legendsin-their-lunchtimes

Legends in their lunchtimes

As the basket at the foot of the AMP guillotine begins to fill, for those of us who have had the privilege (or curse) to have been active in business for more than 3 decades, the unfolding events appear all too familiar.

Hubris, and wilful blindness have never combined to end in a positive result. Never-the-less, both tend to manifest as part of a regular business cycle.

An outbreak of believing your own PR is likely to resulting in mounting casualties.

Business success depends not only on sound strategies – well executed – but, annoyingly, on a degree of luck, timing and a supportive broader social and regulatory environment. Too often management and boards can mistake a fair proportion of the latter three (delivered by regular variations in business and consumer confidence) for their own genius.

The resulting natural tendency is to lessen the focus on detail and begin rewarding one another for the job well done. A tendency naturally increased if it is other people’s money that is being used.

The mess uncovered at the AMP is almost certainly the beginning of a long stream of hubristically driven shambles that the, much delayed, Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services will bring to light.

The damage to personal and corporate reputations will, in some cases be irreversible and in most cases, take long periods to recover from.

Two things confound and disappoint the public and work to lessen an organisation’s social licence to operate. First, the evident avarice-driven disregard for rules and customer benefit. Second, the failure of boards, as houses of review and management supervision, to identify and act on such abuses.

As professional communicators, we are regularly asked to convey good news and minimise poor outcomes when engaging with ‘stakeholders’ (read anyone who can impact on a share price that drives bonuses or who can tip folks out of a job). Both on principle and in the longer-term interests of our clients, we never knowingly misrepresent the facts. We may focus on one element more than another, but to lie is to ensure you will, eventually, get caught-out. An outcome that damages all involved.

Board members of any public company, industry body, not-for-profit or other such organisations have a responsibility to ask management the difficult questions, to challenge assumptions and, where necessary, to check the detail. Even if all is presented, on the surface, as good news.

In getting to the facts, too often we have witnessed situations where process is relied upon rather than proper answers. Instances where to us, as so-called spin masters, it is obvious that either not enough substance is present and/or too much pre-spin has already been applied.

Thankfully, few such cases have involved our existing clients. But we have worked on quite a few crisis management cases where the damage has already occurred.

Business cycles have, even in our relatively short experience, displayed a predictable regularity. A longer view of business history does not support an alternate conclusion. Executive management and boards should, in good times and bad, take a close look at how their businesses operate, how they generate the results, consider the prevailing conditions and ensure that they are well insulated from possible ethical, regulatory and operational failures.

If that is happening, the task for the communicators is to tell a good story, well. If not – welcome to the town square, with the crowd baying for blood. The most that can be done at that point (at great expense) is make the best of bad situation and prepare the ground for the successors.

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The Socratic Paradox – worth understanding

In a world of constant communication and noise, alternate and disputed ‘facts’, of immediate response and ill-thought through arguments it is tempting to think that one’s knowledge – of almost everything – is greater than ever.

The truth is that most of the above-mentioned ‘information’ is both superficial and of dubious value.

When seeking true knowledge, the thinking of a Greek who died 2400 years ago can still prove instructive today. Amongst the many philosophic musings of Socrates (as recorded by Plato) is his statement

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing” – commonly referred to as The Socratic Paradox.

Whilst the precise wording varies, subject to translation, the meaning is clear. Socrates, renowned for his enquiring mind and questioning approach to all matters, suggests that true knowledge begins with an acceptance of ignorance. It also suggests that in seeking ‘wisdom’ from such a position of ignorance one may not know the questions to ask.

Or, as former USA Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld put it, rather confusingly, “…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

The philosophic implication is that the enquiring mind should accept and interrogate all available information before arriving at ‘wisdom’ in relation to any topic or situation.

It is an approach that can help modern business leaders navigate the turbulent sea of noise, avoid the whirlpools mis-information and seek the knowledge necessary to arrive at reasoned conclusions.

However, such an approach requires the parking of the ego. Admitting that one may not know enough about something, even if there is belief that one does, can be big ask in today’s highly competitive management environment. Perhaps another common maxim could be evoked to aid the process of inquisition – ‘I don’t know everything but I know who to ask.’

Advisory consultancies such as RMK+A do not profess to know everything. However, in our areas of operation, we, at least, know which questions to ask, who to ask them of and how to draw benefit from the years of our experience.

More than at any time in our history business leaders are subjected to information overload, conflicting demands and pressure for rapid results. Taking a step back, admitting the need for more knowledge, gathering all the relevant information and taking expert advice, before embarking on action, may be the differential between failure and success.

RMKA_The-Donald-and-Fake-News_web

The Donald and Fake News

Alternative facts and post-truth appear to be the new characteristics of the world we inhabit. News that doesn’t support an individual or group’s stance on a certain issue is now ‘Fake News’ not to be confused with genuine Fake News.

