KITH https://kith.co Thu, 12 Jul 2018 18:07:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 A Question of Independence: Life on Silo Island https://kith.co/independence-vs-collaboration/ Tue, 10 Jul 2018 19:16:38 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2493 I was recently put in an awkward situation where the question of the crisis communications team’s independence at a major organization became an issue. As background, the communications team had asked me to work with them to prepare some materials related to a specific product launch.  There was the potential that the launch could cause […]

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I was recently put in an awkward situation where the question of the crisis communications team’s independence at a major organization became an issue. As background, the communications team had asked me to work with them to prepare some materials related to a specific product launch.  There was the potential that the launch could cause some communities to react negatively, so the team wanted to conduct some planning and prepare crisis response material.  The team was sophisticated and had an interesting approach to readiness, based on the experiences that they’d had in the past.  My role was to act as a sounding board to test what they had in place and I was able to help them round out some edges to make everything run just a little bit more smoothly. But generally speaking this was a competent team and they were in good shape.

The question of the team’s independence arose during two calls we had as part of this process. We scheduled back-to-back calls, the first with the team itself to pull together all of their ideas and to finalize their plan. The second call was described to me as a perfunctory ‘checking in’ call with other leaders from the company. The crisis team suggested to me that this was completely unnecessary and a bit offensive. They explained that they had everything under control and they had gotten advice from an outside expert, me. Therefore, they felt that this call with the wider organization was pointless.

This left me perplexed. Despite the competence and experience of this team, they felt that the crisis organization could operate independently, separate from the rest of the organization.

I pulled the senior communicator aside to raise my concerns.  I made my case:

“We shouldn’t be going into these conversations with other departments as if we want to simply ‘check the box’. Whether it’s marketing or operations or the general counsel, it would be best to value their input because they have a different perspective of the business that can help us as communicators. Our expertise is the public, but they are experts on the operational side of the organization. We need their input and we need to be aligned, to see we are in this together.”

Unsurprisingly, I heard the same push back I have heard other times from those that live on Silo Island.

“They’re just going to water everything down, particularly legal, and we’re going to get stuck in groupthink.”

Therein lies a quandary with crisis planning: do you tend towards operating independently with the benefits of speed and focus that this approach allows, or collaboratively which allows for greater expertise and buy-in from the organization’s experts but with significantly more friction.  In my experience, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Communicators, particularly crisis communicators, have a finely-tuned understanding about the public’s expectations, how the organization’s actions will be interpreted by the public and how this affects its reputation. Communicators are not typically experts in the operations, legal, or financial elements of the business or the risks that these departments have to deal with.

Similarly, other departments may be unaware of how their actions, which may be absolutely sound from their perspective, might have a negative impact on the organization’s reputation.  Therefore, balance is required to ensure that both sides understand each other’s ‘world’ and are aligned, rather than operating separately. This allows communicators to understand the perspectives of their internal stakeholders, to use this expertise to refine the communications plan and to generate much-needed buy-in from other departments.

When that equilibrium gets out of balance – either where there is too much independence or too much dependence – is where communicators are not at their best. Too much independence leads communicators to operate in a bubble that is divorced from the rest of the organization, robbing them of critical expertise and, sometimes, leading the communications team to diverge from the rest of the organization. Alternately, trying to have everyone involved in the communications activity is a recipe for disaster: ‘communications by committee’ is never successful.

So, no, crisis communicators cannot operate completely independently. Nor can they become wholly dependent on other departments, serving as a glorified scribe of others words.

Communicators occupy a unique space in an organization as their role is wholly focused on the external, public environment. This allows them to bring a degree of understanding into discussions that are of critical importance to an organization. But just as the organization needs this external perceptive, the communications team needs to understand what is going on within the organization.

Communicators therefore need to live in the middle: working with the organization’s experts for critical input, while also acting as the best and the truest compass of the impact that the organization’s actions has on its stakeholders and reputation. The exact balancing point between independence and collaboration will change depending on the situation, but occupying this middle ground is absolutely critical for crisis communications to be successful.

My friends at the check box conference call are still living on Silo Island and what should be accomplished in one call takes at least two or three. At this point it is less of a role for a crisis consultant but that of the marriage therapist.

 

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Heavy Weather Crisis Planning https://kith.co/heavy-weather-crisis-planning/ Fri, 06 Jul 2018 16:58:27 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2488 Having the ability to find a link between your passion and your profession will make you better at both. That said, I often try to uncover the similarities between what we do in crisis communications and crisis planning with my passion for sailboat racing and long distance sailing. I was recently watching a video about […]

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Having the ability to find a link between your passion and your profession will make you better at both. That said, I often try to uncover the similarities between what we do in crisis communications and crisis planning with my passion for sailboat racing and long distance sailing.

I was recently watching a video about heavy weather sailing skills. The video is part of series published by Yachting Monthly magazine and features the highly regarded heavy weather sailor, Skip Novak, who talks about the critical elements in preparing for heavy weather sailing. I found with these points that there is a direct parallel between sailing and what we do professionally in crisis communications.

