KITH https://kith.co Fri, 07 Dec 2018 00:02:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 Staying on course: follow your crisis rhumb line https://kith.co/crisis-rhumb-line/ Thu, 06 Dec 2018 16:06:52 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2677 Critical takeaways In sailing, the rhumb line is the shortest, most direct route between Point A and B.  However, external factors such as tides, weather or obstacles seldom allow ships to take this direct route, and they must compensate for these factors. Businesses in crisis also need a clear sense of their endpoint – the […]

The post Staying on course: follow your crisis rhumb line appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Critical takeaways
  • In sailing, the rhumb line is the shortest, most direct route between Point A and B.  However, external factors such as tides, weather or obstacles seldom allow ships to take this direct route, and they must compensate for these factors.
  • Businesses in crisis also need a clear sense of their endpoint – the Point B on their crisis rhumb line – to succeed.
  • As with sailing, many external challenges will try to divert businesses from their course and those that merely respond to the external factors without a clear endpoint are unlikely to succeed.

 

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line from Point A to B, and in sailing, this is referred to as the rhumb line.  You use this imaginary line to measure your performance and determine whether you’re on or off course. This is easier said than done and taking a straight line from a map and plotting this at sea can be hard. The curvature of the earth, map inaccuracies and discrepancies with even highly sophisticated GPS all make this harder in practice than it might seem.

Nevertheless, the rhumb line gives us a clear link between our start point and destination, so we always know where we came from and where we want to end up.

However, following the rhumb line is also difficult as some factors can push you off course.  The wind, tide or currents, land or seaborne obstacles and bad weather can all cause you to have to change course at times.  However, having a clear idea of your destination will allow you to make the necessary adjustments to get back to your rhumb line.

I completed a trip not too long ago over 800 miles from Bermuda to the Virgin Islands, and while I was thinking about our route and rhumb line, I realized that this is very much like the situation you face in a crisis.

Your employees are like the wind: they are the energy and the force that will get you from A to B efficiently. They’re the ones that are going to help you manage the situation and power you through the crisis. However, you need to be attentive to how the wind is blowing.  If you face internal resistance or lack buy-in from staff, you will end up fighting the wind with potentially disastrous consequences.

Issues related to litigation are like the tide.  The saying goes that time and tide wait for no-one and litigation is the same – it is an inevitable fact of life that a company in crisis will face litigation.  Litigation has an impact on how you get from A to B and what your ultimate end state might look like but, by itself, it won’t stop you reaching your destination.

You will also face obstacles in a crisis and, like a spit of land or other ship, these aren’t things you can control.  The facts of the situation are the facts, regulations are regulations, and activist shareholders are activist shareholders. These aren’t things that you have any control over.  You also cannot change the industry you are in nor the executive leadership you have. So you need to identify any potential obstacles and work out how to navigate around these.

Finally, you will face the ‘weather’ associated with a crisis and no matter how good you are at forecasting or ‘looking around corners,’ this can catch you out.  So you have to be able to anticipate what the weather might be and account for that. And make sure that you have Plan B (or C or D…) ready if something unexpected crops up on the horizon.

However, none of this matters if you don’t have a clear idea of where you want to go in the first place.

You can head off to sea from Point A and sail around, your path directed by whatever conditions that you encounter. You will have an interesting – maybe very interesting – trip but there’s no real chance you will end up at Point B.  You have no rhumb line to fall back on.

It’s the same in a crisis except there is no good outcome if you don’t get to your objective.  Without a clear understanding of your destination, all your efforts to manage a critical moment or crisis will be unsuccessful.

As we work with our clients, we advise them to have a clearly articulated understanding of what is the desired outcome: what’s their Point B? What do they want to accomplish and how do they want to get there? That way, their destination is always clear, and the rhumb line never changes. Having that clear destination, being able to understand the concerns and motivations of staff and stakeholders, knowing what litigation might look like and having a clear-eyed understanding of the facts will best set you up for success.

That way, no matter what crisis ‘weather’ might try to push you off course, you will be able to adapt and use your rhumb line as a reference to help you get back on track and reach your destination.

Far too often we see clients dive in, responding to the stimuli around them – the wind, the tide, the obstacles or the weather – without being conscious of where they ultimately want to end up. This is the crisis equivalent of being adrift in a storm.

So set your crisis rhumb line as early as possible and focus on your desired end-state. Respond to the challenges that come your way, but no matter how far off course you are pushed, you will always be able to return to that path. That way, you can reach your destination in the best shape possible, and maybe enjoy a beer on the dock when you’re done.

The post Staying on course: follow your crisis rhumb line appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Confidence in Crisis: The Confident Communicator https://kith.co/crisis-confidence/ Thu, 29 Nov 2018 15:26:03 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2674 Critical takeaways Communicators must be able to deliver advice and guidance with confidence in a critical moment. This can be hard when the situation is dynamic and changes rapidly. Confidence must be based on a shared level of preparedness and ability, rather than bravado which can mask a preparedness gap. A combination of preparation, adaptability, […]

The post Confidence in Crisis: The Confident Communicator appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Critical takeaways
  • Communicators must be able to deliver advice and guidance with confidence in a critical moment. This can be hard when the situation is dynamic and changes rapidly.
  • Confidence must be based on a shared level of preparedness and ability, rather than bravado which can mask a preparedness gap.
  • A combination of preparation, adaptability, experience and keeping things simple will help develop confidence allowing communicators to be more effective in a critical moment.

 

As counselors and crisis communications advisors, whether as outside consultants or members of an executive team, we are intimately involved in the decisions of what to do next in a critical moment or crisis situation. We have to bring our unique understanding of the external environment into the discussion to help advise and support the CEO, no matter how difficult that reality might be to face up to. For the most part, we are drawing on our insight and experience as well as gut instinct to offer the best advice and counsel that we can. It’s based on an understanding of stakeholders, the culture of the company and the company’s tolerance for risk and disruption.

This strategic understanding sets the stage for us to deliver confident and actionable information in a crisis.

However, it’s been my experience that confidence can often exceed capability due to a lack of preparation. And it seems that my concerns are not ill-founded.

Deloitte conducts an annual survey of crisis readiness and preparedness and recent results uncovered a huge gap between confidence and capability. One example cited was that 90% of organizations felt confident in their capability to respond to a corporate scandal yet only 17% had actually trained and prepared for this kind of situation.

This brings to mind a cheeky quote I’ve used previously. “Often wrong, never in doubt.”

Obviously, this isn’t meant as a compliment so we need to find a way to close any gap between misplaced confidence and competence.

However, in addition to this gap, another challenge in a crisis is the dynamic, changing nature of ‘reality’. Unlike periods of normality, a crisis is a fast-moving situation where things will change rapidly. The ‘truth’ of the situation as it was in the morning is no longer the case by noon and it takes a significant amount of time to develop a full understanding of the situation. Therefore, it can become easy to second-guess yourself and hedge your advice which erodes both your confidence and the confidence others will have in your decisions.

This is where another quote comes to mind. Paul Saffo coined the phrase “strong opinions, weakly held” to express an approach to decision-making in dynamic, changing situations. Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape and now a Silicon Valley VC, cites this mindset as key to being able to innovate successfully.

Faced with these challenges, how do we as crisis communicators deliver actionable advice to our corporations with confidence in a critical moment?

I have identified four ways to help overcome misplaced confidence while also allowing you to remain confident despite the uncertainty in a crisis or critical moment. These techniques will allow you to develop the right kind of confidence to help deliver advice crisply and effectively.

