What can a chicken shortage teach us about leadership?
By: Pratibha Deepak
The recent KFC chicken shortage in the UK and their clever apology, raises questions regarding the effectiveness of apologies as a recovery strategy when an organization, or a leader, make a mistake. Last week, KFC offered this statement (and hilarious advertisement) in response to closing hundreds of their UK stores due to a chicken shortage:
“We’re sorry. A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed. And endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation. It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.”
KFC is not the first to offer such an apology. Many leaders have offered apologies in the past for errors with much more life threatening consequences.
In 2009, General Motors recalled 30 million cars after Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, issued a public apology taking full responsibility for 13 deaths caused by faulty ignitions:
"Today GM will do the right thing," said Barra, who was named CEO in January. "That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially the families and friends (of those) who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry."
With this apology, Barra become an instant celebrity leader, public and corporates alike appreciated Barra for her courage, her accountability to the crisis, and her determination to make it right. Another example, one that became one of the best examples of a leader apology in recent history, was seen in the Johnson and Johnson Tylenol Crisis. With seven people dead from consuming over the counter Tylenol Capsules, many thought it might be the death of the Tylenol brand. James Burke, CEO of John and Johnson at that time, assumed full responsibility and even went public with his apology. Within a year, Tylenol had captured 90% of its market share.
Mary Barra and James Burke became role models for corporate apology, and leadership institutes have even started sharing lessons in how to apologize effectively rather than how to take accountability.
But, are leader apologies really effective in regaining follower trust?
Experimental research in this field says, “maybe not!” In an experimental study by Kim et al. (2004), they found that, follower trust in leaders was repaired more successfully when the mistrusted parties apologized for competency related violations but for violations pertaining to integrity, denial was found to be the more efficient approach. In yet another study by Skarlickj et al.(2004), they found that apologies are not always effective in promoting forgiveness.
Moreover, the world of apologies is in itself quite tricky. An apology that is too late, empty, or not followed by meaningful action may do more harm than good.
So, how can a leader make an effective apology?
An apology can strengthen an organization, reposition a brand, repair relationships and may also act as a tonic for the psychological well-being of leader, however it has to be done correctly.
Because apologizing can be quite a tricky thing to do, it is helpful to have an “apology design”, the following checklist will help to deliver an impactful apology.
It should clearly serve a purpose and address an event when a clear error was done.
Combine an apology with an appropriate action plan that addresses the problem, victims, or steps needed to recover from the error. What made Tim Cook's apology (CEO, Apple) on Apple Maps effective was that along with a clear apology, it also provided a clear action plan and alternatives to Apple Users.
If you have decided to apologize, then don’t pass the buck.This goes to show that you are not in control.
For example, Volkswagen’s US head, Michael Horn issued an apology but in doing so, took little to no responsibility by blaming his software engineers for the car’s illegal software to cheat on emission tests. He said:
“This was a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reason,” Horn said to the House of Representatives Oversight and Investigations Committee, according to NBC News. “This was not a corporate decision. There was no board meeting that approved this.”
Make sure the apology swiftly follows the error. For an example of what not to do, just look to Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings. In response to customer outrage on Netflix price hike, Hastings issued an apology that came two months late!
So, the next time you make an error, and before you rush out to make an apology, stop and ask yourself-is it the right thing to do? Once you have decided that an apology is the right recovery method to repair relationships, then don’t hesitate to own responsibility and back it up with a clear action plan.
It Takes Two to Tango
By Jelisa Jones
Ethical failures by companies, like fraudulence, corruption, and hacking are becoming more and more common. Wells Fargo recently paid $185 million in fines because their employees opened up over a million fraudulent bank accounts.
At first glance, we may think, why did they not hire better employees? Why did they not choose employees with more integrity, honesty, and ethical standards? This is one of the reasons why ethical evaluations like integrity tests are popular during the selection and interview process nowadays. We tend to blame the workers when big ethical scandals like this come out in the news, because we believe that employees should have high ethical standards that match the company’s standards.
