Last week, I wrote a piece for U.S. News on the contrast between the United States’ stellar Olympic record and recent hits to the country’s reputation in the press.
Over the last few weeks, as the United States competed and mostly won in the international sports arena at the 2012 Olympics in London, the country itself seemed to suffer from a reputational setback in headlines from many prominent media outlets including Time magazine (“The History of the American Dream: Is it Still Real?”) and the Wall Street Journal (“Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem”). Why is it that while our athletes still seem to be excited about both working hard on representing the United States in the most competitive environment on the planet and embracing America itself as a concept (note the many tears welling up as the flag raises and the national anthem is played), a cloud seems to hang over both our businesses and the people who work in them?
Earlier today, I wrote a post on the Harvard Business Review blog about Joe Paterno and reputation management.
Last Thursday, former FBI head Louis Freeh released a report on the child abuse scandal at Penn State that dealt a devastating blow to the university and to the legacy of the once revered football coach, Joe Paterno. In the report, Freeh’s investigators pointed to “a pervasive fear of bad publicity” as one of the main reasons Paterno and former Penn State president, Graham Spanier, allowed such heinous acts to go unreported. How could he have thought that covering up Jerry Sandusky’s repeated offenses would help him reach that goal?
After studying the topic of reputation for over a decade, I see Paterno’s behavior repeated again and again in the corporate world. Just a few months ago, the New York Times revealed that Walmart senior executives hid evidence of widespread bribery in its Mexican expansion effort. And just this past weekend, the Times reported that the FDA spied on its own scientists to catch whistle-blowers who leaked evidence that the agency had employed faulty review processes that led to the approval of potentially dangerous imaging devices.
Why do otherwise intelligent people seem to believe that they are protecting their reputation by covering up the truth when they are actually making things even worse? And, what can you do to make sure you are assessing reputational risk as seriously you do financial and legal risks to your institution?
Yesterday I wrote a post for US News and World Report’s Economics blog, entitled “How Apple Gets Away With Things Other Companies Couldn’t”. It is already spurring debate over on their blog–I think it and some other recent posts on the same blog by my colleagues from the Tuck School are worth a read. You can read my post here and see the rest of the Economic Intelligence blog here.
Knowledge @ Wharton wrote a follow-up post to the New York Times article I was quoted in regarding Blankfein’s new role as spokesman for same-sex marriage. Some excerpts are below and you can find the full article here.
“I’m Lloyd Blankfein … and I support marriage equality.” Those are the words used by the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs in a new video spot produced by The Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that advocates equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.
Blankfein is not the most obvious spokesperson for such a campaign. As an article in The New York Times points out, he has been “a lightning rod for Wall Street critics” taking aim at exorbitant executive pay packages and the role Goldman Sachs and other investment banks played leading up to the financial crisis.
Jena McGregor of the Washington Post’s On Leadership section posted about Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s half-hearted apology about the Planned Parenthood de-funding. I couldn’t agree more with Jena’s assessment of the apology using my framework. I’ve posted it below and you can see the original article here.
In the world of crisis communications, what has the potential to be more damaging than not issuing an apology? An apology that reads like only half of one.
Nancy Brinker’s response to Sally Quinn’s open letter to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure founder and CEO includes an admission that she made mistakes and an apology to those who were disappointed by the nonprofit’s decision to pull its funding to Planned Parenthood. (Komenlater said Planned Parenthood could reapply for funding.) Brinker says she has learned a lot, including that “that we in women’s health organizations must be absolutely true to our core missions, and avoid even the appearance of bias or judgment in our decisions.”
But what she does not say is more telling. Brinker does not say exactly what she is sorry for. She does not explore what mistakes she made. And she does not address several of the points in Quinn’s letter, from the ambiguity of Komen’s decision to allow Planned Parenthood to reapply—though not necessarily be funded—to why her institution’sshifting explanations for its controversial move were so confusing. It’s also interesting that it seems to have taken criticism from Sally Quinn (who describes herself as a longtime friend of Brinker’s in Washington), more so than the outrage of millions of citizens, to elicit such an admission. Read More…
The New York Times Dealbook recently asked me to comment on Goldman Sachs CEO Blankfein’s decision to speak out for same-sex marriage. I have posted some excerpts including my quote below, and you can read the full article in New York Times’ Dealbook here.
Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chief of Goldman Sachs who has become a lightning rod for Wall Street critics, might seem an unlikely advocate for same-sex marriage. But his credentials — a public figure in a conservative industry — could make him a powerful voice for that cause.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that promotes equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, has persuaded Mr. Blankfein to be its first national corporate spokesman for same-sex marriage, an issue that will come up for a legislative vote in several states this year, including Washington and Maryland. Fred Sainz, an executive with the Human Rights Campaign, said the organization sought Mr. Blankfein, in part, because he is “an unexpected messenger.”
Paul A. Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, says Mr. Blankfein’s decision isn’t likely to have any positive impact on the reputation of the firm — or Mr. Blankfein.
“If you are a Goldman employee and you are gay or contemplating coming out, this is great,” he said. But for Goldman and Mr. Blankfein, the issue of same-sex marriage has nothing to do with what Goldman Sachs does. “If Mr. Blankfein was taking a radical stand on pay you could say wow, that’s big. But equality is simply not an issue you associate with Goldman.”
Still, the campaign is sure to turn heads on Wall Street, which despite having made progress on equality issues over the last decade, is still considered to be a male-dominated, testosterone-driven place.
…Read the rest of the article here.
- Same-Sex Marriage’s New Spokesman: Lloyd Blankfein (blogs.wsj.com)
- WATCH: Goldman Sachs CEO Supports Same-Sex Marriage (huffingtonpost.com)
- DealBook: Blankfein to Speak Out for Same-Sex Marriage (dealbook.nytimes.com)
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park with my daughter Julia just a couple of days before it was dispersed by the NYPD. It immediately brought back memories of my high school days in the ‘60s and my time at Columbia in the ‘70s. The clothes, the look of the pamphlets, even the smells were the same. I was particularly fascinated by their incredible focus on communications and media. But something was very different. While the protests in the 60s and 70s were clearly for something (the end of the Vietnam war) this movement is very squarely against something—big business with no outcome that will ever satisfy the group and make it go away. Some may believe that this lack of focus makes the occupy movements in New York and elsewhere less worrisome or even irrelevant, but I think it is more insidious than most people in business realize. Let me explain why. Read More…
I spoke to the Tuck School of Business on Steve Jobs as a leader. I argued that while Steve Jobs is one of the most important and influential individuals of our time, he was not the kind of leader or manager that executives should aspire to be like today.
Click here to watch the video.