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You will be accountable, but we won’t.

By Alexander Corne

Accountability almost appears to have become a dirty word in both government and within the ballooning public servant ranks.

Witness that in Victoria, triggering a death toll three times that of the road toll doesn’t stimulate real apology, or even an acceptance of responsibility, by anyone.

Yet, we, the citizens, are constantly bombarded by ‘public safety’ messages from government, reminding us of our ‘responsibilities and the fact that we need to be constantly monitored to ensure compliance with many and various rules. Funnily enough, no such campaigns trumpet the need for political accountability.

Catching you before someone gets hurt,” the TAC billboard sternly threatens.

Seriously, how mind-bogglingly arrogant are these desk-driving wonks?

And why is the focus solely on road-related deaths?

Are the police and heroic emergency services personnel not also sick of scraping suicide victims off the roadway, or attending yet another distressing domestic violence scene.

Funny how you never see billboards accusing the populace in general of being inherently suicidal or intrinsically natured to beat the living daylights out of their family members. Although, in the latter case, some of the ‘public awareness’ campaigns have got perilously close to demonising all members of one gender.

Of course, it may have something to do with the measurability and predictability of vehicle-related offending.

Some bright spark created a notional maximum speed for each stretch of road and another sparkie ordered a speed measuring device, and, given that you need a driving license and are allowed a randomly determined 12 points leeway before being drummed off the road, it’s quite simple and profitable to allocate points and issue fines to those breaking the road rules.

It’s not so simple with more complex areas of personal and public behaviour.

For example, thus far, the protectors of the public haven’t tumbled to the concept of modifying the marriage license for regular Joes and Jolenes so that it comes with a built-in demerit system. But just imagine if they did …

Say you get another 12 points system. A few bitchy words in the morning would be worth a single demerit point and $50 fine. A slap is three points and $150, and so forth, right up to injury occasioning death being 12 points with an immediate loss of license and, deservedly, an extremely lengthy term of imprisonment.

This is not meant in any way to trivialise the scourge of domestic violence, which is abhorrent in all its forms, but to illustrate how problematic it is to apply broad brush, penalty driven ‘solutions’ to serious community issues.  The frightening bit is that in 2021, with the increase of data gathering and routine surveillance, it would not require too much of an extension of government intrusion into daily life to make such a ludicrous proposition a reality.

Remember the CovidSafe App? No. Me neither, but there’s already a SmartSafe+ app that helps victims of domestic violence, so with a bit of tweaking and integration with a smart watch…

Such punitive approaches are far easier to sell to the masses than the much more difficult and longer-term educational, and structural issues that need to be dealt with. After all, if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear. Right?

So, we citizens are expected to be responsible and held to account, even continually monitored, for fear we let our base nature loose.

Imagine if the populace were to hold politicians to a similar level of account?

When you arise to the lofty levels of government, perhaps you deserve a license along with a 12-point demerit system? Inappropriate contact with interns is worth a single demerit point and a reduction in your re-election budget, an on-going office affair earns three points, while actual sexual assault gets you six to 12 demerit points.

Naturally, being merely accused of some heinous sexual activity, many decades before, while a teenage pratt and under the influence of alcohol, is a 12-point hanging offence, leading immediately to a lifetime ban from civil society.

And if so, what of ‘forgetting’ or being ‘not aware’ of vital information that leads to catastrophic outcomes. What punishment awaits those who can’t recall who instituted policies that lead to the death of 800 innocents?

Oh yeah, that’s pointless.

Because the deaths of 800 persons, in one state, in the course of one year, three to four times the State’s road toll, is not worthy of any state government action. No TV campaigns. No billboards. No demerit points. No accountability required at all.

Funny that. Not.

Business does not enjoy such immunity. Have a quick look at Victoria’s new Industrial Manslaughter laws, which, as it happens, came into force on 1 July 2020 (timing is everything).

