Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category


[DISCLAIMER: I am not retained by Frank Sonnenberg or

receiving any compensation for recommending this book.]

Frank Sonnenberg has published four books and over three hundred articles. In 2011, Social Media Marketing Magazine (SMM) selected Sonnenberg as one of the top marketing authors in the world on Twitter (@FSonnenberg, @A_Conscience). In 2012, Trust Across America named him one of America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. Industry Week named the first edition of his book, Managing with a Conscience, one of the Top 10 Business Books of the Year. The second edition of Managing with a Conscience: How to Improve Performance Through Integrity, Trust, and Commitment ( was released in November 2011.  


KIMMEL: Why is your book a must-read for business leaders?


SONNENBERG: In the dog-eat-dog times of the past few decades, many believed that the only way to achieve success was to be unscrupulous. Acting like slumlords, corporations let their assets deteriorate by exploiting customers, mistreating employees, and squeezing suppliers. What they overlooked, however, was that their obsession with short-term results significantly damaged their company’s long-term performance as well as its competitiveness. Today, it is more critical than ever to put an end to these shortsighted tactics.  


KIMMEL: What is the premise of your book?  


SONNENBERG: In the twentieth century, a company measured success by the number of tangible assets (such as property, plant, and equipment) it posted on its balance sheet. In the Information Age, however, intangible assets rule the day. Soft assets such as trust, innovation, focus, speed, flexibility, relationships, loyalty, employee commitment, and the ability to adapt to change are some of the factors that determine success. Just because these intangibles are difficult to measure and quantify doesn’t mean they’re less important. The truth is, leaders who have a jaded view of intangible assets will never make the commitment required to reap their full potential.


KIMMEL: Can you provide me with concrete examples of how current management practices are hurting the bottom line?  


SONNENBERG: Sure. Sometimes it seems like businesses can’t get out of their own way.


Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing? If you randomly selected 50 employees and asked them basic questions about the heart of your organization, would their answers be similar? For example, ask them: What is our organization’s mission? What are our core values? What factors are most important to our future success? What are our core competencies? How does someone get ahead in our organization? How do we differentiate ourselves from the competition? Unless your employees give similar answers to these most basic questions, waste, redundancies, inefficiencies, confusion, and anxiety are likely; the result—employees working at cross-purposes.


The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Just as pollution damages the environment, an air of fear is toxic to companies. When people believe they lack control over what happens to them, they become fearful. And whether their fears are real or imagined or arise over things that are concrete and immediate, such as loss of a job, or things that are more ephemeral and long term, such as personal embarrassment or damage to personal credibility or career mobility, the results are still the same: inaction, withdrawal, hiding mistakes, misrepresenting facts, or procrastination.


Take this wall down. Bloated corporate bureaucracies crush aspirations, stifle creativity, suppress ingenuity, and slow down responsiveness. Unfortunately, once bureaucracy develops, it is as difficult to control in business as crabgrass on a suburban lawn. It causes people to thirst for power, value personal ambition over team gain, and put paperwork before people.   In bureaucracies, people choose the political solution rather than the best answer. Promotions are earned through political savvy rather than performance; the “show” becomes more important than content; and rumor becomes the primary form of communication. This causes organizations to focus inward and lose touch with reality.   Do you want more examples, Barbara? How much time do you have?


KIMMEL: Your book introduces a powerful prescription for business. How do people manage with a conscience?  


SONNENBERG: Good question, Barbara. Here are some examples:  


Talk is cheap. Having integrity means sticking to your principles, no matter what. It means making sure that your actions are consistent with your words. If it’s the last day of the sales month, and the numbers look lousy, are employees still encouraged to do what is in the best interests of the customer or are they asked to sell something for immediate gain? Are managers rewarded for the development of their people as well as for the bottom line? Is a promise made to a customer kept, even though circumstances have changed in such a way that the agreement is now less profitable? The answers to these questions will tell you whether your company values principled behavior over short-term business gain.


