Sunday night I watched the 60 Minutes piece (yes, by the way, this is still a Sunday night habit since I was about 8 years old) featuring Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce being incredibly transparent and honest about what he discovered at his very cool company regarding gender disparity.
Please go watch the piece here.
Secondly, this weekend we watched a grave Starbucks error in judgement with the arrest of two black patrons who were doing nothing white patrons don’t do every day, and the company’s slightly slow and tepid response. I was frankly, looking for a little more anger here from CEO Kevin Johnson.
Today’s CEO no matter how reluctant to accept it (Mark Z), is the only one who can lead and must speak quickly, powerfully, and with real conviction when faced with the ugly issues like gender bias, sexual harassment or racism in our ranks. It is what leaders are made of.
Mistakes here can damage your reputation and sales at best; at worst, companies can be taken down.
No matter what size company we run, how can we be ready to speak up and own our company’s mistakes and implement change?
First, ask questions and then listen. We’re not all good at this part. We’re the ones with the answers and often think we have an accurate view of our company values and behaviors. When Benioff’s human resources director came to him with data on the pay disparity she discovered, he was confounded at first. How can this be? We’re a “Best Places to Work” and we treat women fairly. What do you mean we’re not paying them equally?
But he truly wanted to know what he didn’t know. So, he dug deep; he listened and discovered that they did have a problem.
Next, take bold action. Weak steps or “we’re studying the issue further” don’t cut it when glaring mistakes come to light. Appearances DO matter; to your constituents, employees and clients. Anything other than swift and drastic measures when needed, gives a sign of reluctance to accept fault. In these cases, timing really is everything and if errors are to be made, let them be on over-compensating, rather than under.
And lastly, stay true to the changes even long after the event. I have a vendor who had to deal with a very public mistake made by a key employee, by mocking the #metoo movement. I didn’t realize this employee, even after a short leave and taking sensitivity training, was still assigned to our account. I made the call to the CEO voicing my concerns, not sure what response I would get. Rather than saying, “that’s long past and everything is okay now,” he quickly responded and absolutely understood my concern, removing him immediately from the account; quick, decisive, and without any regret. He could have lost a client in that five-minute call, but instead I was a fan before, and I remain one now.
I don’t feel sorry for me or any other leader who must take the heat or speak up in difficult situations. It’s what we are here for, what we are born to do; and it works. Hiding, dodging, and making excuses didn’t cut it years ago, and in today’s business climate, nothing speaks louder than transparent honesty and bold action.