The five things that he talks about are:

  1. Preparing the deck,
  2. Expecting the worst,
  3. Securing loose items,
  4. Staying focused and understanding the weather,
  5. Practice

Preparing the deck:

It’s critical that you understand your capabilities. You need to know what you can do, what your team is capable of, and the values and chain of command of your organization. By preparing your deck, you can prepare your organization for the inevitability of a crisis and have confidence that everything will be fine. When the time comes, you will be ready to execute your plan by responding faster and staying closely aligned with your mission and values.

Expecting the worst:

No one wants to go through a reputation crushing crisis, no more than someone would want to go through a swirling hurricane in the North Atlantic. However, if you plan and prepare as if it is inevitable, you will be in a better state of readiness than those who think it won’t happen to them. By expecting the worst, thinking about different possible outcomes, watching those around you and the implications that heavy weather has caused on their organization, you can be better prepared. You can start doing this by talking with your operational, legal and risk colleagues about the worst.

Secure your loose items:

There are risks and vulnerabilities within every organization across the globe. Similarly, there are loose items on your deck that can come dislodged and create a significant disruption within your organization and how your organization reacts. Securing those loose items, talking to the operations team, involving your legal team, and ensuring there is a real understanding of the things that could break off and cause you damage, are all things that should be done before the storm hits. Understanding your risks while the sun is out, before a crisis hits, and knowing what you can to do to prevent or respond to them is critical.

Weather planning:

Understanding the weather in heavy weather sailing is certainly important. Same goes with understanding the environment that you’re operating in from a crisis communications standpoint. Some crises turn off the coast never making landfall. Some crises hit you as a category 5. Both of which have everything to do with the environment that you’re in during any given situation. It also has to do with the way you get information and prepare. In heavy weather sailing, you have to make decisions about how you’re going to get your weather information. You can do it yourself by looking at downloaded satellite files and by listening to the VHF radio reports from the weather service. Or you can hire an outside consultant, a weather router, someone who can actually route the course for you based on their expertise.

Whatever you decide as a heavy weather sailor, you need to get information and decide how to use it. For example, in crisis communications, there are many platforms for social media monitoring that allow you to see the social landscape. You can also hire an outside consultant who can work with you and help you in planning exercises, or you can simply learn by what other organizations are doing around you.

Practice:

Lastly and perhaps most importantly is the need to practice. Simply put, if you’re going to be a good heavy weather sailor, you need to have sailed in heavy weather. The first time you do it shouldn’t be the only time you’ve done it, because that’s a significant recipe for disaster – the same goes for crisis planning and crisis readiness. Use it as an opportunity to sit your team down and do some drills or simulations to understand what’s necessary for your response when the time comes.

 

The best way to survive heavy weather is to make sure you’ve prepared your deck, that you expect the worse, you’ve secured the things that can break, you know how to understand the environment and the weather, and you’ve practiced it in advance. Those are very similar parallels to getting your organization ready for crisis situations.

 

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A Tale of Two Executives https://kith.co/tale-of-two-executives/ Thu, 28 Jun 2018 23:19:37 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2477 “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness” is the well-known opening to Charles Dickens’ novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” However, the second part, regarding wisdom and foolishness, isn’t quoted as often as the first. When we walk […]

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness” is the well-known opening to Charles Dickens’ novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” However, the second part, regarding wisdom and foolishness, isn’t quoted as often as the first.

When we walk into crisis situations in need of a rapid response, it is often when companies don’t know what to do next and are looking for an experienced outside perspective.

In these situations, we find two different types of executives.

One type, such as a senior communicator at a large enterprise, thinks about crises in the context of: “We’ve got a really sophisticated team. We’re ready when the situation arises.”

Whereas another Fortune 1000 executive might say: “We know crises are inevitable. We are really good at doing our day job. But we want some thoughtful advice and wisdom from outside, so we can manage this disruption from our day job most efficiently.”

The first senior executive is completely well-reasoned that managing critical moments and crisis situations are best managed in-house. They don’t have the time to introduce a new outsider into the unique culture of their organization. And they don’t have a budget to bring someone along just in case they might need crisis support at some point.

The second executive realizes it’s these disruptions that define their organization. She recognizes training and forward-thinking about risk can help them avoid the disruption of crisis better than an over-reliance on their internal team.

The second executive has confidence and assurance about a relationship they have built with a consultant — someone they’ve worked with in the past who has the ability to address the four most critical things.

Develop a Relationship With an Outside Expert

First and foremost, the second executive understands crises do happen. They strategically seek to develop a relationship with an advisor or an outside expert in advance. This gives them the comfort and confidence of having someone to call on when they go through a crisis situation, which is an incredibly emotional and stressful endeavor primarily because it’s so subjective in nature.

Seeking outside expertise is already common within most organizations. For example, a marketing executive working on packaging a product will seek out a market research firm to help determine what changes are necessary. And they will typically get one, if not two, crystal clear directions on where to go with a particular product.

However, a senior executive responsible for crisis response doesn’t have the luxury to make those types of strategic choices when a crisis occurs because the responses are subjective and speed is of the essence.

There is a range of options they can choose from. With this stressful and emotional endeavor and the subjective nature of responses, it’s very important to the second executive that they have a consultant or someone they’ve worked with to turn to and ask questions — a seasoned professional who can provide insight in the same way a marketer learns from research firms — yet in a short-circuited or rapid-response type of way.

