Archive for August, 2009

Whole Foods and Knowing Who You’re Talking To

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

By now you’ve likely read about the hubbub and scandal swirling around the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey. Mackey’s Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal last month, declaring that health care is not an intrinsic right, enraged customers around the country.

Source: ilovemypit @ Flickr

Source: ilovemypit @ Flickr

Now, who did he think he was talking to? Based on its target demographic, the Wall Street Journal surely has plenty of readers who share his outlook. But Whole Foods customers? Earthy crunchy yuppie tree-hugging liberals (some of whom are my very best friends)?

Now, I’m not going to come out for or against anyone here, except to point out that Michael Pollan believes a Whole Foods boycott hurts their small farmer suppliers. But this whole fascinating story really underscores my basic premise/question: who do you think you’re talking to?

Does Mackey have the right to express his opinions as separate and differentiated from that of his company? Perhaps. But geez Louise, man, did he not see all of this coming?

See the Whole Foods social media responsa:

Mackey’s blog

Whole Foods response on Facebook

Whole Foods on Twitter

Surprise, Surprise

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Source: Luisvilla @ Flickr

Source: Luisvilla @ Flickr

This spring I took my first trip to Vegas for a Ragan Communications social media conference, and asked my good friend P. to come along for evening fun. The first night, after the requisite buffet, gambling and Cirque du Soleil, P. and I slid into the luxurious comfort of our respective shmancy beds at the Wynn (thank you, Travelzoo, for alerting me to the special rate). Just before I turned out my light, P. piped up, “Oh, um, I forgot to mention…I often snore really loudly.”


Now, P. is a very good friend and I always travel with ear plugs so all was forgiven, but that’s what I call an unfortunate surprise. What if I didn’t travel with earplugs? [“Murder at the Wynn: A Mystery” comes to mind.] Come to think of it, I became an earplug devotee after traveling in Europe with a friend whose nasal passages, I discovered, produce hair-raising decibels while she’s in the dead of sleep. She, too, mentioned this just before our heads hit the pillow the first night.

Now, why did these otherwise sensitive, considerate people fail to prepare me in advance? They weren’t maliciously withholding information, it just slipped their minds. Why? Because nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news.

Unfortunately, this same human tendency proliferates in workplaces everywhere – EVERYWHERE. And what happens when we get nasty surprises at the office? We all know, because it’s happened to all of us – probably both on the giving and receiving ends.

It’s lousy. It makes work harder to do. It makes people angry. It erodes confidence in leadership. It erodes top- and bottom-line performance.

So how can good leaders contain the ill effects of this particular aspect of the human condition? To be sure, it’s not easy, and sometimes it can’t be helped due to confidentiality requirements. But these steps can help:

  • Infuse in your culture a transparency priority: make it known to everyone on your team(s) that success requires a free flow of information, good and bad.
  • This is an especially critical message for field employees, who MUST– as the eyes and ears of the organization – be given the motivation and mechanisms to report in issues and failures to those responsible for addressing them.
  • Deliver these messages with a solid communications plan that fleshes out the kinds of information that must be shared, how, when, and between whom: both top-down and bottom-up. A solid, well-executed plan helps get important news – good and bad – to the right people at the right time.
  • When you really can’t share certain information, explain why. At a certain wireless carrier I know, it drove store employees crazy to be notified of a product launch just a day or two in advance. No one had supplied the very reasonable explanation: to surprise the competition, you can’t tell 8,000+ retail sales associates.

Unpleasant surprises in the workplace can have a nasty and lasting impact on performance and morale. Leaders have the responsibility to minimize surprises by putting well-crafted communication plans in place, and when they can’t share news, to mitigate the damage by telling employees what they can’t report and why.

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