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AOL CEO publicly fires staffer for photographing him

After the CEO of AOL fires a staffer for whipping out his camera, he apologizes but the offender is still fired. Because of how it was handled, the leader is taking a bit of heat.

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Actions speak louder than memos

CEO of AOL, Tim Armstrong’s handling of the firing of an employee during a conference call with hundreds of other employees reveals as antiquated a philosophy of corporate communication as the floppy disks with which AOL used to try to entice us all.

AOL owns a local news network called Patch. On a call with employees of Patch discussing the flailing subsidiary’s shaky future, an employee in Armstrong’s presence, Abel Lenz, tried to take a photo of Armstrong. The CEO’s reaction was to fire Lenz immediately during the call; the audio of which someone recorded.

The impression left by this act

In your own company, you should assume that anything you say to your employees is being recorded these days; particularly if you are giving employees hard news about the future of the company. Armstrong’s act of losing his temper during the call, particularly for something that is difficult to define as an offense, just makes him appear to be a weak leader who has so little control in the company that he cannot even control his own actions.

And here is some breaking news: An apology is not a magic bullet that will make all of your problems go away or have any impact whatsoever in many situations.

Sorry, but you’re still fired

The day following the call, Armstrong issued a memo to AOL employees saying that he had reacted too quickly during the call and had apologized to Lenz for the form of the firing. But Lenz is still out of a job. Even considering that Armstrong had previously directed employees not to record confidential, internal communications, Lenz’s act of attempting to take a photo does not seem like an act for which he should be so publicly humiliated and relieved of a job.

Before this story became public, I could not even have told you who the AOL CEO is today. Now I know and I am not terribly impressed by his ability to lead the company. His actions certainly did not make me think more fondly of AOL.

Remember this scenario as you communicate in your own business. When you do mess up, as we all do, your best bet is to fix or compensate for the problem with your actions rather than relatively meaningless words that only potentially open you to more criticism.

David Holmes, owner of Intrepid Solutions, has over 20 years experience planning for, avoiding, and solving crises in the public policy, political, and private sectors. David is also a professional mediator and has worked in the Texas music scene.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Whole Media Concepts

    August 16, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Great piece, David. You address some very meaningful points about leadership and technology in the workplace.

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Business News

$100m reimagined convenience store startup to open 25 stores in 2022

(BUSINESS) Foxtrot is looking to redefine the convenience store as we know it. This startup is looking to make it a whole new experience.

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Laptop with Foxtrot convenience store locations in Chicago.

Move over 7-11, there’s a new player in town! There’s always room for competition, even in the world of convenience stores. Yes, you read that right, Quick Trip has some serious competition from a newcomer, Foxtrot.

Foxtrot is a curated, modern convenience store offering a brisk 30-minute delivery and 5-minute pick-up. It was created by Mike LaVitola and Taylor Bloom in 2014. These stores will undoubtedly be popular in walkable areas, but also with their online ordering convenience. This modern version of a convenience store offers the combination of an upscale corner store with a digital-first e-commerce platform. Sounds pretty glorious, right?

However, the original convenience store is safe as long as people are traveling and need to stop for gas or a restroom break.  If you’re from Texas, then you know and love, Buc-ee’s, the Texas-born chain. Buc-ee’s have been creating their own in-store products garnering a cult following among their customers. Still, Buc-ee’s doesn’t have an online ordering or delivery option unless it’s offered through a third party.

Foxtrot has raised $160 million in Series C funding and they are expecting to open 25 locations in many cities in 2022. There are a few different levels of funding. If a company makes it to Series C funding, they are already successful and looking to expand or develop new products per Investopedia.

According to Retail Dive, “About half of the new stores will be in Chicago, Dallas and Washington, where all of the 16 stores Foxtrot currently operates are located, LaVitola said. The tech-focused retailer is also planning to begin operations in Boston and Austin, and intends to open four or five new stores in each of those cities during the next year and a half, he said.”