Who is the lightning rod to these concepts and to then inextricably tie them together?

To state the obvious, Donald J. Trump.

Over the last 12-months no single person would have had more column inches devoted to themselves than the newly minted President of the United States. Love him or loathe him, there is a lot we can learn from him in today’s messaging environment.

The Positive

Understanding his target audience:

Think Menzies’ “Forgotten People” and Howard’s “Battlers”, Trump identified the deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and tapped it for his own gain. The catch-all of: ‘Make America Great Again’ has provided him with an umbrella that enables him to say pretty much whatever else he wants.

Language:

Forget the content, Trump uses simple language as opposed to flowery rhetoric. What he lacks in oratorical skill, he makes up for in audience comprehension. The key to communication.

By speaking in ‘absolutes’ he has differentiated himself from the qualified language that has come to typify the Western world’s political class.

In today’s ‘noisy’ environment it pays to own a tone that is distinguishable from the ‘group sound’ of your competitors/adversaries.

There is a school of thought that speaking in absolutes is dangerous ground in political systems; in this instance however, I think that the new President is hedging, given that if he can demonstrate he has used his best endeavours to deliver on his agenda and cannot, it continues to be the system that he has railed against that is the hurdle to delivering the ‘will of the people’ rather than a Trump failure.

The Negative

Facts don’t matter (unless they suit his purpose):

It’s dangerous territory to selectively use fact, or more to the point to besmirch any alternative opinion as ‘Fake News’ if it doesn’t accord with your agenda.

At some point, where reality is relevant (like life for example), facts are bound to catch up with you.

Additionally, on the one hand Trump decries ‘Fake News’ yet has not condemned its used when it has been used to his advantage. In the process, his selective denouncements have legitimised the use of falsehoods to pursue an objective.

Delivery:

The President’s demeanour leaves a great deal to be desired. His default disposition of anger, supplemented by various combinations of appearing to be – disinterested, ill-prepared, making himself the subject matter, and his willingness to articulate semi-formed thoughts as they come to mind leave plenty of room for improvement.

It is fortunate for him that the popular mood and environmental factors were so weighted in his favour that these short-comings were easily overlooked in favour of the ‘bigger picture’ desire for delivering anything but the status quo.

The point of all of this is that it is quite possible to deliver positions with conviction, develop and own a unique delivery style that differentiates you from the crowd, and to communicate with an audience you understand, in its language, whilst (believe it or not) sticking to the facts.

 

RMK+A has long experience in helping its clients, in all spheres of endeavour, craft and effectively deliver communication to key stakeholders, clients and influencers.

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Bad Bite To Reputation

In industries of high public trust reputation is of critical importance. The food industry is a prime example. Food poisoning is on a very steep rise. It is estimated that it has leapt almost 80 percent in a decade. And it can impact any part of the food industry – from restaurants to food processors and manufacturers – all are vulnerable to reputational damage. With schools and businesses now coming back on stream there is heightened potential for damage.

Each year an estimated 5.4 million Australians are affected by food poisoning, including 120 deaths and more than 1.2 million visits to doctors. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning is $1.25 billion and the number of lost work days is 2.1 million.

In OzFoodNet’s most recent nine-year survey period they linked 68 food poisoning outbreaks to eggs alone with 1404 Australians ill, 322 hospitalised and two deaths.

And in the current three-months period – the Christmas/holiday season – there have been 14 food recalls, ranging from Mexican Salsa Peanuts to pancakes, hash browns, cider, cheese, biscuits, bread, beans and beetroot.

Behind each of these is a company whose reputation is now damaged. The consumer has doubts about the veracity of the product, as well as the hygienic nature and standards of the manufacturing process.

History is littered with companies which have collapsed because they have not managed the situation, nor their reputation effectively.

This is where token food recall crisis management ‘on the fly’ and ‘let’s keep our heads down’ attitudes can do irreparable damage to a company. This approach does not ‘cut it’ in today’s media and voracious social media world.

The traditional media, now often led by social media, can become a nightmare for unprepared companies. A single tweet can turn an issue into a full-blown crisis of global proportions.

Companies have no basis to think they can get away with it. Unfortunately, investment in preparedness is still neglected today, despite the facts.

The adage “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is typical of many companies. They are paying lip service to having a crisis plan, having it tested and having it maintained for currency.

But doing ‘the right thing’ by consumers and the community, plus putting ‘reputation goodwill in the bank’ can only be achieved by an effective crisis plan and preparedness for an issue.

RMK+A has more than 30 years’ experience in preparing companies for crises and in dealing with  issues, as well as developing and testing crisis plans.