The first executive managing crises internally doesn’t get this helpful insight because their internal team may or may not have been through a situation like the one they’re currently facing. Unfortunately, you get into group-think within an organization. And all eyes are on the communications executive to help them decide what to do next. They don’t have the luxurious support all other business groups have when they execute.

 

Importance of Rich Experience in Different Types of Crises

The second critical point is the second executive has someone with rich experience across a number of different crises because it’s all they do. And that experience gives them a level of deep confidence and comfort about what to do next.

If you need surgery, you want a surgeon who has specifically done that procedure repeatedly, because it’s all they do. You could find a general surgeon who can perform the procedure relatively well. But most people would want someone who has done it many times.

Most senior communicators in most organizations don’t have to confront crises and critical moments all day, every day in their job. They don’t have what I call “pattern recognition” with crisis issues — not because they lack the basic skill sets to figure it out, but they don’t have the experience of having seen these things play out over time.

They haven’t faced similar crisis situations over and over and had a chance to become an expert at handling them. Knowing the consultant you’re working with can provide the services you need provides a deep level of confidence and increased level of comfort. It’s a far better option than relying on the improvised desires of people in your own organization to get through the crisis. As with going to a specialist for surgery, having someone with crisis-management expertise is important because these critical moments impact the nature of your organization for the long term.

Find an Objective Sounding Board

Thirdly, it’s important to understand the second executive has an impartial, outside sounding board who can provide wise assessments and doesn’t get stuck in the cultural nuances of your organization or become overly focused on sacred cows. That individual can give clear advice and wisdom based not just on experience, but also on what is ultimately in the best interest of the organization in the moment as well as long term.

That impartial, outside voice can focus on how the organization got into the current crisis, and the blame element becomes somewhat secondary to how the company can get out of the crisis and move forward. So having that impartial, outside voice to give wise advice is critical for an organization, and it can be very hard to come by when you try to find it inside your organization.

I recently wrote a blog post about this in which we referenced the ecosystem of advice. Where do people get advice when they’re in critical moments? Where do people get advice when they’re looking for critical insights? The number one answer is they turn to their network. They look to people who are outside of their organization. A few executives responded internally, but when the stakes are high and you turn internally, you can run into cultural biases from within your organization, with people overly respecting sacred cows and being fearful of speaking up to challenge the status quo.

 

Create a Crisis Simulation Plan

The fourth point is the second executive has an individual they trust to turn to with questions they can’t ask anywhere else. And it’s a relationship they’ve developed in advance.

Too often in my career, I’ve been thrust into corporate situations as they are on the brink of a crisis or in the throes of a crisis. And it’s not an organization I’m familiar with. And I certainly don’t know the players within the organization, and very quickly we move to the head of the room in order to provide real-time rapid response advice and counsel. We excel in those moments because we understand the public. But there is no alignment with the culture of the organization and some of the issues, not necessarily sacred cows, but how they respond and why they respond in certain ways.

A major financial company in New York is a client of ours. And we have, for years now, done a series of crisis communications simulations for them, in which we’ve simulated risks they’re concerned about, working with their teams and training their executives, to try to figure out the best response. That then goes into their crisis planning work. And then we identify the gaps in the plans they’ve developed. Through that time we’ve been able to develop a relationship with them, understand their culture, and understand their chain of command and how decisions get made.

Fast forward to a recent weekend earlier in 2018 when they had an actual crisis situation, and they called and asked for immediate advice. I was able to give them critical advice on how to accomplish what they needed, but I also understood the processes they had to go through in order to get there.

Had random company X called me, I would have given them excellent advice and a path forward. But it wouldn’t have been as rich had it not been influenced by the fact that we’d worked together doing a simulation, and I had some basic understanding of their organization, their culture, their chain of command and what their talent could truly execute.

And so the quote the client gave to me was: “You help us think about things and ask questions no one else asks.”

Because I understand what’s happening on the inside, I have the ability to speak more freely to the internal issues, to the challenges and to their inefficiencies, particularly around talent. I can speak very clearly to that because I understand it, and because I’m from the outside. I also have the experience from other verticals and other situations. And I can provide a perspective that is very unique relative to their crisis response.

And so when considering “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” it’s helpful to understand there’s wisdom in the second executive’s approach of making sure you’ve found a crisis consultant in advance — someone you’ve worked with on simulations who understands the internal nature of your organization and the decision-making pathways.

It’s the second executive who has someone with expertise to turn to when necessary. They’ve been working with somebody who has pattern recognition and is mostly able to develop those relationships that can encourage faster decision-making in order to make crisis situations move more smoothly. The first executive is certainly not foolish in their approach, but it’s not enriched with the wisdom of the second executive and their approach.

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Critical Moments: The New Mindset Of Reputation Management https://kith.co/critical-moments-new-mindset-reputation-management/ Wed, 06 Jun 2018 16:29:05 +0000 http://kith.co/?p=2390 What is a crisis? It’s a big question, but in its most basic terms, it’s something that interrupts you from a pre-planned activity — it moves you off-course, in other words — and it triggers a negative reaction from some important subset, be that employees, stakeholders, investors, the media etc.   The perception of your […]

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What is a crisis?

