Spirited Communication

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‘Leadership Amid the Battleground’ Panel Hits Close to Work

Global Street Fight study cover graphicThe purpose of the final session of the 2016 “Global Street Fight” according to its organizer, G&S Business Communications, was to “explore public perceptions of CEOs in today’s hyper-competitive global marketplace.”

As a communicator who receives a paycheck from Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., I connected with the session title: “Leadership Amid the Battleground.” In fact, Volkswagen came up several times during the opinion panel led by Steve Halsey, managing director of G&S Business Communications, and featuring Carol Gstalder, Nielsen senior vice president of consumer insights.

Comments hit uncomfortably “close to home work.”

During the panel discussion, Gstalder and Halsey referenced results of the “Fourth Annual Global Street Fight Study,” and provided context for some of the findings.

The Global Street Fight Study, Halsey said, has tracked the trends and issues that impact our expectations and perceptions of leaders in the C-Suite.

Findings from the 2015 Street Fight study indicated that major U.S.-based corporations were focused on “reputational triage” a year ago, Gstalder said. This year, although some notable companies are dealing with a reputational crisis, more senior leaders are described by Global Street Fight study respondents as “bold,” “innovative” and “strong.”

Gstalder attributed that shift to factors including an improving economy, greater consumer confidence, and C-suite engagement and comment in popular social issues that resonate with employees.

Then the panel discussion hit close to work. Gstalder said the type of crisis taking the forefront in survey participants’ minds changed this year.

Last year, the crises that came to mind included General Motors’ quality issue and recalls, and a rash of data breaches that required senior leaders to calm customers and regulatory agency concerns about customer privacy and data protection.

This year’s study uncovered a high emotive level of concern regarding potential corruption and wrong-doing by organizations including FIFA, pharma company greed, corporate tax diversions through the Cayman Islands and Volkswagen.

“When we asked the public this year what potentially would be the most damaging crises, it’s lying or corporate wrong-doing,” Gstalder said. “It goes to the “code of conduct, and what some of the other conference speakers here talked about this morning: A culture of compliance and values, and the importance of senior leaders to be living by those values.”

In the months since the Volkswagen diesel issue broke, I’ve been asked many times from family, friends and acquaintances “how are you doing?” and “what will this mean for Volkswagen?”

Let me be very clear here: I do not represent Volkswagen A.G. or any of its subsidiaries when I write this blog. These are my posts, my thoughts and feelings.

You may know that Volkswagen is not commenting publicly about its ongoing efforts related to the diesel issue, except as it posts information on its diesel issue website. According to that site, “Specifics of the agreements in principle are still being finalized. Until finalized, details remain confidential in accordance with the Court’s direction.”

As a communications professional who has received training in crisis communications, I would love to be more involved. However, my role with VW Credit, Inc., the financial services subsidiary of Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., is as an internal communications specialist. The fact is that I learn about this issue the same as most people inside or outside of the organization: through the company website and occasional email updates, and through media posts from people outside of the VW organization.

I work with many wonderful people who remain passionate about the company and its brands. We want the issue to be resolved fairly, and we want to do our part to help restore trust in the VW Brand.

It was difficult to bite my tongue during the Global Street Fight Conference when VW was mentioned. That’s as much as I can say, even though it doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

NEXT POST: VR, AI Will Be Mainstream Soon Enough (Part 1)

Prepare for Brief Encounters

bigstock-Young-woman-in-jobWhether you need to provide an unexpected update to a boss, engage in a conversation with a stranger at an event, or “sell yourself” during a job interview, the ability to deliver an organized message off-the-cuff is a valuable skill to employ.

Many people feel unsure of their ability to respond in such situations, and can benefit from training and practice.

One activity that has worked wonders for me is “Table Topics” during Toastmasters meetings.

Table Topics help members develop their ability to organize thoughts quickly. During Table Topics, members respond to a question or statement that they hear just before they begin to speak. They are given one to two minutes to respond.

You don’t have to be a member of Toastmasters to practice this skill. Take time (10 minutes should suffice) during team meetings, small gatherings of colleagues or at job-search circles. Have one person ask a question that another person needs to address in one to two minutes. Use the stopwatch function on your phone to time them. You also can do a “round-robin” exercise, where several people take turns asking questions of others.

Encourage every participant to keep talking for at least the minimum time of one minute. Toastmasters uses a color-code system to advise the speaker about how much time has transpired:

  • Green at the minimum time of one minute
  • Yellow at the mid-point of one and one-half minutes
  • Red at the maximum time of two minutes

A “grace period” of 30 seconds is offered by Toastmasters, so that someone who speaks for up to 2 and one-half minutes is considered to have successfully completed the exercise.

I have seen how Table Topics have improved my ability to speak cogently at work and at events in my profession. It can work for you and your team, as well!

