CEO New Year Resolutions

I love hearing about the New Year resolutions of CEOs and frankly, I don't hear that many. So I was happy to stumble across Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg's wishes.  Two years ago, he vowed to meet a new person every day that does not work at his company. Admirable goal for a CEO. And in 2010, he set his sights on learning Mandarin which we know he did (sort of) when he spoke in China at a university and got lots of commentary for his language skills. For the past year, he said that he was determined to write a thank you note every day. And not your ordinary thank you note but one that he described as "a well-considered thank-you note every day, via e-mail or handwritten letter." I thought that was a great goal to set for oneself because we all know how critical CEOs can be and because I like hearing how a new crop of "civil" CEOs might be rising. CEOs set the tone for companies and this is a good one to model.

I am looking forward to hearing what he is up to for 2015 and will let you know if I find out what that is. 

I thought I should also add that Zuckerberg took this an extra step and created a thank you video to his wife which is pretty darn cute. 




Technology Reputation Skid

The Economist always looks ahead at the year in 2015. In their special issue each year, they review how their predictions performed. One of their predictions surely came true and they rightfully applauded Adrian Wooldridge, the management editor for The Economist, for seeing the "tech-lash" that hit the technology sector with quite a punch. They are correct when they say that the reputations of Silicon Valley tycoons fared poorly when it came to news headlines this year about them skirting corporate taxes and being too loose with people's data. What they did not mention and is worth mentioning here is that these same Silicon Valley companies found their reputations dinged for also not having diverse workforces although some are now coming clean on their metrics and that should help. However, sector reputations rise and fall and I have to admit that I was surprised that this one fell so fast. Technology has always been a favorite for years running but everyone has their 15 minutes of shame.

Talking about the technology sector, CEO Mark Zuckerberg had his second #AskMeAnything public town hall recently and a woman who lives near Facebook's HQ thanked him for making her house more valuable. Zuckerberg replied, “That’s the first time anyone has ever thanked me for having Facebook raise housing prices." Undoubtedly he was surprised since many residents feel that their neighborhoods are being taken over by Silicon Valley millionaires and being priced out of the market by these big spenders. So maybe the technology sector is doing something right afterall! A whole new way of thinking about it. Hah.

 

Connecting with Employees

There’s been a movement towards employee “pulse” surveys where the temperature of the workforce can be assessed quickly for leadership. Instead of waiting for the annual survey of employee satisfaction, leaders can get a quickie on how employees are feeling about the company and their jobs. These snap polls are a great idea because it is instantaneous and leaders can get feedback before a mutiny and massive disaffection is upon them. I imagine, however, that many leaders might be hesitant to hear the raw truth on a regular basis. It has been my experience that CEOs are very sensitive to feedback that is critical and harsh, especially when it comes to understanding corporate goals. One CEO had tears in their eyes when they received the verbatim results from a quarterly survey among employees. But given a choice between losing your best people and hearing bad news, most CEOs would opt for the latter. Actually, hearing bad news is the job of CEOs from what I was once told.

In an article on the increase in these kinds of surveys, one CEO – Henry Albrecht of Limeade, said he uses these mini polls to get quick anonymous answers to one-question surveys and uses the answers as discussion points in his biweekly company meetings. Albrecht uses TinyPulse.

I had not heard of this company so did some investigating and found an interesting article from Fast Company on TinyPulse and the popularity of their one-question weekly polls of employees for leaders. Interestingly, they caution leaders not to use TinyPulse if they are not committed to Change (It takes dedication and patience to improve), Sharing (You’ll share the good and the bad with your team) and Action (After engaging with your team, you take action). Good advice. You have to want to hear it and do something about it or else you will be wasting everyone’s time.

But what I also found interesting was how they can also use the poll for employees to anonymously call out colleagues who are doing a good job. After the one-question poll, an employee can fill in a peer’s name and what they did to receive recognition. Cool idea. Puts the leader in touch with the everyday happenings at the company and motivates employees to boot. Nice touch.

Below are some sample TinyPulse Questions if you are interested:

 (On a scale of 1-10):

·       How happy are you at work?

·       How fair and competitive do you think our benefits are here?

·       How would you rate the match between your personal values and the organization’s values?

·       How seriously and effectively does your company take your feedback and suggestions?

 (Yes/No)

·       Is your promotion and career path clear to you?

·       Do you have all the tools you need to be successful in your job?

·       My role here has real purpose and is more than just a job.

·       Do you feel you’re in control of your career path and progressing in your personal and professional development in our company?

(Open Answer):

·       If you would give notice and leave our organization, what would your primary reason be?

 

Society Brand Reputation

A Society Brand. That's an interesting way of phrasing the importance of corporate responsibility for companies and its impact on stakeholders. An article in PRWeek described a study by StockWell where they interviewed 26 financial leaders in the UK -- financial analysts, investment bankers,  investors, brokers, risk officers and IR directors -- about corporate reputation today. Interestingly, they learned that financial performance is not the end-all be-all of what drives a company's reputation. Although financial value is fundamental to a company's reputation, the relationship with the wider community is now recognized as having the potential to put that reputation and financial value at risk, especially if tampered with. The moneyed group now strongly believes that reputation is more important than ever and that a strong "society brand" is critical to a company’s long-term commercial future. As the report says, "...non-financial performance factors now have a significant bearing on corporate valuations and investment decisions."