It’s a big question, but in its most basic terms, it’s something that interrupts you from a pre-planned activity — it moves you off-course, in other words — and it triggers a negative reaction from some important subset, be that employees, stakeholders, investors, the media etc.

 

The perception of your actions has now been misaligned with stakeholder desires — and remember, employees are major stakeholders too.

 

What’s impacted:

  • Operations
  • Financial stability
  • Credibility
  • Reputation

 

Critical moments — how you respond — are different from a crisis. A crisis can be momentary; the obvious example is a bad post on social media. You get back to normal quicker than we think.

 

Critical moments are core issues that long-term impact how your organization is viewed.

 

Think about the recent Starbucks example from Philadelphia.

 

That was a crisis, yes.

 

The “critical moment” from that is how Starbucks more broadly addresses race and customer service/experience.

 

See the difference? The crisis is the initial catalyzer, often; the critical moment is the longer-term strategic response.

 

So what’s the vocabulary around this?


Vocabulary is crucial to work. Think about marketers. Remember the 4Ps?

  • Price
  • Product
  • Place
  • Promotion

 

I wanted to see if there was a vocabulary approach that could be applied to reputation management, and over time, I netted out in my book at this:

  • Awareness: Who are you? What do you stand for?
  • Assessment: What do others think of you? How do you measure it?
  • Authority: Have you gone through a risk framework and are the top levels of your company bought in?
  • Action: Once you’ve gone through everything below, it’s time to get to work. This is the top level. (See visual in a second.)

 

Visually:

4 As of Reputation Management

Knowing this, what can you do now?

 

You need to develop a better understanding of risk. That’s actually where the “authority” piece above comes from.

 

There are three categories of risk, based on our work with clients over the years (and external research):

SPE risk framework

“Strategic” are risks you undertook — and knew they were risks — but there was a perception of end benefit.

 

“Preventable” are the risks you should have zero tolerance for. Avoid or prevent them. Rules/compliance are created to prevent these risks.

 

“External” are not controllable. Think about weather, natural disasters, etc.

 

Understanding the categories of risk allows your C-Suite and others to be aligned on how to grow reputation. Strategic risks are really misunderstood by the public, and oftentimes the corresponding corporate response is “Apologize.” In fact, the reality should be “Explain it better to the public.”

 

This building of reputation over time all ties to the seven levels we’ve been discussing for years, visually seen here:

7 levers image

 

These seven levers represent the elements of you corporate life you can control. We will be planning other webinars on the details and depth of the levers.

 

Hope you enjoy this month’s webinar and let us know if you have any questions about these concepts or overall reputation management.

 

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Corporate Reputation Can Be Managed https://kith.co/manage-corporate-reputation/ Wed, 30 May 2018 16:54:28 +0000 http://kith.co/?p=2380 “It’s all about reputation now” Pretty heady first paragraph of a recent Fast Company article about the importance of reputation (which you can easily argue has always been important):   There is an underappreciated paradox of knowledge that plays a pivotal role in our advanced hyper-connected liberal democracies: the greater the amount of information that […]

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“It’s all about reputation now”

Pretty heady first paragraph of a recent Fast Company article about the importance of reputation (which you can easily argue has always been important):

 

There is an underappreciated paradox of knowledge that plays a pivotal role in our advanced hyper-connected liberal democracies: the greater the amount of information that circulates, the more we rely on so-called reputational devices to evaluate it. What makes this paradoxical is that the vastly increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous. Rather, it renders us more dependent on other people’s judgments and evaluations of the information with which we are faced.

 

Certainly not at a USA Today reading level, so let me break this down for you: the argument is that information is becoming less relevant, especially in an era of “fake news,” people getting said news from social media, people only reading headlines, attention spans dropping, etc. Instead, it’s more about reputation. I don’t necessarily think this is a “new” trend, as in I think my grandmother got advice about doctors from the five women she interacted with the most in her neighborhood. Reputation, trust, and community have long been intertwined.

 

The rapid scale of digital and mobile made that whole equation more complicated, yes — because now we have “thought leaders” and “experts” around every corner, and their reputations need to be vetted as they attempt to provide information. That is different, but also the same: as we see and hear more and more digital noise, people will increasingly tune it out and go back to their trusted sources and what they know and who they believe in. Word of mouth won’t lose scale just because mobile got there, because of the importance of trust, reputation, and community.

 

But what does all this mean for corporations?

OK, this is a slightly different picture.

 

Corporate reputations are formed over the long-term by collective judgement of observers. Many mis-define the idea of “observers;” it’s not just customers or regulators, but the largest outer ring of who touches what you do even if they don’t buy or engage with you.

 

Leaders often opine the belief that corporate reputation cannot be managed in the same way that, say; legal, HR, operations or sales can be.

 

That’s not true.

 

Corporate reputation can indeed be managed, and it happens at the intersection of four As:

 

  • Awareness
  • Assessment
  • Authority
  • Action

image of the 4A's pyramid for corporate reputation

In other words:

 

  • Do you understand your reputation?
  • Can you track the inputs to it?
  • Where is your reputational advantage?
  • What are you doing about your reputation, in good times and crisis times?

