Thursday, March 18, 2010

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Monday, March 15, 2010


A definite yes! I always thought it was an American tradition to admit a mistake. “I am sorry…I made a mistake” gets high marks in my book…and might even get you through the debacle, if not carelessly used. I’d venture to say that most Americans would also give the offender a pass for a sincere apology.

But when you probe deeper, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Saying “I’m sorry” in business, if a legal matter is at stake, can mean the loss of a suit. Thus lawyers may advise: say nothing. A doctor or a hospital admitting medical error can mean a malpractice suit.

So, are things changing? Are there benefits for both parties when a genuine apology is offered — and accepted?

According to The New York Times, Gerald Levin, the former Time Warner chief, “dropped jaws” by taking the blame for putting together the “the worst deal of the century,” the merger of Time Warner and America Online, despite the fact that it happened ten years ago, in 2000. The same article quoted Sandy Weill, who built the Citigroup empire, saying that he was “’sad’ about the state of Citi and had made some mistakes.”

Sydney Finkelstein, a management professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, has found that that heads of Fortune 500 companies almost never apologize for poor performance. The one exception, the article said, was Andy Grove, former chief of Intel. That may be one of the reasons why we remember his name.

It may be big egos or just stiff upper lips, but it is not a good tradition, in my opinion. However, it is reassuring to know that an increasing number of medical centers, according to an earlier New York Times piece, are taking a different tack and “encouraging doctors to apologize to patients for mistakes and to explain what went wrong.”

“Doctors say that such accountability can help patients feel more cared for and empowered, as well as enhance the reputation of the doctor and the medical center as honest brokers,” writes reporter Natasha Singer. I would say the analogous situation would be true on the corporate front. Surprisingly, several medical centers, according to the Times, “have reported that the approach has reduced malpractice suits.” Amen.

Technorati Tags: The New York Times, Gerald Levin, Time Warner,America Online, Sandy Weill, Citigroup, Sydney Finkelstein, Tuck School of Business, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Communications is Saving Lives in Chile

"Urgent. In Constitucion an eight-year old boy named Ivan Lara showed up alone. He's looking for his family," read the tweet.

In earthquake torn Chile, there is one language that connects everyone, regardless of where they are from. Social networking is the lingua franca.

Your life might well have been saved if you were lucky enough to have had a BlackBerry or iPhone with you when the 8.3-magnitude quake struck. Twitter and Facebook have been critical resources for help: coordinating rescue for individuals buried in the rubble, finding food and water, and reuniting families and friends.

According to a recent article in USA TODAY , Chile ranks fourth worldwide in terms of social networking penetration among its home and work internet audience. While traditional media have focused on hard news, the piece said, Twitter, Facebook and some Google applications have been key for communicating locally about personal needs.

If we ever doubted the universal utility of social networking, this should put those doubts to rest. It’s not just about chat. It’s also about the instantaneous delivery of critically important information, which has enabled a quantum leap in personal safety.

Technorati Tags: Chile, earthquake, Ivan Lara,social networking, USA Today , communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, March 08, 2010


He was humble. He was kind. He was deeply devoted to his family. He was a leader in his profession. He always shared his knowledge. He was a strategic thinker. He was conscientious. He cared.

And the list of Harvey Greisman’s virtues goes on and on. But everything came to a screeching halt about a week and a half ago. For Harvey Greisman died suddenly while he was on a trip to Florida to attend his father’s funeral.

The suddenness of it all left everyone frozen in their tracks.

His death was shocking for me, as Harvey was my friend. I had just had dinner with him a couple months ago. Professionally, I had served on a number of panels with Harvey and most recently had invited him to participate as a member of our IPREX global panel on the financial crisis last May.

The respect for Harvey was broad and deep. He served in leadership positions at IBM and GTE. He was on boards of organizations like the Arthur W. Page Society and the Institute for Public Relations . Most recently he headed global communications at MasterCard.

“But he never saw himself, I now understand, as others saw him,” noted his wife. “He never thought of himself as an industry leader, and I never knew that he was. And rather than focus on the great things he did do, Harvey always thought about what he didn’t do and didn’t say – at meetings or assignments on or off the job. He was never truly satisfied with his contribution.”

This was a sad revelation about the man. I always admired Harvey and was disappointed to learn that he was not aware of the esteem in which he was held. As professional communicators, we need to be more forthright in communicating our positive feelings to colleagues both about what they represent to us and mean to others.

Technorati Tags: Harvey Greisman, Mastercard, communications, public relations, Makovsky
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