The Best Buy Ethics blog was the subject of one of my blog posts recently. I thought the content strategy of describing instances of errors of judgement by employees was a communications blunder, and and as a result I received a lot of feedback from the community. Here's a synopsis of some of the comments on my blog, and some answers by back channel messaging from several senior colleagues in communications:
Jim Spencer: I did find posts that celebrated ethical success which made the site feel more well rounded.
From his comment on my previous Best Buy Post.
Jonathan Salem Baskin:The very premise of a blog focused on ethics is somewhat misplaced: ethics are what you do when nobody is looking, not some faux public celebration of what's right.
Jonathan wrote a comment about the ethics blog.
Wayne Hurlbert: There are many more ways to write about ethics without singling out staff members. This blog doesn't inspire anyone to become more aware of ethics and the challenge of ethical behavior throughout organizations.
Wayne commented on the previous post about the best buy ethics blog.
Stuart Bruce:The impression is of a management culture of 'us and them' - not the type of company you'd immediately want to do business with.
Stuart is an old colleague from the PR blog week, he commented on my first post.
Toby Bloomberg:From a quick read (I read thru to 7/1) It seemed to me as though Katherine is using Best Buy employee mishaps to frame the larger issues of ethics in business. However, from you post and your community's comments, if that was her goal, it seemed she missed the mark.
Toby is a colleague from the American Marketing Association, she commented on my blog post.
Shel Holtz is one of the most respected communications professionals working in the US today, a writer of many books, and expert on PR, social media and marketing. Here's what Shel had to say about the Best Buy Ethics blog:
Shel Holtz: An ethics blog is a fine idea, particularly from an ethics officer, a position many organizations don't have. While I'd be inclined to publish the blog internally, there are reasons to support Best Buy's external-facing approach. First, Best Buy's CEO, Brian Dunn, is on record saying there is no wall between internal and external communications, and this reinforces that view. After all, anything published inside can easily be copied and posted outside. Second, it is a public demonstration of the organization's commitment to ethical behavior.
Where the blog falls short is in its discussion of employee transgressions. While addressing actual employee ethical breeches is fine (what could be more relevant?), the public humiliating of employees already disciplined or terminated seems excessive; there are more sensitive ways to explore the ethical issues involved without saying, "One of our employees did X and we terminated him." In most cases, it would be fairly easy for that employee, his friends and family to be able to identify him.
The result is employees who wait for the other shoe to fall, who know that the company has no problem embarrassing them in public.
An alternative approach is to talk about it more generically, the way Jonathan Schwartz did when addressing leaks of product information. He acknowledged that it was happening without singling anybody out, and agreed that the motivations were probably good, outlined why it was problematic and asked employees to stop (which they did).
(Interestingly, Oracle has removed access to Schwartz's old Sun blog, so that outstanding post is no longer accessible.)
In short, then, I like the idea of the ethics blog but I question some of the blunt-force execution.
Another pioneer in the field of blogging and social media is Jeremy Pepper, here's what Jeremy had to say about the Best Buy Ethics blog:
Jeremy Pepper: Well, the issue with the Best Buy ethics blog - while all nice and sunshine that they hired an Ethics Officer - is what are ethics? It's one of those words that is all nice and look, they went the extra step to bring in that officer, but it really means nothing at the end of the day.
The company is acting more ethical ... in regards to whom? The customers, the shareholders, the employees, the corporation? Who is it supposed to benefit. The company is a publicly traded company, and unless they were doing something that was so evil and obviously unethical, I'm not sure what this was supposed to be about. I can give business and medical ethic examples of what is and isn't working - and justify certain things with different philosophical schools that would say my actions are okay. Which philosophy are they prescribing to here?
As for encouraging and giving guidelines to the employees, managers, executives, I think the blog is nice filler and that is it - and it goes back to the point above. Who are they answering to?
To me? The blog best says that the company is trying to figure out who they are, and are looking for a new identity. Is ethics the way to go? Why not green? Or do a whole thing about stakeholder management (I wrote a post about that versus CSR) and how they are answering to everyone at once. It seems like they're saying there are ethical issues in the boardroom and on the employee level - which seems a bit offensive as an employee (and I was one there at one time).
What would I rather see? Get rid of the CEO [Chief Ethics Officer] and bring in a education person to teach the Best Buy way - ethics and all - that treats employees like a family. I doubt any current ones feel like they're anything more than a cog in the wheel. Becoming more community and family would take care of whatever ethical issues there may or may not be.
This blog is a learning tool for me, and hopefully for my readers. To that purpose I enjoy receiving case studies that demonstrate good and bad examples of of marketing and communications in action. While my reading online tends to focus on those topics of what works and doesn't. If I see examples of marketers, PR people and bloggers using what I think to be abad approach, I'll often speak out, reach out to them behind the scenes, or ask my colleagues their opinions to build some sort of professional consensus and just check my thinking is reasonable. Here are a few examples over the years...
Now that we have social media, business people are no longer as disconnected as we once were in terms of discussing best practices around marketing and communications. I think it is important to speak out about marketing and communications activities because the voice of the community will help to influence better practices, and hopefully as a result produce more profits.