 

The bottom line

Reputation is an interesting, dynamic concept that’s completely crucial to the human existence — but we tend to get it twisted up in knots when thinking about corporate reputation. If you understand that it’s a series of touchpoints (broader than you may imagine) in the public sphere, you’re on your way to realizing it can be managed.

 

I go into great detail about the 4As and the corporate reputation journey. If you are curious you can check it out here. If you want to talk about reputation management please drop a note and lets connect. Be Well.

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The Ecosystem of Advice: Who do you turn to during a crisis? https://kith.co/kith-advice-ecosystem/ Thu, 17 May 2018 20:49:40 +0000 http://kith.co/?p=2347 I started putting together a post a few weeks ago called “The Ecosystem Of Advice.” It was going to be a deep dive on who exactly we turn to when our business is in crisis and collapsing around us. I had a few thoughts, of course — consultants, attorneys, recommendations from past colleagues, trade associations, […]

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I started putting together a post a few weeks ago called “The Ecosystem Of Advice.”

It was going to be a deep dive on who exactly we turn to when our business is in crisis and collapsing around us. I had a few thoughts, of course — consultants, attorneys, recommendations from past colleagues, trade associations, Google searches, Amazon, etc.

I realized after a few edits that I wasn’t making enough of a point. And that was because I hadn’t asked my kith:

image of th definition of the word kith

When your business or your clients are in a crisis, either revenue-wise or reputation-wise, who are you looking to for advice and next steps?

So I sent out that email. Here’s a little of what I got back.

 

It’s not about WHO you turn to, it’s about the process

I got this from the head of comms and marketing at a Silicon Valley VC:

“I think the better question is whether you have the right process and people/relationships so you can be prepared when a crisis hits. You can’t make friends in a crisis and having no process will bite you when things get tough.

I am a big believer in processes and convinced that the right process (and relationships) will ultimately lead to good outcomes.

For a crisis – do you have a process in place to distinguish between an issue and real crisis. Is it internal or external? Is it a business crisis or a legal crisis? Being clear about what you are dealing with and what the desired outcome is will help determine the right advisors. Do you have a team that’s dealing with the crisis – both leveraging internal resources and external advisors. There’s no one size fits all so that’s why having a process makes sense.”

 

Crisis as opportunity

One response came with its own mini-case study:

“Just this week, I had a client lambast my direction on a white paper and refuse payment. Now while this wasn’t the epic crisis you may be talking about, my response would determine if they would remain a large global client. I decided to reach out to a leading white paper consultant. I had read every piece of material he had online and his book, so I gave it a shot with a well-crafted email requesting advice. He responded within five minutes and I was on the phone with him the next morning, gratis. I proceeded with confidence and information not found in the words he wrote but what he said about my very specific problem. I ended up firing the client who had lambasted me. I never had fired a client before and it was all because of the connection I made around expertise.”

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t wait to build your kith
  • Take the shot; reach out to the best and do your research to find who stands out
  • We all need a place to ask the secret and perhaps embarrassing questions like “What should we do?”
  • Crisis can be an opportunity to both build and leverage these reciprocal relationships
  • Don’t assume you’ll be billed for professional advice; we all need it at some point and if you build your kith right, it’s more likely you’ll pay by being a valued source to them in the future.”

Use personal and professional relationships all over the spectrum of experience

Loved this one: (head of comms and marketing at a major university)

“If it’s on fire and I’m scared, I call a work colleague that I trust and get a few of the core team members together to apply the hive mind. I sometimes call a friend or therapist friend if it has emotional ramifications, or if I think that my emotions may be uncalibrated. in this case it’s usually a friend who is a peer in a completely different line of work, someone I’ve had a relationship with for many many years and is my age or older.

I try to take into account other perspectives from mine — say an African-American male who is 30 who I have a friendship with and who will be candid with me.

I never reach out to people I think will be critical or deflate me or who will judge. I don’t contact people I don’t know well and trust unless the idea is to get a cold man-on-the-street kind of opinion.

As for revenue, I used to have several older friends (some of whom were friends of my father or mother) who would mentor me because of their love for my folks. Often I have had some older businessman or relative of a friend hear every detail of some conundrum that was plaguing me so they could sort out all the exigencies and help me see what the situation really was. That has been very helpful. Now I do that for younger friends of mine.”

 

The simplest explanation

One client of mine sent me just this:

“Dig deep, do the work, show up and manage my mind to know that this too shall pass.”

 

Beautiful.

 

What does it all mean?

My big takeaway from the gamut of responses was this:

  • Community matters a lot: Make sure you’re building one. Make sure you have people from all experience levels and professional contexts you can reach out to if need be.
  • Have processes in place: We bemoan them because they can stifle, but when the crap hits the fan, they can be wonderful too.
  • Know who your stakeholders are: Both you need to please/ameliorate and who needs help from you.
  • Reach out to experts in a given field: They may be more likely to help than you’d think.

 

And simply put – think about who you would ask.

I suppose I was a touch surprised — I thought more would respond and say “consultants” or “lawyers.” It seemed more went with trusted colleagues, mentors, etc. That should actually give us hope that business is getting done in the right ways based on shared respect and connection, I’d like to think.