Prepare

First of all is Prepare. The best way to develop your crisis skills is through experience (more on that in a moment) but that’s not always possible. However, preparation through study, training and realistic simulations is almost as good.

Excellent crisis communicators have experience with crises but they also always learning: thinking about crisis, benchmarking what others are doing, studying new ‘best practices’, and reading case studies from other organizations. They conduct simulations to understand how their team, senior leaders, legal and other disciplines within their organization are going to react. They are always learning and preparing.
So the first and most important way to have confidence is to close that ability gap and to banish the bravado that Deloitte identified. This foundation of skills and abilities is also what allows you to address the first part of Saffo’s maxim, developing strong opinions. Your preparation gives you the experience and understanding to be able to decipher what is happening and make judgements calls in a fast moving and confusing situation.

But you need to start preparation today. Tomorrow or next week will be too late. If you wait to prepare until you’re confronted with a crisis, it’s definitely too late.

Acknowledge reality

The second thing is to acknowledge reality. Too often we see leaders deny the facts that are staring them in the face. Some will even refuse to accept that they are actually being confronted with a critical moment.

Even when you accept that you are in crisis, it can be difficult to adapt to a dynamic situation. People often struggle to accept that the situation keeps changing and there is an inertia to their thinking. They end up anchored to the ‘facts’ as these were first explained to them – facts that have long-since evolved into something else.

This is where the second part of Saffo’s concept applies because your commitment to the reality of the situation must be loosely held. That way, as the situation changes, you drop any preconceptions or assumptions that are no longer relevant and update your understanding of reality. This can be a difficult balance to maintain because you need to hold those strong convictions and maintain your confidence in your decisions, right up until the moment that you need to change.

A key way to achieve and maintain this confidence is to have a clear idea of the desired end state in mind. While others are becoming wound up in the minute-by-minute minutiae of the situation, you want to be the calm, cool head that is looking at the width and the breadth of the whole situation.

This means that instead of focussing on the action and tactics, you keep your eye on the outcome and overall objective. This allows you to separate the solvable from the unsolvable, to acknowledge what’s in your control to fix and to commit to a plan to take you towards your objective. That way, as the situation changes, you can adapt tactics but your overall strategy – the roadmap to success – will remain broadly the same.

Learn from experience

As I noted above, the best way to learn is through being involved in crises. You can deliver insights and advice with much more confidence if you learn from the experience. The adage that we love is:

“The crucible of crisis doesn’t develop your leadership, it reveals it.”

So when you have the opportunity, learn from crisis. Onboard what you learn, “sharpen the saw” and grow from the experiences that you’ve had. Conduct your own after-action review and ask yourself how you did. Sore the assumptions you made and the advice that you gave. Where were you right and where were you wrong. Not necessarily wrong in the sense that you couldn’t forecast what was going to happen but wrong in that you didn’t make the optimum call based on the information available.

Take each experience as an opportunity to learn for yourself and with your team, so that you can be as ready as possible the next time your skills are required.

Keep it simple

The final trait of confident communicators is in some regard the easier but feels the hardest. KISS – keep it stupid simple. Communicate clearly and consistently and stay disciplined. If the message, approach and understood reality are clear and working, don’t overcomplicate things. Being simple takes real confidence because it can be tempting to try to seek ‘bonus points’ for something clever or innovative. But a clear story, told well and told simply is more powerful and compelling.

Moreover, keeping thing simple gives you an agility that will allow you to adapt as the situation changes and you have to respond to a new reality.

Confidence, not bravado

Confidence in a crisis comes not from a misplaced sense of our own abilities but rather from a deep-seated understanding of the abilities and skills of our team and ourselves. Preparation, adaptability, experience and keeping things simple will allow us to express strong, confident opinions on the best course of action in a crisis. This closes the worrying gap between confidence and ability and reduces – but won’t eliminate – the number of times we will be wrong. And even when we are wrong, we can quickly adapt to a new reality and move forward with confidence.

The post Confidence in Crisis: The Confident Communicator appeared first on KITH.

]]>
The Keto Diet for Crisis Readiness https://kith.co/the-crisis-diet/ Thu, 22 Nov 2018 21:51:43 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2668 Critical takeaways Like our diets, we can take different approaches to how we prepare for crises. Many companies have a high-carb, ‘junk food’ approach to crisis preparedness which generates a short-term ‘sugar-high’ but little sustainable benefit. Unlike high-carb diets, a keto diet advocates a higher fat intake to help generate a long-term, sustainable supply of […]

The post The Keto Diet for Crisis Readiness appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Critical takeaways
  • Like our diets, we can take different approaches to how we prepare for crises. Many companies have a high-carb, ‘junk food’ approach to crisis preparedness which generates a short-term ‘sugar-high’ but little sustainable benefit.
  • Unlike high-carb diets, a keto diet advocates a higher fat intake to help generate a long-term, sustainable supply of energy.
  • A ‘keto’ crisis diet focuses on steady, sustainable, preparedness which will help companies build their longer-term reputation and a solid foundation for crisis response.

 

During the holiday season, especially just after Thanksgiving, many people begin to think about diet and health: what did I eat, what should I eat and what can I do to try to stay healthy? Or the big one – how do I lose weight?

Over the years there have been many diet fads but the keto diet has become very popular recently, especially amongst endurance athletes. The keto diet is a lower-carb, higher-fat diet that swaps out fast-burning carbs for slow-burning fats to provide a more steady, sustainable energy source that avoids the empty calories that carbs often provide.

Don’t panic, I’m not about to start evangelizing the benefits of ‘bulletproofing’ your morning coffee with yak butter or tell you to throw out all the carbs in your house. (Not before Thanksgiving anyway.)

But this contrast between a steady, sustainable energy source from fat versus the rapidly-fading sugar high of carbs did make me think about the contrasts between how corporations prepare for and respond to crises.

For many, their crisis ‘diet’ looks a lot like what the average teenager would eat if left to their own devices: junk food!

Crisis prep ‘fast food’

Over-indexing for social media chatter. Becoming distracted by the latest industry fad. Dropping everything to respond to an ‘urgent’ (but not important) story about the firm.  This ‘junk food’ diet leads organizations to bounce around between what’s hot or new instead of focusing on their mission and values and what’s really affecting their organizations in the long-term.

These organizations train and exercise, thinking they’re planning for the long term, but the training or crisis simulations are more entertainment than informative. Everyone certainly had their hair on fire and was panicked during the exercise and there was a definite high afterwards.  But this faded quickly and there was little to no long-lasting benefit.

This is the crisis equivalent of high-carb junk food: it’s great at the time and you will feel full for a while but it’s not nutritious and that feeling will fade quickly. Most importantly, if this is all you eat, it’s pretty unhealthy.

Long-lasting crisis preparation

On the other hand, some organizations think about risk and crisis in a holistic, long-term  context. Their communications or external affairs team aligns with the operations group, identifies areas of risk and prepares accordingly.  We illustrate this approach as follows.

Read more about Kith’s risk-based approach to crisis here.