One article found that the use of integrity assessments during selection might provide great benefit. The scores from the integrity test were found to be correlated with a candidate’s career potential, leadership activities, and job performance. Other scholars found that engagement in ethical behaviors might also increase organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Hence, selecting employees that demonstrate high integrity and ethics may benefit an organization in more ways than reducing the risk of a front-page headline about an ethical scandal.
However, why people choose to engage in unethical behavior is a much more complex ethical tango than you may think.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review refers to ethical decision making as a tango between the employee and the organization. It is not always the fault of the employee for engaging in unethical decisions. Sometimes it can be the nature of the company that is the true driving force of turning good people into bad decision makers.
The question then becomes, what could a company, as the other tango partner, do to drive “ethical” people to make unethical decisions? There are many factors to consider when answering this question.
Next time news of a major ethical scandal breaks, do not jump to the conclusion that these are all horrible people. Remember, ethical decisions involve two entities, the company and the employee, because it always takes two to tango.
No Such Thing as a Quiet Leader?
By Kendall Ackerman
Recently, I was tasked with interviewing applicants to fill an administrative position with an organization at Texas A&M University. I asked most of the “typical” questions that one might prepare for prior to an interview, such as, “Can you tell me about a time you had to work with a group on a difficult task?”, “Why do you want to work here?”, and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” When I asked one applicant about her weaknesses, she responded with, “Well, I am an introvert.” Her response caught me off guard.
Since when has introversion been considered a weakness?!
This is a topic that has received much attention in organizational leadership research. So many organizations today use personality assessments in their application process. They assess traits such as openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and extraversion (i.e., The Big Five) in order to determine which applicants might be best suited for a leadership position. Generally, the applicants who score highly in a specific trait such as extraversion are the favored candidates. In fact, research has found that personality traits do, in fact, have an impact on job performance. But just because someone’s test scores indicate that they are more introverted than they are extroverted, does that automatically mean they won’t be an effective leader?
A recent article discussed this question in terms of common leadership paradoxes. Organizational leaders are generally expected to be extroverted and outgoing in order to effectively lead their teams. The desire for employees to be more engaged at work requires leaders to be in contact and involved with their subordinates – something that extroverted people are assumed to do better than introverted people. We think of effective leaders as people who command the room, guide and develop their subordinates, and get things done. We think of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and George W. Bush, all of whom are extroverts.
But is it possible for introverted leaders to be just as effective as extroverted leaders?
Absolutely. Introverts have a unique advantage in that they tend to be viewed as more receptive to ideas, listening carefully to make their employees feel valued and motivated. They are often more organized and prepared due to their thoughtful and thorough nature. While they may be a bit uncomfortable interacting with people and being the center of attention, introverts’ ability to provide thoughtful insights and to make their employees feel heard and appreciated are traits that we look for when determining a leader’s effectiveness.
While an extroverted leader might focus more on the social interactions involved in leading, her introverted counterpart might focus more on the bigger picture to motivate her followers to get things done. These trade-offs are important to consider when identifying effective leaders, because leaders rarely work alone. Take the “Apple Steves”, for example. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, co-founders of Apple Inc., are likely one of the most famous extrovert-introvert duos to ever exist. Jobs acted as the face of Apple, while Wozniak served as the behind-the-scenes tech guru. Together, these two leaders on opposite ends of the introvert-extrovert spectrum created the world’s leading company in technology products and services.
So while extroverts are overwhelmingly believed to make the best leaders, we shouldn’t automatically pass over introverts when selecting for high performers and leaders! An introverted leader could bring a unique perspective to a team that would be overlooked by a more extroverted individual. Introverts like Apple’s Steve Wozniak have the power to do extraordinary things when given the chance to do so in a leadership position, so we should not overlook them!
Finally, I leave you with a tip to all self-proclaimed introverts: Next time you find yourself in an interview where you are asked to describe your greatest weakness, do not sell your introversion short! It can be a strength, if used appropriately. Be proud of your choice to be quiet in a world that can’t stop talking, as Susan Cain would say.