Thought My Title was Cool TIL...

I love to tell people my title because it is fairly unusual -- chief reputation strategist. At least it was nearly 10 years ago when I was hired at Weber Shandwick. Today I was reading an article about the rebranding of Hillary Clinton which is definitely worth a read and it described how she had hired consumer marketing specialists to help shape her reputation for the presidential election in 2016.  There are references to how a variety of brands have had to reinvent themselves over time such as JCPenney, Coca-Cola and Budweiser. 

But back to my opener about titles and a new one that just came across in the above article -- chief purposologist. The owner of this title is Haley Rushing at the Purpose Institute. Here is how she describes what she does: "As Chief Purposologist, Haley leads a team of people who act as organizational therapists, anthropologists and investigators dogged in their pursuit of uncovering the purpose at the heart of an organization."  When it comes to Hillary, Rushing's partner and co-founder Roy Spence says that they are looking for that one word that describes Hillary's promise. The big question in rebranding or reinventing Hillary for the campaign is What is her promise to the world? "With Mercedes, it’s quality. With Volvo, it’s safety. With Coca-Cola, it’s refreshment. If you can get her promise down to one word, that’s the key.” President Obama had Hope and also Change. A few words. Once Hillary and her branding wizards figure out that one word that will sum it all up, they should be on their way. Maybe it is not so complicated and the one word is Hillary!

Instead of Purposologist, why not Promisologist? 


A Reputation Recovery

The title of the article says it all, "Sailing through a scandal." Rupert Murdoch and his empire have turned the corner on reputation recovery. As you recall, News Corp was engulfed in scandal over the phone-hacking of a murdered schoolgirl's voicemails. According to The Economist where I found this fascinating article, the Murdoch family has recouped more than double their wealth since the controversy. And Murdoch's sons who are running the now split businesses of entertainment and newspaper publishing are doing just fine. 

What hit home was the article's truthful statement that "a loss can turn into an unexpected win." That is so true in reputation recovery. I've researched and studied the reputation recovery phenomenon for a long time now and if there is one clear thread, it is that crisis morphs into opportunity. There is nothing like a scandal or reputation disaster to make a company even better than it once was. Better leaders are put in place, tough decisions are made, humility returns to the C-suite, and less risky business behavior takes hold. No one wants any further embarrassment to harm the reputational equity of the firm.

The articles says, "The Murdochs’ happy ending is a reminder of how forgiving the corporate world can be if bosses at the centre of a crisis act swiftly and adopt shareholder-friendly policies." True. How a company responds to crisis is the ultimate test and like they say, first impressions matter. But as the article also points out, if Rupert had been a hired hand at an ordinary company, he would have been shown the door.

The Economist ends the article by saying, "Being enriched by scandal may occasionally happen once, but rarely twice." As it happens, that is not entirely true. Many companies stumble after a major crisis because of all the distractions that ensue. It is even more likely, not less likely, that a company will re-dent their reputation after a major crisis. Additionally, media scrutiny is more intense afterwards and journalists and pundits will pounce on any missteps. Granted, the stumble may not be as devastating as the first one but doubt gets raised and before you blink, there are no more do-overs.

Insider-Outsiders as CEO Candidates

We all know about boards choosing "insider" or "outsider" CEOs as successors. For years, there's been debates about which is better and usually insider CEOs take the lead. I used to track CEO succession when I started my first blog ever, We were one of the first firms to track the comings and goings of CEOs, reasons why and CEOs' average tenure. At the time, we defined insider CEOs as executives who had worked inside the company for three or more years before being announced as the new CEO. Outsider CEOs were defined as executives who either had never worked for the company or had been employed by the company for less than three years before being announced CEO. Of course, all of this is predicated on the premise that the board has a succession process in place in the first place. But sorry to have to break the news but two-thirds of American public and private companies have no such plan (National Association of Corporate Directors). A professor at Harvard Business School, Joseph Bower, now recommends that boards of directors pay attention to "insider-outsiders," that is, strong candidates who know enough about the company to ensure continuity but also have outside experience from having spent time at other companies or at a non-HQ office fairly far from the center. In other words, someone who is not tainted by "head-office group think." At least these individuals wont be totally insular from having spent their entire careers at the company and they will be a mash up of internal and external perceptions so that they can bring new thinking into the fold. Considering that Millennials switch jobs so often (last I heard was that we can expect 11 different jobs in a career path), we might actually see a new wave of young CEOs who have spent time at several different companies before bedding down with one institution for more than a few short years. Time will tell but thought the idea of an insider-outsider was a new twist.

