Last August, the CEO of AOL, Tim Armstrong, issued an apology to his entire staff for publicly and emotionally firing an employee on the spot for taking a picture of Armstrong during an internal conference call meeting. One of the key indicators of a sincere apology is that offenders conduct “moral audits” by ” by looking themselves in the mirror and asking, “How did I get here and how did I drift from the person I aspire to be?” They are meant to be painful exercises, and most importantly, they must turn into a real change in behavior.
Yesterday, Armstrong held a company-wide conference call to explain why AOL was cutting benefits to the 401(k) plan. In explaining his rationale, he said, according to a transcript provided by an AOL employee:
“Two things that happened in 2012. We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost. So when we had the final decision about what benefits to cut because of the increased healthcare costs, we made the decision, and I made the decision, to basically change the 401(k) plan.”
After his comments went viral, he sent out a company-wide memo to justify his actions:
As we discussed at the town hall, we care about you and the company – a lot. This morning, I discussed the increases we and many other companies are seeing in healthcare costs. In that context, I mentioned high-risk pregnancy as just one of many examples of how our company supports families when they are in need. We will continue supporting members of the AOL family. We provide a wide range of benefits – including our 401k plan – and conduct open information sessions each Fall on all available benefits as well as any changes being made. We will continue to do that. The spirit of the town hall and the spirit of how we choose benefits are the same – we want to be open and transparent about the choices we make and why we are making them. As I have said over and over again, our employees are our greatest asset. Let’s move forward together as a team. – TA
Armstrong framed his remarks about the two women as a way to demonstrate “how our company supports families when they are in need” and as an act in the spirit of “transparency.” The mother of one of the distressed babies has provided a response to Armstrong’s remarks. How plausible is his framing? Has Armstrong done the deep work to seriously evaluate his responsibility as a CEO and his attitudes toward his employees since August? Has he engaged the aggrieved in a two-way conversation and embraced ideas on how to improve?