Monday, July 30, 2012

What is Priority #1 for CEOs?

Straight out, the answer is “getting and keeping talent!” As one CEO once said to me, “I am recruiting all the time!”

And PricewaterhouseCooper’s 2012 Global CEO Study of more than 1250 company leaders from 60 countries makes it official: talent is priority #1 for CEOs. Moreover, not having the right talent in place is a leading threat to growth, according to chief executives.

One in four said they were unable to pursue a market opportunity or have had to cancel or delay a strategic initiative because of talent constraints. One in three is concerned that skills shortages have impacted their company’s ability to innovate effectively, the Study finds.

When asked to what extent a CEO anticipates changes at the company, and in what areas, strategies for managing talent commanded 55% — the largest percentage among the various categories considered.

One of those changes, the Study finds, is that 79% of CEOs already have or will have their human resources directors as one of their direct reports. Another change is that they will attempt to get more data on their workforce. Only a minority currently receive comprehensive reports on workforce productivity. Areas in which they would like more information include:

• Staff productivity.

• Employees’ views and needs.

• Labor costs.

• Assessment of internal advancement.

• ROI on human capital.

• Costs of employee turnover.

All of this data will help companies strengthen performance, according to Andrew Goldberg, EVP and head of Makovsky’s Corporate Advisors Practice. “But one of the keys to improved performance,” he emphasized, “is strong employee engagement.”

An earlier study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board has shown that employees who were the most committed to their organization gave 57% more effort and were 87% less likely to resign than employees who considered themselves disengaged. Goldberg recommends conducting engagement studies to determine barriers to high performance and actions that will motivate commitment.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

In the Midst of Horror, A Conscience

Colorado — and the nation — continue to search for answers to the recent tragedy in Aurora, CO. Twelve innocent people were killed by an unhinged gunman (and 58 more were injured) in a movie theater during an opening night showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

What surprised and impressed me was the conscience and public relations consciousness of a corporation and an individual who quietly found a way to “do the right thing.”

Warner Brothers issued a statement expressing its sympathies to the victims and their loved ones; promptly cancelled premieres of the film in Mexico, Japan and Paris; and made plans to donate to several charities geared to support the victims of the shooting spree. Studio executives reportedly also decided to delay the planned September release of another film, “Gangster Squad,” which deals with violent themes.

It’s not just the studio, which moved swiftly to put people before profits. "The Dark Knight" star Christian Bale and his wife visited victims of the movie theater massacre on Tuesday. He went as a private individual to offer his condolences.

"Mr. Bale is there as himself, not representing Warner Brothers," said a studio spokesperson.

"Words cannot express the horror that I feel," Bale said in a statement released on Saturday, "I cannot begin to truly understand the pain and grief of the victims and their loved ones, but my heart goes out to them."

In the midst of the horror of the massacre, good deeds and heartfelt communications were clearly the first steps in the long journey to heal the wounds. The city officials, police and so many others, including the President of the U.S., exhibited the conscience and caring that in this country we have grown to expect.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Why I Like Movies on a Teeny, Tiny Screen

I have always been a movie buff. As I grew up, the silver screen changed from standard size to Cinerama, from CinemaScope to IMAX and back to widescreen. Then movies became a family-centered, at-home experience, going from television to home theatres and finally a solo, on-the-road experience — going from computer to iPod to tablet.

As much as I have enjoyed them all, possibly my favorite medium is the tiny little screen on the iPod. Most people I have talked to have never even watched a film on the iPod, and yet I am so close to it. Why? It is the intimacy of the entire experience: a one-to-one relationship with the characters, a total immersion in the situation and the story, and the feeling of being alone with the subject matter, almost as if the entire performance is only for you. This is my own; I need not share it with anyone.
The control also appeals to me — the fact that you can hold the event in your hand and dispense with it when you are prepared to do so, and yet it’s always available to you, so that you can resume watching whenever you are ready. It sometimes takes me a few weeks to get through a feature length film, as I often watch it in segments, riding on a train, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, taking a “work break” in a taxi on my way to a business appointment, etc. It is just plain cozy... like my iPod is the friend in my pocket.