This is all done in a slow, thoughtful and deliberate way, to build a long-term, sustainable capability.  Their attitude to reputation and trust reflects that of Mike Barnett:

“Corporate reputation is an observer’s collective judgment on a corporation based on assessment of the financial, social, and environmental impacts attributed to a corporation over time.” (Emphasis mine)

Mike Barnett, the Oxford Handbook on Corporate Reputation

So instead of leaping from fast-burning issue to fast-burning issue, none of which amount to a critical moment, they are building a reputation that is the sum and substance of an observer’s judgment over time. Organizations that think this way really begin to manage for the long term.  They become more lean and focused which is reflected in how they prepare, train and respond to crisis.

This approach is the equivalent of the high-fat, sustained-energy approach that the keto diet advocates – the diametric opposite of what you get with the junk food approach.

Importantly, despite some misconceptions, the keto diet doesn’t mean slow and steady: these companies will still be able to respond with speed in a crisis.  However, unlike those on the ‘high-carb’ crisis diet, they will also have the endurance to maintain their response for the long-term.

Switching to a crisis keto diet

So what does this look like in reality for you as a crisis manager? As there are different versions of the keto diet, similarly there are a number of different ways that organizations can pursue ‘keto’ crisis readiness.

Some organizations focus on comprehensive, thoughtful gap analysis workshops and long-term simulations. They are less interested in ‘hair-on-fire’ simulations and more concerned with identifying process gaps that might cause the organization to fail.

Other organizations stand up a corporate reputation council to identify legacy or emerging issues that have or could threaten the organization’s reputation.  This council then drives the initiatives required to find and fix these issues for the long-term. This makes sure they’ve learned from the past and are better prepared for the future.

Some simply focus on internal alignment. They want operations, communication, legal and the executive team to be aligned and coordinated. This develops their understand of how each other works and makes them more able to make decisions quickly and efficiently. This alignment breeds the trust and speed needed to respond to an actual crisis.

Lastly, some organizations take a very process-oriented, risk-driven view. What are the threats? What are the potential impacts? What are the issues from a legal standpoint that can most directly impact what we do? And how do these affect our objectives and what are we going to do about them?

Regardless of the approach you take – and you can combine these techniques – the point is that you’re not running on the short-term fix of junk food. Rather you’re focusing on the things that you can control, and the things that really matter to allow you to build, maintain and defend your reputation over time.

So, with that, have a great Thanksgiving holiday and all the faster-carbs that entails.  But once you get back to work, take a look at the keto diet: it might not taste quite as good in the moment, but it’s much better in the long-term.

(And just in case there was any confusion: I’m not a dietician and I don’t play one on TV so please don’t take any actual dietary advice from this article! If you are interested in this kind of nutrition, you can learn more about ketosis here and here.)

The post The Keto Diet for Crisis Readiness appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Doing The Right Thing: How to Make Ethical Decisions https://kith.co/making-ethical-decisions/ Fri, 16 Nov 2018 16:54:16 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2663 Critical takeaways Knowing the right thing to do in the run up to or aftermath of a crisis can be difficult. A process for ethical decision-making is needed to overcome these challenges. Immanuel Kant’s philosophy – based on the four pillars of autonomy; the categorical imperative; ethical considerations; and symmetrical communications – provides an excellent […]

The post Doing The Right Thing: How to Make Ethical Decisions appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Critical takeaways
  • Knowing the right thing to do in the run up to or aftermath of a crisis can be difficult. A process for ethical decision-making is needed to overcome these challenges.
  • Immanuel Kant’s philosophy – based on the four pillars of autonomy; the categorical imperative; ethical considerations; and symmetrical communications – provides an excellent framework for these difficult decisions.
  • Kith has adapted a four-step model to guide CEOs and their advisors through this difficult process.

 

At Kith, we spend a lot of time on conference calls and in boardrooms, working with clients to determine what to do in the midst of a critical moment. A lot of what we’re doing is considering the implications of decisions, wrestling with how to do the right thing at the right time for the right people.

These aren’t the in-the-moment crisis decisions: those need to be made with speed, reflecting your mission and values. These are the more deliberate decisions taken before or after a critical moment. Decisions such as who is eligible for compensation or who deserves punishment.

But how can a CEO even tell what’s ‘right’ in these situations and how can you help him or her come to an ethical decision?

Telling right from wrong

Two months ago, I was working with a client facing a major strategic decision. They were trying to determine what to do next and I offered advice and suggestions based on my experience and insight. I was confident that my experience of similar situations had helped them come to the right decision.

But this was experience-based, not guided by a process. I started wondering how companies could know what’s right and make the correct decision without previous experience to guide them?

So I started looking into ethical decision-making models and quickly found an excellent scholarly article by Dr. Shannon Bowen. Dr Browen’s paper titled, ‘A Practical Model for Ethical Decision Making in Issues Management and Public Relations’. provides an excellent model for ethical thinking based on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

(I’m going to summarize Dr Bowen’s key ideas below but I would strongly recommend that you read her original paper for more detail.)

For companies, ethical decisions often lie in the gray area where public expectation and business strategy intersect. With these competing interests at play, Immanuel Kant’s approach to ethical behavior provides a useful framework for us to approach decision-making.

Kant believed that rational intellect, guided by deductive reasoning, should be the source for moral decision-making. That is opposed to decision-making based on rules prescribed by religion or lawmakers. (If you want to read more on Kant’s thinking, I like ‘The Introduction to Kant’s Ethics’ by Roger Sullivan.)

The more I read Dr Bowen, the more I realized that this was something that I could turn into a practical model: something we could apply in the real world and bring value to our clients.

The four pillars

The model we’ve adapted mirrors Dr Bowen’s and is based on four pillars of Kant’s philosophy: autonomy; the categorical imperative; ethical considerations; and symmetrical communications. You don’t need to understand these in detail to use the model but the key concepts are as follows:

Autonomy – Ethical decisions can only be made by an autonomous, rational decision-maker. The decider needs a clear slate, one free of outside influences, personal desires, or a fear of negative repercussions when making decisions.

The categorical imperative – The categorical imperative states: an ethical decision is universal and applies consistently across times, across cultures, and across societal norms. Part of this is also the principle of reversibility. Would the decision-maker see the merit of a decision and feel it was ‘right’ if he or she were on the receiving end?

Importantly, Kantinan thinking judges morality by the motivation, rather than the outcome. To Kant, an ethical decision is one taken for the right reasons, irrespective of the outcome. Even a decision with a positive outcome but made for the wrong reasons would be amoral in Kant’s view.

Ethical consideration – You also need to think about duty, intent, and dignity and respect as these apply to key constituents in the situation. Consider each key group involved in the situation and ask yourself the same three questions for each:

  • Am I doing the right thing? (Duty)
  • Am I proceeding with morally good will? (Intent)
  • Are dignity and respect maintained? (Dignity and respect)

 

Symmetrical communication – Finally, the decision must be based on symmetrical communications. A truly equitable, ethical decision will be based upon a two-way conversation where external parties are not just consulted but their input is included in the factors under consideration.

Ethical decision making – the Cliff Notes Version

I appreciate that this is a lot to take in and you may feel that the last thing you need is another process. However, as I noted, we’ve edited and modified Dr Bowen’s model to develop a ‘Cliff Notes’ version based on four questions.

  1. Are we acting autonomously, free of eternal influences?
  2. Is what we are proposing applicable universally and would we accept this solution if it were applied to us?
  3. Are we doing the right thing, with the right intent for all those involved, to show them respect and to maintain their dignity?
  4. Are our decisions based on a two-way conversation?

