Can you handle transparency?

transparentAn article in the Orlando Sentinel caught my attention. It reports that a leasing company has stopped the process of making tenants agree in the lease to not post bad social media reviews, at the penalty of $10,000.  Wow!  I must be naïve because I just cannot fathom anyone making such a business decision. Well, it’s good they stopped it.

Reading a little deeper, apparently the leasing company was concerned about a “’growing trend’ of real estate renters posting unjustified and defamatory reviews on social media in order to negotiate lower rents.” Okay, that is certainly unfair, if that is happening.  Trying to control what people write on social media, however, is a little bit like trying to bail out a sinking canoe.  If someone wants to write a negative review and not pay a penalty, they’ll find a way to do it, even if it means getting cousin Gertrude to write the review.

Later in my inbox, I saw the headline “Three Reasons CEOs Can’t Ignore Glassdoor.” If you’re not familiar, is a website where employees and former employees can post anonymous or identified reviews on companies for which they work. Prospective employees use this site to help them make decisions about applying or accepting a job. I like the format – each review identifies “pros,” “cons,” and “advice to leadership.” Those three questions challenge the writer to think, and makes it easier to tell when someone is just plain disgruntled.

Transparency via social media will only get stronger, and smart organizations will learn how to handle the increasing transparency. A friend who owns a renovation business carefully reads and responds to every comment on Angie’s List. If the comments are positive, he thanks the writer. If not, he offers to fix. He has had reviewers update their comments because he has taken them seriously and fixed whatever was wrong. That’s a good thing.

This transparency presents a challenge for businesses and like every challenge, some will respond authentically and own the problem. Others will play ostrich or try to get around it, as this Orlando leasing company tried.

How to avoid playing ostrich?  Besides the obvious – accept and embrace transparency because it’s here to stay – there are some preparations that can turn transparency into effective action.

Have a dialogue about transparency at the executive level

Each member of a leadership team probably brings a different level of comfort with transparency. Some may be quite open to feedback while others may not.  Some may feel that addressing feedback head on is appropriate, while others prefer more cautious methods.

This is a dialogue you must have. The executive leadership team has to be on the same page so that they can effectively lead the organization to approach transparency in a way that makes most sense. This provides a cohesive and holistic policy, if you will, to which all executives align.

Prepare leadership

If executives have different levels of comfort with transparency, multiply that exponentially for those leading the workforce.

Share the outcome of the leadership dialogue with all leaders of the organization, and set expectations for their approach to transparency.  If a negative social media comment goes viral, you will not have time to adequately prepare leaders to respond to the questions they will get from their employees.  If, however, you have prepared your leaders to respond to feedback, you have a much better chance of providing a singular, cohesive message.

Prepare the workforce

Social media comments impact not only the workforce, but the customers as well. One healthcare organization made an executive decision to publicly post their quality statistics – falls, infections, etc. – as a show of transparency to their patients.

They neglected to educate the clinical staff on responding to patients who freak out if they perceive the numbers to be less than adequate. Those employees who had their own concerns about safety measures in the hospital commiserated with the patients, fueling anxiety and fear.

What makes an effective response?

Responding appropriately to negative information is sometimes counterintuitive, particularly if the responder agrees with the less than positive perspective. Providing the “why” is important.

A customer-facing employee needs to understand (and believe) a.) the organization’s goals and commitment to transparency, b.) the importance of supporting the organization to the customer and c.) effective ways to respond to negative feedback.

This is not communicated in a class, but by the front-line leaders through role modeling and through coaching.

If the executives have agreed upon their approach, set expectations for their leadership in carrying out that approach, and prepared their leaders and workforce to respond, they will have the best chance to get in front of social media. It’s here. Better to prepare than to be caught off guard.

A Case Study: HR Takes a Leadership Role in Strategy

misalignment_pics_smallIn 2014, we had the privilege of working with an amazing client to help them through the massive organizational changes that were in the works. Covenant Woods is a continuing care retirement community that, in 2014, experienced a physical expansion that almost doubled the size of their physical space and resident population. At the same time, a long time CEO was retiring and a new CEO came aboard.

All this change was, to their Director of HR, a terrific opportunity to build a cohesive leadership team, and asked us to help.

We had the opportunity to reflect on our work in a podcast, hosted by Prana Business. Prana is our partner in improving strategic alignment within organizations, and we use their Line-of-Sight tool to measure alignment and create plans to strengthen and grow.

Listen to the podcast

You can also download the transcript here.

We thought you might find this case study helpful if you are looking to ensure that the work being done throughout the organization is actually the right work to move the organization forward.

Many thanks to Emily Robinson-Endert, Director of HR at Covenant Woods, for allowing us to showcase this project. Thanks also to Joe Clark, CEO of Prana Business, for hosting the podcast and for developing this excellent instrument.




On Lying

pinocchioIs there a continuum for lying? Perhaps the “little white lie” that saves someone from humiliation is on one end of the continuum. Perhaps lying for personal gain is on the other end. But how much personal gain? Is 10 million enough to make the lie egregious?

Our Right to Free Speech

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment to the Constitution.

In the First Amendment to the Constitution, Congress gave the American people a gift. The Constitution allows us all to say our peace, even if it conflicts with our government. And embedded in that gift is the Fourth Branch of Government, defined by Wikipedia as “a group that influences the three branches of government defined in the American Constitution (legislative, executive and judicial). Such groups can include the press (an analogy for the Fourth Estate), the people, and interest groups.”

The Press. The Fourth Estate.

By the law of our Constitution, they can report even news that is in direct conflict, or is inflammatory toward our government. They can investigate and break stories to the American people that influence our attitudes about the government.

But they cannot lie. No, this is not a law enacted in our Constitution. It does not say that the Fourth Estate must tell the truth. Quite frankly, truth is a wee bit elusive these days in media reporting.  Here’s where my continuum enters the picture. What is truth, as shared by the media?

They walk a fine line, in what they say, what they don’t say, their tone of voice, their biased selection of experts to provide insight. Continue reading