November 2011 - Business Communication

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Business Communication with Cengage Learning

 

American Airlines Communicates Bankruptcy to Employees

11-29-2011 3:46 PM

AMR Corporation, American Airlines' parent company, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In a press release, the company assured investors and passengers that "American Airlines and American Eagle are operating normal flight schedules today, and their reservations, customer service, AAdvantage program, Admirals Clubs and all other operations are conducting business as usual." The company also sent an email to AAdvantage club members about their miles.

As part of the change, Gerard Arpey, chairman and chief executive officer of AMR Corporation and American Airlines, announced his retirement. He will be succeeded by Thomas W. Horton, who will continue to also serve as president.

In a memo, Tom Horton tried to reassure employees:

I realize this news might be difficult to absorb; change is never easy. We will do our very best to keep you informed, understanding that there will be many questions we are not able to answer right away. I can certainly tell you that we expect to continue to provide employee wages, healthcare coverage, vacation, and other benefits, without interruption.

A New York Times article (and other sources) indicates that a major impetus for the bankruptcy filing is the airline's high labor costs:

One of AMR’s chief goals in bankruptcy will be to lower its labor costs.

The company had been in contract talks with its unions until the negotiations stalled earlier this month when the pilots’ union refused to send a proposal to its members for a vote. Because federal bankruptcy rules allow companies to reject contracts, AMR may take a harder negotiating stance with its unions.

“Achieving the competitive cost structure we need remains a key imperative in this process,” Mr. Horton said, “and as one part of that, we plan to initiate further negotiations with all of our unions to reduce our labor costs to competitive levels.”

Of course, the company memo to employees makes no mention of these difficulties. 

Discussion Starters:

  • Read the entire memo from Tom Horton. If you were part of American Airlines' management team, how do you think you might react? If you were part of the unionized staff, how might you react?
  • What can American Airlines do to keep employees continuously informed? What internal communication strategies and tools will be important for the company to use at this time and going forward?

Posted by Amy Newman

Filed under:

How Not to Get a Job: Hack Into a Company's System

11-27-2011 7:28 PM

MarriottA Hungarian man wanted a job so badly that he hacked into Marriott's computer system and threatened to release confidential information unless he got hired. To discover the identity of the man, a Secret Service agent posed as a Marriott HR representative, and the company booked a flight for the hacker to come for an interview.

Of course, the interview wasn't what the hacker, Attila Nemeth, expected. On Wednesday, Nemeth pleaded guilty and now faces up to 15 years in prison. Marriott is not unscathed either: the company estimates spending between $400,000 and $1 million in consultants' fees, employees' salaries, and other expenses to solve the crime.

Discussion Starters: 

  • Review the ethical decision-making guidelines in Chapter 1. In addition to the illegality, what tells you that Nemeth's behavior is unethical?
  • Some people will do anything to avoid a behavioral interview. What are some behavioral interview questions that might be appropriate for an IT professional?

Posted by Amy Newman

Pakistani Ban on 1700 Texted Words in Effect This Week

11-26-2011 10:34 AM

The Pakistani government has banned almost 1700 words considered obscene and offensive from text messages. Users are expected to ban these words starting this week.

Some find the ban confusing. Words such as drunk, flatulent, Showtime, athlete's foot, and taxi are included in the ban; others are understandable (see an unofficial partial list here — warning: many obscenities here!).

Mohammad Younis, a spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), told the Guardian that the ban was "the result of numerous meetings and consultations with stakeholders." Apparently, the decision follows complaints about offensive texts from users. 

Americans may question whether Pakistans enjoy freedom of speech as we do in the United States. According to the Guardian,

While admitting that Pakistan's constitution guaranteed free speech, the [PTA] regulator told mobile phone companies that such freedom was "not unrestricted" under court rulings. Furthermore, said the telecom watchdog, they had obligations under their licences to prevent "obnoxious communication."