The ability to speak persuasively and in an organized fashion is just one aspect of effective communications. If you would like me to address a communication challenge or opportunity facing you and your organization, contact me to set up time to discuss it.

Flagging a Change of Interest?

The Keefe home displays the U.S. flag on Independence Day, Flag Day, and sometimes other occasions. How about you?

The Keefe home displays the U.S. flag on Independence Day, Flag Day, and sometimes other occasions. How about you?

While walking my dog this morning, I counted only four homes displaying the U.S. flag on Independence Day. When I got home, I put up a couple of flags.

But it made me wonder: Is this a sign that interest in showing patriotism through the display of the U.S. flag is wavering? Or is my neighborhood the exception, rather than the rule?

Look around your neighborhood and let me know the percentage of homes displaying the U.S. flag today.

And have a safe and secure Independence Day!

God and Country

At a time when the

At a time when the “separation of church and state” has challenged the rights of soldiers and military chaplains to openly share their faith, what will the new “rallying cry” of our nation be, once “God and Country” is removed from the national consciousness?

Is the United States that exists on the 2015 Memorial Day Holiday fundamentally different than the country that I, my parents and grandparents knew as young adults?

If we were tasked with communicating the meaning of this holiday and its significance to our culture and national well-being, would we craft radically different messages depending on our racial, religious, political and historical viewpoints?

What does “God and Country”–the rallying cry in past generations—mean today?

The Memorial Day Holiday began three years after the end of the Civil Way. It was called “Decoration Day,” and was an organized event to place flowers and small U.S. flags on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all U.S. wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday, and the congressional act placed the holiday on the last Monday in May.

Since then in my lifetime, we’ve had contentious wars that split the loyalties of Americans who either supported or opposed our involvement in military actions. Opinions remain divided over the necessity to have risked our military in Viet Nam, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan and other global hotspots.

That division has been exasperated by people who link U.S. military aggression to geopolitical manipulations based on, or directed at, religious groups. One example that I’ve seen expressed: “George W. Bush was a Christian president who led us into the Iraq War to subdue Muslims.” Is that true? More to my point, is that the entire story—even if that statement could be accurate?

The United States that was formed more than two centuries ago by a conglomeration of primarily Judeo-Christian leaders and fighting men has become home to a much different mix of citizens who represent a variety of racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds and belief systems.

A change of population naturally introduces ideas, beliefs and opinions that challenge the “status quo.” I consider that healthy, and I have always supported and appreciated our nation’s fierce defense of individual liberty, freedom of speech and the right to be represented, even when you are not the majority.

I’ve read that World War II was considered a “just war” that pitted God-respecting nations against regimes that considered their leaders to be “gods”—at least above the people who served them.

More recent wars have raised the question whether God has been used as a reason to wage war.

On this Memorial Day, consider what will happen when (and I mean “when,” not “if”) the United States is attacked by an aggressive force originating from outside of our borders. Are we U.S. citizens now too divided because of our differences to fight together?

Is “God and Country” now too contentious or outdated a rallying cry to be effective?

What should our national rallying cry be?

There IS No Substitute!

When young Tom Cruise uttered the phrase, “Porsche…there is no substitute,” in the 1983 movie classic, Risky Business, millions of viewers, including me, understood the message.

The real deal is worth the price you pay—particularly when you compare the original to a cheap knock-off.

Such is the case with The Walking Dead. This instant classic television drama draws its success from a special combination of excellent scriptwriting, top-notch production and makeup values, and actors who act as an ensemble, while delivering standout performances when called upon.

(c) AMC-TV and The Walking Dead.

(c) AMC-TV and The Walking Dead.

The runaway success of The Walking Dead naturally inspired greedy producers and writers to try to cash in by creating other zombie-related shows, including “Z Nation” and “iZombie.”

But those imitations miss the qualities that make the original so appealing. They lack the depth and quality of writing and production that sets the original apart.

walking deceased imageI’ve been going through a bit of Walking Dead withdrawal since the latest season ended, which led me to wasting nearly two hours of my life this past weekend watching “The Walking Deceased.” It was marketed as a spoof of The Walking Dead, but don’t waste your time or money on it.

I just kept thinking to myself, as the movie dragged on, that there IS no substitute for the real thing!

Honored to Receive the 2014 Karen Utterback Volunteer Award from IABC/Chicago

Tonight, I’ll receive the 2014 Karen Utterback Volunteer Award from IABC/Chicago.

The IABC/Chicago website states, “This award, which began in 2012, recognizes a veteran IABC/Chicago member who exemplifies communications excellence and stewardship. The recipients demonstrate unyielding dedication to the betterment of the communications field, serve as mentors to professionals and embody the essence of IABC/Chicago. They truly represent the best of our organization.”

