Sep 10

Would you have kept Peggy working late?

The most recent episode of AMC’s ‘Mad Men’ probed even deeper into the exceedingly dark side Office-window-sam of Don Draper (nee Dick Whitman).

In last Sunday’s episode, ad man extraordinaire Draper worked late into the night to develop new strategies for a Samsonite Luggage campaign. Not content to suffer alone, Don forces his creative aide de camp, Peggy, to work right alongside him. The endless evening ends up costing Peggy a surprise party thrown by her soon-to-be-erstwhile boyfriend (but draws her closer to Don in some very interesting ways).

I’ve never been a fan of making people stay late into the night. It’s abusive. It speaks poorly of the organization. And, it will eventually impact image and reputation.

That said, I’ve heard of more than one PR firm, especially those in the technology space, who suggest their employees leave the office at 6pm, gobble down a quick dinner and then return to complete their assignments. That’s brutal. I’ve heard of other firms that use the ‘West Coast’ excuse to keep East Coast employees working well past 8:30pm. That’s also bogus. And, then there are the corporate versions of Don Draper’s “keep ‘em late and make ‘em sweat” management style. In Jacked Up: The inside Story of How Jack Welch Talked GE into Becoming the World’s Greatest Company, author Bill Lane says the entire corporate office staff was afraid to leave for the day before their chief had. This was problematic since Mr. Welch seldom departed before 7pm. He knew others feared him, wouldn’t dare leave before he did and, either didn’t care about inconveniencing them or enjoyed the rush that went along with controlling other people’s lives.

We once had a mini version of Jack Welch working at our firm. This guy’s office was conveniently located right by the elevators. So, he’d naturally spy anyone who was skulking out while he was still slaving away. After hearing about the issue, we sat down with the executive (and his reports). We found that he tended to while away his time during normal working hours and, for whatever reason, didn’t really roll up his sleeves until late afternoon. As a result, he’d set meetings that began at 5 or 5:30, mete out assignments and then expect his direct reports to stay and finish their work before leaving. Rather than suffer a palace revolt (I’ve always believed that people quit people. They don’t quit businesses.), we had our strategy consultant work with the executive to help him better organize his day. We ended up keeping our people, but losing the executive to a corporate gig (which was a win-win in my book).

Because of the nature of our business, we still have people who, because of a client crisis or over servicing on our part, stay later than they should. When they do, we try to either intercede or, at the very least provide transportation home and compensatory time off. But, we’re far from perfect.

There are many different ways to manage an organization. Draper’s approach may work in the short-term, but I’ve rarely seen it work over the long haul (unless an employee completely defines himself by his work and thrives on a steady diet of 24×7). I can’t speak for Welch’s management style since I never experienced it first-hand. But, I know we don’t want executives who, intentionally or unintentionally, make their employees stay late. Life’s way too short (which I hope Don Draper figures out sooner rather than later).

Feb 19

Bill Lane’s advice for blacks, Asians and women

I suppose there’s a certain liberation that goes along with retirement. Secure in the knowledge that one can say what one wants without repercussions, one is free to wax poetic on anything and everything.

And, Bill Lane does just that in ‘Jacked up,’ his behind-the-scenes’ look at Jack Welch’s GE. Lane’s take is a true page-turner. What makes it interesting to me, though, is the way it intersperses communications strategies between often hilarious tales of Jack’s manic swearing, bashing and overall boorishness.

To his credit, Lane’s not afraid to take on controversial subjects that might have cost him his job in days past. For example, he provides the following ‘presentation’ observation and advice to minorities:

– Black males: ‘…your audience will be sincerely rooting for you, hoping that you are not up there because of some affirmative action boost, and out of your league.’ And ‘…the lurking, unspoken, awful question is about competence.’

– Asians: ‘Asian males need to stand up, look serious and forcefully establish the importance of what they are about to say.’ Lane quotes one Asian as saying, ‘…we are stereotyped as bright, brainy, brilliant…but also as bad leaders.’

– Women: ‘…women, most women, are not thought of by men as REAL leaders…their ability to lead largely male organizations that are still faintly pattered on World War II military organizations is in question.’

Lane says blacks, Asians and women need to out think, outflank and out hustle their white male counterparts to succeed in today’s corporate environment. I’m sure there’s some truth in what he says. But, I wish he’d said while he still had some ‘skin’ in the game.

Feb 13

Can PR move the markets?

Bill Lane, erstwhile speechwriter for Jack Welch and author of ‘Jacked up,’ thinks speeches and articlesWelch
can move the markets.

In his kiss-and-tell book, Lane points to at least two occasions where his words moved GE’s stock price. The first came about as a result of a Welch speech to analysts. The second followed a USA Today article that lifted key words and phrases from a Welch annual report letter. The speech and letter were written by Lane.

Claiming that PR moves markets is a slippery slope. PR certainly had a huge impact on day traders during those Wild West dotcom days. But, that was pure hype and, as we all know, pretty much a joke.

I do think public relations can have a profound impact on financial analysts’ thoughts and feelings about a publicly-traded company. And, those feelings could, in fact, result in a ‘buy’ recommendation that moves the stock. But, as Peppercom Editorial Director and former Wall Street Journal Editor Gene Colter is quick to point out, “It’s a company’s operational excellence (or lack thereof) that moves a market. Period.”

I’ll stick with Colter and distance myself from Lane when it comes to PR moving markets. Plus, I doubt any words I’ve written or will write will ever appear on an analysts’ radar screen.

Feb 11

I’m pretty jacked about ‘Jacked up’

Bill Lane’s kiss-and-tell book all about the lunacy and leadership of Jack Welch’s GE is a ‘must read’ forJacked_up_2
anyone in public relations and anyone looking to lead a business.

In essence, the book distills Welch’s methods for not only transforming GE’s business model but, more to the point, how he totally changed the way company executives communicated.

Welch was absolutely ruthless in the way he coaxed, coerced and chastised company leadership as they’d present in front of him. He’d scream, throw papers at them or get up and simply walk out. And, if Jack walked out, the odds were good the presenter would be walking out of GE on a permanent basis.

Jack’s presentation philosophy was as blunt as the man himself: give the audience something they can act on immediately. Don’t bore them with minutia and pie charts. Don’t wax poetic about the time and effort involved in putting the presentation together. And, by all means, DO share best practices fron within and without the company.

Lane goes on and on about Welch’s egomaniacal ways but comes across as pretty self absorbed himself. In fact, the book jacket laughably calls Jacked up ‘…..the only book a leader or aspiring leader will ever need on effective communications.’ It’s excellent but, c’mon Bill, the BEST ever? What would Jack have to say about that?