Discussion Starters:

  • What is your view of the Pakistani government's decision? Consider your own cultural background and how this may influence your opinion.
  • What are the possible effects of the ban on business in Pakistan?

Posted by Amy Newman

Did You Check Work Email on Thanksgiving?

11-25-2011 4:57 PM

Thanksgiving-emailGood to know that I'm in the unhealthy majority: 58% of men and 51% of women planned to check email during the holidays. According to a survey by Xobni, the gender gap has shrunk from 2010, when 67% of men and 50% of women checked email.

Of the 75% who receive work-related email during the holidays, 19% of us are "thankful or relieved by the distraction," while 41% are "annoyed, frustrated, or resentful."

The survey showed age differences among those who feel "annoyed, frustrated, or resentful." Between 41% and 43% of workers aged 18-44, but only 17% of the 55+ crowd feel this way. The difference could be because of work expectations, position within the company, job insecurity, family status, or a host of other reasons. (via PC World)

Discussion Starters:

  • What are your views about checking email on holidays? What are the reasons people may want to check email?
  • What organizational systems (e.g., culture, management practices, performance measures) may cause people to check email?
  • How could an organization prevent people from checking email on holidays? Is this a good idea?

Posted by Amy Newman

Layoffs at Nokia

11-24-2011 6:46 AM

Nokia Siemens is laying off 17,000 employees — 23% of its workforce. In a press release headline, Nokia explains the company's focus: 

Nokia Siemens Networks puts mobile broadband and services at the heart of its strategy; initiates restructuring to maintain long-term competitiveness and improve profitability

The press release further explains Nokia's restructuring plans:

Nokia Siemens Networks plans to reduce its global workforce by approximately 17,000 by the end of 2013. These planned reductions are expected to be driven by aligning the company's workforce with its new strategy as well as through a range of productivity and efficiency measures. These planned measures are expected to include elimination of the company's matrix organizational structure, site consolidation, transfer of activities to global delivery centers, consolidation of certain central functions, cost synergies from the integration of Motorola's wireless assets, efficiencies in service operations, and company-wide process simplification.

Discussion Starters and Assignment Ideas:

  • What examples of euphemisms, business slang, and jargon do you see in the press release excerpt?
  • How many nominalizations do you find in the press release? Rewrite the press release excerpt, changing all of the nominalizations to verbs or adjectives.
  • Is the language in the press release appropriate for the audience? Who is the audience? 
  • Rewrite the press release for employees. How would you change the word choices for an internal audience who is affected by the news? Would you address the speculation that Nokia is getting ready for a sale?

Posted by Amy Newman

Poor Timing for Qantas Twitter Contest

11-24-2011 6:29 AM

Qantas Luxury 1Australian airline Qantas had good intentions when it promoted a "Qantas Luxury" competition, but the contest was a big failure. Qantas encouraged tweeters to submit creative answers:

Ever wanted to experience Qantas First Class luxury? You could win a First Class gift pack feat, a luxury amenity kit and our famous QF PJs. To enter tell us What is your dream luxury inflight experience? (Be creative!) Answer must include #QantasLuxury.

Qantas Luxury 3The request came in the midst of trouble between the company and the Transport Workers Union. Just hours after the company announced a negotiation break-down, @QantasAirways announced the contest. Also, travelers were still angry over a flight that was grounded last month over labor issues. There was no shortage of sarcastic tweets, many angry about being stranded less than a month ago. Attempting humor, @QantasAirways acknowledged the failed contest:
Qantas contest
Discussion Starters:
  • This isn't the first time that Qantas was criticized for its Twittering. Do you connect these stories in some way?
  • How could Qantas have avoided this situation?
  • How can Qantas now use Twitter or other social networking sites to rebuild its image?

Posted by Amy Newman

UC-Davis Chancellor and Faculty Speak Out

11-22-2011 11:42 AM

The "Occupy" movement has spread to college campuses, with UC-Davis students protesting tuition raises and education cuts. Videos showed campus police pepper-spraying students, which led to an outcry from students and some faculty.