I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I can’t adequately express my appreciation to those IABC/Chicago board members who nominated and voted for me. I’m like most people; I don’t volunteer for personal glory, I volunteer because I like to share my experience and knowledge with others.

Tonight, I’ll share three keys to continued success for IABC/Chicago leaders and members. The three keys are: Prepare, Participate, and Pass It On. Later this week, I’ll expand on each of those keys in separate posts.

To end this post, I’ll refer back to the information regarding Karen Utterback that appears on the IABC/Chicago website. I might have won the award named in her honor, but I doubt that I ever will be able to fill her shoes—particularly the ones she wore during marathons!

Karen Utterback, ABC

Karen Utterback, ABC

“The award memorializes two-term IABC/Chicago chapter president, Karen Utterback, ABC, who unexpectedly passed away in 2009. Utterback had served as IABC/Chicago’s president since June 2008 and as its director of finance from 2005-2008. She actively encouraged and mentored communicators to pursue the Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) designation, since earning her own designation in 2005. In addition to her IABC work, Utterback was a board member of the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation, a volunteer for the Taproot Foundation and the Chicago 2016 campaign. She raced sailboats, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2008, and had run more than 19 marathons, including races in Antarctica and on the Great Wall of China.”

What a privilege to have served with Karen, and to now be associated with the award honoring her memory.

Six Principles of Crisis Communications from the CDC

The Center for Disease Control is no stranger to crisis communications. At a workshop on May 17 organized by the PR Council of Lake County, Barbara J.Reynolds, CDC Crisis Communication Specialist, ticked off the list of issues and emergencies that she has dealt with over the past 20 years, among them: pandemic influenza (H1N1), vaccine safety, emerging disease outbreaks (SARS) and bioterrorism.

Barbara J. Reynolds, Center for Disease Control Crisis Communications Director, shares information remotely from Atlanta to attendees of the PR Council of Lake County social media workshop on May 17.

Barbara J. Reynolds, Center for Disease Control Crisis Communications Specialist, shares information remotely from Atlanta with attendees of the PR Council of Lake County social media workshop on May 17.

The CDC built its crisis communications around six principles from its “Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication” (CERC) training program. The training program draws from lessons learned during public health emergencies, and incorporates best practices from the fields of risk and crisis communication.

The six principles are:

  1. Be First: If the information is yours to provide by organizational authority, do so as soon as possible. If you can’t, then explain how you are working to get it.
  2. Be Right: Give facts in increments. Tell people what you know when you know it. Tell them what you don’t know. Tell them if you will know relevant information later.
  3. Be Credible: Tell the truth. Do not withhold information to avoid embarrassment or the possible “panic” that seldom happens. Uncertainty is worse than not knowing. Rumors are more damaging than hard truths.
  4. Show Compassion and Empathy: This lets people know that you care, that you recognize the pain they’re going through. It is not sympathy, which implies that you know what the person is going through. Chances are, you haven’t experienced what they have.
  5. Promote Action: These are recommended actions for people to do; e.g., check on neighbors, hold a memorial service, consider preventative vaccinations. The actions move people from simply sitting, thinking and worrying. It helps them psychologically and it helps the community return to a “new normal,” after any kind of crisis.
  6. Show Respect:  People have different beliefs, whether they be cultural, familial, religious or based on a perspective related to the person’s age. By being respectful in  your messaging, you improve the chances that those various audiences will believe in what you are doing. That hopefully will lead to changed behavior and compliance with whatever actions or decisions your want them to support.

Reynolds then showed examples of the CDC’s social media sites, and how they responded to comments from the public. As a governmental organization, the CDC only removes comments from the public that are obviously obscene or that threaten someone, she said.

The results of the CDC’s social media practices and policies indicate that they are on the right track, Reynolds said. People who comment or otherwise access CDC through social media:

  • Have higher satisfaction ratings (84 out of 100) than those who do not use CDC social media tools (79 out of 100)
  • Are more likely to return and recommend the site to others than those who do not use CDC social media tools
  • Rate CDC as more trustworthy than those who do not use CDC’s social media tools

Here is another slide from Reynolds’ presentation that shows the CDC scoring higher than its federal agency peers in the areas of perceived collaboration and trust. The 12-point difference in collaboration correlates to a belief that people who use social media do so because they feel it is important to be a participant in their spheres of influence and daily lives.

Trust, Transparency and Participation in Goverment

Finally…A Young Whipper-snapper Teaches Me Something About Gen Y

I’ve attended many conference sessions and training courses during the past few years that tried to explain the significance of generational differences in the workplace, and why Baby Boomers like me were going to have to adjust our thinking and actions as “Gen Yers” begin to work alongside us.