People live up or down to your expectations. Companies that search for the best and brightest people must learn that their efforts shouldn’t end when those people join the organization. To retain these employees, companies should invest heavily in them, both personally and professionally. Today, employees demand trust and respect. They want their input solicited, their strengths utilized, and their contributions valued. Furthermore, they want and should be given challenging new responsibilities that stretch their potential. The opposite is also true: Employees who feel like helpless drones perform that way.


Communication isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Management must accept responsibility for fostering an open and honest environment. This requires letting go, unlearning many management practices of the past. But that is not easy, and it does not happen quickly. It requires managers to leave behind many skills, sources of status and power, and implicit assumptions about the workplace. In the past, leaders assumed the role of controlling the information employees needed to make day-to-day decisions. Leaders who continue along that path will become frustrated as they lose the confidence of employees whose desire for timely, customized information is not satisfied. Leaders must view communication as an avenue to release the creative genius of an organization, not as a bothersome chore. After all, communication acts as a powerful agent of change, a source of continuous improvement, and a catalyst for moving the organization forward.


Lifetime customer relationships. Customers must not be viewed as isolated transactions but rather as the potential lifelong relationship that they represent. Every customer deserves to be treated as your organization’s only client. Companies cannot afford to spend the time and effort that it takes to develop new business only to lose customers shortly thereafter. In fact, companies should be so outraged when they lose an existing customer that they immediately search for ways to improve themselves so that it never happens again. Think about the effort of bringing in new customers; the way they are courted; how you accommodate their every whim. Then, when they become customers, the honeymoon ends. Think about your major customers. When they call, everything else is dropped; when they make suggestions, everyone listens; and when they need something done, everyone responds. Now think about all your other customers. We can’t accommodate them because it’s against company policy; we don’t listen to their suggestions because we know better than they do; we can’t take their calls because we’re in meetings; everything that takes a little extra effort is a bother.


KIMMEL: Are you currently doing any other writing?


SONNENBERG: I launched a new blog a little over a year ago: My mission is to spur conversation about the urgent need to reawaken personal values and personal responsibility.


KIMMEL: We’ll have to have you back to talk about the new trust model that you introduced in your book.


Thanks, Frank.


Do you have questions or comments pertaining to this interview. Don’t hesitate to leave comments.  


Earlier today Jordan Kimmel interviewed Bob Eccles on Trust Across America radio. The archived interview will be available in the next 48 hours.

Robert G. Eccles first joined the faculty of Harvard Business School in 1979. After receiving tenure, he started doing research on corporate reporting, a topic which remains of great interest to him from a research, managerial practice, and public policy perspective. His book  One Report: Integrated Reporting for a Sustainable Strategy (with Michael P. Krzus) is the first book on this subject. This is the Amazon link. tag=trustacrossam20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0470587512&adid=1AM99F52MSMW1MTA2CMV&

Bob is a member of the Steering Committee of the International Integrated Reporting Committee (

Jordan and Bob spent the hour talking about Integrated Reporting and why it is so timely. Highlights from the interview are reproduced below.

What is integrated reporting?

It is a single report produced by a company that combines material financial and nonfinancial data into one document.

Why is integrated reporting gaining in popularity?

Bob highlighted four main reasons:

1. Technology has made it easier for companies to share information with their stakeholders via their website.

2. Sustainability is becoming more mainstream.

3. The recent financial crisis has prompted companies to provide their stakeholders with added transparency.

4.  Companies are becoming more aware of the importance of corporate repuation as an intangible asset.

Who benefits from integrated reporting?

1. Employees

2. Customers

3. NGO’s

4. Investors

5. Society

What are the key challenges in implementing an integrated report?

1. Companies must gather information from many different (and often independent) silos within the organization.

2. Internal measurements of nonfinancial reporting are not well developed.

3. Companies are not always willing to be, or comfortable in being, more transparent.

4. CEO”s must embrace the integrated reporting concept.

5. A lack of clear integrated reporting standards makes auditing difficult.

But the good news is that, over the next year, there will be more examples of public companies issuing integrated reports and more groups will be developing standards and frameworks.