Here’s where I want to leave it: building a kith, to me, is about finding sophisticated friends, helpful people, and those will give you advice. In short, I want to be your friend and talk to you/engage with you about your business before there’s a crisis, even though I ultimately get “the call” when there’s a crisis. I’d prefer to work a little ahead, and build that community first.

That said: if we can be helpful, contact me or the team.

 

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Facebook and the Limits of Reputation https://kith.co/facebook-and-the-limits-of-reputation/ Wed, 25 Apr 2018 17:10:17 +0000 http://kith.co/?p=2330 No one seems to know what many brands really even do. Is that an issue? I don’t want to write much about the Mark Zuckerberg hearings — although “Mr. Zuckerman” was pretty funny, as well as the fact that a tech hearing used printed-out logo boards — because the story’s been everywhere, and everyone is […]

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No one seems to know what many brands really even do. Is that an issue?

I don’t want to write much about the Mark Zuckerberg hearings — although “Mr. Zuckerman” was pretty funny, as well as the fact that a tech hearing used printed-out logo boards — because the story’s been everywhere, and everyone is essentially saying the exact same stuff about it.

What the heck is Facebook, even?

This is the real issue, to me: the reason any of this even became an issue is because no one really knows what Facebook even is. Think on this: something like 66% of adults get their news from Facebook. Just off of that stat alone, Facebook is essentially history’s biggest newspaper. Is it regulated like a newspaper would be? No. To others, Facebook is:

  • A place to keep tabs on friends and ex-lovers
  • A messaging service
  • A bank
  • Another version of Craig’s List
  • A place to run ads
  • A place to get data

 

The last one is, of course, why the hearings happened. Very few people who use Facebook regularly understand the business model. It’s the old trope of business: “If the product is free, you’re the product.” Many people don’t get that, however.

You’re seeing this confusion about what exactly a brand does all over the tech space, and the tech space is dominating business these days, so it’s becoming normative to not fully understand what exactly a company’s core endgame and offerings are. For example: within a decade, we might consider Apple a healthcare company. Google might be a car company. Examples like this abound.

The repercussions

Seth Godin has a perspective on the idea of reputation that’s somewhat similar to mine: spinning it into the future, he says reputation is “what people expect us to do next.”

But if we as consumers and, well, citizens don’t know what these companies are even doing in the first place — how do we know what to expect from them?

Their reputation is going to suffer, right?

Godin believes we evaluate quality and character.

I’ve always said that a company owns its brand, but the public owns the brand’s reputation.

I think we’re arriving at a point in business/societal history where this is going to hit a gigantic tipping point.

What next?

Probably nothing, honestly.

Most articles of this type would argue for “increased transparency” on behalf of the companies. I’d love to argue for that, but it’s a pipe dream. No multi-billion dollar company wants anything to do with transparency, Ray Dalio be damned.

And let’s be real: despite a televised hearing and general uproar about how Facebook makes money, most users still aren’t even changing their privacy settings.

Businesses at a scale like Facebook don’t fall into the ocean overnight, even when their reputation takes a hit.

The other easy argument here is that as millennials get more purchasing power and decision-making authority within their careers and lives, maybe they’ll force companies to be more reputation-centric and care about their users.

The elephant in that room is money. As long as money can be made, transparency is dead. Caring about your customers is on life support (so long as someone is paying for your service). And so does that mean reputation only matters in times of crisis, not as a day-to-day element.

These are the sad realities of the modern business climate, unfortunately. Reputation, while assumed important, can be lip-serviced by those who achieve scale and money — and dare say a MONOPOLY.

What do you see as changing that? This is what I am thinking about – I wrote a book about reputation and believe it to be important, but maybe not at scale. What do you think?

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Pattern Recognition and Crisis Management https://kith.co/pattern-recognition-crisis-management/ Wed, 11 Apr 2018 18:11:06 +0000 http://kith.co/?p=2318 What is pattern recognition? Pattern recognition has been around since humans have been around, as it’s one of the more logical ways we make sense of our world. In recent years, it’s gained a bunch more contextual notoriety because it’s deeply tied to image processing, neural networks, machine learning, textual analysis, and other tech stack […]

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What is pattern recognition?

Pattern recognition has been around since humans have been around, as it’s one of the more logical ways we make sense of our world. In recent years, it’s gained a bunch more contextual notoriety because it’s deeply tied to image processing, neural networks, machine learning, textual analysis, and other tech stack fields that are advancing very rapidly.

I’ve always thought of pattern recognition career-wise in this way: within any given field — say, oil and gas or digital marketing — there are people who have seen so many situations of a given sequence emerge and unfold that they know exactly the cadence of what’s going to happen next before it does. This, in my mind at least, is true expertise or mastery of a field.

It’s going to vary by what you specifically do, so let me give you two examples.

Think of a child learning the pattern square-circle-triangle. At first, he knows nothing about said pattern; he might not even know the individual three shapes. But over time, if he’s repeatedly exposed to the same pattern, he will know that circle always follows square. It will become intuitive to him.

Now think of a professional who manages widget production. He knows what inputs need to go in, what can stop the machines, and what must come out. He’s seen the machines stop, so he knows what steps happen there. He’s seen near-perfect output. In every possible situation, he knows the next step in the pattern.

But are these situations normative in the real world?