The topic has become so overworked, in my opinion, that last September, I nearly skipped the Keynote Session at the Melcrum Strategic Communication Management Summit in Chicago. All I saw was its title: “Unlocking Gen Y’s Loyalty, Creativity, and Performance.” “Not again,” I thought. After all, I had just participated in a training course at work on the topic of generations in the workforce, and the presenters at a pre-conference workshop at the 2008 Melcrum “Summit” event in Chicago had included the same discussion as part of their session.

What else could I possibly learn?

It turned out that I could learn a lot, and am very glad that I decided to stay at the Keynote Session. The speaker was Jason Ryan Dorsey, author of books including “Graduate to Your Perfect Job” and “My Reality Check Bounced.” Dorsey is funny, well-spoken and in-touch with the latest generation to enter the workforce because he is a member of Gen Y. In fact, I learned a couple of things about Gen Y that I want to share with you, and you can learn more by visiting Jason’s website.

First, don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can instantly tell everything about a group of employees simply based on their birth dates. That’s too much like Horoscopes, and most of us know to keep a skeptical eye on something that is generalized to such an extreme.

Jason will tell you that. He pointed out to the Melcrum Summit audience how Gen Yers are said to be technically savvy–after all, they were handed laptops right after their first pacifiers, and latched onto text messaging long before they completed DARE training in middle school. Yet, the reality is that someone who knows how to operate a device such as a mobile phone and its texting option is not necessarily a technical savant.

“Usually on the first day of a new job, some Baby Boomer comes up to us and says that he couldn’t figure out how to hook up the PC to the printer, but he figured that we would know how to do it,” Dorsey said. “Well, we have no clue, but we can look at the pictures in the user manual and try to figure it out.”

Another generalization about Gen Y that Dorsey discussed was the lenth of time they are willing to wait until deciding to leave a particular job. Whereas the World War II generation expected to be at the same job for an entire career, and Baby Boomers typically gave a new job 1-2 years before deciding to move on, “Gen Yers know by lunch whether we’re going to come back the next day,” Dorsey said.

Well, I’ve hired and worked with people from a range of generations who held that same attitude. And a little thing we call the “economic meltdown” probably has skewed that job-hopping statistic a bit.

Age isn’t the only measuring stick, and it isn’t one of the more reliable, in my opinion.

Sensitive Information? Scratch THIS!

I’m beginning to think that the recent “stress test” applied to U.S. financial institutions has stressed at least one of the institutions to the cracking point: Citibank.

How else can we explain the financial institution’s decision to intentionally hinder its customers from paying credit card bills?

Here’s the background: I use a corporate card provided by my employer for business-related expenses. It happens to be a Citibank Visa card.

When I received the corporate card some years ago, it included the URL of Citibank’s corporate customer service website. I typically access the site at work, and have the URL saved there in my browser favorites.

Today, on my mental health vacation day, MY stress level went up when I tried to pay my corporate card bill from home. I didn’t have the URL saved in my home browser favorites. “No problem,” I naively thought. “I’ll just get it off of the credit card.”

But I quickly realized that the current corporate card that I’m carrying has a customer service telephone number, but no website URL. “Weird, but I’ll just get it off of the Citibank statement,” I optimistically opined.

You guessed it: No website URL of any kind on the statement. Just line after tiny line of legal blather regarding what do if the credit card is lost, stolen, or embroiled in a billing dispute with a merchant. But if you want to actually pay Citibank on-time and conveniently through a website? Forget it!

Well, if you are a regular reader, you know that I didn’t forget it. I called the customer service telephone number, and after teasing the website URL from the friendly sounding phone representative, I asked the “elephant in the room” question as sweetly as I could.

“I was wondering…wouldn’t it be a good idea to print this URL on your credit card and statement so that customers like me could more easily pay our bill?”

“We don’t publish that information,” the representative replied in a tone that instantly turned from friendly to very guarded. “Why not?” I asked, not yet convinced that this was a problem…until she replied.

“That’s sensitive information,” the representative said, trying to sound shocked that I would even suggest such an absurd idea. “In fact, we can’t publish that information because the websites are going to be changing.”

“Umm…if you’re going to be changing the website addresses, how are customers like me going to be able to find the site to make payments?”

At that moment, the representative must have remembered that these calls can be monitored for training purposes, and she definitely was in need of training. “I wasn’t supposed to say that,” she said, quoting Hagrid from one of the Harry Potter novels. “Scratch that.”

Hmm…a financial institution that is struggling with unsecured debt from its credit card customers has made the decision to make it extremely difficult for those customers to make an online payment. Then, it apparently is embarking on a secret plan to change its online banking URLS without notifying its customers. And the response of its customer service representative is, “Scratch that”?

No Citibank. Scratch THIS!

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