We recently took UCLA professor of management Samuel Culbert to task for his article on the state of performance reviews, but we still think the foremost champion of “straight talk at work” has some ideas corporations can learn from.
In particular, we think the Big Three’s execs would be wise to study up on Culbert’s magnum opus, Beyond Bullsh*t, which insists that doing away politeness, happy talk and euphemism in the workplace may seem like a gutsy move, but is ultimately an enterprise’s best communicative strategy.
In this bleak economic climate, it seems CEO’s either don’t care to acknowledge the realities of the current situation, nor disheartening forecast for 2009 – or (even worse) are so mired in denial that it somehow hasn’t dawned on them just how bad this fiscal crisis is.
The Heads of GM, Ford and Chrysler know all too well that these are dire times. Hey - they’re even driving to congressional hearings instead of using their private jets!
But listen a little more closely, and it’s apparent they’re still not coming clean about what it will take to pull them back from their respective precipices. A Slate article notes that the Big Three regard the proposed $34 billion bailout package as a band-aid until they get back on their feet: “The executives and union leaders speak as if the bailout money is simply needed to tide them over until the sun comes back out. Exuding and instilling such confidence is a big part of their jobs.”
This is certainly true -- it is an unenviable obligation of CEO’s to have to grin through the worst of times and try to convince consumers that some semblance of order will soon return.
The trouble is, neither congress nor consumers are buying it, and are treating the Big Three as a lost cause by voting with their feet. Our theory is that if the Big Three’s argument were more along the lines of, “Yes, it really is that bad, but here’s why you should help us out anyway…” stakeholders might be more likely to consider their pleas. To get some straight talk from Execs amidst this fickle and unreliable economic climate, fleets of cars ill-suited to evolving consumer tastes, and a historical backdrop of short-term thinking would at least offer a small sign of movement in the right direction.
To conclude with some parting, Culbertian words for all the CEO’s: as tough as it is to be realistic about bad news, when you’re not even honest with yourselves, everyone can smell Bullsh*t.