These are idealized situations where learning takes place, and then takes root, over a period of time. But that’s not always how the real world works. (It almost never is.)

For years, for example, economics was rooted in the idea of rational actors. Since it’s pretty clear human beings aren’t rational, a field called “behavioral economics” emerged — the idea was to explain irrational decision-making. The best minds from that field have dominated the Nobel Prize ever since, and Michael Lewis just wrote a book about one of them (Daniel Kahneman). That field only emerged because we needed new ways to look at the world. Nothing about how we learn or make decisions is truly that rational.

Point being: there are patterns in the work we choose for our careers, and some have experienced it so much that they know the next part of the pattern before it happens.

But in so many work situations, a giant wrench is thrown in — and the patterns you understood are now completely scattered.

Crisis Communications

The biggest example of this to me is crisis moments, or the need for crisis communications.

That’s a field in which I see patterns, because I’ve been working in it for decades.

But when we go in to companies experiencing a crisis or brand reversal, they have no playbook. They understand their business model and how their industry flows. That’s where they see patterns.

The different elements of a crisis — reporters calling, news stories, social media cycles, accountabilities, etc. — are almost completely new to them.

They have no idea of the patterns now.

So they need to learn pattern recognition

Pattern recognition is the key, in my mind, to advanced crisis management — and performance in those moments. I wrote about this in 2015 in the context of good and great communicators.

Performance in crisis is about two things having happened prior to the crisis:

  • The team was crisis-ready
  • The team was reputationally-aware

The beautiful thing about trying to reach these two states in this way is that anyone can learn pattern recognition.

The way to accelerate learning pattern recognition is by doing, testing, making mistakes, and group learning. It’s much like you would do over the long term, but in a concentrated learning environment where you learn from yourself and from your mistakes. The learning is done in a gated garden, so no one can get in trouble. This is how you accelerate your crisis communications performance.

The point to remember is that you can’t learn this from a lecture. You can’t watch a video on how to learn pattern recognition.

You have to experience it and practice with it in order to gain mastery over it.

And now, the big reveal idea

I’ve been kicking tires on a new concept.

Let’s say I flew to your HQ on one day, and had dinner with your team the first night.

The second day, all day, we spend working on crisis management and response. We do some simulations, go through best practices, literature, what similar companies to you have done, etc.

We try to teach you pattern recognition — what to do and what to look for in the crisis moments — across an immersive day.

Then we leave, and we support you.

I don’t know if it will work. It flies in the face of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours concept, although admittedly that rule has been debunked before.

Can we teach people the signs and patterns of a crisis in their ranks or their industry in less than 48 hours?

What do you think?

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The Equation For Crisis Success https://kith.co/equation-for-crisis-success/ Wed, 28 Mar 2018 18:02:24 +0000 http://kith.co/?p=2315   We’re not big fans of jumping into the fray with whatever everyone else is writing about at a given time. There’s a lot of digital noise already out in the ether, so why make that worse? We have opinions on the United flight dog, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica situation, Uber’s self-driving car death, and more. […]

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We’re not big fans of jumping into the fray with whatever everyone else is writing about at a given time. There’s a lot of digital noise already out in the ether, so why make that worse? We have opinions on the United flight dog, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica situation, Uber’s self-driving car death, and more. Of course we do — the name of our game is crisis management, right? Those are all crises for those brands. We have views.

I am not sure how many of the “experts” have even been in the room when issues and impacts like these are discussed. I am slow to comment on what happened, why and what’s next when I am not in the room learning all the dynamics of the situation.

But rather than shove those external views down your throat in an article that will get lost in 478 articles about the same topic, we wanted to organize thoughts a bit differently. We wanted to give you an equation for crisis success, which you can get a deeper reveal on in the webinar above. A model that has proven itself across industries, companies and cultures.

Start here:

  • First and fast is important.
  • If you can’t tell your own story, someone else will — maybe even a competitor.
  • The “bar” in terms of customer response to what happens with your brand isn’t about solving the problem; it’s actually about showing that you’re aware of it and willing to make changes.

Now, taking all that into account, here’s the promised equation:

image of Kiths equation for crisis success

These are the elements you need to plug into this equation:

  • What do you actually stand for? (As opposed to the buzzwords you use in big meetings)
  • Who is truly in charge of a given situation?

If you know both of those answers, you’ll understand your speed of response in a crisis.

For example:

  • Bad: Stand for nothing except for pursuit of profit + very unclear hierarchy in tough moments will lead to a slow response

 

  • Good: Very principled about actions + clear hierarchy in terms of who calls what shots will lead to a faster response

 

People have asked me for years — and we discussed this on the above webinar — where I come down on “speed kills” vs. “speed saves.” Speed kills is usually around really sloppy execution. I’ve seen that happen in client engagements, sure.

But in general, I come down on “speed saves.” If you get in front of a storyline and own it, you will get through a crisis. If you flounder, you’re playing from behind. Except for the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 2004 Boston Red Sox, most teams aren’t good at playing from behind. You need to be in front or close. And speed is going to help you get to the right spot.

This all ties to our model for reputation excellence. We created this but while there are dozens of models around R&D and pricing, HR and legal, there wasn’t a set model for reputation management and crisis. So we designed this:

image of the 4 A's pyramid

What we’re discussing here about the chain of command and core values crosses all of these areas, although awareness is one of the primary areas.

