It’s Morning, Again, In America…Or Is It?

LarryChecco_Photo_Largeby Larry Checco

sTo hear many politicians, pundits and financial analysts tell it, it’s morning again in America.

The stock market is at record highs. Corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars in cash (Apple, alone, has US $178 billion in cash). Employers are adding workers to their payrolls at an average of well over 200,000 jobs a month.

For the period ending December 2014, even workers’ salaries increased by 2.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And inflation remains low.

In short, the catfish are jumping, and the cotton is rising high in the morning sun.

But for millions of working-class American families the damage caused by the Great Recession has been done, and will take decades, if not generations to undo. These folks don’t know from morning in America. They’re still living a nightmare.

Some inconvenient facts

According to the Russell Sage Foundation, the typical American household saw its wealth cut nearly in half as a result of the Great Recession. From 2007 to 2013, median household wealth, adjusted for inflation, decreased 43 percent, from $98,872 to $56,335.

Desperate to stay afloat, countless working-class Americans have gone through, or are still spending down, their life savings, including their retirement funds. Some are just another job loss or major illness away from total financial ruin.

Many boomers approaching retirement age are staying in the workforce longer. When they do retire, many, because of their depleted savings, will be forced to rely on Social Security as their only means of support.

Millennials are finding it hard to find good paying jobs and the unemployment rate for young African-American males remains at nearly 25 percent.

Perhaps the worst tragedy of the Great Recession is that the greatest vehicle for transferring wealth to future generations—namely, the family home—is no longer available to the estimated eight million families who have lost, or may still lose, theirs due to foreclosure, according to Moody’s Analytics’ chief economist, Mark Zandi.

Although foreclosure rates have abated, one out of 10 homeowners — or 5.1 million homes — remain underwater, meaning they are worth less than the mortgages owed on them, down from a high of 12.1 million homes that were underwater as recently as the fourth quarter of 2011, according to MarketWatch.

How did we get here?

Irresponsible lending—and borrowing—as well as trash subprime mortgage products foisted on unsuspecting folks can be blamed for a lot of the wrack and ruin in both the housing industry and the general economy.

Even though some financial analysts are predicting that 2015 will be a good year for U.S. equities—some even rosily predict good news for the next five years—the low- and middle-income families hurt most by the Great Recession will receive the least benefit from a recovering economy.

According to the latest Federal Reserve survey data, the vast majority of Americans—94.5 percent—hold one sort of financial asset or another, from savings and checking accounts to stocks and cash-value life insurance policies.

The sad fact is that America’s richest 10 percent hold nearly 85% of these assets, according to Inequality.org, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

So, yes, millions of Americans are back working—but at a fraction of what they were making in the past, and with fewer benefits. Some have even had their pensions reduced.

How long will it take for these folks to return to pre-recession levels of savings and wealth formation? For most, decades, if not longer. Some, perhaps, never.

More importantly, what will it take for us as a nation to ensure this never happens again?

That’s the $16 trillion question — the amount of wealth this last financial debacle cost us.

However, here’s a thought: We might want to start by creating policies that offer more opportunities for all throughout our system—including access to good, affordable education, healthcare, housing and living-wage jobs—more transparency in our markets, more oversight of and accountability from our financial institutions, greater consequences for those who prey on others unethically or illegally…and, oh yeah, tax reform that creates far less trickling up of wealth and far more trickling down.

It would be a start.

Contents © 2015 by Larry Checco

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications. His latest book is entitled Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand. Checco Communications is a consulting firm that specializes in branding. Larry’s take is different. His message is that good branding is far less about marketing, advertising and public relations and far more about quality leadership and staff, appropriate and ethical behavior, and an organization’s willingness, ability and commitment to live up to the promises, or covenant, its brand represents. His first book, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization, has sold thousands of copies worldwide.
larry.checco@verizon.net

“Trust” — Think About How Important It Is in Our Personal and Business Lives

by Hank Boerner – G&A Institute

This week I was among the fortunate to be named to the Trust Across America / Trust Around the World organization’s annual recognitions of respected thought leaders who advance arguments about the importance of building / protecting / enhancing / projecting “trust” in our personal, business and organizational lives.

I was named to the thought leader award roster in 2011, 2012, 2013, 20i4, and this year — and so, with 14 other thought leaders, I’ve also been named to the first “Lifetime Achievement Award” by TAA.  This is a great honor for me, and also humbling.

