How Do You Get To Be A “Most Admired Company”?

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In these days of political and social turmoil when civility seems to have disappeared from the national conversation, it might be a good time to discuss one obvious way that any company – small, medium or large – can burnish its image and make a positive impression on targeted audiences. Cultivate civility.     

Forbes magazine recently published its list of World’s Most Admired Companies for 2018. The Top 10 list included Starbucks, Disney, Southwest Airlines and FedEx – probably to no one’s surprise. We associate all of those companies, generally speaking, with positive values.     

Being seen to “give back” to the community is one way that companies establish a positive reputation by supporting local non-profits and charities. But I am thinking more about everyday interactions between your company and your public.   

Starbucks seems to bend over backwards to try and make its coffee shops a peaceful, welcoming environment for everyone – even to the point of absurdity at times. Remember the well-intentioned injunction for baristas to talk about race relations with customers back in 2015? Does anyone really want to get into that historically fraught topic while waiting in line for a Vente Flat White? Or wait for someone ahead of you in line to finish an intense discussion about race with the barista before you get to order?     

On the other hand, firing the Philadelphia store manager who called the police to remove two African-Americans who were waiting for a friend, apologizing for the incident, and closing shops across the country for an afternoon in order to engage in racial bias training were, on the whole, positive moves.     

Southwest Airlines, bless their heart, doesn’t charge for either the first or the second checked suitcase. And I have never heard of Southwest Airlines hauling a passenger off an airplane after he was seated, or keeping a passenger from reaching a dying mother in time to say goodbye because of a computer snafu over payment. Companies with employees who can understand how behavior looks from the customer’s point of view and act accordingly, whether the customer is buying an ice cream cone or miles of industrial pipe, are way out in front.     

After 25+ years in public relations, working with innumerable clients, I have observed the truism that rudeness and graciousness both trickle down from the top. Civility begins inside a company. Employees who are mistreated, underpaid and undervalued, or, worse yet, under the thumb of a tyrannical or inconsiderate boss, are unlikely to go the extra mile in their dealings with customers.

A rude boss will generally tolerate or even encourage a rude assistant and will sometimes hide behind him or her or even blame his own failings on the assistant’s shortcomings. A thoughtful, considerate manager will encourage those under her to adopt her as a model.     

Unfortunately, there are lots of ways we can fail the civility test besides screaming and yelling. An environment is not civil when sexual harassers are allowed to prey on the vulnerable while those at the top look the other way. An environment is not civil when small-minded employees are allowed to belittle, ridicule, or tease others and then berate them for “not having a sense of humor.”     

Set a high standard for civility inside the company and in dealing with the public, and you may not make the Forbes worldwide list, but you will be one of your community’s “most admired companies.”