I generally keep about four or five movies on my iPod. They are movies that I don’t mind watching over again a few times ... they have staying power. What’s on there now? Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The King’s Speech and The Fighter. I will periodically move some new ones in and take the old ones out.
Had anyone predicted that I would have felt this way about the tiny screen — when bigger has always been better for me — I would have rejected that POV in a heartbeat. But sometimes communications channels, and the satisfaction they bring, surprise —which is why I am always ready to dip my toe in the water and experience the benefits of a new channel. And I believe there are many adventures ahead. For example, it is in part the creativity of new communications channels that has made the Internet the wonder that it is.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Social Media: Risk Management

The Social Media Era has brought with it new risks for employers, in terms of privacy, confidentiality and employee loyalty. These and many other related issues were the subject of a seminar, “Channeling the Workplace Social Media Explosion: Opportunities and Risk for Employers,” co-sponsored by Makovsky and Littler, a leading global employee and labor law firm, on July 18. Attentive listeners included HR and Communications Directors and General Counsels.

Overall, business leaders are confronted with the ongoing struggle between reaping the advantages of social technologies (e.g., improved marketing and business performance) and the potential risk associated with conversations involving confidential or ethically inappropriate material, according to Andrew Goldberg, EVP and head of Makovsky’s Organizational Communications Practice, who was one of the leaders of the program, along with Phil Berkowitz and Barbara Hoey of Littler.

“The beauty of social media is that it encourages spontaneous communication that involves easy sharing of images and messages with friends and peers. This makes for a very rapid, creative dialogue within the business setting and with customers and stakeholders.

“Yet spontaneity holds many risks,” Goldberg said. “This is because, in the immediacy of the dialogue, it is very easy to blur the line between one’s business and personal boundaries. It’s also easy to forget the distinction between one’s personal ideas and the intellectual content of one’s company.”

This can lead to loyalty problems.

“First, users often are in denial about the actual openness of their conversations outside their immediate social network. They have a high expectation of privacy, which is not always correct. If they are communicating over a company-owned computer or mobile device, for example, many legal experts argue these communications are not protected.

“Inadvertent leakage of company information is also a risk,” Goldberg warned. “It is often a heady experience to share an insight with a colleague outside the firm, or to be the first out with an original idea. Yet many employers take a pretty narrow view of what can be shared outside the firm.”

Finally, there are clearly potential material adverse consequences to sharing information, which may be mistaken or somehow misleading, he remarked. This is especially true in health care, where patients’ lives are at risk.

Goldberg concluded that social media use will only accelerate. There are too many benefits for companies and consumers. He stressed that corporate leadership needs much more refined and flexible risk management policies that avoid stifling creative exchanges, while still making employees mindful of appropriate ground rules for social communication.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Resolving the Penn State "Statue" Issue

The Freeh Report on the Penn State sex-abuse scandal was released last week, making national headlines. It showed that Assistant Coach Sandusky’s sexual behavior with young boys was not only known by legendary Coach Paterno (now deceased), but it was also known at the highest levels of the University and never reported to the authorities — in clear violation of the Clery Act, which requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to maintain and disclose information about crime on and near their campus.

The entire scandal is a public relations bomb for Penn State. But because of the space I limit myself to in a blog, I will focus on one aspect of this nightmare: whether the statue of Joe Paterno in front of the stadium should remain or be removed and, depending on the action, what kind of legacy will this create?

Like many others, I believe that the statue should be removed because of the negative reminders it conveys of a troubled culture and Paterno’s cover-up for more than a decade, but it’s a complicated issue. There are most likely many who see his life’s body of work at Penn State for more than 60 years — and 46 years as head coach of the Nittany Lions —as more important than these recent revelations. The Freeh Report casts a dark shadow on the reputation of the entire university, puts its accreditation at risk, may well stifle student applications and threatens federal funding. That said, because of all the major negative national publicity, the statue has taken on a life of its own and may prove to be a major tourist attraction. It stands for part of the history and heritage of the University. It fundamentally represents the story of a great American football team and the players who made it great. Many may seize upon it for that. One news story noted that the trustees will not do anything rash, meaning that the statue will not come down immediately and time may be an ally. If they wait months, perspectives may change, and the positives may loom larger than the negatives.