However, this group is very sceptical of CSR initiatives and CSR reports and do not see them as solving reputational challenges. Yet, that does not surprise me when it comes to financial perspectives on CSR. Although they may be perceived as window dressing, CSR is not. It focuses leadership and as government directs fewer resources towards citizen well-being such as health and education, companies have a critical role in safeguarding families and communities in these areas. What surprised me was that nearly half of these financial leaders could not name three companies that had reputable Society Brand reputations and 12% could not even name one company that fit this bill. Paltry to say the least.

  • Almost all (96%) saw reputation as having increased in importance over the past few years.
  • Over two-thirds (69%) considered reputation a critical area for corporate risk management.
  • Four-fifths (80%) agree that a strong Society Brand is critical to a company’s long term commercial future.
  • More than half felt there was too much emphasis on the Financial Brand.
  • 81% saw Society Brand as relevant to all investors, not just SRI funds.
  • 46% felt that a Society Brand was reasonably or very relevant to investment decisions.
  • 46% couldn’t list three companies with a good Society Brand.
  • 61% agreed that companies with a poor Society Brand trade at a discount as markets and analysts build in reputational risk.

 

Gen Xers Reputation as Slouchers Not True

At Weber Shandwick, we just issued a report on Generation X (Gen Xers) and their concerns about retirement. This is a segment of the population that is far too overlooked.  Their reputation needs management. Why is it that they are so neglected by the media and many Fortune 500 companies?  An audit we did of leading U.S. financial company websites found that only half segmented their messaging by generation, and those that did focused mainly on the favored Boomers and Millennials. None focused on Gen X.  Even more startling to us was that the oldest Gen Xers are turning 50 in 2015. Their AARP notices are probably in the mail now.

What do we know about them? The Gen Xers' formative years were shaped by Madonna, John Hughes films and the presidencies of Ronald Reagan through Bill Clinton. This group, ranging from their late 30s to late 40s, were initially characterized as the “slacker” and “grunge” generation, yet went on to shape the dot-com and Web 2.0 eras, unleashing their far-reaching entrepreneurial talents. As a result of skyrocketing divorce rates among their Boomer parents, Gen Xers are known for their focus on family, striving for work-life balance and career-postponement in favor of stay-at-home, sustainable lifestyles. 

Unfortunately for them, the Great Recession marred the Gen X experience. Not only did Gen Xers face difficulty in securing jobs upon graduation in the early ‘90s, subsequent economic downturns contributed to an unstable financial footing for this market segment. In fact, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, Gen X took the largest hit in our most recent recession, losing nearly half (45%) of their wealth totals, an average of about $33,000, in just four years. Impacted by a slump in stocks, bonds and property values, the damage to Gen X portfolios exceeded all other age groups by at least five percentage points, Bloomberg recently reported. For these reasons, the Gen Xers in our study reported being intensely worried about how their retirement plans will intersect with their healthcare needs in the future. As one Gen Xer said: “Staying healthy — I think about this all the time. It’s a constant concern. If something happens to me, I have a few savings accounts to assist my children, but I worry about doing the right thing for my health and seek out help where I can to address my concerns.”

As a market opportunity, Gen Xers are often overlooked for several reasons: they are sandwiched between two very different and attention-grabbing generations (Boomers and Millennials), have a relatively short generational span (approximately 16 years vs. roughly 20 years for other generations), and represent a smaller share of the population (65 million, vs. 77 million Boomers and 83 million Millennials). Given the financial security that this generation will require to sustain itself during its retirement, Gen Xers present an opportunity that financial services companies should not overlook. Our research found that this “middle child” cohort has financial issues and communications needs that are unique to their experiences and their place in history, and deserve a closer look.

Reputation-wise, this generation needs help figuring out what makes them distinctive. Looking at the Pew research in the chart below shows how their own perceptions of what makes them unique is already claimed by their cohorts – technological-savviness, intelligent and hard working.

Despite their hard work, our research found them to be happy amidst all the chaos and anything but slackers. You might want to call them the heads-down generation. Clearly, they need to be spoken to in language that resonates with their hopes and dreams and calms their fears. Although this is a generation whose reputation was closely tied to being slouchers and couch potatoes, the media and those companies seeking their business might want to pick up on their first-hand experience with being prepared for financial volatility.

[I posted this on LinkedIn today as well.]

Strong Winds of Social Change

Nearly every day I read an article about how CEOs need to be more social (meaning using social media) or what the obstacles are that prevent them from using this new medium. A fairly recent one had some good quotes from the chairman of Mahindra group, Anand Mahindra. He is very social and I have written about him before. Just wanted to share them:

"A good business leader reflects the values of his company. A great business leader embodies and amplifies them. I’ve always believed that a strong CEO brand can certainly help a company. But then the CEO should be ready to align most aspects of his or her life with the company’s required brand persona.” 

“However, strong winds of change are finally here and the tides are turning. The digital winter is lending way to an explosive and productive spring as more and more Asian companies embrace social media.” 

I agree that strong winds of change are blowing through executive suites today. The first quote makes the distinction between a good business leader and a great one. CEOs have to overcommunicate to be seen. Oftentimes they think that all their employees are getting the message. They are not. They need to be over-active in demonstrating what is important to the company. One of the mandates for CEOs today is greater engagement, internally and externally, offline and online. Building a strong CEO brand or persona or whatever it is called (possibly reputation) is an imperative.