• “Kursen var mycket trevlig, lärorik, användbar och viktig…”

    - Ulrike Frank, Sr. Scientific Officer, Swedish Chemical Agency

     

  • “Ruben is a highly skilled and insightful negotiator, who understands the fabric and dynamics of negotiations.”

    - Rasmus Clausen, Head of Section, Danish Ministry of Defence.

  • “StIPS tailored it’s lectures to our audience of dynamic, young professionals with murderous time constraints. We couldn’t be happier with the results. ”

    -Boris Ajeganov, Public relations officer, Stockholm Association of International Affairs

  • “This knowledge helped me to give several successful presentations and I will use these skills throughout my whole life.Thank you.”

    - Rebecca Demonkos, CEMS Graduate Handelshögskolan / SSE

  • “You get very practical tools that you can use in your everyday life. I recommend this lecture to everyone that has to hold a meeting or a presentation.” 

    - Elisa Magnusson, Utbildningsledare Folkuniversitetet Stockholm

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3 Lessons from the Max communication fail

In the second half of January 2013 Sweden’s most famous fast food chain Max Hamburgers found itself in the eye of a communication storm. The chain, which is widely known for its progressive attitude regarding corporate social responsibility, was suddenly seen as ‘a bully’ towards its own employees. How did this happen and what could Max have done differently?

The management of Max communicates with its employees inter alia through direct memo’s, which are published on the company’s intranet site.  Their December memo in which they looked forward to the opportunities and challenges of 2014 backfired completely. The memo ended with the following text (freely translated to English):

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“And finally

Finally a new year, with new challenges and new possibilities. A lot will happen in 2014. We will continue to expand with new stores opening in Sweden (min.4), the UAE (min.8) and maybe another country will get its first MAX.

We have two extra important launches coming up this year: our new French fries (better then ever) Crispy fries –perhaps the best in the world. So good that you can not even compare them with regular French fries. That’s why we call them Max Crispy Fries.

Together with Seattle’s Best Coffee (owned and driven by Starbucks) we will launch our new coffee concept.

A lot of positive things are going on, but there is also a cloud of concern. We have to succeed in attracting more guests – growth in guests is a decisive factor in our goal to become the worlds best. Elections are coming up and if the opposition (Social Democrats and Left Party) wins the election they want to increase the restaurant tax and the social benefit payment by the employer for young employers. This would be a complete catastrophe for us and for our line of business and will have large consequences for our growth.

Finally 2014”

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After the memo leaked to the media a storm of indignation came down on Max, as it was perceived as threatening its employees into voting for the current government. When asked for clarification the management replied “If you really think people vote a different way because of what we say you have a very naïve view of the world” and  “we could have expressed ourselves better but we were also misunderstood”.

So what are the lessons from Max’ memo?

1. End on a positive note.
When we look at great speeches and presentations we see that they always end on a positive note. Why is that? It has been said that people remember 10% of what you say, 30% of how you say it and 60% of how they felt when they left the room. Although the percentages are debatable the principle is right. When you want someone to remember the thought behind your message end your communication on a positive note. Make sure the receiver ‘closes the book’ with the feeling of ‘I can’t reproduce the text, but it was great reading it.’

2. Don’t forget the relation between the sender – receiver (hierarchy).
Max is right: they did not explicitly say that their employees should vote for the current government.  However the wording of the last two sentences cannot be understood any differently then as a strong voting advice from the boss. By using words as ‘complete catastrophe” and “large consequences” they give their words a sense of urgency that goes beyond a normal discussion on elections. It is  important to remember the hierarchy and the dependency between the sender and the receiver. It is not a casual conversation between friends without any consequences. It is a direction provided by the boss with the underlying threat of loosing your job.

 3. Good leaders don’t say ‘sorry but’.
You either have a reason to apologize or you don’t. If you can defend your case stand for it and if you made a mistake own it. There might be mitigating circumstances but they can be dealt with at a later stage. In first instance it is important to acknowledge the feelings of hurt, disappointment or threat that your words have caused. Own it and apologize. In a later phase when the emotions have settled you can have your turn and explain the reasons why. This will also help you in the public eye since any ‘sorry but’ will only provoke more debate and the storm will only last longer.

So what should they have done? Here is our version of the memo that shows how they could have voiced their concern without alienating their audience.

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“And finally

A new year has arrived. A year with new challenges and new possibilities. A lot will happen in 2014. We will continue to expand with new stores opening in Sweden (min.4), the UAE (min.8) and maybe another country will get its first MAX.

Although a lot of positive things are going on, there are also reasons for concern. We have to be even better in attracting more guests. As you know, growth in guests is a decisive factor in our goal to become the worlds leading fast food chain.

Another factor is the upcoming elections.  A great company like always depends on external factors that are decided not by us, but by the politicians in Stockholm. Changes in the restaurant tax and the social benefit payment by the employer for young employers are just two examples of topics that will impact the growth of our company the coming years. Topics that we at Max follow with concern.  Dealing with this will require flexibility from all of us. But whatever the outcome of the elections will be, we know that with the great staff we have at Max we will be able to deal with anything that comes our way.

 Dear all,

We have two extra important launches coming up this year: our new French fries (better then ever) Crispy fries –perhaps the best in the world. So good that you can not even compare them with regular French fries. That’s why we call them Max Crispy Fries.

And together with Seattle’s Best Coffee (owned and driven by Starbucks) we will launch our new and exciting coffee concept.

In other words, a lot of challenges lie ahead. Challenges that we shall take on together.

We wish you and yours all the best for the coming year.

Finally 2014, a year of challenges and opportunities!