Foxtrot is testing out technology equipment that would allow customers to leave the store without stopping to checkout at the counter. They plan isn’t to go entirely self-service, but as the creator LaVitola stated, “the more hours we can allocate towards sampling and storytelling and interacting with customers and less [on] tasks that don’t add on to value, like checkout, that’s great.”

Foxtrot is redefining convenience by including carefully curated products. They aim to offer local popular products as well core pantry items. They aim to make the commonly unpleasant experience of convenience stores enjoyable. Let’s hope they succeed.

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What small business owners can learn from Starbucks’ new D&I strategy

(BUSINESS) Diversity and inclusion have been at the forefront of Starbucks’ mission, but now they’re shifting strategy. What can we learn from it?

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Hands of all different skin colors on green background representing Starbucks' D&I.

Starbucks was one of many companies that promised to focus on diversity and inclusion efforts after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020. What sets Starbucks apart from other companies were its specific goals.

How It Started

They began with hiring targets and have now added goals in corporate and manufacturing roles. Starbucks’ plans and goals revolve around transparency for accountability. They released the annual numbers for 2021 as a way to help hold themselves accountable. The data they’ve released so far show that they’ve met nearly a third of their 2025 goals according to Retail Brew. Because of this information, we can see why they are choosing to move in the direction of manufacturing and corporate jobs. In 2021, POC’s fell to 12.5% of director-level employees from 14.3% in 2020 in manufacturing.

How It’s Going

Per Starbucks’ website stories and news, “[I]t will increase its annual spend with diverse suppliers to $1.5 billion by 2030.  As part of this commitment, Starbucks will partner with other organizations to develop and grow supplier diversity excellence globally.” To put that into perspective, they spent nearly $800 million with diverse suppliers in 2021. With these moves, by 2030, it will increase by almost double.

As part of their accountability and progress, they plan to partner up with Arizona State University to give out free toolkits to entrepreneurs on fundamentals for running successful diverse-owned businesses. Another goal they’ve listed is to boost paid media representation by allocating 15 percent of the advertising budget to minority-owned and targeted media companies to reach diverse audiences.

At the heart of all this information on their goals and future plans, data transparency and accountability are what’s forcing them to look at the numbers to make specific goals. They are doing more than just throwing money at the problem, they are analyzing how they can do better and where the money will make a difference. Something that, as entrepreneurs, we should all do.

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Peloton is back-pedaling: Reports of price increases, layoffs, and cost cuts

(BUSINESS) After a recording of layoffs leaks, ‘supply chain’ issues cause shipping increases, and they consult for cost-cutting, Peloton is doomed.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Is Peloton in Trouble?

According to many reports, Peloton had success early in the pandemic when gyms shut down. Offering consumers a way to connect with a community for fitness along with varying financing options allowed the company to see growth when many other industries were being shuttered.

After two years, CNBC reports that the company is “being impacted by …supply chain challenges” and rising inflation costs. According to the report, customers will be paying an additional $250 for its bike and $350 for its tread for delivery and setup.

As demand has decreased, Peloton is also considering layoffs in their sales and marketing departments, overheard in a leaked audio call. The recording details executives discussing “Project Fuel” where they plan to cut 41% of the sales and marketing teams, as well as letting go of eCommerce employees and frontline workers at 15 retail stores.

Nasdaq reported that the stock fell 75% last year, after a year where it soared over 400%.

Peloton reviewing its overall structure

According to another report from CNBC, Peloton is working with McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, to lower costs as revenue has dropped and the growth of new subscriptions has slowed since the pandemic. Last November, according to NPR, Peloton had “its worst day as a publicly-traded company.” It also anticipates greater losses in 2022 than originally predicted. It makes sense that the company would reexamine their strategy as the economy changes. They aren’t the only one that is raising prices amid supply chain issues.

It will be interesting to watch how Peloton fares

Peloton has a large community that pays a monthly fee for connected fitness. While growth has slowed, the company still has a strong share of consumers. Although it is facing more competition in the home fitness market and more gyms are reopening, as Peloton adjusts to the new normal, it should remain a viable company.

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