Reputation Trends To Come

Reputation is on my mind. This is the time of the year when I reflect on reputation trends that have popped up over the past 12 months and that I think have lasting power into 2015 and beyond. I spent the past two days putting those ideas together and editing and re-editing. Am getting closer thankfully. Look for something after Christmas. 

I was curious to read in Barbara Kimmel's Trust Across America blog an interesting example from a CEO. Rick Holley, CEO of Plum Creek Timber, a Seattle-based real estate investment trust gave back his bonus of nearly $2 million.  Holley said that “he does not believe that he should receive such an award unless Plum Creek’s stockholders see an increase in their investment return.” You do not see that type of offer too often. 

Kimmel has other examples of good things that have happened in 2014. A nice touch to a reputationally-challenged year on many levels.

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?


·       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?


Quotes for the Day

I found this article in my Google alert and thought it was very well written and thoughtful on the topic of reputation. Hard to find thoughtful pieces these days when everyone is in a mad rush. Just yesterday at lunch I was talking to several others about content fatigue which seems to be the malady of the season. Below is a good description of reputation from the author of the article, Bong Osorio. I recall someone, perhaps Warren Buffett, saying something similar about trust, "Trust is like the air you breathe. When it's present, nobody really notices. But when it's absent, everybody notices." Quote below:

"Reputation is like the weather. It exists, irrespective of whether you measure its effects. It dictates what activities and goals are realistic, and how you should package and present yourself to be believable, strong and supportable. It is prudent to check the weather before you go out, and even more helpful if you know how it is changing. So it is with reputation. The main disparity between the two is that while you cannot control the weather, you can design the course of your reputation. And that is a clear case for managing it."

Our Reputation as a Civil Nation

In our Civility in America survey this year, nearly three-quarters (73%) of Americans believe that the USA is losing stature as a civil nation. This is worrisome.  Although our survey was focused on Americans, I found it interesting to read this morning in the WSJ that the Chinese government is worried about their civil-nation reputation too and is intent on doing something about it. In Beijing, 40,000 people have applied to the "Be a Splendid Beijinger and Welcome APEC—Civilized, Polite Passengers” competition to honor the 100 best-behaving bus and subway passengers. [Not sure how that would fly in Manhattan] Volunteers or guides, 8,000 of them, await passengers at the stations and shout out “I try, you try, together we work hard for a civilized Beijing. I’m gifted, you’re gifted, together we make our harmonious society even more splendid!” The winners will get pre-loaded subway and bus cards worth $10. And this initiative is taken quite seriously. 

Beijing has a “civilization index,” which is conducted by the Office of the Capital’s Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization to help residents mind their manners. The index has been steadily increasing since its start in 2005. It includes whether people are littering or keeping the rings on silent on their cellphones. Examples of people behaving civil-ly cited in the article included someone helping to carry luggage and another who brings soup to give out to the volunteer guides who help keep order on the subway stations .

Just this week, I noticed an act of civility here in Brooklyn at the subway station. It was pouring down rain and I saw a man helping a woman carrying her stroller and child up the many stairs to the street. I figured it must have been the husband but then I saw him turn around and go back down to the platform to catch his train. He was pretty wet too. Impressive. 

But that was this week's exception. In the article, one of the executives at the Spiritual Civilization Office said he is proud of their progress but “continuous civilization efforts” are necessary. Same here.