But if the Board of Trustees gave an immediate order to remove the statue, it would be a public acknowledgement that the school is rejecting the culture that produced the scandal. For parents of potential students who are sensitive to placing their sons and daughters in a moral environment, this act may help eliminate at least some of the lingering tarnish. And it also may help dilute the mercenary image the school has acquired because of the role played by football money in the cover-up (i.e., let’s not kill the goose that laid the golden egg).

So how about this? Take an extensive survey of all the stakeholders — students, potential students, parents of current and former students, faculty, trustees, alumni, campus employees, administrative leadership, etc. Ask questions about the decision on the statue and the legacy it will leave if it stands. Ask what it communicates today — and whether time will heal the reputational wounds. Ask if the statue is merely a symbol and if its very essence transcends any physical object. Ask if the spirit and culture of Penn State will benefit or be hurt by what this statue represents today and in the future. Does this make a case for delaying the building of a statue until someone has died? Of course, reputation-tarnishing information can even emerge after someone’s death.

Make an assessment once the survey data is in. At least then the university will have a chance to stand back and cogitate on the findings, and perhaps respond to a possible consensus. The chances of making the best decision for the long term may be found through this channel.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Communications to the Rescue

Did you ever consider that our stubborn 8.2% unemployment rate might be partially related to communications problems rather than lack of jobs?

According to Makovsky client, which conducted a survey among 1700 job seekers and human resources directors, poor communications — including incomplete or confusing job descriptions — often prevent human resource officials from identifying viable candidates, and therefore loads of jobs go unfilled. is the premier career network focused on helping people grow and succeed professionally.

Says CEO Rich Milgram in a July 5 article in USA Today, "Job descriptions are often too vague or too specific; and HR staffers may rule out qualified candidates because they don't understand what hiring managers want.”

Milgram also reports that "recruiters miss nuances, seeking, for example, an accountant who is proficient at bookkeeping instead of deeper analysis." Or, people do overly specific keyword searches that screen out strong candidates who may use different terminology. On the other side, there are job seekers who may not be adept at highlighting their skills or using the same words that companies are using. Layoffs in HR have further complicated the issue, because those left are overworked and have less time to get all the intricate details right.

When so many are overly tired of hearing about the slow recovery, it is heartening to know that something as fundamental as communications, if handled properly, could potentially have a major impact in speeding up the economic turnaround. It is, therefore, urgent that communications professionals offer training programs to those creating and interpreting job descriptions.

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Monday, July 09, 2012

The Marketing Religion

The internet has intensified the desire to measure the impact of every marketing technique —public relations, advertising, direct response, social media, websites, etc. And that is a good thing. The more precise we can be, the better.

Because of the spectacular ability of the internet to record the actions of everyone using it, when each of the aforementioned disciplines is applied to the internet, measurement is easier than it has ever been. Measurement challenges, however, still exist in more traditional applications. For example, spearheaded by the Institute of Public Relations, the lead research and measurement organization in the public relations business, a number of public relations organizations have come together to develop universal measurement standards.

Despite all of this activity, there is a part of me that looks at every aspect of marketing in the same way that others look at religion. As religion is based on faith, so is marketing. Someone once said to me, “If you don’t cross the street, you won’t get hit!” If you don’t market, nothing will happen; if you do market, something might happen. To get the cumulative effect, marketing requires a lifetime of effort. One year is like a few drops in a bucket unless there is something revolutionary to report. For major gains, just keep doing it. It may not take off at first, but hang in there.

Further, everything that brings value is not always instantly recognized. A landmark speech. An impressive article in the media. A well-received event. A newsletter series. A unique direct mail or email piece. A sticky website. It’s often a combination of all of these things over a period of time that creates the cumulative, long-lasting effect that stimulates buyers to act. And that is what we strive for. I always think of a client who was called by one of his customers who said: “I have been receiving your excellent newsletter for five years and have saved every copy. We now finally have a need for your services and your newsletter made me think of you!” How do you measure that?

It is the impact of the cumulative effect. As we measure more and more, let’s not forget the value that the cumulative effect has on stimulating instinct, insight, long-range thinking and respect.

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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Should A Legend Be Challenged?

In this day and age of transparency, do we sometimes go too far? That is, do we reveal more than we need to and, in the process, destroy the image we wish to protect?