In mid-October a workshop entitled “Workshop on Integrated Reporting: Framework & Next Steps” was held at HBS and sponsored by their Business and Environmental Initiative. This culminated in the release this week of a new e-book on integrated reporting, reflecting the input and efforts of 64 workshop attendees. The Landscape of Integrated Reporting: Reflections and Next Steps is now available at the following link:

In summary, the development of corporate integrated reporting (IR) standards is potentially one of the great business innovations of the 21st century, and could be pivotal in restoring public trust in business institutions. We are all stakeholders in some way, whether as employees, customers, or investors. As such, we can all play a role in encouraging companies to adopt IR into their culture.

Professor Eccles can be reached for comment at

or you can direct questions and comments to:

Thank you Professor Eccles and Jordan! Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Barbara Kimmel, Executive Director, Trust Across America

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Barbara: So what are you saying about companies? Why don’t they see the benefits as well as the costs of trustworthy behavior?

Mark: Some management experts say if you don’t measure it you won’t manage it. Problem is, financial statements don’t have lines for reputation, customer loyalty, product quality, and so on, and they don’t show how a loss of reputation trickles down to a lousy bottom line. And management culture is dominated by financial statements.

Barbara: In your writing you often talk about the quality of decision-making. What do you mean by that?

Mark: Imagine you have a persistent cough. You would not expect your doctor simply to say “in my experience, people with persistent coughs usually have bacterial pneumonia, so take these antibiotics and you’ll be fine.” Well, you won’t be fine if your persistent cough comes from asthma, emphysema, or lung cancer. A doctor who just gives antibiotics to every coughing patient who comes in without asking questions and running tests… that sounds to me like it’d be malpractice. But an executive following that approach might have a fine career in the business world. See my essays “It’s Working!”Read Blog Post and “Gross Galactic Product.” Read Blog Post

Barbara: In other words, part of trustworthiness is good decision-making.

Mark: Yes, even for shareholders. I think everyone would agree that the quality of decisions affects the probability of good outcomes. The better the decisions, the better the outcomes. It’s not a guarantee, but it raises the odds. Good outcomes mean jobs for employees, healthy communities, happy customers, and fair returns for shareholders. Bad decisions and bad outcomes help no one.

Barbara: Okay, so how do we get good-quality decisions? Isn’t that why companies try to hire the best managers, with experience and education?

Mark: Yes, but if that’s all it took we wouldn’t have companies going under. GM didn’t go under after a slow decline of 40 years because it hired bad managers; on the contrary, it went under in spite of hiring good managers. See my essay “Suffering Was Optional.”Read Blog Post

Barbara: If having good managers isn’t enough, what else do we need?

Mark: Just as there are modern tools of medicine that help your doctor make good decisions about your persistent cough, there are modern tools of management that help managers make good decisions about their businesses. But in management we still have a culture of experience, even “instinct,” instead of rigorous, critical thinking. One of the themes in my book Marvelous Techniques is that we have biased humans using flawed tools, and that leads to bad decisions.

Barbara: What do you mean by “biased humans” and “flawed tools”?

I don’t mean that humans are biased in the sense of prejudice, and I don’t mean tools are flawed in the sense that they make mistakes in arithmetic. I mean that all managers are humans, and humans have a variety of unconscious biases that interfere with our ability to make good decisions. I mean that tools are flawed if they are the wrong tool for the problem, such as using an accounting-based spreadsheet to answer a strategy question.

Barbara: Give me examples of biased humans.

Mark: Russo and Shoemaker, in Decision Traps, talk about overconfidence and group biases that led, among other things, to the Challenger disaster. Tavris and Aronson, in Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), talk about cognitive dissonance, which makes people cling to past beliefs, such as the guilt of a person held in prison for many years, even after there’s conclusive evidence to the contrary. Dörner, in The Logic of Failure, describes the disaster at Chernobyl, when people overrode safety systems because they believed they were experts and knew what they were doing.