While you are advising or counselling your CEO, ask yourself these four questions when you are evaluating their decisions and giving feedback. If you can answer in the affirmative, then you should be confident that you are making ethical decisions and that you will end up doing the right thing. If not, raise your concerns as you would with anything else that worries you in the decision-making process.

Once the hard work of tackling these big, ethical decisions is taken care of, you will find that a lot of what follows is a matter of tactics.

Remember, this is not a tool to employ in the heat of the moment. In the 24-48 hr period while a crisis is burning, you need to focus on your mission, values and generating speed of trust. However, in the critical moment before a crisis, or the deliberate decision-making that follows, ethics must be at the forefront of your mind.

 

Ethics: an important consideration but not the only consideration

Importantly, ethical decision-making doesn’t mean that you ignore the cost or effect of your decisions on your company: your employees and shareholders are important stakeholders too.

What it means is that you respect public expectations, understand what stakeholders are concerned about, treat them with respect and dignity, and then make ethical, moral decisions for your company. That way, you know that what you are doing is right and just, and you can explain this with a clear conscious.

Dr Bowen provided an excellent, relevant and highly practical piece of work to prompt this thinking and you should read the original paper to learn more. I have only scratched the surface of what is a deep topic but I hope that has given you a systematic model for ethical decision-making.

Now, instead of everyone sitting on a conference call, offering opinions and insights that are without any sort of logical decision-making tool, you can provide the CEO and team with an ethical lens through which they can view their decisions. Then you can get on with doing simply what’s right.

The post Doing The Right Thing: How to Make Ethical Decisions appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Crisis communications insurance policy: Are you covered? https://kith.co/crisis-communications-insurance/ Wed, 07 Nov 2018 17:35:25 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2637 Critical Takeaways Insurance is available to cover crisis communications support in a crisis. Check to see if you have this in place and understand what is covered. Establish a rapport with the providers before an event.   The simulation was going incredibly well. The data breach had been identified and the technical teams were responding. […]

The post Crisis communications insurance policy: Are you covered? appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Critical Takeaways
  • Insurance is available to cover crisis communications support in a crisis.
  • Check to see if you have this in place and understand what is covered.
  • Establish a rapport with the providers before an event.

 

The simulation was going incredibly well.

The data breach had been identified and the technical teams were responding. The executives were working closely together and draft communications were being shared. During a pause, I asked the CEO, “What else is on your mind?”  After a moment, she turned and asked the general counsel, “Does our insurance cover communications support?” He thought for a second. “I think so, but I’m not sure. Let me get back to you after the exercise.

After the simulation, we had a debrief to identify lessons learned and areas that needed follow up. We discussed insurance for crisis communications support and the General Counsel confirmed that they had coverage. Now we could check off two action items: firstly, that they had insurance and secondly, that they had established a relationship with the provider.

If you haven’t already done so, ask your legal and risk management team if your insurance has any sort of crisis communications support or reimbursement. And if it does, do you know what that support looks like?

There are a number of insurance products that cover extraordinary events, such as a data breach or an active shooter, and some policies include crisis communications support. In a previous role, I was part of a consortium that provided insured services to the food industry. We provided communications support, another provider managed the recall logistics, and a third provider managed secure storage of the recalled products.

All of this was covered by the affected business’ insurance policy. They didn’t have to worry about whether or not they would get the support they needed and there was no need to discuss billing at such a critical time.

However, where we found this insured support to be most effective was when we had had the opportunity to work with a business beforehand.

I was reminded of this the other day when a community college reached out to us for advice.  They had an insurance policy and their head of communications wanted some advice on the potential providers. “The policy lets us hire Firm A, B or C, and if we make the case, we can hire Firm D outside of the policy. What do you think?

The fact of the matter is, a crisis is not the time to start reviewing A, B or C’s credentials. It’s certainly not the time to go through the bureaucracy to bring D onboard. In doing their vetting in advance, this college was doing the right thing and I made a recommendation based on my knowledge of A, B and C.

But I also advised the college that in addition to validating their suppliers, they needed to introduce themselves to the firm they chose.

And I recommend you do the same.

Once you have confirmed that insurance is in place, get the know the firm(s) that might be supporting you.  Identify a point of contact and then begin the process of developing a relationship and engage with them as much as appropriate.  You might even want to schedule a simulation with them as a way to cement this relationship.

Whatever you do, don’t wait until an actual crisis strikes.

Although it can be done, it’s not in your organization’s best interests as the firm supporting you won’t be as well-prepared to support you at that critical time. Worst of all, you might find that the insurance coverage isn’t there at all.

The post Crisis communications insurance policy: Are you covered? appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Truth to power: A Communicator’s Obligation https://kith.co/truth-to-power/ Fri, 02 Nov 2018 16:02:30 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2634 Critical Takeaways CEOs need an honest view of the situation in order to be able to manage a crisis. This requires those who support them to ‘speak truth to power’. Crisis communicators are in a unique position to bring the external perspectives into the discussion. Communicators must learn to share their views with clarity, courage […]

The post Truth to power: A Communicator’s Obligation appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Critical Takeaways
  • CEOs need an honest view of the situation in order to be able to manage a crisis. This requires those who support them to ‘speak truth to power’.
  • Crisis communicators are in a unique position to bring the external perspectives into the discussion.
  • Communicators must learn to share their views with clarity, courage and conviction, even in the face of uncertainty and change. Five suggestions are included to help achieve this.

 

I recently had an opportunity to give a speech to the Public Relations Society of America International Conference and I chose the title “Think Like a CEO. Act Like a Communicator”.  I wanted to share my experience working with a number of CEOs during critical moments: how we can think the way they do and understand what they want so we can deliver information in the most clear and useful manner.

If you want details on the speech itself, see what we shared here.

The speech covered a lot but I want to focus on a specific point here: the concept of speaking truth to power and the relationship between an organization’s CEO and his or her communications team or those who manage their external relationships.

There are a number of key traits that advisors to CEOs need to keep in mind to better serve their CEOs but before I do that, I want to acknowledge that sharing insights and recommendations during a crisis can be difficult. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, there is a great deal of uncertainty in a crisis. Secondly, you may have to share information that is going to be uncomfortable for the CEO and your leadership to hear.

Remember, a reputation crisis is different than a manufacturing anomaly or a situation where a legal precedent or predictable regulatory response provides some structure. The uncertainty associated with misplaced public expectations is significant so first and foremost, we need to be able to speak with conviction in a very uncertain world.

The best way to do this is to develop superior pattern recognition. This allows you to refer back to similar situations to identify patterns that will help you make sense of what is going on.  However, with an ever-changing world, it is difficult to be crystal-clear on exactly what’s going to happen next so even pattern recognition will only take you so far.

This means that the most important attribute is to have the presence of mind and self awareness to simply speak your truth as you see it. Tell your leadership what you know, what you believe this means based on your experience and understanding of the world around you, and your best advice on what to do.

This kind of conviction is difficult for everyone in a crisis because of the uncertainty but communicators are also saddled with the additional burden of being responsible for sharing the often unpleasant perspectives of those outside the organization. However, I have found some specific ways that communicators and senior advisors can ensure that the CEOs have an honest understanding of the situation.

Firstly, add value by telling the leader things that they don’t already know. ‘It’s blowing up on Twitter’ or ‘stakeholders are upset’ are not useful bits of information.  But the reaction of influential employees, a summary of shareholder sentiments or a warning about a confidential scoop that a high-profile journalist seems to have are critical pieces of data.

However, these are not the first things a CEO thinks about.

