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Matching Vision with Action

The key task of leaders is to explain what the future should look like and to build consensus around this shared vision.

This means setting setting objectives to achieve the goal; in other words, developing a great plan to deliver the goal.

Nelson Mandela summed it up as: “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision is merely passing time. Vision with action can change the world.”

To deliver the Mandela principle requires the actual delivery to be entrusted to experts who have delivered such projects before. Great leaders do this and delegate successfully. Poor leaders want to do everything themselves – micro manage. Great leaders also ensure that everyone knows that they care about the work and expect success.

This approach has led to the re-emergence of I CARE values (Integrity, Courage, Accountability, Respect, Excellence) in programs across the PR industry focused on stakeholder engagement.

Although these values are not new to RMKA – it has been adhering to them in programs developed and delivered for almost two decades in the public and private sectors. The effective use of new technology tools in communication now allows such values to be systematically applied across multiple programs.

The outcome is the efficient delivery of important information in a timely manner and to defined audiences and consistent with the initial expressed central vision and objectives.

It also enables efficient, values driven, responses, both internally and externally, to unprecedented events; being proactive with responses; being prepared for all possible outcomes; and readiness to address questions about the legitimacy of the events.

The current Victorian Government appears to be going down this path in an effort to deliver better outcomes for the community.

Unfortunately, all governments can get drawn into the agenda of sectional interests resulting in a piecemeal approach to policy development and communication resulting in damage to the central objective of effectively communicating a vison. This is where ministers and officials must work together and resist the temptation to address minor, but loud, and negative stakeholder voices in isolation.

RMKA’s stakeholder management technology (Stakeholder Matrixtm) helps avoid this trap because it enables the user to effectively manage total program communications whilst ensuring adherence to messages that clearly outline how the desired vision can be achieved.

Stakeholder Matrixtm enables the segmentation and understanding of stakeholders and the determination of the best methodologies for engagement. The aim being that all stakeholders, particularly objectors, understand the broader picture and the objective of better outcomes for the community.

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The Trouble with Hollow Men

There is much dispute around the who actually first said “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything” but the implication is clear. A lack of conviction will leave one highly susceptible to group-think, demagogues and charlatans.

A lack of demonstrable conviction is also what appears to drive the disillusionment with our current political leaders and process.

The developed world appears to be beset by a twin crisis of confidence, moral relativism -driving lack of core values and total cynicism when it comes to our political leaders.

It can be argued that Trump, Brexit, the revolving door of Australian Prime Ministers and the retreat from the two party system are all symptoms of this lack of conviction and erosion of trust.

The electorate appears to crave conviction politicians and clear, visionary leadership. Yet, the combination of constant media scrutiny and ‘analysis’ and the cacophony of special interest demands pushes politicians, with any survival instinct, to move with the mood. Ultimately demolishing any credibility regarding principle.

Devising the solution to that dilemma is truly the modern conundrum.

For business the challenge is that the populace now uses the same cynical and sceptical filter when considering anything those with commercial power have to say them. This presents a significant barrier to effectively interacting with any stakeholders.

A vital step in getting through that filter is to own and live by a set of values that the community views as contributing to both the effective and principled delivery of products and/or services and to broader societal benefit.

It is a basic as ‘don’t tell me what you are going to do for me, show me’.

How many businesses try to engage with stakeholders yet either don’t have a clear set of values to measure their interactions against or act in a manner that gives the lie to any claim to be living by such?

Spending the time and energy to formalise and inculcate a set of values is an investment that will deliver manifold benefit. All business leaders should first engage with their core management team and figure out what they all stand for. Then live it.

To fail to do so is to allow your enterprise to appear as hollow as the populists who may have their moment in the sun only to, sooner rather than later, have it shine through them.

RMKA has worked on developing relevant, beneficial and enduring values for many organisations. It is the core of any sound communication and engagement strategy.

 

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Yes, reputation matters

Does it really matter when a major television channel allegedly conspires to commit a crime in another jurisdiction; when a company behaves in ways that show its supposed concern for the environment is trumped by the profit motive; and when a company leader fails accountability in public?

The short answer: yes, it does – it matters a lot. Here’s why. Research shows that reputation influences purchase decision–making and most of all, trust. Lose trust and you’ve probably lost a swag of your customers, too. More than that, you can end up paying a huge opportunity cost.

After the US Environmental Protection Agency decided BP wasn’t doing a good enough clean-up job in the wake of the huge Gulf of Mexico oil spill, it had BP banned from Federal contracts for a while. BP continues to make money around the world – but it could have made so much more.