In a short speech to students, Chancellor Linda Katehi apologized to students, saying "I am here to apologize" and "I feel horrible for what happened."

English professors have posted a statement on the department website, calling for Chancellor Katehi to resign and for the UC Police Department to be disbanded. [ View website image.] (The police chief is now on administrative leave.)

Cynthia Carter Ching, an associate professor of learning and mind sciences, wrote a letter to students apologizing "Because we left the wrong people in charge." She explains her view in one part of the letter:

You see, with few exceptions, the people running this campus up in Mrak Hall think of themselves as administrators, not as educators.  Because, with few exceptions, these are people who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in years, if not decades, if ever.   These are people who don’t have you guys.  They don’t have students to remind them every single day on this campus why they are here, simply by stopping by their offices with a friendly, “Hey, Professor, I just had a question about something…”  These are people who don’t have you all to keep them humble by (to use a personal example) reminding them that they almost forgot to collect the paper that’s due in class today, or pointing out the typos on their final exams.

Discussion Starters:

  • Assess the three messages mentioned here: the Chancellor's apology, the English Department's webpage statement, and the professor's letter. What persuasion tactics does each use? Which do you consider the most and least effective?
  • What else, if anything, should UC-Davis communicate at this point? What messages are important for the administration to convey?

Posted by Amy Newman

McDonald's and Target's (Former) Egg Supplier Caught on Video

11-20-2011 9:39 PM

The Food and Drug Administration gave Sparboe Farms poor reviews at five locations. This news and an undercover video by an animal-rights group inspired McDonald's and Target to drop the egg supplier. The graphic video [watch at your own risk] shows chickens terribly mistreated and living in unsanitary conditions. ABC News describes the story.

In the first two paragraphs, McDonald's statement explains the decision and reassures customers:

McDonald’s expects all of our suppliers to meet our stringent requirements for delivering high quality food prepared in a humane and responsible manner.  Based upon recent information, we have informed our direct supplier, Cargill, that we are no longer accepting eggs from its supplier, Sparboe.  This decision is based on McDonald's and Cargill’s concern regarding the management of Sparboe’s facilities.

This is not a food safety issue for our menu items.  We can assure our customers that eggs in our entire supply chain meet McDonald's high standards for quality and safety. 

Target explains its decision in this way:

Target is committed to delivering outstanding quality and uncompromising safety with every owned-brand food product. We expect and rely on our vendors to operate facilities that meet industry standards and regulatory requirements.

Having been made aware of the unacceptable conditions in the company's egg laying facilities, effective immediately, Target will discontinue its business relationship with Sparboe Farms. We are currently in the process of notifying our teams to remove the product from store shelves.

Sparboe Farms developed a website and video by the company president to convey its own position:

Discussion Starters:

  • Compare Target's and McDonald's full statements. What differences do you notice, and which does a better job?
  • Analyze Sparboe Farm's response. Review the website, president's video, letter, and other messages. In what ways is each effective and ineffective in rebuilding Sparboe's image?

Posted by Amy Newman

Filed under:

Call Facebook Friends from Skype

11-19-2011 9:58 AM

Skype has announced Facebook-to-Facebook calling. This is a refined feature following the Skype + Facebook partnership introduced in July. In its announcement, Skype describes the feature:

Initiating a Facebook-to-Facebook call from within Skype is quite easy; all you need to do is connect your Skype and Facebook accounts. Then, select a Facebook friend and hit the video call button in Skype -- your friend simply picks up the call from Facebook. This new feature lets you maintain social connections with your Facebook friends and compliments [sic] previously announced features such as being able to see when your Facebook friends are online, read their status updates, and IM them all from Skype.

Discussion Starters:

  • Skype's announcement is an example of a sales message. What principles does it follow for writing sales messages?
  • In the above excerpt from Skype's announcement, I've added "[sic]" next to the word "compliment." What does this mean?
  • What possibilities do you see for using this feature in a business environment? 