The bottom line:

  • Be observational about what’s happening in the marketplace.
  • Ask yourself, “How would we have handled this?”
  • Walk through the exercise.
  • See how mission/values intersect with chain of command.
  • What would the speed of response be?
  • How many people would need to weigh in?
  • If you test this process once a quarter, you’ll have a road map for how to determine your “choke points” and subsequently fix them.

So ask yourself: does my organization respond with the speed it should? If not, brushing up on your crisis math may be the way to improve.

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How can universities handle reputational risk better? https://kith.co/how-can-universities-handle-reputational-risk-better/ Mon, 15 Jan 2018 17:57:26 +0000 http://kith.co/?p=2319 Higher education is seemingly in an increasingly perilous spot. As the job market shifts — 47 to 54% of jobs will likely be lost to automation by 2030, or roughly 800 million jobs globally — higher ed also needs to reinvent itself to be more of a value-add in the modern age. Just a few […]

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Higher education is seemingly in an increasingly perilous spot. As the job market shifts — 47 to 54% of jobs will likely be lost to automation by 2030, or roughly 800 million jobs globally — higher ed also needs to reinvent itself to be more of a value-add in the modern age. Just a few years ago, The New Yorker referred to higher education as predominantly “an arms race” that was benefiting the administrators more than students and parents.

Into this confusing time comes a lot of issues with reputational risk, shown recently in new research led by United Educators. The research is based on questions sent to board of trustees chairs, presidents, chief financial officers and other senior administrators at 145 institutions in 2017.

The Key Findings

Visually:

As you can see, the previous three years (purple) included campus climate and sexual assault/Title IX issues as predominant (along with academic programs and student behavior). In the next three years, those remain concerns and business model shoots way up as well.

Some quick hit takeaways yield even more to think about, though. Note:

  • 87% believe the board has organizational oversight of reputational risk
  • 83% believe that reputational risk is more important than three years ago
  • 78% believe that the institution has identified drivers of reputational risk
  • 67% have a reputational risk plan and response in place

 

Take those together: 9 in 10 believe the board has oversight, and more than 8 in 10 see reputational risk as an increasing issue. Hold those thoughts for one second.

Now consider these statistics, from the same report:

  • Only 26% of survey respondents believe that their institution’s response to reputational risk is consistently proactive
  • The number of reputational risk events occurring is large
  • The impact of some reputational risk events can be devastating, and
  • 54% of institutions state that they do not have the ability to withstand a major reputational risk event.

 

So despite the confidence of the first set of statistics, that confidence isn’t really there — less than 3 in 10 believe the response is proactive, more than half think they lack the ability to withstand a reputational risk event, and most seem to agree the sheer number of reputational risk events is large.

Now consider the current situation at Michigan State

2018 is shaping up to be Michigan State’s “annus horribilis.”  The university administrators are finding that the standard actions in the crisis toolbox– demanding the resignation of a senior person and appointing an outside investigator– are no longer sufficient to stem the reputation hemorrhaging.

In this post-Harvey Weinstein world where allegations of harassment and predation have shaken institutional foundations to the core, the game has changed for everyone. This has moved beyond the actions of a sexual predator.  It is now about “what did you know, when did you know it and why didn’t you do anything about it?” The greatest challenge Michigan State faces now is how to manage the widening circle of damage threatening its trustees, its entire athletic department, and the trust of faculty, students, alumni and donors — as well as future applicants.

Words alone can’t fix this.  Investigations, accountability, soul-searching and culture-change will be the order of the day.  The university can’t think reputation-repair tactics will be an exercise measured in weeks and months.  While the matter may drift from the national conversation, the caretakers of the university’s reputation are facing a Manhattan Project-sized challenge that will take years to address.

What’s the path through this for Michigan State and other universities?

Consider a Reputation Management Council 

A Reputation Management Council, created with representatives from multiple disciplines, fosters mutual understanding of risks, and ensures the right issues get surfaced at the right time.

This could work for universities because of the disconnect shown above: most higher ed institutions seemingly do not have a venue where critical thinking about reputation growth and risk can take place among key leaders. It seems the belief is that the board should do it, but the board isn’t doing it proactively enough — and that’s possibly because of being pulled in multiple directions, lacking the knowledge base to handle crises, etc.

Understanding your potential risk framework as an university would be Step 1. The report here outlines some of the major areas for risk, as an example.

Also understanding that ultimately, universities (and corporations) are defined by their behaviors and actions in critical moments. That’s Step 2.

Step 3 is figuring out how to approach it — and it’s clear the current models aren’t being viewed favorably, so a cross-disciplinary Reputation Management Council makes some sense here. It would also allow for differing perspectives on the risk issue that’s arisen, as opposed to simply the board or the President’s office.

This is important not just for the institutional integrity of the university, but for the quality of experience that the students receive. In an era supposedly defined by customer experience, you must think of students as customers, as crass as that might feel to some. If you’re unable to deliver for them academically and culturally, future generations will go elsewhere. And we already know business model is a looming concern.

To get in front of the risk issues that might drive down student experience, you need a new approach. Isn’t it time?

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