So highlighting these critical facts and their implications is what you as a communicator should be focusing on, not rehashing a play-by-play of things people already know.

Because things are moving so quickly it can be difficult to get your arms around the actual facts. Therefore, be clear as to what you know, what has changed and where you have had to make assumptions. This will ensure that your leadership is getting information they won’t get anywhere else but that they also understand the gaps or uncertainties.

Secondly, have the courage of your convictions to tell the CEO and leadership what to do next.  You are the subject matter expert and have the best view of the external environments. This, coupled with your experience and understanding of previous, similar situations, means that you are best placed to advise your CEO on what to do from a communications perspective. Be confident in your abilities and in your advice.

Thirdly, eliminate the PowerPoint. Details and fact are important in a crisis but leaders expect honest conversations about what’s happening, why it’s happening, and your best advice on what to do. This is best achieved through candid, thoughtful discussions and smart perspective, not slides. PowerPoint often comes across as overly-simplistic – for many it’s seen as a junior-level tool –  instead of providing the depth, nuance and sharp-thinking in the moment that a face-to-face discussion will produce.

Fourth, less is more. Be crystal clear with your perspectives and focus on what is directly relevant. When you’re in the war room, focus on the specific crisis, give crisp insights and limit yourself to what is relevant at that time.  When someone asks you what time it is, you don’t need to explain how to build the watch; simply tell them what time it is. And remember, you don’t have to speak on every topic.

Fifth and lastly, your aim is to be right in the moment, not 100% right. As I said in point two, your need to use your experience, insights, and perspective to provide the best interpretation you have of a given situation and advise on what to do next. So differentiate between what you know and where you are making informed assumptions. Give your best and most honest opinions with confidence but accept that much of this will change. You, along with everyone else involved,  will have to adapt and update your advice as the situation unfolds.

Anyone who understands crises understands that situations change so I don’t believe people are keeping score where they say, ‘Well, on Wednesday they said this, and on Tuesdays they said this. Those two things disagree.’

A friend of mine likes to say ‘often wrong; never in doubt’. I don’t think he always means this as a compliment, but I believe that forceful conviction will move a crisis situation forward more quickly than always trying to be 100% right.

The fact of the matter is we need to balance between two extremes: say things with conviction, courage and confidence, without doubt. But by the same token, we also need to adapt and update what we say based on how the situation and facts develop.

Perhaps ‘often wrong; never in doubt in the momentis a better sentiment here.

So, experiment to see how you can improve the directness of your conversation – while still being respectful – in your day-to-day interactions. Research other crises to build your library of previous events to help you spot patterns. Schedule training for your teams and participate in crisis simulations to put these skills to the test in realistic settings.

Do this and, over time, your rapport with your senior leaders, your confidence and your ability to be right in the moment will develop. Be open to dialogue, but when your hand is called, it’s time to make a decision, say where you stand and explain why you stand there.

Just remember, to speak truth to power, you don’t need a PowerPoint deck.

The post Truth to power: A Communicator’s Obligation appeared first on KITH.

]]>
The problem with planning for a problem https://kith.co/problem-with-planning/ Tue, 23 Oct 2018 16:01:49 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2630 Critical takeaways A shelf of plans in ‘white binders’ gives a false sense of security and can be worthless. A crisis plan is not a step-by-step guide for every possible eventuality but should lay out the basic procedures for managing a crisis and some standard steps to address crises by type. This generates valuable speed […]

The post The problem with planning for a problem appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Critical takeaways
  • A shelf of plans in ‘white binders’ gives a false sense of security and can be worthless.
  • A crisis plan is not a step-by-step guide for every possible eventuality but should lay out the basic procedures for managing a crisis and some standard steps to address crises by type. This generates valuable speed in the early stages of a crisis.
  • Crisis procedures, tools and techniques should be developed and embedded through simulations and drills.

 

At the conclusion of the meeting, the CEO asked, “So, when will we have a plan?

The CEO’s question came at the end of a hour and a half session considering crisis response and risk identification.  In this case, we were specifically discussing an active shooter scenario to determine if he and his organization were ready for that. Certainly his desire was admirable – to be ready in the event that this kind of crisis were to occur – but, in my opinion, the CEO was under the false impression that ‘a plan’ was going to prepare his organization for a crisis. A plan would have given him some peace of mind, but not much more than that.

Here at Kith, we’re not big believers in exhaustive crisis plans. In fact, we’ve written about ‘death by binders’: how white binders filled with plans sitting on the shelf of the communications team or the general counsel’s office are basically worthless.

Instead, we advocate a simple formula to explain how organizations can respond in a crisis and move forward.

 

equation for crisis success

 

This formula takes your mission and values and marries these up with a robust chain of command to give you the speed you need in a crisis.  Speed is a key requirement when you need to fill the vacuum that’s created following a critical moment or a crisis. The organizations that succeed are the ones that can fill that vacuum and continue to fill it with information through the conclusion of the crisis in order to meet the expectations of the stakeholders.

Organizations that cannot respond rapidly will fail.

However, this doesn’t mean that we are opposed to planning.  On the contrary, we believe that prior preparation significantly improves the chances of success.  In fact, we aren’t even opposed to creating planning documents. The difference is in what we think a plan should include: what does the CEO actually need?

(Hint, the color of your binder isn’t important.)

What’s in a plan?

I explained that we don’t think a plan is a step-by-step playbook for every possible scenario so what do we think a crisis plan should include?

At Kith, we think that a  plan should include three key elements: a risk framework to help you understand the situation, the chain of command and stakeholder maps.  I won’t try to explain the exact contents of each of these sections as these will differ between organizations but do I want to outline the intent of each section to help you decide what your crisis plan should cover.

Firstly, a critical step in a crisis is to understand the situation you are dealing with.  This can be difficult so we developed a framework that classifies risks as strategic, preventable or external. This framework allows you to categorize a risk using one of these three ‘buckets’ which will help you determine the best approach to take. In addition to providing a framework for categorizing the situation, the plan should also include some general responses and holding statements for each category of risk. Not for each potential risk but for each category of risk. These statements and responses should be aligned to, and consistent with, the values of the organization.

For example, a strategic risk is a situation where the risk is taken intentionally for superior economic benefit or to move the organization forward. If this results in a crisis situation, the initial response should be one of empathy around the public’s confusion, coupled with an explanation of your intention and why you took the risk. The actual words to use for this kind of scenario can be prepared in advance and included in the plan to ensure that you reflect your values and mission in your messaging. These kinds of pre-written guides (holding statements) can be developed for each type of risk which gives you a starting point to address the specific crisis situation you are facing.

This ensures that you are not only aligned technically to meet the operational needs of the situation, but also aligned strategically with the values of the organization. Moreover, these pre-prepared statements buy you valuable time and help you build the speed of response that’s so critical to success.

The next major component of these plans is to define the chain of command.  Who are the decision makers and who are the other individuals that need to be involved, such as subject matter experts? Thought needs to go into who is in this kitchen cabinet, or war council, that the CEO and the senior leadership team are really going to depend upon. But this needs to be done well in advance of something going wrong.  It’s too late to try to assemble this team from scratch when something has already happened.

Identifying this team beforehand isn’t hard and we believe that it’s primarily made up of a core of three key figures: the CEO, general counsel and external affairs / communications. These represent the core team. You would then also then bring in other functions – like HR or operations – and subject matter experts depending on the specific situation.