The reputation challenge can come down not only to perceptions of an organization as a whole, but also specifically to the performance of the CEO. No fewer than five reputation-related reports were released recently and one has interestingly highlighted the need for CEOs to be more visible in discussing societal issues than in talking about financial results. The recent Australia Post CEO Ahmed Fahour is a typical example of this with the Tall Poppies meeting when 100 entrepreneurs and leaders discussed how to realise the potential of Australia’s female entrepreneurs.

The figures show 72% for financial results and 80% for societal issues such as income inequality, public policy issues and the CEO expressing their own views on societal concerns. That’s confronting for organisational leaders who think that they only have to satisfy their board and the shareholders. In fact, the survey showed that 65% of respondents thought CEOs focused too much on short-term financial results while nearly as many (63%) believed CEOs were not focused enough on job creation.

All the surveys highlight the fact that reputation is a complex construct, and that trust should not only focus on being trustworthy, but also having a positive influence on society and conducting business honestly and ethically.

The events in Australian of recent times affecting reputation show that it’s time not only for executives to take reputation more seriously, but also to ask themselves whether their public relations strategies are helping to build and protect this vital intangible asset. It’s not for nothing that the London-based Chartered Institute of Public Relations calls PR ‘the discipline which looks after reputation’

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Sorry – the Contrite Contrition

The mistakes that drive cynicism and undermine redemption

Saying ‘sorry’ for an incident, or issue does not ‘cut-it’ any more with affected stakeholders, or the media. Insincere apologies can make the situation even worse.

Unfortunately, CEOs have fallen into contrite contrition in just using the words, but not fully recognising the importance of the sincerity element of them. They may seek to display remorse, but they have forgotten the power ‘sorry’ possesses for people directly affected by the issue to ‘move on’ and how it can earn forgiveness.

Although saying ‘sorry’ was once the bane of all CEOs in a crisis because the legal departments would not allow it to be said for fear of admitting guilt, it now rolls off the tongue of executives whenever they feel it important to put pride aside and acknowledge a mistake.

They do it with such ease and repetition that they have forgotten two important tenants of communication –

  1. messages must address the affected stakeholders, not the broad community, and
  2. any lack of sincerity will result in the affected stakeholders feeling even more insulted, or harmed than before the artificial apology.

CEOs of the Commonwealth Bank, VW, Mitsubishi, 7/11 stores, health care organisations have all apologised for being ‘caught out’ by issues in recent times for which their organisation was responsible. They fumble with words such as ‘values’, ‘ethics’, ‘principles’ – all used to take the high moral ground and deflect blame to others down the ranks.

In most cases, they are following the ‘tried and true’ formula of crisis management – demonstrate ‘action’ after the ‘apology’ and follow it up with ‘taking responsibility’.

They use it to (a) get the media off their backs (because it gives the media the grab: “I’m sorry”) and (b) to get the staff of the organisation to ‘ensure that the issue does not happen again’.

It is called the ‘clear-up’ principle!

The formula is:

  • Statement of regret – “I’m sorry that this issue has occurred.
  • Statement of action – “We shall do everything to ensure that it does not happen again.”
  • Statement of responsibility – “We shall take responsibility for rectifying with the issue.”

When using this formula if you don’t understand your stakeholders and their influence, you are wasting your time with general apologetic words. They become meaningless, especially in today’s age of ‘self’.

The affected stakeholders are caught in cognitive dissonance – the disconnect between what is actually true and what they believe to be true.

This causes frustration which can, in turn, manifest in not only disappointment, but also anger by those who feel cheated of the expected apology.

This is best illustrated by the article entitled Apologies and Settlement in Court Review (Volume 45, Robbennolt) which found that statements of fault acceptance had more impact than apologies that simply stated sympathy without responsibility.

Therefore, to address this disconnect the secrets for saying “sorry” today are:

  • Be genuinely empathetic about your stakeholders’ situation
  • ‘Tune in’ to your affected stakeholders; know exactly who and how they are being adversely affected and ensure your apology is directed at that situation
  • Demonstrate that you care about them by empathising with their plight; it is good for your relationship
  • Convey empathy with a genuine tone and pause after delivering your apology so it does not feel like a ‘brush off’
  • Take more responsibility than necessary, especially in an ambiguous situation
  • Avoid the superfluous ‘sorry’

RMKA has many years of experience in crisis and issues management around the world and the need to show the effectiveness of a sincere apology. It can provide you with the ability and supporting communication plans to not only say: “I can see you were harmed by our actions and that matters to me”, but also to understand the impact of this statement on your stakeholders and its acceptance by them.

Now practice saying: “I’m sorry….”