Case in point: the other night, my wife and I went to see “End of the Rainbow,” the story of the last years of legendary singer, Judy Garland. I have been a Garland fan all my life and so was eager to see this show, which got a super-rave from The New York Times, when it opened a few months ago. My wife, on the other hand, was not a Garland devotee but was happy to accompany me.

While the show lived up to its review and Tracie Bennett, playing Garland, gave one of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen anywhere, it also was one of the most depressing stories I’ve ever sat through. The portrayal of Garland as a pill-popping alcoholic, who was totally out of control the moment she was off-stage, was the dominant portion of the show, and no doubt truthful; it was also illustrated through her bizarre relationships with her fiancé and pianist as well as her body contortions and off-balance behavior in her hotel room during a five-week engagement in London. That said, Garland was able to transform from a somewhat deranged individual into a concert artist who was a magnet for millions, literally in a matter of minutes. Except, according to the show, near the end of her life.

After being totally absorbed in the first act, I said to my wife, as soon as the lights went up, “Well, whaddya think about this?” She said, “l know you are a big Garland fan, but I just don’t like this person on stage. Somehow I feel -- why can’t they let the legend stand? Do we really have to watch the gory details that will destroy the image that has attracted millions for decades?”

Yes, we all know the truth about Garland’s life and how the studios fed her amphetamines to keep her up and working harder, once she became a box office bonanza as a child star. The drug habit was inculcated at an early age. No doubt Liza Minnelli, her daughter, would not have liked to see the alleged truth about her mother portrayed on stage.

Of course, there is another way of looking at it: throw privacy out the window. Understand the real person behind the legend, which is just as important as the legend itself. Facebook has popularized such thinking.

However, for me, when I think about Garland in the future, I will try to forget the woman in “End of the Rainbow” — as gripping as the show was — and think only about the powerful, grand voice and the star who put her whole body into every note.

And thus…her legend will always trump her life.

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Monday, July 02, 2012

Communicating Hope

We all have hopes. Hopes for ourselves. Hopes for our families. Hopes for our careers. Hopes for the world and the countries and cities we live in. In fact, hope is contagious.

As one dictionary defines it: hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. Therefore, the only way to achieve our hopes is to say YES when opportunity presents itself or to work hard to create the opportunity that will enable us to fulfill our hopes and dreams.

One of the best talks about hope and fulfillment that I have ever read was delivered on May 27 by Kennedy Odede as a 2012 senior class welcome during the 180th commencement ceremony at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Mr. Odede went from Africa’s largest slum to become a student and ultimately graduate of the University.

While incorporating his talk into my blog makes it longer than usual, this young man communicates hope more effectively than anyone I have ever observed, and I feel it is a beautiful read. Below are a few, brief excerpts from Kennedy Odede’s speech, but it’s well worth reading this stirring address in its entirety. You can find it here.

I grew up in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, where more than a million people live in an area the size of Central Park—without sewage systems, roads, running water, or access to basic rights like health care and education.

I was the oldest of eight children in a family that could not afford food, much less school fees. In Kibera, I dreamed of many things: food to eat, clean water to drink, safety from the violence, and relief from oppression that surrounded me.

Today, I want to tell you three stories about hope.

My second story.

When I was 18, I had a job in a factory. My work started at 7 and ended at 5, with a 2-hour walk each way. I could not afford the 10 cents needed for transport. I performed hard labor—dangerous work—for $1.50 per day. One day I realized, this was going to be my whole life.

When I arrived home to the slum that evening, I was horrified to discover that my friend Alvin had hanged himself—tired of living a life confined to poverty with only one possible goal: survival.

This was a moment that changed me. I did not want to waste my life.

With twenty cents from my job, I bought a soccer ball and started a movement of young people fighting for social justice in Kibera. While I was growing this movement, I met a Wesleyan student studying abroad in Nairobi. She thought I should apply to a school I’d never heard of, and without knowing what would happen, I said yes!

I believe we will only live in a better world if we are willing to take risks to make it a reality, only if we are willing to say, YES.

Finally, when we dare to hope, we create more hope in the world, which is my last story.

In my freshman dorm room at 200 Church, I founded the nonprofit Shining Hope for Communities with the help of another Wes student, Jessica Posner. Through Shining Hope we built the Kibera School for Girls—the slum’s first tuition-free school for girls.

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