Posted by Amy Newman

Employer Backlash: "I will never hire a Penn Stater"

11-17-2011 4:40 PM

Among the many online letters to the editor of Penn State's Daily Collegian is a sharp backlash from a potential employer. Some worry that Penn State students may have difficulty finding jobs because of the recent sexual abuse scandal and riots.

Penn State backlashPenn State Open Letter
In an open letter on Penn State's website, the senior director of career services provides guidance to students during the job search and encourages employers to keep an open mind.

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you agree with employers who may resist hiring Penn State students? Why or why not?
  • What is the best way for Penn State students to address questions from prospective employers? Do you find Jeff Garvis's advice in the letter helpful?
  • In Garvis's letter, which arguments do you find most and least convincing for employers? 
  • If you look closely at Garvis's letter, you see what look like font changes within the paragraph that starts "Students may acknowledge." [Download] If these are editorial changes, why do you think they were made? Do they improve the message?

Posted by Amy Newman

Facebook Changes Salman Rushdie’s Name

11-15-2011 6:36 PM

Award-winning writer Salman Rushdie had his Facebook account deactivated over confusion about his name. To prove his identity to the Facebook police, Rushdie provided his passport; however, his Facebook profile then displayed "Ahmed Rushdie," with his official first name, which he never uses.

Eventually, his profile was properly restored, and Facebook apologized. Mashable posted a series of Rushdie's tweets, showing the sequence of events.

Rushdie
This situation is the latest in the so-called "nymwars," a term that appeared on Twitter. Wired magazine covered the topic extensively when Google+ established a real-name policy. David Winer, visiting NYU scholar, explains Google's rationale for real names:

There’s a very simple business reason why Google cares if they have your real name. It means it’s possible to cross-relate your account with your buying behavior with their partners, who might be banks, retailers, supermarkets, hospitals, airlines. To connect with your use of cell phones that might be running their mobile operating system. To provide identity in a commerce-ready way. And to give them information about what you do on the Internet, without obfuscation of pseudonyms.

Simply put, a real name is worth more than a fake one.

Facebook's vice president of public policy, Elliott Schrage, provides a different rationale for real names:

Facebook has always been based on a real-name culture. We fundamentally believe this leads to greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for people who use the service.

For the Rushdie situation, Facebook admitted the mistake: “We apologize for the inconvenience this caused him." No further explanation was offered in the company's statement.

Discussion Starters:

  • What, if any, privacy concerns do you have about your own Facebook profile?
  • What is your take on Facebook's real-name policy? Do you agree with it? Why or why not?
  • Some people prefer to have pseudonyms online, for example, students who want to protect their identify from employers searching for them online. Is this a good strategy personally and professionally?

Posted by Amy Newman

Hasty Tweet Damages Ashton Kutcher's Following

11-12-2011 3:48 PM

How about reading a little before jumping to conclusions? This is the lesson learned by Ashton Kutcher, who tweeted to his more than 8 million followers about the firing of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno:

Ashton K re Penn State

 Kutcher explains his response: 

"Last night after returning home from work, I walked by the television and simply saw a headline that Joe Paterno had been fired. Having no more information than that, I assumed that he had been fired due to poor performance as an aging coach."

He has since hired PR firm Katalyst to manage his Twitter feed, Kutcher says, "as a secondary editorial measure, to ensure the quality of its content." Sounds like a good idea.

Discussion Starters:

  • Should we expect more of someone with 8 million followers, or is it simply the nature of the medium (Twitter) that causes such misreports?
  • What are the potential consequences of Kutcher hiring a firm to manage his popular Twitter feed?

Posted by Amy Newman

Rick Perry Misses Again

11-10-2011 1:57 PM

In what The Boston Globe calls "an epic gaffe" during the GOP debate, presidential candidate Rick Perry could not remember the third government agency he would eliminate. Perry has taken a beating following the Republican debates and speeches, with some questioning whether he has been drunk or on drugs. Bill Maher compiled an embarrassing sequence of odd moments during Perry's appearance in New Hampshire.

