Category Archives: Social Interactive Media (SIM)

Raging Employee: A Case Study For Today’s Business

Frank Sain's Mug Shot

Frank Sain’s Mug Shot

Last Tuesday (February 19,) police detectives visited Frank Sain at his office at SofTec Solutions in Englewood, Colorado. Sain was hired as the Chief Operating Officer for the technology company in the Fall of 2011.

As reported by the Denver Post, they questioned him about six emails he sent between February 13 and 15, in addition to voicemails left to Colorado State Representative Rhonda Fields. Representative Fields has proposed legislation to limit gun magazine capacities in Colorado. The emails and voicemails were said to be sexually and racially offensive and indicated he was enraged by the proposed legislation.

“Hopefully somebody Gifords both of your asses with a gun….”

per The Denver Post – In an email from Frank Sain to Representative Rhonda Fields

Two days after the police interviewed him (February 21) an unsigned letter was received by Representative Fields that threatened harm to both her and her daughter.

The next day Frank Sain was arrested and this past Monday the arrest was reported in the Denver Post. According to the Denver Post, Sain admits to the emails.

The situation is an important case study for business because it is the type of crisis that every business must be prepared for in today’s social media, politically charged world.

Company Public Image Issues

Frank Sain's headshot before he was erased from the company's website

Frank Sain’s headshot before he was erased from the company’s website

The obvious issue is public relations. A rank-and-file employee who acts out in a public forum out can damage a company’s reputation, but to have a manager, and in this case, a company executive, who acts out creates an impression that the organization might have been involved, or at least, enabled the behavior of the person.

In addition, an organization’s website typically boasts about its executives and when one of them misbehaves it makes the company look incompetent. It is important for a company to not prejudge an accused employee; however, when the basic allegations are admitted to by the employee the organization must take quick action to divorce itself from the actions of the employee. In this situation, with the allegations reportedly admitted to by the employee, SofTec Solutions quickly responded by removing Frank Sain from their website within 24 hours of the Denver Post story.

One issue is whether or not the organization should speak out publicly regarding the employee. Many companies might choose to not create any more public exposure regarding the situation, but I feel that would be the wrong choice. Both the public and customers/clients of the company will have a negative impression of the company that will be left in everyone’s mind if not addressed. It is important that the company make it clear that the acts and opinions of their executive were not enabled, endorsed, nor condoned by the organization and some type of heartfelt statement should be made with apologies to the appropriate people.¹

SofTec Management Team webpages - Monday versus Tuesday

SofTec Management Team webpages – Monday versus Tuesday

Human Resources Issues
Separating an employee is never easy. Separating an employee who has demonstrated rage and flaunts his gun ownership is even harder.

An organization cannot have an executive who makes derogatory sexual and racial statements and threatens to do violent harm to others. Of special concern is that in this situation the person seemed to escalate in his bad behavior after being questioned by law enforcement, signaling the potential of underlying, uncontrolled rage.

If the person can be reasoned with, it would be best to sit down with the employee and discuss the situation. Allowing the person to resign might be appropriate; however, in some cases an organization may have a duty to inform other potential employers of the circumstances of the separation. Making the employee someone else’s problem is not a smart move, especially if the company failed to warn the new employer of potential violent behavior.

The best practice in this situation might be to put the employee on paid leave for a period of time and require he seek counseling to address his behavior issues. There should be an understanding that separation with some type of severance package would occur upon compliance with the counseling requirement.

The organization should discuss the situation with legal counsel that is experienced in employee law as local, state and/or federal laws may dictate what an organization can, must, and can’t do in these types of circumstances. Engaging an expert in crisis management and/or violent employee situations should be part of separation planning.

In House Investigation
Under these types of circumstances an organization should conduct a thorough investigation of the employee’s co-workers, clients, etc. The purpose is to identify the scope of the issue. Did he confide in people who should have informed the company? Are there others who are sympathetic to him and might have behavior issues of their own? Does the company foster extreme political anger and if so, how should it be addressed? Did he act out among customers/clients and, if so, what is the impression they have of the company? Did he have an abusive email style with employees and/or customers.

There are many questions that must be answered if an organization hopes to move out of the crisis. Burying the incident may make everyone feel better, but it may turn out that the problem was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Training, counseling and other remedial efforts for all employees may be required to heal the damage caused by the executive who put the company into the crisis.

¹(UPDATE: Just before publishing this article, the Denver Post announced that SofTec Solutions had suspended Frank Sain and issued a strongly worded statement condemning his behavior.)