Barbara: How does that apply to business?

Mark: Perhaps the most obvious example is price wars. Price wars can be devastating to companies; look at the airlines. You’d think that smart, experienced managers wouldn’t start price wars. Yet they do, and getting out of them can take a long, unprofitable time. Price wars are a more complicated subject than they might appear, but the key thing is that no one expects to suffer a price war. They expect to enjoy a price advantage.

Barbara: What’s another mistake due to bias?

Mark: Managers often think they can forecast the results of a strategy in their heads; that’s what they’re doing when they say “if I do this, then I’ll get that result.” Business, though, is immensely complicated. Just to give you an idea of that: I conducted a recent program for a Fortune 500 company in which we determined that there were over 39 million possible outcomes from the options they faced. No human being can even list them, let alone pick which are the most probable or most profitable. See my essay “The How-Likely Case.Read Full Essay

Barbara: How about flawed tools?

Mark: We talked earlier about financial statements that don’t take into account reputation, customer loyalty, product quality, and similar factors. Those spreadsheets also don’t take competitors’ reactions into account. As a result, many analyses based on financial spreadsheets leave companies vulnerable to surprises. Generally unpleasant surprises, because spreadsheet analysis implicitly assumes that a strategy will work.

Barbara: How, then, can companies avoid falling into those traps?

Mark: The best techniques I’ve seen involve business war games and strategy simulations, which are ways to stress-test business strategies. They’re able to get past the limitations of spreadsheets and trend lines, and they’re able to handle the arithmetic. By the way, business war games aren’t about war or conquest. See my essay “The War (Game) Metaphor.”Read Full Essay

Barbara: Should we not trust companies unless they use business war games or strategy simulations?

Mark: My point is not about business war games or strategy simulations, although they do work. The point is that companies need conscious, deliberate processes that ask tough questions, such as what could make our strategy fail. The USA and the EU took a step in that direction when we started to stress-test banks after the financial crisis. Without that question we get wishful thinking, results that disappoint, careers that flame out, people losing their jobs, and contributions to economic problems instead of to economic recovery.

Barbara: Why look at what could make a strategy fail?

Mark: Because that’s how we know how risky it is and what we have to do to strengthen it. Imagine how much better off we’d all be if we’d run those stress-tests before the financial crisis instead of after.

Barbara: Have any stories about that?

Mark: Sure, see my essay “When I Was Wrong.”Read Essay I put together a pricing simulation that, so far, about 300 strategists have tried. I put in my own strategies, and they didn’t do very well. After I got over my private humiliation, I realized it was a good thing. Before the simulation, you’d have every reason to trust my advice: I’m an expert in my field, and you could expect me to know what I’m talking about. After the simulation — that is, after I learned from the simulation — you’d get much better advice from me. The trick is to make mistakes where it’s fast, cheap, and educational, not when real jobs, real careers, and real money depend on it.

Barbara: Mark, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. What is the best way to reach you?

Mark: My contact information is as follows:
Mark Chussil, Advanced Competitive Strategies, Inc., 1673A SW Montgomery Drive, Portland, Oregon 97201 USA
www.whatifyourstrategy.comLink to Website
Visit our blog at Link to Blog

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This week we had Mark Chussil from Advanced Competitive Strategies join us on our radio show. Since he had only begun to share his thoughts on trustworthy business behavior during the show, I decided to ask some follow up questions. Due to the length of this blog, this is Part I. Part II will follow.

Barbara: Mark, tell us a little about your background.

Mark: I am the Founder and CEO of Advanced Competitive Strategies See Website Link, and author of Marvelous Techniques: Essays on Going Beyond Strategy as We’ve Known It Nice Start: Questions Only You Can Answer to Create the Life Only You Can Live

I lecture and consult globally about strategic thinking, business war games, and strategy simulation. My work has appeared in Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. And finally, I earned an MBA at Harvard and a BA at Yale.