I’m honored to be among such distinguished colleagues, leading thought leaders on trust , including author: Patricia Aburdene (Megatrends); Steven Covey (prominent “trust” author); Medtronic’s former CEO Bill George; Leslie Gaines Ross (Weber Shandwick); trust coach Charles Green; and others of similar stature — the list is at: http://www.trustacrossamerica.com/offerings-thought-leaders-2015.shtml

As a journalist, writer on societal issues, corporate manager, and then consultant to managements and boards, throughout my career I’ve been sharing knowledge of the importance of Trust.

Trust in the leader, trust in the organization, trust in products — these are important resources that can bring the enterprise through a crisis situation.  This applies to both organizations and leaders in the private, public and social sectors — think about the busting-of-trust by brand name leaders who quickly fall from grace; of government officials who in an instant achieved infamy; of not-for-profit or public institutional leadership who squandered trust and good will.  (They, unfortunately, can seem to be legion!)

I’ve had the good fortune to work for and with, outstanding men and women in leadership roles who first built trust as the foundation for the enterprises that they would then build and manage.  I’ve written about them in other places.

“TRUST” in an ancient concept coming down to us through such languages as Old Norse (think: Vikings and the civilizations of Scandinavia); various Old English roots; Dutch; German; and even more ancient languages).  The term conveyed (and I think still conveys) important [modern & ancient] human concepts:  faith/faithful; agreement or covenant; comfort; true/truthful…)

“Trust” if you think about it is at its core a bargain that we make with others, and really with ourselves as well, to keep the faith / to be true (to our words and in our actions) / to keep the agreement with others to live up to theirs and our expectations regarding “trust.”

This Week’s Headlines – and Broken Trust

As I learned of my award, I was humbled, and proud, and reflective.  I thought about my work over the decades in helping others to understand and build trust; of leaders and enterprises who broke the trust with stakeholders; and of leaders who leveraged the valuable treasure (trust they built over time) to gain competitive advantage, to offset the effects of critical issues or crisis events; and I thought about leaders that I admired who conveyed trust as the most important message in their inventory of possible “key messages.”

And then I turned to the morning news and the headlines about trust leaped from the pages – such as those of  The New York Times.

There was one story focused on one of our leading “anchormen” on the NBC News Network, Brian Williams, he is backtracking from and apologizing for telling a story of surviving an attack on the helicopter he was traveling in (in the Iraq war).  The most prominent of our national storytellers (and managing editor of the NBC Nightly News) quickly was engulfed in a crisis — and stepped aside from his duties.

I was impressed by his recognition of what is at stake for him, the network and the news program when he said:  “…I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us…”

Another story was about our healthcare records, entrusted by us to third parties, and what healthcare and other enterprises do ./ don’t do  — and what might happen to our most personal & private information.  The upsetting headline was about Anthem’s databases of patient information being hacked. This company is one of the nation’s leading healthcare organizations and as many at 80 millions of us doing business with Anthem may have had our information stolen.

This is on the heels of retailers’ records being hacked. (reflecting on the “invasion” of our financial and credit privacy through the Target data hacking).

Trust — do we have it today / will we have it tomorrow when we visit a retail store and are invited to swipe our credit card in the counter terminal? That’s an important question for retailers in fixed locations and those merchandising goods & services in the digital space.  Lack of trust (in the protection of our information) could cost retailers billions’ in lost customers and sales.

And then there is personal trust embodied in our own views and bow we might communicate those views and opinions.  Consider this:  If you think it, and don’t say or write or otherwise share it, you can think really terrible things about that bullying boss, irritating co worker, nagging family member, callous or un-trustworthy business colleague.

But if you say it…write it…email it…  in today’s “ultra-communicative” world, what is “out there” can easily come back to haunt. And so another headline was about one of the leaders of Sony’s movie studio (Amy Pascal) stepping down after her emails were hacked and made public. (The Times played this up with a cute headline: “Pascal Lands in Sony’s Outbox.”)

Can we trust our in-house emails to be protected and kept private — or should we expect something we say, or write (even of sort of to ourselves as a joke or “relief valve”) to then have “it” \splashed across media. (This episode was costly: She was co-chair of Sony Picture Entertainment.)

With thoughts of Florida – the Sunshine State – on the minds of some of us northerners during this wintery season, a story out of Tallahassee, the capital, caught national attention.  (Especially since “trust” in Florida’s governmental institutions may again be critical in the Presidential election of 2016.)

Florida Governor Rick Scott fired a law enforcement official. Florida has some unusual methods of governance; one is the “cabinet” approach, with the [separately elected statewide] Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam – who, with the Governor, oversee state agencies. Together they decide on hiring and firing in the state agencies.  (All are Republicans – could their actions or lack of action impact on trust in the party?)