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The Dark Side of PR: Distraction and Deception or ‘Armstronging’ the Public

In this series regarding public relations (PR) tactics of ‘Managing the Message’ I’ve talked about how some organizations focus is centered on Reaction Avoidance (SEE:  Why ‘Managing the Message’ Doesn’t) rather than public interaction. In a Social Media dominated world, this results in the organization always looking manipulative and weak.

In Part II (SEE: Public Relations Techniques That Kill Organizations) I discussed the use of Anti-listening techniques to avoid and limit public discussion of issues that an organization may not want to address. In this article we will discuss more sinister techniques used to by organizations to ‘manage the message.’

Managing the Message is the alpha and omega of the NRA

Managing the Message is the alpha and omega of the NRA

Managing the message inherently requires the belief that PR people have God-like powers over the public. Add an organizational executive team that already believes they are Gods and we have the perfect storm of ego and a lack of ethics that lead to the worst PR tactics in business. Under these circumstances we move from passive techniques to manage the message into an aggressive intent to distract and deceive.

There are many examples of aggressive attempts to manage the message and in almost every case there are people in key positions who see themselves as the maker of information and disinformation. These people believed that they have justification to take any step necessary to protect the public image of the organization and/or promote organizational goals, ethical or not. Distraction, withholding information, and deception are the rungs of the ladder that sink an organization into deeper and deeper into the dark side of PR.

Withholding Information
Withholding Information and/or blocking information is a tactic of an organization using aggressive and unethical PR tactics. One of the best examples of this is the National Rifle Association (NRA.) The NRA seems to only care about public opinion when the polls tend to support its position, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to manipulating public opinion.

In 1996, the NRA worked with Arkansas Representative Jay Dickey (R) to cut $2.6 million from the budget of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and added the wording the appropriations bill that restricted the CDC from any research that would “advocate or promote gun control.”  $2.6 million is what the CDC had spent in the prior year on gun-related research. The 104th Republican-controlled Congress passed it into law and it has restricted the CDC from gun-related research since 1996. (¹)

The NRA worked with Kansas Representative Todd Tiahrt (R) in 2003, to forbid the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) from collecting statistics on gun injuries and deaths. In 2011, the NRA worked with Representative Denny Rehberg (R) of Montana to prevent the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from funding any research that contradicted or challenged pro-NRA positions. (²)(³)

BP: What Leak?
Another example of withholding information occurred in the summer of 2010 when the BP leased oil rig, Deepwater Horizon caught fire and exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP public image destroyed once video revealed the PR deception

BP public image destroyed once video revealed the PR deception

In the days after the complete loss of the rig, BP PR tactics included denial of an oil leak at the wellhead, acknowledging a small amount of oil leakage, and finally admitting larger and larger amounts of leaking oil that still underestimated the amount of actual oil spilled. At one point BP withhold live video of the oil spill at the wellhead.

BP’s public position was that until anyone could prove otherwise, they could deny any significant oil spill. BP’s ‘prove it’ stance forced public media to accept BP’s estimates until overwhelming evidence piled up against the company. Once it did, BP’s public image was in tatters. No one believed anything CEO Tony Hayward or BP said.

‘Armstronging’ the Public
Technically the act of withholding information falls into the category of deception and distraction, although an organization that is consciously attempting to deceive or distract the public is flirting with possible criminal and/or civil charges. While some organizations (or even some people) might be under the belief that their unethical acts will never be discovered, some organizations may simply be trying to delay or soften a negative issue by forcing the public to learn the details over a period of days, weeks, months, or years. Yet, many times the PR tactics used by an organization is simply a lack of executive ethics rather than a conscious choice.

I cannot tell a lie...well, yes I can,...piece-o-cake actually.

I cannot tell a lie…well, yes I can,…piece-o-cake actually

The most recent high-profile example this is the Lance Armstrong fiasco. The world now knows that Lance Armstrong used illegal performance enhancing drugs and techniques during his reign as Bicycling King, but through denial and aggressive legal means he managed to make most people believe he was innocent. Now he admits he lied, but it is far enough past his glory days that it may not have the impact it would have at the time he was active in the sport. Still, who wants to be Lance Armstrong now? No one.

The problem with managing the message is that Social Media has stolen power away from the PR people. An organization’s public image consists of the support and enthusiasm of an elusive mass of connected people, who can smell manipulation and love to expose unethical acts of people with more money than sense. On the other hand, Social Media readily responds to respect and honesty, which is not  familiar territory to some older business men. As we move deeper into the Social Media Age, the business world will see a new PR model that listens more, talks less, is more humble and less arrogant, loves interaction and rejects domination.