Barbara: Why do companies engage in untrustworthy behavior?

Mark: No one gets up in the morning saying “My job today is to screw up the world. If I make people miserable, if I hurt the general well-being, if I damage our civilization in even the slightest way, then I can go to sleep with the satisfaction in a job well done.” Most people want to do good things, but when we work for a company, we are bound, in a keep-my-job way, to “do good” according to the company’s definition of “doing good.” We do what we’re paid to do.

Barbara: On your blog you have an essay called “What You Pay For.”Read Blog PostIs that what you mean?

Mark: Yes. The customer gets what he or she pays for, and companies are our customers when it comes to employment. If the customer, the company, pays you for sales growth, it will get sales growth from you. It may also get profits or innovation or social responsibility, and it may also get shortcuts or bribery or non-compliance with safety regulations, but those are side effects.

Barbara: Presumably a trustworthy company cares about more than just sales growth.

Mark: Yes, a trustworthy company will care about other metrics too, such as impact on the environment, fair treatment of employees, customers, and suppliers, and living up to its word. The point is that compensation programs — what companies pay for — are tremendously important. Perhaps one way to identify trustworthy companies is to find out what they pay for.

Barbara: What else can we look at besides compensation programs?

Mark: Look also at how they work. Kaiser Permanente, the big HMO, is proactively using data on medical tests. Over the last 15 years they identified 450 patients with new or recurring cancers or abnormal biopsies who would not otherwise have been found. I’m one of their customers, and that proaction is one reason why. See “What the Doctor Missed”Read Full Article

Barbara:The Wall Street Journal had an another article on automobile safety. See “What’s Safer A Chevy or Mercedes?”Read Full Article

I think you blogged about it, in “Who Doesn’t Like Airbags?”Read Blog Post. The auto industry has often resisted mandatory safety improvements, even going back to seat belts, as well as fuel-economy standards. Now they compete on safety features and fuel economy. What happened?

Mark: Regulations forced some good behavior, such as publicizing crash-test results so customers would have the information they need to compare car models. Plus, Lee Iacocca, who used to run Chrysler, decided to stop resisting safety improvements and, instead, make safety a selling point. The resulting competition directly benefits customers.

Barbara: Why did Mr. Iacocca do that?

Mark: I don’t know. Did he change his mind because he saw there was money to be made or because he wanted to save people’s lives? Do we care about the answer?

Barbara: Are you saying that it doesn’t matter why a company does good things? What, then, does it mean to be “trustworthy?”

Mark: At one level I don’t care why a company does good things. I want Delta to fly me safely from one place to another. I don’t care if they do it because they’re afraid of punishment if they fail, they don’t want to lose customers (perhaps literally), or they think it’s honorable to keep their customers safe. Does it matter if I give to a charity because I like the charity or because I think the donation will get me into heaven?

Barbara: But the threat of punishment seems to happen when a company has proven itself untrustworthy.

Mark: I agree. We expect “trustworthy” to have some connection to good motives and intentions, not merely following the rules. A company that demonstrates good intentions makes us trust that it will not deceive us or put us at risk. We’re all sadly familiar with the opposite kind of company.

Barbara: So let’s talk about a company’s motives and intentions. Is it reasonable to expect a company to behave well?

Mark: Professors Jay Lorsch and Rakesh Khurana of the Harvard Business School wrote an article called “The Pay Problem.”Read Full Article They say corporations have shifted their focus from “stakeholders” to “shareholders.” Stakeholders can include customers, employees, and society in general; shareholders means just the people who own shares in the company. When we evaluate decisions in terms of effects on stakeholders, we look more broadly than when we think only of shareholders.

Barbara:Mark: I believe it means we have more need of government regulation, and I think that recent events ranging from the financial crisis to the BP oil spill show why. We need rules to ensure that the shareholders-perspective does not go too far. That’s why we have anti-trust laws, the FAA, FDA, and FTC, minimum fuel economy rules, and so on. Those solutions might have been controversial when they were first put in place, but just try to take them away now.

