Friday, December 11, 2009

Waiting for UAL, and customs and immigration, and the bus driver and the hotel clerk named Godot

Waiting for UAL 836, and customs and immigration, the bus driver, and the hotel clerk named Godot...

One industry that provides my students with some of the richest personal examples and experiences in crisis communications and leadership are the airlines.
I found that the airlines, despite years of tragic experience and other just time wasting experiences still don’t “have it right”. If the pilot of UA 836 from Shanghai said just one more time (after about 8 statements) “just bear with us”, I thought of an agency that should script what pilots and flight personnel say. Too much personality and quips are not welcome when you have been in the airport for 9 hours, 3.5 hours trapped in the plane 15 feet out on the tarmac, served only pretzels and water.
The serious aspect of the travel was that the two flight attendants heard a noise in the rear of the plane shortly after backing away from the gate that we later described as the sound of crushing the luggage vehicle. It was missed by the pilot, but thankfully the flight attendants (who are there for our safety) stopped him from moving to take-off. The saga continued with an inability to diagnose the huge noise (not luggage loose in the hold), but some sort of firing mechanism in the engine (a huge retort). Read or ask Rob Mark at his airline blog site for a technical explanation. My expertise, if I dare, is the failure of the service and communications management and leadership of UAL. 1. They did apologize (over and over and over again). 2. They did not offer a consistent pattern of explanation or up-dates (forgetting us for an hour at a time). 3. They “forgot” to tell us that the flight attendants could not continue past a three hour time (labor agreement) until that became a crisis. 4. They did not arrange for labor to open the doors again, 5. They did not send us to the right immigration gate (imagine about 200 people walking back and forth at 9 p.m. looking for a way out). 6. They did not warn the airport security that 200 plus would have to be re-entered since we had walked from point A to B inside security and needed to be checked again, they forgot to tell the baggage handlers that they needed to remove hundreds of bags or the carrousel would not allow more bags from the belt (I unloaded about 30 bags for exercise), they forgot to put bags on the right bus (some of us peons went to the economy class hotel and others, well you elites know who you are). They failed to tell the hotel to have more than one desk clerk of the 5 on duty help check us in the hotel, etc. And, newsflash, they failed to test the engine before coming up to the gate in front of hundreds of passengers waiting Now, they are now backing away. I guess we will have to “just bear with them”.
The answer in crisis leadership (some insight due to Ian Mitroff) is to consider the crisis in the context of a whole general system: the passengers are connected to the plane is connected to the loading gate, is connected to immigration, is connected to security is connected to baggage claim, is connected to the bus, to the hotel, to the bus, to immigration, etcetera, etcetera as Yul Brenner so capably said. In the spirit of full disclose I did get a free ticket (I think it is a ticket because the letter from the customer relations professional is such a generic apology it might be from Tiger Woods for a free sleeve of golf balls or a well used club for smashing car windows.
The next day from the time of the loading scheduled for 2 p.m. it was also a series of missteps: the same plane had the same mechanical failure (before we loaded). UAL tried to have us bump the same flight number’s plane (all several hundred of us jostling for position at the one gate). However, they finally abandoned the original plane on the tarmac, December 9 flyers (me) took December 10 flyers’ plane and they took (we heard) another plane. To my flying partners at UAL: Systems, systems, systems are linked with software and communications and leadership!

China Times Blogs and Tweets on Crisis Leadership

China Times Blogs and Tweets on Crisis Leadership

I would have posted this blog and a number of Tweets from Xiamen and Shanghai, but I was blocked from teaching Chinese business leaders some modern lessons of history in crisis management and leadership.
My weekend of teaching and two days of conversations with my colleagues in China were limited by my addiction to using the web for teaching and examples. My access to Youtube for teaching my class of Executive MBAs was also prevented. I tried to locate equivalent videos of the CEO of Mattel apologizing to the Chinese government and to the people of China, but the videos so readily available via Youtube were not available on more than one China site. It was a shame because I really wanted to help the 33 business leaders (age 35-55) who own their own firms or are CEOs of others that crisis management can be taught and practiced by observing the mistakes of others. Naturally, there was a lot of “news” about Tiger Woods that gave me an opportunity to provide instruction on a failed crisis leadership display 1. He did not respond in a timely fashion, 2. He did not apologize, 3. He did not respond personally (except through an “announcement” on his website. 4. He was not forthcoming about the real issues in even a slightly transparent manner, 5. Even after an initial delay of 2 days and later of 5 days; we do not know what he really wants us to know. And, obviously a man with over 7 million Google “hits” cannot ask for privacy or to be left alone. Tiger, like the Hong Kong movie star Edison Chen, “hunter” VP Dick Cheney, David Letterman, Jack Welch, Governor Blagovich of Illinois, or the officers of any publicly traded company cannot expect privacy. They are now all “public figures” in the broadest sense. The business leaders in China that I know (over 1,000 whom I have educated and trained) now know that they are public figures (hard for many corporate officers all over the world to accept). They are especially “public” if they make, distribute, sell or retail high risk and high visibility products or services: toys, food, pharmaceuticals, cars, cosmetics, products with long directions of operation, education, legal services, health care and others. They are also at risk if they make or market products for the elderly, children, women, the poor, disabled, uneducated, and more.

I wish the Chinese government would allow educators and others to access the lessons of history so that their citizens will not repeat the mistakes of the West.