The question of trust comes to mind as the governor apparently sidesteps answering his cabinet colleagues’ questions on about the method of the official’s “leaving” — the governor said he resigned, the official said (no) he was fired.

The high-ranking law enforcement official told reporters that he was forced out because he would not do certain things – like bring charges against political opponents (thereby politicizing the office and the criminal justice system).

Also catching my attention was the sudden “explosion” of news & commentary around something that Americans have long taken for granted”  vaccinating against serious diseases. (There is an epidemic of measles cases in a number of states.)

I remember from my childhood getting measles, mumps, whooping cough, and other vaccinations.  Everyone got the shots. As a young adult I was first on line to get (first) the sugar tablet and then the needle containing polio vaccinations.

Now we have the spectacle of political leaders jumping into an important  public health discussion to crassly try to leverage parental fears and anxiety into personal political advantage as they eye upcoming primary campaigns.

Of course, we have the right to have our own opinions and to express these; for the common good, we also have the responsibility to do our part to protect the public health.  My child should not infect your child if that is possible to avoid (say, through community-wide vaccinations).

But, but – there is always a but.  Some people in this debate ask…what about our trust in the vaccination process…in the methodology behind the vaccination…in the drug manufacturer creating the product that we will accept into our bodies…what about the public sector officials who tell us of the necessity and safety of the vaccine?  Trust — or lack of — that is what is on the table here!

Finally for this round, I see the headline of Standard & Poor’s organization paying US$1.3 billion in penalties for its role in putting favorable ratings on subprime mortgage package offerings to institutional investors — that helped to bring about the 2007-2008 global crisis in the financial markets.  Trust — that is what investors had in mind when they looked at the S&P ratings.  Will they trust S&P ratings again in the future?

Trust, we can conclude, is a concept important to our enjoying an orderly society, to our personal well-being, and to getting to the facts and the truth in matters of importance to us. Trust is worth thinking about — every day, in all of our relationships!

 * * * * * * * * *

For information about my awards and Trust Across America, you can check these links:

http://www.justmeans.com/press-release/top-thought-leaders-in-trust-2015-awards-gai-chairman-hank-boerner-named-lifetime

TAA: http://www.trustacrossamerica.com/

 

 

 

GRI Linkage Document For EU Sustainability Mandate Released! Linkage Documents Can Help Cure Some “Survey Fatigue”

By Louis D Coppola @ G&A Institute..

Do you have “survey fatigue” from all the various sustainability reporting frameworks?  Well.. GRI Linkage Documents may be the answer to your prayers.

A while back you may have read my earlier blog posts as we were monitoring the developments of the new EU directive for Non-Financial and Diversity Disclosure.  As most of you know by now the Directive entered into force in December 2014.  The directive will impact over 6,000 large public enterprises that operate in the European Union and mandate them to report on certain sustainability matters.

You can read some frequently asked questions about the directive here.

https   www.globalreporting.org resourcelibrary GRI_G4_EU Directive_Linkage.pdf

The good news today is that GRI has released a “linkage document” which links the GRI G4 indicators to the specific requirements of the EU directive.  This document is the latest addition of these very useful linkage documents created by GRI.

For those of you who are worrying about “survey fatigue” or the growing number of sustainability reporting / data collection organizations that you must reply to – you should be aware of these linkage documents.  In a nutshell these linkage documents allow a GRI reporter to utilize their GRI report and content index to disclose to several major important reporting organizations with only one report.

The linkage documents currently include guidance for using GRI reports as one stop report to respond to several important reporting organizations / frameworks like ISO 26000, Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), IFC Sustainability Performance Standards, The Earth Charter, and now the new EU Directive for Non-Financial and Diversity Disclosure.

Imagine that! – You can use your GRI report to help respond to all of these important sustainability groups at once.  Another reason why you should be reporting using the GRI framework.  The globally recognized (over 6,000 companies utilizing GRI) de-facto standardized format of disclosure that you have when reporting using the GRI framework allows for these types of alignment / synchronization, and can help you to answer more important stakeholders information requests, with less time invested, more accuracy and more efficiency.

As an example of how this would work take a look at the GRI Content index for ArcellorMittal where they use one index for UNGC and GRI here.

Another example is GAP where they have combined GRI, UNGC, and CDP into one GRI index here.

You can see all the GRI linkage documents listed here.

You can access the announcement and the new EU linkage document here.

If you have any questions please contact me (lcoppola AT ga-institute.com) and let me know – about this or any other sustainability topics.  Think of G&A Institute as your sustainability think tank.  Over the past ten years we have designed research, systems and services to help you get more out of your sustainability efforts, and I would be very excited to tell you more about how we can help.