Barbara: You mentioned regulations, which are enforced with fines and other actions. An article in Newsweek, “Do Fines Ever Make Corporations Change” (September 13, 2010), suggested that fines won’t make corporations change because they are tiny relative to the size of the companies. Do we get untrustworthy behavior because fines are too low?

Mark: Perhaps fines are too low, and perhaps inspections are too infrequent or lax. An option might be for fines to go up as a company accumulates offenses, just as insurance companies raise our rates if we get into too many accidents or we face more years in prison for repeated offenses. But those are punishments. We really want to prevent bad behavior, and there are reasons why companies may think it’s profitable to risk take chances.

Barbara: Why?

Mark: One reason is that companies generally don’t quantify the value of their reputations, so they don’t know until it’s too late (and maybe not even then) how much it hurts to have their name dragged through the mud. A second is that human beings underestimate the odds of a bad event; “it won’t happen to us.” A third is that there’s little incentive to be the first one to play fair. Managers can clearly see, or think they see, the costs of playing fair, and it’s harder for them to see the benefits.

Barbara: It’s important to level the playing field or to have vigorous competition.

Mark: I agree. Regulations level the playing field so no one has extra costs. I’ve worked with executives who want stronger regulations so that they can do what they know is right without making themselves uncompetitive. And Lee Iacocca’s move, being the first to embrace safety features, was important because he changed the calculus for the other automakers. They could see the costs of falling behind.


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Barbara: Tony, tell us a bit about your background, qualifications and expertise. Please provide the title of any books you have written.

Tony: As the president of Integrity Dividend LLC, I teach people, teams and organizations how to boost their bottom line through integrity. I speak, train and consult. I have been a professor of leadership and management at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration since 1993, when I earned my doctorate from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Organizational Behavior. Before that, I worked as a psychiatric counselor and as a sales and sales management training consultant. I have published over 30 articles and book chapters for scholars and managers, and most recently published a book for managers based on 13 years of research – titled, The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word (Jossey Bass, 2008). Link to The Integrity Dividend

I have trained executives and managers in negotiation and leadership since 1991.

Barbara: Trust Across America’s mission is to rebuild trustworthy behavior in North America, starting with public companies. How would you generally define trustworthy behavior?

In the broadest sense, I would think about ability, benevolence, and integrity, as per Mayer et al.’s (1995) classic article. My own work, however, focuses in on the aspect of integrity which is word-action alignment: consistently fulfilling promises and demonstrating by actions the same values one talks about. How good is your word? Is it impeccable? This one element is really hard to achieve, and it has huge, measurable impact on effectiveness. There are other things that are important, but perhaps nothing else works without this one ingredient.

Barbara: Are trustworthy behavior and integrity synonymous?

Tony: It depends how precisely you want to speak about the ideas. By some definitions, yes. By my definition, I would say that integrity (or more specifically, “behavioral integrity”) is a necessary element of trustworthiness, which is a broader notion.

Barbara: Can you provide some examples of public companies that are doing this well?

Tony: Johnson and Johnson comes to mind, for how well they managed the Tylenol scare. Marriott seems to be a company that consistently delivers on its brand promise. I once returned something to LL Bean under really bizarre circumstances, but they honored their money-back satisfaction guarantee even when they had every opportunity not to – the dress was delivered okay, but then my dog chewed on the package and then it got run over by a truck when a bee flew into the cab… The operator laughed at the story, but there was never any question about whether they would honor their guarantee.

Barbara: Why are high trust organizations more efficient?

Tony: Three main reasons – first, they engage their employees’ hearts better, which means their employees try harder and go the extra mile. Second, people understand each others’ intent and requests better, because they do not need to second-guess each other. Third, they can focus their attention on getting the job done, rather than jockeying for political advantage.

Barbara: Is the “trust” climate in corporate America improving or worsening? What actions will turn things around?