However, you need to do some extra work to turn this from a list into a team that’s ready to respond to a crisis.

Identify the individuals who will fill those roles plus alternates if the primary nominee isn’t available. Contact information needs to be compiled and included in this plan in addition to a simple way to contact and notify these key individuals.  You should also include key media, stakeholder and regulatory contacts in this list. These should be the folks that typically follow your organization and would respond or react to these types of issues.

Include the experts and third party validators who would help you manage and explain to the public the general risk categories you identified in the risk framework. Importantly, once you have identified members of the response team and the external contacts, ensure that they are aware of their role and remain engaged with them throughout the year.

This does not need to be an infinite list but again, you are aiming for speed. Having your key contacts identified will help accelerate your response in the first few vital minutes and hours of the crisis.

Lastly, you need to understand your stakeholders – those who matter most in a given situation. We’ve talked about stakeholder maps and the value that they have, and a simple way to think about them is as belong to one of three groups: communities, customers or critics. Categorizing people into one of these categories is a simple but efficient way to help you map out the decision makers and the stakeholders that matter most.

Again, knowing who you might need to engage with in advance will save valuable time in a crisis.

Bringing the plan to life

From our perspective, those three elements – a risk framework, chain of command and stakeholder mapping – are the basic components of what a good crisis plan should look like. This is something that is usable, actionable and flexible which also means that it’s fast, helping you with that speed of response which is so critical in a crisis.

But you have to ensure that the plan isn’t just a set of documents – another dreaded white binder sitting on a shelf.

Therefore, the final step is to exercise and test the plan to bring it to life.  Drills and simulations are the only way to really know if the document and tools you’ve created truly meets your needs.  Putting these to use in a realistic situation will help identify any gaps in the plan and to determine specific strategies to rectify these. Simulations also allow the team members who will be involved in the response to practice their individual and team skills and to become familiar with the plan’s contents.

So again, our problem isn’t with planning.  Far from it!

The problem is that the wrong kind of planning create a false sense of security. Having a white binder on the shelf is reassuring (and expensive). It shows that someone has thought about these things. But thinking about them in a vacuum is not efficient not effective.

So instead of trying to build a step-by-step plan to map out every step for each potential crisis situation, we advocate a flexible plan that is designed to facilitate a fast, speedy response to any crisis situation.

Think about your mission, your values and what you stand for. How will you communicate this in a crisis?  Then, who’s involved, what’s the chain of command, and how do we gather this group quickly and efficiently? Finally, who are our external stakeholders – those who matter most in this situation?

If your document covers these three key areas, then that’s the basis of a really good plan. That way, when the CEO asks, “When will we have a plan?” we’ll know it’s in place,  not when we finish our Word document, but once we’ve thought through these core critical issues. These same issues that make organizations fast and therefore more likely to succeed in a crisis.

The post The problem with planning for a problem appeared first on KITH.

]]>
How CEOs can build a reputation premium through leadership and pressure https://kith.co/ceos-reputation-premium/ Wed, 17 Oct 2018 21:35:04 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2627 Critical Takeaways Reputation risk is becoming better understood and more explicitly linked to corporate value but CEOs still lack the requisite tools to manage this risk. Lessons learned from compliance in the 1990s / 2000s provide a roadmap for CEOs to build a culture that creates and values reputation. Reputation is built from the top […]

The post How CEOs can build a reputation premium through leadership and pressure appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Critical Takeaways
  • Reputation risk is becoming better understood and more explicitly linked to corporate value but CEOs still lack the requisite tools to manage this risk.
  • Lessons learned from compliance in the 1990s / 2000s provide a roadmap for CEOs to build a culture that creates and values reputation.
  • Reputation is built from the top down and CEOs need to lead this effort in their organizations.

 

A recent Law360 article raised a number of important considerations for CEOs when it comes to reputation risk. The article notes that in the 12 years since The Economist called reputation “the risk of risks”, attitudes to reputational risk have changed significantly. Shortly after the Economist’s report, a 2008 study found that only 7.5% of the S&P 500 companies used the word reputation in their annual reports.

By 2018, that number was 90%.

And within that 90%, businesses were talking about reputation risk in a broad context noting that an organization’s finances, strategy and growth are all influenced by its reputation. However, despite the increased importance of reputation risk, many CEOs still lack the tools and resources they need to effectively guide and direct their organizations in this area.

Most risk management and governance activity is guided by some framework or model that has stood the test of time (and usually litigation). But reputation risk is a relatively new discipline so how does a CEO manage this emerging and less tangible risk?

The value of reputation

Before we discuss the ‘how’, we need to start with a what: what is reputation?

There are a number of definitions but Seth Godin provides a clear, succinct example:

Reputation is what people expect us to do next. It’s their expectation of the quality and character of the next thing we produce or say or do.

Seth Godin

Building on this, I believe that your reputation is what grants or limits your license to operate. But even with these definitions, reputation can still be an abstract concept. In order to manage reputation risk, we need some metrics to guide us.

Luckily, these metrics are beginning to emerge.

A 2018 study by the insurance company Aon identified the “reputation premium” that could be incorporated into a brand’s value, purely based on its reputation.  In some cases, this reputation premium amounted to double the book and brand values combined. The Aon study also found that companies could add 20% or lose up to 30% of value depending upon their response to a reputation-driven crisis.

Based on this research, Aon identified crisis communications, perception of honesty and transparency and active social responsibility as keys to success in a reputation-drive crisis.

The ability to ‘do’ crisis communications is more of a functional tactic managed by the organization.  However, the challenges relating to the culture, perceptions of honesty and transparency and social responsibility are strategic activities driven by the CEO.  We have written about crisis communications on several occasions so I want to focus on the strategic aspects for the remainder of this piece.

Compliance as a roadmap

To address reputational risk, CEOs need a robust framework to help them understand the risks that could impact them, techniques to manage these risks and processes to apply if the risks become reality.  Although this specific area of risk management is relatively new, risk management as a whole is a mature discipline. This provides a framework for managing reputation risk. But how does a CEO persuade their organization that this is a risk to take seriously?

Here, I think the introduction of compliance provides a useful reference point.

Back in the late 1990s / early 2000s, thinking around compliance was in a similar place to reputation thinking today. The need for compliance was understood, as were the potential losses associated with non-compliance, but this was still relatively abstract. The real costs of compliance hadn’t been felt by most organizations so adoption was initially sluggish.

However, although the wheels of regulation and justice can grind slowly, grind they do.

20 years later, regulatory reforms and legal decisions provide a rationale for compliance and force organizations to take this seriously. Previously potential losses are now very real and a history of lawsuits, fines and company failures are there as reminders of the cost of non-compliance, particularly as we just passed the 10-year anniversary of the Great Recession.

I think that reputation is in the same place today with one major exception: there will not be significant regulatory or government involvement to drive the issue. In this case, trials take place in the court of public opinion.  So while there won’t be fines levied against companies who breach public trust, a damaged or restricted licence to operate could be just as costly.

However, without pressure of regulation, CEOs and organizations will have to navigate a lot of this by themselves.  So what can a CEO do?

Understanding and managing reputation risk

I think there are four key steps a CEO can take.

First, you must ensure that reputational risks are inventoried and included in the normal risk management process.  These reputational risks should be assessed, prioritized and addressed like any other risk and guidance issued for how the most serious risks will be tackled.

