Wednesday, November 15, 2006

So, You’re No Longer Who They Think You Are?

Bear with me; this posting has to do with branding, marketing, and corporate communications.

Recently, our principal owner, Mary Scheibel, attended a community meeting in Milwaukee’s inner city. The purpose of this meeting, which was organized and attended by the Mayor of Milwaukee, was to stimulate candid discussion and the interchange of ideas concerning the impact of poverty on the community. In attendance were residents, community leaders, politicians, and business executives. After a raucous open forum following a presentation by Mayor Barrett, the attendees were divided into small groups comprised of a representative sample of the attendees at large. One of the statements made by a participant in Mary’s group has started a thinking exercise for me.

This individual was a man, in his early-to-mid-thirties, and, at best, under-employed. He didn’t complain about his plight; he actually was very philosophical about it. In looking back at how he came to be in his current situation, he admits that he made mistakes. He got in trouble in many ways, and even spent some time in jail. He can see the error of and accepts the responsibility for the poor decisions that he made earlier in his life. And, he can appreciate why companies may hold this against him when he applies for jobs that, if he could get them, would provide the path to a better life for him and his family.

But, he asked a question that is at the heart of my thinking exercise – “Why can’t businesses understand that I am no longer the person who made those stupid decisions and did those bad things? I’ve grown up, matured, and am a much different human being today. Why can’t anyone give me and others like me a second chance?”

When I think about this gentleman’s situation from our profession’s perspective, I see that companies and organizations confront similar situations every day – remember Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia, Health South and Tyco? How do companies who have become notorious because of corporate missteps regain trust with and create a willingness to transact by the marketplace? How do they communicate that they are no longer the company that made those stupid decisions and did those bad things? One of the above companies—Tyco—has been working for the last several years on restoring its reputation, and has come a long way. Strategic, brand-based, and integrated corporate communications have played a critical role in this transformation. I am biased, I admit, but I can see how Scheibel Halaska is well-equipped to assist companies to solve these problems.

But, as both an employer and a human being, I still am haunted by the aforementioned man’s question. I don’t have the space to write, and you don’t have the time to read, all the thinking that this man’s question has triggered for me. Right now, I think he makes a very valid point. Maybe, just maybe, we as business people, who are confronting a skilled-labor shortage, are part of our own problem. Maybe, just maybe, we are handcuffing ourselves by dealing with a changed social and economic environment using employment philosophies and practices that were appropriate for a different time and place.

I am hoping that there are some who read this who will be willing to help me to deepen my thinking.

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