Tony: There are forces working in both directions, but mostly it is worsening. The economic struggles and the prevalence of layoffs tend to pit people against each other, and they raise fear levels, which are antithetical to trust. Bigger wealth disparities between the C-suite and the line workers reduce trust, and the recent corporate scandals do not help either. On the positive side, more and more people are recognizing the importance of trust – as witnessed by this blog!

Barbara: Any final thoughts?

Tony: For any who heard my radio show/podcast, I want to acknowledge a broken promise: The promise-keeping guy phoned in 15 minutes late, which broke my commitment to Barbara and Jordan. As a result, I have damaged my own credibility with all of you. I can rebuild credibility by making and keeping a series of promises… but it will take several to bring me back even to a starting place of neutrality, and a few more to build trust. This experience shows how important it is to deliver on your word, and it also shows (by the Kimmel’s grace) the slow and necessary process of rebuilding. Acknowledge the break, fix the damage, and then make very sure it does not happen again…and keep working at it. It is a process we all need to master, as it is necessary for managing trust. Aren’t you glad I arranged this demonstration?

Note from Barbara: As fate would have it, Jordan Kimmel was scheduled to appear as a guest on another radio show later that same day. He forgot all about the commitment and called in late. As I told Tony, all mistakes are being blamed on the tropical weather we are experiencing this summer in the Northeast! Tony, we forgive you and look forward to getting to know you better.

Barbara: Please provide contact information for readers.

Do you have any questions for Tony about trust and integrity? Leave them here and he will respond quickly.

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Barbara: Tell us a bit about your background, qualifications and expertise. If you have written a book, please provide the title.

Jeffrey: For many years, I was an editor at Inc. magazine when it was still based in Boston. When I was executive editor, I noticed that a curious thing occurred with the letters we received from readers. Whenever we would run a story that highlighted how an entrepreneur had cut some corners or played fast and loose with the truth to get ahead, we would get letters from readers who objected to us featuring such behavior on our pages. We’d run some of those letters and then in the next issue we’d get letters from other readers who took those who had a problem with the practices we features to task and claimed it was how you had to behave to succeed and grow a company. We found something fascinating there and that led to my writing of several features that focused on ethical issues company owners faced.

Shortly after several of these features ran, I was offered a year-long fellowship at the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at Harvard University. I had done my graduate work at Harvard Divinity School years earlier. I spent the year of my fellowship there running a seminar on ethical decision-making in business (largely attended by business and divinity students) and completing my book, The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart. As I began the fellowship in September 1998, I also started writing a monthly business ethics column called “The Right Thing” for The New York Times. A collection of those columns appeared in book form as The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business. I have also written about a dozen other books on writing, marketing, banking, and other topics. In 2004, “The Right Thing” column became a weekly column syndicated by The New York Times Syndicate.

Barbara: Trust Across America’s mission is to rebuild trustworthy behavior in America, starting with public companies. Is ethical behavior a component of trustworthy behavior, or are they essentially the same?

Jeffrey: Trustworthy behavior can be one critical component of ethical decision making in business. But ethical decision making encompasses a broad range of elements that result in a final decision. Ethical decision making explores how someone walks through a tough decision. Trustworthiness can be an important character trait and certainly one that should be valued in business. But it in itself does not guarantee that someone will do the necessary work of making an ethical decision.

Barbara: Is the “trust” climate in corporate America improving or worsening? What actions will turn things around?

Jeffrey: Hard to say. There is a great deal of skepticism about honest behavior in business that heated up during many of the business scandals of 2002. The recent issues of safety with Toyota and oil spills with BP have not helped restore the public’s trust. The vast majority of business owners may indeed be trustworthy. But a handful of high profile cases of bad behavior can wreak havoc on public perception. When things go wrong, business leaders need to address issues head on if they expect to turn the situation around. They must come clean and make right what has gone wrong. Given that by the time things go wrong few can agree on what will make things right, this is no easy task.

Barbara: It seems that ethical corporate behavior has frequently taken second place to short term stockholder returns. Do you see companies shifting towards long termism and greater emphasis on all stakeholders?