Secondly, establish a reputation risk committee.  Similar to other functional risk committees, this is a group at the highest level of the company with day-to-day responsibility for overseeing the management of reputational risk.  Importantly, this group’s work is cross functional as all elements of a business can affect reputation so this has to be a whole-of-organization effort.

Third, set a tone and a culture highlighting the effect of reputation on stakeholder alignment and public perception of a company’s value.  Remember, tone and culture are built from the top down. You need to move your teams away from purely focusing on the profits they generate and encourage them to develop an appreciation that how they are perceived can be equally important.  Involve the Board in this as they will be in a good position to influence external stakeholders who may resist this shift away from tangible results.

Fourth and lastly, CEOs need to apply pressure to see this through. Similar to how Boards and CEOs drove home the importance of compliance 20 years ago, CEOs today have to show that they take reputation seriously.  However, this has to be done without regulatory or legal pressure. Instead, it is society which will drive this but societal pressure is less tangible than litigation or lawsuits making it harder to track and respond to.  Without these external pressures, it will be up to CEOs to ensure that their organizations take reputation seriously before it is too late.

Reputation starts with you

Socrates said “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear”.   A more contemporary version might be “you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk”.  So the key to reputation success is that you actually become how you want to appear.

So manufactured opportunities to make your organization appear caring, ‘astroturfing’ your support or only conducting CSR initiatives after you do something wrong will be unsuccessful.

Instead, you have to actually be transparent.  Be caring. Be socially responsible. And all of this will begin at the top with you and your example as CEO.

You won’t always get everything right but this way your intent will be sincere, your reputation will be positive and your license to operate will be granted by that most difficult of courts: the court of public opinion. But remember, this all has to be done without the external pressures of litigation or fines. Only you as the CEO can apply the pressure necessary to make this happen.

The post How CEOs can build a reputation premium through leadership and pressure appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Crisis and the Speed of Trust https://kith.co/trust-and-reputation/ Wed, 03 Oct 2018 16:16:48 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2605     Many of you will have seen the funny commercial series for an insurance provider with the tagline “Life comes at you fast.”  That always gets me thinking about the reaction that most people have when confronted with a critical moment. Suddenly, they are faced with a situation that impacts their organization’s ability to […]

The post Crisis and the Speed of Trust appeared first on KITH.

]]>
 

 

Many of you will have seen the funny commercial series for an insurance provider with the tagline “Life comes at you fast.”  That always gets me thinking about the reaction that most people have when confronted with a critical moment. Suddenly, they are faced with a situation that impacts their organization’s ability to execute its strategy and impact its long-term reputation.

‘Whoa! That escalated quickly’ is something I hear a lot.

The need for speed

“I feel the need: the need for speed”

Tom Cruise as Maverick in Top Gun

At Kith we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of speed. Our belief is that understanding your mission and values plus clarity on chain of command equals speed.  This is one of the most critical elements of crisis success.

equation for crisis success

That desire to be fast, to fill the vacuum, is critical if companies are going to be successful. Read more about the equation for crisis success here.

However, speed is only possible when you have two other elements in place.  One is reputation and the other is trust. Without these, moving at speed in a crisis is fraught with difficulties.

I want to focus on trust here but it’s worth reminding ourselves that this goes hand-in-hand with reputation:

“reputation …. is what people expect us to do next. It’s their expectation of the quality and character of the next thing we produce or say.”

Seth Godin

Remember, in a crisis our reputation is what shapes people’s perception of what we are doing.  A positive reputation will give us support and leeway to respond. A negative reputation will do the opposite.

But how does this relate to trust?

The Speed of Trust

My thinking around trust has been shaped by Stephen Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust. In The Speed of Trust, Covey stresses that trust is the one thing that “if removed will destroy any and all organizations”.  This applies equally to friendships and stakeholder relations: if trust is broken, it has a significant impact on the long-term success of an individual or organization.

But if it’s developed and leveraged, it can create an unparalleled foundation for success and prosperity.

For me, trust and reputation are interlinked: I believe that a strong reputation anchored by trust breaks ties in most business contexts. By that, I mean that with all things being equal, when competitors go to market and price, product features, value and supply chain are equivalent, the organization with the highest levels of reputation and trust will be chosen.

Covey explains how organizations need to move from an old traditional business model of strategy x execution = results, to a new model (strategy x execution) + trust = results.

This means that it’s not enough for organizations to have fine strategies and great products which they bring to market smoothly and efficiently.  That’s simply execution. Without the addition of trust, they don’t have the ability to break ties, have a license to operate when something goes wrong, and can’t differentiate themselves from the alternative.

The addition of trust lets them be viewed as better than the alternative when other considerations are equal.

The Trust Matrix

In The Speed of Trust book, Covey talks about a trust matrix and I believe that this is wholly applicable to crisis response.

covey's trust matrix

Elements of trust from The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey 2006

Covey’s two main anchors of trust are the notion of character and competence.

  • Character is what we say or what we believe. This is the softer side of trust.
  • Competency directly relates to the things that we do and the actions that we take.

The combination of character and competence is trust.

To better understand this relationship, Covey has identified the key elements that combine to build character and competency.

Character is based on intent and integrity. The intent is the “why” of what you say or believe.  Integrity is the way you demonstrate what you say or believe or the “how”.

Competency is comprised of capability and results. Capability is simply doing what you say you’re going to do with knowledge and experience.  Meanwhile, results are the track record of your previous performance: how you have really done in the past. This the ‘proof is in the pudding’: you’ve actually delivered on what you’ve said you would do previously.

12 attributes of trust

In addition to these two core elements – character and competence – and their foundations, Covey’s model also included 12 individual attributes that create trust. I believe these attributes perfectly articulate where companies need to be strong to avert a crisis, or where weakness will lead to a pitfall.  These attributes create a crystal-clear roadmap for organizations who take the time to examine and apply them to their organizational needs and risk environment.

covey's trust matrix

12 attributes from The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey 2006

However, if neglected, these attributes can also lead to a situation that creates a critical moment.  Any shortfalls will also make the resultant crisis response difficult due to a lack of trust. For example:

  • Organizations that fail to create a caring environment and provide necessary safeguards for staff will create a significant risk around sexual harassment.
  • An organization that is dishonest and tries to cheat or disadvantage a set of stakeholders will create a reputation risk. You see this when companies break commitments made to staff or are caught defrauding partners or lying to customers.
  • A company with a pattern of industrial accidents exhibits a skills deficit and risks its credibility leading to questions of its overall competence.

Again, paying attention to each of these 12 attributes will provide an invaluable roadmap for organizations.

Five critical takeaways

Taken as a whole, Covey’s excellent work gives us five key takeaways for communications executives.

  • Firstly, examine those 12 attributes, identify the ones that are most relevant to your company and your industry then address any shortfalls and build on your strengths.
  • Secondly, identify any information gaps you might have that relate to these attributes so that you can understand the associated risks.
  • Thirdly, mitigate those risks: understand how improved information flow, improved question asking or improved execution can help mitigate those risks.
  • Fourthly, develop a response plan for the most significant risks arising from any shortfall in those 12 attributes, and
  • Fifthly, understand how you’re going to respond. How do you align your response with your mission and values, who’s going to be in the room and what’s your chain of command? Understand these to allow you to execute quickly.   And then train and exercise to make sure that your team is ready for these different types of events.

This final point is key.

We train and prepare many organizations for external events and know that planning without training is ineffective. We want to make sure that our clients are prepared for the risks they face and develop their character, competency and ultimately enhance their trustworthiness.