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Public Relations Techniques That Kill Organizations

In Part I, “Why ‘Managing the Message’ Doesn’t,” we discussed the dangers of trying to ‘manage the message’ in a Social Media world. Part II looks at the techniques used by organizations to manage the message and why they fail.

Organizations that adopt a manage the message policy for Public Relations (PR) assume that they are the controllers and manipulators of the public image of their organization, which demotes the public to the role of a mindless zombie. If that doesn’t sound stupid enough, let’s look at the methods that organizations use to manage the message.¹

[¹ I realize that I’ve used the words Manage the Message five times in the first two paragraphs; however, “insulting PR techniques” isn’t quite specific enough as there are so many of them. ;) ]

Corporate PR:  We manage the message by not listening

Corporate PR: We manage the message by not listening

Anti-listening Techniques
The subtle use of anti-listening techniques is one strategy used by organizations who seek to manage the message. The concept is simple: an organization can’t be held accountable for issues that don’t exist. By not listening an organization can effectively deny existence of an issue because they can claim ignorance, therefore can deny accountability.

One example is the use of formalized procedures for communication from the stakeholders, including the public. An organization might ignore or restrict communication on their Facebook page, requiring complaints and comments to be made through a process that is more complex or requires greater risk to complainer.

EXAMPLE:  From the Facebook page for a Parent/Teacher group of an Elementary School after parents discussed concerns about major changes in the school calendar:

“Please remember that this page is used for the PTC to share PTC sponsored fundraising events and activities. If anyone has comments/complaints about the school they need to be addressed with the administration.”

(From the School’s Marketing Director)

The strategy of denying open discussion of issues allows an organization to divide and conquer people who may object or have a strong reaction to negative events or significant changes. By restricting public comment on their website or Social Media formats such as Facebook, an organization can prevent all but the most committed people from voicing their opinion or concern. For those that do comment, the organization can hide dissent and concerns behind a veil that only they have access to, so the true scope of the issue is hidden from public.

The problem with this technique is that issues or concerns do not go away by ignoring or hiding them. Whether expressed or not the reaction exists and it impacts the public image of the organization. A divide and conquer strategy increases the reaction once people discover that others share their concerns. In the Social Media world, the truth will eventually come out through a disgruntled customer, employee, or other source.  Once the full scope of the deception is exposed the organization will lose all credibility and once the organization loses credibility the public image is also lost.

In January of 2012, the Susan G. Komen Foundation was receiving massive condemnation for a politically charged decision to defund Planned Parenthood. Rather than accepting that the public voice was valid, CEO Nancy Brinker attempted to double down on their position by claiming a bogus conservative-initiated Congressional investigation was reason to deny the grant requests by Planned Parenthood. Her efforts to paint an obvious conservative-motivated action as justified left her and the organization looking like right-wing wackos who had no clue that the organization depended on the perceived goodwill of the public.

By the time they tried to back peddle and fix the problem it was too late. Race For the Cure events in 2012 lost as much as one-third of the participation from the previous year and many donors question the use of their money by the Foundation. The irony is that Nancy Brinker had founded the organization thirty years earlier in her sister’s memory and now the Susan G. Komen name is not so much a symbol of fighting breast cancer as it is a reminder of conservative attempts to use backdoor methods to inflict their religious beliefs on everyone else.

MONDAY: The Dark Side of PR: Distraction and Deception Or ‘Armstronging’ the Public. When ethics are not a consideration, an organization is headed into a downward spiral that will almost always end with a public image that can be fatal. 

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Why ‘Managing the Message’ Doesn’t

“What we got here….is a failure…..to communicate” Captain, the Prison Warden in Cool Hand Luke

Captain (Strother Martin) in 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke knew how to manage the message

Captain (Strother Martin) in 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke knew how to manage the message

If you are a business professor teaching students the importance of  ‘managing the message,’ or a Public Relations (PR) firm telling your client how to ‘manage the message,’ would you please stop. No, I mean stop right now. In fact, contact everyone you have taught or advised and tell them you were wrong then refund their money.

CEO Tony Hayward got his 'life back,' but BP is still in PR clean up mode in the United States

CEO Tony Hayward got his ‘life back,’ but BP is still in PR clean up mode in the United States

‘Managing the message’ cost Mitt Romney the Presidential election. It severely damaged Netflix in 2011. It cost a BP CEO his job. It took the Susan G. Komen Foundation from being a major player in non-profit foundations to one that has to hide its name in shame. 