Jeffrey: Such a shift will only be possible if stockholders don’t demand short-term rewards. Given the impatience of the markets, it’s hard to see how this will turn around fast. But boards should take the lead here and do what’s in the long-term interest of the company and all of its stakeholders…even if they know they might take a short-term hit.

Barbara: Please provide contact information.
The email for the column is My personal email is
Jeffrey L. Seglin
617.824.8240 (Emerson)

Do you have any questions about this interview? Please don’t hesitate to ask.

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This week Brian Moriarty spent some bringing me up to date about the work of the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics and its role in fostering trustworthy behavior in corporate America. Please take the time to read this insightful and thought provoking interview.

Read Full Interview

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This week Linda Locke from Reputare Consulting shared some thoughts and observations from the Reputation Institute’s Annual Conference in Rio. We thought our readers would be interested in Linda’s insights.

Notes from the Reputation Institute’s Annual International Conference on Corporate Reputation, Brand Identity and Competitiveness

Linda Locke

Linda Locke is the principal of Reputare (rep-u-ta-re) Consulting, a corporate reputation consulting practice. She began the firm after a 14-year career at MasterCard International where she oversaw global reputation management as SVP and group head. She is a regular speaker on corporate reputation and recently spoke at the Reputation Institute’s 14th annual international conference on Corporate Reputation, Brand, Identity, and Competitiveness. Its theme was:
The Sustainability Imperative: A strategic role for reputation management.

Q. Why did you go to Rio?
A. I thought the theme was very timely given the current business environment. I think the notion of sustainability as a core organizing focus for rebuilding trust is a relevant one, but the definition varies widely.

Q. Do you think sustainability should be the key focus for a business wishing to rebuild trust?
A. Americans often define sustainability differently than other parts of the world. We tend to think of nature and the environment, whereas many others define it as connected to social justice. But as we coalesce around the idea of sustainability as a broader topic, I think it offers relevant framing for the intersection where what is good for business is also good for society. Outside the US, though, I think many people view the notion of sustainability as a challenge to free market capitalism.

Q. Give me an example of the definitions of sustainability
A. One speaker referred to sustainability as another name for democracy, and social and economic justice. One drew a venn diagram showing the intersection of humanism and capitalism.

Q. What are the implications of a sustainability strategy for a company wishing to build trust?
A. Charles Fombrun, the founder of RI, talked about how corporations wishing to build trust need to think about not what they want to say to the world but what the world wants to hear from us. Also a number of speakers talked about how making money is not an impediment to building trust – and the notion that stakeholders want companies to do both is a key issues.

Q. The Reputation Institute collects some interesting data on reputation and trust. Anything new at the conference?
A. For the first time RI created a global reputation Pulse report that identifies companies with the same global footprint, and then ranked the reputation of those companies. The study released showed that Google and Sony have the best reputations among the 25 or so companies rated.

Q. What are the obstacles to a company wishing to build trust?
A, One of the interesting ideas was from Professor Cees van Riel (Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University) who talked about the need to reduce fear. He called “corporate silence” an impediment as managers are often afraid they will lose face if they don’t know all the answers, and people lack courage to raise dissenting voices. Rebuilding trust will require companies to do the right thing, but also to do things right, according to Charles Fombrun, and that’s why internal alignment is a key issue.

Q. You have spent much of your career focused on financial services. That is an industry with severe trust issues. What do you think that industry needs to do to rebuild trust?

A. When I was in financial services I commissioned quite a bit of research on industry perception studies and what became clear in the US, and clear in many countries around the world is that banks should focus on two primary issues: ethics and fairness, as defined by the end users of banking services.

Linda Locke, Principal
Reputare Consulting

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This week Leslie Gaines-Ross took some time out of her schedule as one of America’s leading corporate reputation strategists to shed some light on her professional activities and the steps CEO’s must take to ensure a solid reputation. Read Complete Interview

Leslie is the author of the following books:

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