Dirty politics when election time in the U.S.

October 27, 2010

It is easy to understand when the election day is getting closer – just count the number of negative ads sponsored by politicians, organizations or big companies during the commercial breaks on TV each night. For example the Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson caused a political firestorm this week by releasing an ad in which he dubs his Republican challenger, Daniel Webster, “Taliban Dan”. I think this kind of campaign tactics are awful and I wonder how many people really think their politicians should support the negative ads, it spills over on their own reputation not to be able to win in fair play. But that might just be a naive Swedish reflection? I would like to see some research on this topic though.

No wonder that we now have an all time high in fundraising in this election – somebody has to pay for all the ads! Washington Post estimate the price tag for the midterm elections 2010 to $4 billion! Congrats to the lobbyists and the advertising agencies.

It is very unclear though who is supporting the campaigns, negative or positive. According to the CNN the issue of anonymous donors using outside groups to push voters to or away from any given candidate has been heating up for years. CNN: “It works kind of like this: If Candidate A decides to run for Congress because he’s really had it with the influence of big oil companies, those same companies can spend millions to attack his positions and suggest Candidate B is a better choice, and if they do it through the right type of perfectly legal group, the company never needs to risk public knowledge that it was behind the effort.” Dirty politics is just the right word for it.


Get to know your audience

October 19, 2010

I have done so many polls (by mail, telephone and web), focus groups and face-to-face interviews during the years. It is still fascinating how much more you understand your audience when doing so. How does their situation look like and where do your products or services match their needs? Listen and adjust!

One person who really has done a LOT of listening is Dr. Frank I. Luntz, author of the book “What Americans really want… Really”. During a decade of face-to-face interviews with more than 25,000 Americans and telephone polls with one million more, Luntz disassembles the preconceived notions Americans have about one another and tell us what they wants… really.

It’s about what words to use in order to get impact, what habits they have and what products they like – and how different we all think we are compared to an average person… We all like to be special, right? Dr. Luntz goes through all different aspects of life, from family life and religion to politics and working habits. He concludes it all in nine “public needs” based on what Americans really need right now.

One of the public needs (#4)  is about rebuilding the mutual commitment between employer and employee. Apparently too many Americans are unhappy about their current jobs. They need more satisfaction, more fulfillment and more excitement from their jobs. Dr. Luntz suggest a “Employer-Employee Bill of Rights” that is signed by both parties and that includes the following three commitments:

  1. A commitment to speak and a commitment to listen. It has to be regularly scheduled two-way “listening sessions”, “town-halls” or “open forums”; time has to be reserved for everyone to speak, respond and learn.
  2. A commitment to provide genuine work-life choices.
  3. A commitment to predictability about working hours and expectations of the job.

Wise words indeed, but I am happy to say that we have already come a long way with these issues in Sweden – maybe too long even? We communicate before, during and after decisions/actions in person and by a variety of channels, we meet about carrier talk and work-life choices every 6 months. And still we are not satisfied… Well, at least I think that the Swedish leadership and communications style could be helpful in American business. And we can bring a lot back to Europe, especially the action focused mentality.

American or not American – you should all try to read this book in order to get to know a bit more about the people living here. I promise you there will be at least something that you can bring back to improve your business.

Swenglish can be really bad to use

June 16, 2010

It takes a very long time to be really fluent in a language if not being a native. You might know most of the vocabulary – but that is not the same as knowing and using the correct expressions.

Today Mr. Carl-Henrik Svanberg, Chairman of BP and a native Swede, gave us a great example of just that with a surprisingly heavy Swedish accent. At his first public press meeting (about time!) after a meeting with President Obama, he birthed an expression that will be remembered for a long time: “BP cares about the small people”. Correct in Swedish but not when translating it word by word into English. He meant of course that BP cares about the ordinary people, but in the way he said it he almost insulted the people in the Gulf. BP later issued a statement from Svanberg, in which the chairman said, “I spoke clumsily this afternoon, and for that, I am very sorry”.

At CNN’s AC360 airing 10pm-12pm every night (now live from Louisiana) they just focused on  Mr. Svanberg’s slip in translation and showed by examples that the people of Louisiana are not small/little people but great people. 

Even CEO’s with great (so far) international reputation can obviously have some problems with  intercultural communication – at the worst possible moments. BP’s message did not get through when they so badly needed it. Lesson? Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal!

BP’s lack of communication

June 3, 2010

During a crisis it’s more  important than ever to be open with what exactly how you take charge over the situation. In all the communication you have to show:

1) that you are in charge: you have analyzed the situation and know what is really going on,

2) feelings: that you care for those who are affected and

3) actions: that you are doing everything you can to solve the situation and the suffering, list the plan, all the activities and the results over and over again.

Well, BP has failed in so many ways. Not being able to show that they have control (1); what really happened and who is and will be responsible, how much oil that is really pouring out every minute and how to solve the situation.

They say they care (2), but they also say that the oil spill wont have any long-term impact on the environment, that they take care of the families of the victims but at the same time having lawyers trying to minimize the payments.

And over and over we get reports via media that they cannot see any major amount of people trying to stop the oil from reaching the shores (3) and outrage from the local people when trying to get some real help and very seldom any comments from BP at all.

Too little, too late is what we think – even if BP probably have done a lot that they haven’t had any credit for. BP has no trustworthiness anymore and this can cost them their future.

Now it’s the time to step up, get out in the local community and meet the people who are so upset. Try to work it out together with them – the objective is to get the local community spokespersons to say that they actually think BP is doing all they can do. In that process they can start to re-build their credibility again.

What motivates us?

June 3, 2010

When working with communications, sales, leadership (or just being a parent)  it’s important to focus on what motivate your stakeholder, no matter if it’s a client or an employee. Is is a bonus? A challenging task? A meaningful task? I would say a combination, others (Wall Street) maybe would say higher bonuses.

Well, below is a fantastic 10 minute multimedia overview of Dan Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates US (narrated by Dan). The book explains how intrinsic motivation works and how each of us can find the surest path to high performance, creativity, health and well-being. Watch the presentation >>

Dan Pink shows that bonuses are not working as a motivator if the task is just slightly complex. What really triggers people to perform well or outstanding is if they are challenged, can achieve mastery and if they feel they can make a contribution.

Mr. Pink also talks about how important it is having a purpose – other than profit – in order to engage people. This is also what Simon Sinek has written a book about: “Start with why”. I recommend you to take a closer look at his website as well: http://www.startwithwhy.com/