioned American values of honesty, truth and trust.

What I didn't address was the fact that, for truth to triumph over truthiness, we also have to be willing to hear the truth.

A perfect example is this story — which was covered in a recent Sunday New York Times — about a pharmaceutical security analyst, Michael Krensavage, who tried to tell the truth, as he saw it, and got an earful of invective from an angry investor, who attempted to bully Krensavage into revising his evaluation of a company's performance. (The analyst, an SVP with Raymond James & Associates, had cut Bentley Pharmaceuticals from "market perform" to "underperform," because its stock had outpaced the growth of its business.)

It's not just cranky shareholders who are outraged when truth wins out over truthiness. A few corporate executives have been known to freeze analysts out of conference calls, decline media interviews and pull advertising from offending print publications ... rather than address the underlying operational issues that have caused the problem being exposed. They're only delaying the inevitable, unhappy outcome.

To quote the great writer Han Suyin, "Truth, like surgery, may hurt, but it cures."

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Luck: Four Rules

With St. Patrick's Day last Friday and photos of four-leaf clovers everywhere, it focused my attention on luck. Some people are lucky and others aren't. And, anyway, what is luck? To me luck means good fortune. Things are working out the way you want them to, and even if they don't always, they eventually do. Nevertheless, life is not perfect, and even those who are lucky most of the time are not always lucky.

But generally speaking, how do you become lucky? Here are 4 rules:

Rule #1: Believe you will be lucky. If you don't believe it, how can you be lucky?

Rule #2: Sustain your belief in luck, even when you are not lucky. That's the only way you will eventually get there. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter says in her book Confidence, someone with confidence will win out almost every time over equally talented but insecure people. The same applies to luck.

Rule #3: Play your cards right. When challenges emerge, look broadly at the strategies available to you to resolve problems. Don't just think about them. Confront them. Have the courage to act on the ones that make sense. That is the only way you can end up having the good fortune we call luck.

Rule #4: Say thank you and express your appreciation to those who helped you overcome the challenges you met to correct messy or unfortunate situations. Think of the aftermath and the attitudes toward you afterwards. Then those people may support you again in the future.

I believe you make your own luck. As Gary Player, one of the most successful golfers of all time, said "The harder I practice, the luckier I get."

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Think…Before You Click

Recently, Jonathan Glater of The New York Times wrote an article about the barrage of e-mails that professors are fielding from their students and the often weirdly bad judgment evidenced by the correspondence. (One student, who didn't like her grade, wrote a petulant message to her professor. Another explained her tardiness for class as the result of a hangover.)

Shortly thereafter, CBS's Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer took up the theme, observing that e-mail has broken down old barriers, creating what he describes as a "new familiarity between students and teachers, the media and its readers and viewers, business and its customers, government and its citizens."

Schieffer then asked a string of questions that I often ask myself: "Are we staying in touch TOO much? Have cell phones and e-mail become the crutches we never needed until we had them? Has the new familiarity given way to rudeness and stupidity? Worse, is our new ability to communicate with almost everyone and to do it instantly causing us to lose our ability to reflect, to think before we speak?"

The answer is a resounding "YES!"

Communications is not the same as venting. Effective communications has as its ultimate aim an exchange of information between individuals. Careful thought is an absolute prerequisite. Thinking always takes time ... not a long time, but some time.

One of the first pieces of advice my grandmother ever gave me was to "think before you speak." If she were around today, she'd surely tell me to "think before you click the 'Send' button on your next e-mail."

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Monday, March 06, 2006

8000 Ambassadors

I was reading the February 21st issue of Advertising Age and found an interesting article that revealed that GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant, is so troubled by the worsening reputation of its industry that — under the direction of Michael Pucci, GSK's vice president for external advocacy — it is turning all 8,000 members of its U.S. sales force into "public relations ambassadors."

The initiative — dubbed the "Value of Medicine" — has armed the sales force with salient talking points. Pucci has given them what he calls a "learning system" that takes 50 minutes to master and will enable the reps to answer questions about the company and the industry. GSK reps made 15,000 presentations last year, reaching 1.8 million people.

"Reputation matters," says Pucci. "In this industry, it's so important. We have to tell that story of how we're investing for the future."

Not everyone agrees with Pucci's strategy. One marketing executive from a rival company was quoted by Ad Age as saying, "I'm not sure I want 8,000 people on the ground given that level of responsibility ... to basically speak for the company and an industry ... The odds say there's going to be a percentage of them ... that will make a mistake, or stray away from the script."

I disagree. I think Pucci is just formalizing a given in today's world. Every employee in a company — from the CEO to the receptionist — is a public face of the company. Glaxo's sales reps are going to be asked about the high cost of drugs anyway ... so why not provide them with the answers!

The seeds for this new initiative were sown when Pucci read about a 2004 Harris Interactive poll on the perception of various industries, which revealed that pharmaceutical companies received a 44% favorable rating, a huge plunge from 79% in 1997, ranking them just above tobacco and oil companies.

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