Perry is in good company. The Guardian has posted several gaffes made by other government officials and political candidates.

Perry's inability to speak clearly and coherently may undo his candidacy. But for now, he is admitting his mistakes and making light of the error:

I stepped in it, man. Yeah, it was embarrassing. Of course it was.

The candidate also will read the "Top 10 List" on “Late Show with David Letterman” tonight. Should be interesting.

Discussion Starters:

  • Is the criticism of Rick Perry fair or overblown? Have we lost sight of what this candidate stands for, or are people right in wanting more clarity from him?
  • How, if at all, could a candidate avoid these types of mistakes during a debate? What have you learned about delivering oral presentations that may serve as good advice for Perry?

Posted by Amy Newman

In Statement, Paterno Says, "I Wish I Had Done More" (and Update)

11-09-2011 4:43 PM

Penn State's Board of Trustees took decisive action Wednesday night and fired both Coach Paterno and president Spanier in response to the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the university. Paterno had submitted his resignation, but the Trustees decided that he would not coach another game.

Before the Trustee's decision, the legendary football coach gave an emotional farewell talk to his team and coaches and issued a statement, read here on the Tim Brando show (text below):

I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: to serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today.

That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.

This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.

I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.

My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University.

Spanier issued his own statement following the news of his termination.

Discussion Starters:

  • Is Paterno's statement appropriate, given the situation? Would you expect to see something different?
  • Why do you think Paterno decided to resign? Was this the right decision at the right time?
  • How do you assess the Trustees' decision to fire Paterno and Spanier? Do you side with the Trustees or the protesting students?
  • How do you assess Spanier's statement? In what ways is his statement appropriate or inappropriate in this situation?

Posted by Amy Newman

Penn State Flubs Response to Child Abuse Accusations

11-08-2011 1:47 PM

Former Penn State Defensive Coach Jerry Sandusky has been arrested for abusing eight minors. Apparently, Athletic Director Tim Curley and VP for Finance and Business Gary Schultz were told about one incident but kept silent. They have since been charged with perjury.

The president of Penn State, Graham Spanier, issued a statement backing Curley and Schultz:

The allegations about a former coach are troubling, and it is appropriate that they be investigated thoroughly. Protecting children requires the utmost vigilance.

With regard to the other presentments, I wish to say that Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have my unconditional support. I have known and worked daily with Tim and Gary for more than 16 years. I have complete confidence in how they have handled the allegations about a former University employee.

Tim Curley and Gary Schultz operate at the highest levels of honesty, integrity and compassion. I am confident the record will show that these charges are groundless and that they conducted themselves professionally and appropriately.

The president has been harshly criticized for his response. One media expert offered this alternative for the university's response:

I am horrified to learn about the sexual abuse of eight minors. As a parent, I understand just how sacred a responsibility we all have to keep children safe. We will cooperate fully with the investigation and do everything possible to make sure this never happens again.

As for Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz, I would ask everyone to wait until the facts of the case have fully emerged before forming a judgment.

This statement more appropriately acknowledges the victims without aligning the university with Curley and Schultz. Since the president issued the statement, Curley has been placed on administrative leave, and Schultz has stepped down and retired from the university.

The Board of Trustees of Penn State University are also planning for the dismissal of Joe Paterno, the current football coach, who, according to a New York Times article, "has more victories than any other coach at college football’s top level and who made Penn State a prestigious national brand."

 Discussion Starters:

  • How do you assess the proposed rewrite of the president's statement? What are the improvements -- and what are the risks -- of such a statement?
  • Do you agree with the university's decisions to 1) place Curley on administrative leave, 2) accept the resignation/retirement of Schultz, and 3) plan the exit of Paterno? Why or why not?

Posted by Amy Newman

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