I hope you take those five key takeaways, apply them to your organization and ask yourself how prepared and strong you are. I’m absolutely convinced that this will prepare you for any critical moments your organization faces.

That way, when life comes at you fast, you’re faster.

The post Crisis and the Speed of Trust appeared first on KITH.

]]>
Intersection of Strategy and Expectations https://kith.co/strategy-expectations/ Tue, 25 Sep 2018 16:53:01 +0000 https://kith.co/?p=2600 We all love to use the word strategy and this is the natural level at which a communicator should be thinking.  Our efforts are a major part of what makes strategy – the way in which the organization will realize its objectives – work. But much as we like to talk about it, it’s also […]

The post Intersection of Strategy and Expectations appeared first on KITH.

]]>
We all love to use the word strategy and this is the natural level at which a communicator should be thinking.  Our efforts are a major part of what makes strategy – the way in which the organization will realize its objectives – work.

But much as we like to talk about it, it’s also easy to forget what real strategy looks like.  I recently had a valuable reminder about corporate strategy and how it applies to risk management and public expectations.

We were recently onboarding with a new client, a multidimensional company with different sub-businesses in 5 main verticals, so it was critical that we really got to understand their business quickly.  We began by conducting a fairly straightforward evaluation of their corporate risks and their readiness for crisis situations. We used my Strategic, Preventable, and External risk framework to identify what we perceived as their areas of vulnerability, as well as the gaps in their readiness.

spe risk framework

 

The Director of Strategy was a part of the team that engaged us and, as we were proceeding with our initial review, she asked us to add an extra work stream to our project.  They are currently in the second year of a five-year strategic plan and a year-end review is a typical part of their process. The Director of Strategy asked us to be a part of this annual check-up of their corporate strategy.

We joined a team of stakeholders from across the company to review their corporate strategy, seeking to validate the plan and refine or update as needed.  This was not a business planning process, but more focused on the corporate level, not the individual business units.

Needless to say, being asked to showcase communications and specifically public risk to the operations and executive leadership of this company was music to my ears.

Elements of a strategy

The Director of Strategy shared the strategy document which outlines their goals built around a very clear mission: creating value for the organization.  The associated review document outlined four key elements which the Director of Strategy described as critical to achieving the main elements of their strategy:

  • Allocation of resources,
  • Organizational design,
  • Portfolio management, and
  • Strategic trade-offs.

We diligently set about considering the Strategic trade-offs as a logical place for us to apply our crisis and reputation experience.  After a series of conversations with the operations team, learning how they manage risks and how these fit into their business, we had some considerations to share on trade-offs. Up to this point, it was pretty straightforward communications consulting fare.  However, I was surprised when the Director of Strategy asked for our input on all elements of the review.

But not surprised in a bad way. Quite the opposite.

I was encouraged that the organization, prompted by the Director of Strategy, was taking a really strategic view. Unlike other situations where organizations say they are taking a strategic view, this was a genuine case where they really were looking at the overall strategy and thinking about how to achieve it.  Moreover, they were also thinking about the role that communications plays in the success of the strategy.

Obviously the discussions I had with this client are confidential but I wanted to highlight some of my thinking around these four elements as ways where, as a communicator, you can support and enable your organization’s strategy.

Allocation of resources.

This was a primary focus for the client as they actively pursue mergers and acquisition opportunities and manage a number of internal and external projects.  A critical risk here concerns setting and meeting expectations: the expectations of the public, as well as the expectations of their internal stakeholders. In this context, I think that there are two key considerations as far as allocating resources is concerned.  Firstly, there is the operational matter of not biting off more that you can chew. If you cannot allocate the appropriate resources to manage all your workstreams, something will suffer and along the way, someone’s expectations will not be met. As a communicator, there may be little you can do to avoid this but you should monitor progress on the organization’s major work streams carefully. Be prepared to manage the fallout and the impact on the groups that matter most to reputational success if things fall behind or fail.

Secondly, you need to allocate the appropriate communications resources to support each workstream.  But a small comms team can easily get overwhelmed when a number of major projects are running simultaneously so you also need to manage your own resources.

Addressing both cases will ensure that you avoid a strategic risk: you fail to meet expectations either because the initiative was unsuccessful or the expectations were unrealistic.  Careful allocation of resources – including communications – will ensure that your initiative is properly supported and that the communications assets you need are in place to support your strategy.

Organizational design

With organizational design, there are again two aspects to this.  To me, organizational design is fundamentally about chain of command.  This fits directly with our understanding of how decision-making needs to be done in a crisis but effective organizational design also ensures that day-to-day business runs smoothly. This efficiency will often help avoid Preventable risks as proactive action can take place as soon as an issue is spotted, preventing a crisis in the first place.

However,  there are also cases where Strategic, Preventable, and External risks can lead to an incident or issue.  In these cases, speed, aligned with mission and values, is the critical element.

An effective chain of command equals speed: speed in developing understanding of the situation, speed in decision-making and speed of execution.  Good organizational design will ensure that an effective, efficient chain of command is in place to provide both the proactive and reactive steps necessary to manage risks.

Portfolio management

Portfolio management concerns knowing where the business plays, developing a macro view of the potential business areas they may want to pursue and understanding how these fit together.  From this, the business can create business-level planning for each individual unit. Each portfolio area, and the internal dynamics between business units, will create expectaions and potential frictions.  These need to be simultaneously managed but also balanced, particularly in an organization like this client which is large and complicated.

Understanding how to develop and support expectations without generating mixed or conflicting messages is important to ensure your strategy is successful.  Senior management will need to become involved to explain any apparent imbalances between portfolios to critical stakeholders and they will need your support to achieve this. As communicators, we need to remain continually engaged in this balancing act as a key conduit between the external environment and the senior leadership.

Strategic trade-offs

In this case, strategic trade-offs was the point at which we began our engagement.  Fundamentally this is about balancing risk and return, understanding how a leadership position in a marketplace will impact their reputation and determining how the public will view bold moves.  Strategic trade-offs also have to be made between portfolios, in organizational design and in the allocation of resources so this element actually runs continuously. Again, as communicators, we bring a unique perspective to the negotiations around these trade-offs, particularly where things that are operationally sound have negative reputational consequences.  Our job is to ensure that we don’t win an operational battle but lose the reputational war for public opinion.

Aligning strategy with expectations

This project has also been a useful reminder for me about what ‘real’ strategy looks like and how we as communicators can support that.

Communicators have to be deeply involved with strategic planning, bringing their mastery of public expectation and an understanding of reputation risk into organizational planning. You are a key partner at the beginning, middle, and end of the strategy design process.

Think about the kinds of risks you face: the Strategic risks that stem from decisions that the company makes for superior returns; Preventable risks that simply shouldn’t happen; or External risks that are outside control of the organization.

But before you jump into the details and consider the specific risks, review the organization’s overall strategy.   Think about how the allocation of resources, organizational design, portfolio management and strategic trade-offs inherent in that strategy and how these might generate their own risks.

We are still at an early stage with this organization and have yet to see how this process unfolds but the signs are very positive.  I am very confident that taking reputational risk into account and focusing on the expectations of their various communities – both external and internal – will help them manage risk across the organization and thus achieve their goals.  Marrying this with the business level work that we’re going to do is going to make for an exciting project and I hope that I can share more insights as we progress.

The post Intersection of Strategy and Expectations appeared first on KITH.

]]>