Why?

First, ‘managing the message’ doesn’t work. Second, it’s a cowardly way to approach public relations. Third, it’s stupid advice. Fourth, it will end up causing major problems up to and including the end of an organization.

‘Managing the message’ assumes a person has control over the message. That would be a stupid assumption in a world driven by Social Media. John F. Kennedy’s words should be amended:

You can fool all of the people some of the time….until Social Media picks it up and then you’re screwed.

PR is no longer about creating an image. That was true back in the day individuals had no voice and people were subjected to mass advertising in every thing they watched, heard, and read. That was yesterday. Today an organization’s image is created by everyone who comes into contact with the organization. Customers, especially angry ones have as much of a voice in an organization’s public image as the Vice President of Marketing. Today PR is about listening and being honest and real in everything you say and do. That is something that can’t be faked or managed.

Reaction Avoidance
Managing the message is mostly about reaction avoidance. The idea is that if an organization handles it correctly, any negative situation will be minimized. The technique acts like a dam that has a short-term benefit, but a long-term disaster. When a PR crisis occurs the first instinct is to pretend there is no major problem. That is the start of a PR death spiral that only leads to bigger and bigger denials until the organization appears to be run by fools. By then executives turn and blame the PR staff for not ‘managing the message’ better.

TOMORROW: Public Relations Techniques That Kill Organizations. The two common techniques that characterize an organization who is trying to manage the message and why they fail.

MONDAY: The Dark Side of PR: Distraction and Deception Or ‘Armstronging’ the Public. When ethics are not a consideration, an organization is headed into a downward spiral that will almost always end with a public image that can be fatal. 

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Why You Hate Facebook and Can’t Stand Twitter

Social Media Violates the Dual Work/Home Personality

You hate Facebook and can’t stand Twitter. You are mystified as to why anyone would want to share their personal information on the Internet and you probably make fun of people who do. The surprise is that it’s not because you’re male or because you’re over 40. But you are.

The reason Social Media is such an annoyance to you is because it goes against everything you were taught as you grew up. Social Media exposes your private persona and violates the boundary between your professional and personal identities.

Self Identity Devoured By The Corporation
Industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries changed reshaped the life of the American male. As employment opportunities switched from being primarily farmers and small business owners to employees of the factories and corporations, workers found that their on-the-job behavior had to conform to company expectations. Job advancement within the company structure depended on a bosses perception of the perceived professionalism of the employee and not who they were in real life. That transformed the American worker into an actor who performed by the company script while he was under the watchful eye of his employer.

This division of a person’s life between home and work created a dual personality in men. At home a man was relaxed, caring, and spontaneous, or ‘unprofessional.’ At work a man was controlled, self-conscious, and unemotional, or ‘professional.’ As corporations became bigger, the division between the home and work personas became deeper to the point that a man might not be recognizable to his co-workers if their paths crossed outside of the work day.

Enter Social Media
Social Media tools like Facebook and Twitter have no work/home boundaries. The idea that a man should have a two personas is laughable in a Google searchable world that exposes the smallest of lies. That cold and tough business man doesn’t look so tough or cold when he posts pictures of his family activities on Facebook and that strips a man of his power base. The fake professionalism at work that empowers him can’t compete with the real person revealed on-line. The more a man’s power is dependent on his ‘professional’ persona, the more likely he is to abhor Social Media.

However, men who are angry about the lack of privacy in Social Media are trying to wage a hopeless battle to protect the nurtured idea that they must maintain two separate personas. The problem is that humans were never meant to divide their lives. Who we are at home is who we should be at work and vice versa.

It is understandable why you hate Facebook and can’t stand Twitter. They expose your greatest vulnerability…the real you. Perhaps someday that won’t seem like a vulnerability to you. And perhaps someday you’ll understand that the real you is not your weakness, but your strength.

Perhaps.

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Coming This Week

My apologies for those of you who received an email alert regarding the article titled: Why ‘Managing the Message’ Doesn’t. It will be published this week; however, due to an error on my part it was briefly available late on Friday.

Currently I have three articles that will be published this week. They are as follows:

Monday: Why You Hate Facebook and Can’t Stand Twitter
Tuesday: Why ‘Managing the Message’ Doesn’t
Wednesday: Bad Public Relations Techniques That Kill Organizations

These articles should be available by 6:30 AM PST on the day it is published. I am also working on an article regarding ‘Grievance Collectors’ that I hope to publish be the end of the week.

Thanks for reading!

Paul

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 47,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 11 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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