Missing the Roast

Missing the Roast
You know the kind of roast I mean. The one where Shekie Green and Dean Martin and a bunch of rat pack type comics “honor” one of their own with quips and friendly insults. Maybe, just maybe, a classier form of the tradition is the annual Washington D.C. Press Association roast of the President. Sometimes, the roast in D.C. is a little too close to the policy bone, sometimes it creates new comic heroes (Steven Colbert of Northwestern). Some years it should just be cancelled when even the press and the president can’t seem to put any distance between their actions, their points of view (GW Bush) and their funny bones. The Northwestern University version of this oddly American tradition is the nearly annual Integrated Marketing Communications Department Roast of the faculty by the graduate students. I believe it would be fair for me to say that I encouraged the first of the roasts in 1991. However, the tradition may have come and gone and come again over the years in Medill. The PR group at that time listened to me when I told them (as they got upset with our classes, exams, class schedules, technology failures, late hours - sound familiar?) to “write it down and then get us later at a roast”. They liked the idea. I liked the idea of deferring the pain (hoping some of the stories would be lost).

I am a bit worried as I sit typing this unpostable blog in China (see China blog above) in the Pudong Airport (see UAL above) that I will miss the roast at 2 p.m. today (of course I am flying east and gain a day). I think that the students have two versions of each sketch (a tough one and a tougher one). The tough one is meant for the professor when he is in the audience. It is tough enough (pictures of me and Albert Einstein as a comparison….of our both having “bad hair years”). Now I can handle that jab (I have had to for many years). However, I think they have a double tough version if the professor is foolish enough to be out of town or trapped in Shanghai.
My prediction for this year’s roast is that one way or another; I will be roasted for teaching them the value of the on-line software – SecondLife. I thought I might send my avatar to the roast but that would incur more jibs and jabs ( I must not have explained it well enough last January that millions of productive business hours (and even more wasted personal hours for netizens) are used on SecondLife. My favorite use is not to role play, change gender or drink and smoke but to attend lectures and meetings where (like IBM, Gronstedt Group and dozens of leading universities you can hold classes and discussions). I just hope that the roasters are not too mean (I can take it), but I may have the last roast the first time I attend a meeting, seminar with them and their bosses on SecondLife (or Thirdlife). Enjoy, I am sorry I am not there, but I promise to watch the illegally recorded video posted on Youtube!

PS I ran into some IMCers in the airport in Chicago and, sure enough, my profile was all done in avatar!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Notes on President Obama's Speech at West Point

Notes from interview with ABC-TV Channel 7 Chicago: December 2 2009. Watch for video on site: The speech was his first public and televised action as Commander-in-Chief. There was no real news since the story of 30,000 U.S. additional troops had been released to newspapers 18 hours before the talk and 12 hours before to the morning news broadcasters. As usual (but not his best) he delivered an eloquent talk about hope, American dreams by quoting most of our parchment documents. He give a great mini-lecture (the best our recent Presidents have been able to deliver) to the audience near 20 year olds who were in grade school when these wars began. His "bone" to the progressively liberal Democrat base of announcing an end date for departure in a little over a year created the greatest stir. Some would say that "no one really likes the illogical idea except the enemy". The applause, though spare was polite. On the other hand, he shook hands hundreds of times with the cadets on the way out of the auditorium seating over 4000. It is a devil's dilemma for Obama. He has to get a national healthcare bill passed with help from the Democrats but his bill of $50,000,000,000 (billions) for the war in Afghanistan (and Pakistan?) has to be supported by the Republicans and more conservative Democrats.

Today, the President placed himself in the fragile but great position of being a leader. Who will follow? More real news to come.

Tiger Woods

Notes from interview with NBC-TV Channel 5 December 2. It was last Friday that Tiger Woods caused a great deal of damage to his Escalade (I thought he drove Buicks)see It was not a minor accident. The real accident is to Tiger Wood's reputation and "brand". Despite his plaintive appeals for privacy; he built his career on the basis of this golf skills shown on the media and reported in the media. As a "public figure" he must be willing to subject himself to even the tacky "journalism" of US magazine and the National Enquirer. All CEO's and corporate officers of "public companies" as well as NGOs (non-governmental organizations), government, education, military have this same obligation. Journalism is now available to all of us (witness this essay)and photo opps are as close as your cell phone. Tiger Woods should have 1. responded by Saturday p.m. with a personal statement. He should have had his team of advisers (crisis consultants, public relations experts, sports management talent) arrange a personal appearance on Oprah or with Katie Couric. If he is clear on his desire to save his relationships in his family and if his wife, Elin, will "stand by her man", then he would be more the master of his own fate. With his sterile postings to his website of "fill in the blank" (David Letterman, Eliot Spitzer, Michael Jordon, Bill Clinton) I have sinned press release, he lost a modest amount of control over his message. 1. he should have personally responded immediately (or least in 12 hours)- recall VP Chaney quail hunting debacle. 2. he should have apologized to his family (Letterman forgot the first night and came back the second night with an apology) and his fans. 3. as an entertainer especially in a sport at his level he should have not asked for privacy, but understanding. 4. If he was having marital problems he should have said so as he finally did five days later. At least the speculation, rumors, even tapes would have had some context and been less newsworthy. 5. He continued to behave as if "it would go away" when he fostered the problem. Others, less ethical media, filled in the blanks for their readers who include even the legitimate press who were "forced" to run the story reported by others. We are supposed to be transparent (open practice of honesty and ethics). 6. He needed a crisis plan. See 2003 Caywood and Englehart. Finally, his sports endorsements are another subject. For a discussion of the "morality clause" See Unless he can repair the damage without hiding behind his website (not social or conversational media); he is likely to lose some endorsements in the near future. P&G Gillette, Nike Golf, Gatorade, ATT, Upper Deck, Accenture, Tag Heuer, Buick, TLC Vision, Netjet reportedly generating $100 million per year. I still believe he can recapture his position and get out of the "sand trap". _