Perhaps if politicians applied the same standard they expect of businesses to themselves we might see a return to a greater sense of accountability of our ruling classes and, dare I say, see them leading by example. Maybe that could reduce the need for the constant behavioural lecturing of the populace? One should not hold one’s breath.

From a business standpoint the responsibility is all yours. What’s more, given the level of formal and informal monitoring of everything your business says and does, you had better believe you will be held accountable.  Being seen to be responsible and accountable is now an essential part of sustaining any business of even moderate size. Our political masters may shirk that responsibility, for now, but business can ill afford to.

RMK+A is experienced in developing and implementing actions that assist businesses in communicating their responsibility and accountability processes to key stakeholders and in managing issues emerging from events for which businesses may be held accountable.

An Impossible Standard to Meet – or – Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition

By John Kananghinis

OK, fair cop. I did it.

Forty some years ago I may have broken some road rules and possibly even made an occasional comment that would, today, be considered sexist. I may even have said that something one of my fellow teenagers said, or did, was ‘totally gay, dude’.

Lucky for me there was no Twitter, or Faceplant or whatever the latest online platform for the terminally immature and narcissistic is. No mobile phones, not even faxes. There was Telex (if you remember that, you too are old) but it wasn’t really anything one could consider social media. The only social media we had was the pen and paper, and perhaps the school magazine.

So, I probably did it, but there is no record. Therefore, all good.

Not so fast. Someone else, who never liked me all that much, remembers me doing it (whatever it was) and they even have a journal, purportedly from that far distant time, that, for some unknown reason, they have kept and have conveniently just found. Coincidently, just as I’m about to announce that I would like to be the Victorian Opposition leader – well, someone has to do it.

That’s the end of that, then. No public life for me. Far to compromised and clearly of poor character. Afterall, under 18s should always be held accountable for their actions in later life. They should be perfectly aware that what they do, or say, as adolescents, will determine the course of their lives and their suitability for any position, let alone high political office, forever.

Clearly that is a ridiculous proposition. Or is it?

Forget the ongoing issues in this country, character assassination based on the behaviour of children has surely reached its apogee when the newly appointed editor of Teen Vogue, a 27-year-old black woman, is drummed out of her position on the basis of allegedly homophobic and racist slurs she Tweeted when all of 17. Oh, and also because she turned up to a teen fancy-dress party in a Native American consume.

Despite, 3 years ago, having apologised for the (rather mild) comments, the staff of Teen Vogue and two of its advertisers could not stomach the thought of working with this racist white supremacist, no, wait, she’s black, remember?

Anyway, she’s toast, on the scrap heap, far too much for the snowflakes to bear.

With biblical teaching no longer in vouge (sorry could not help that one) it’s no surprise that certain basic rules conveyed by such writings no longer apply, such as ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone…’

I feel for the youth of today. They have no private space in which to grow up. To make mistakes, learn from them and mature. If current trends continue, they will be paying for their obsession with online existence for the rest of their lives.  Can we cut the kids some slack and, for God’s sake, take the damn phones off them, for a while?

As they say in the classics, good luck with that.

RMK+A, sadly, has experience in addressing issues raised by employee’s past and present use of social media and can assist in navigating such perilous waters.

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.

Instant feedback is going to get you – a cautionary lesson

One of the most damaging and cringe-worthy moments in the Ardent Leisure response to the deaths at Dreamworld was the sight of Ardent CEO, Deborah Thomas, live on-air asserting that that a family had been contacted when she was seemingly not in possession of the full facts.

She was asked if the company had reached out to the mother of the two adult siblings who died on the Thunder Rapids ride. She said they had.

When told that one of mothers, Mrs. Dorset, was watching and had told the journalist who had asked the question that no one from the company had actually contacted her, Ms Thomas then change her statement to say that the company did not know how to contact Mrs. Dorset. The reporter then gave Ms. Thomas Mrs. Dorset’s mobile number.

Crisis management lesson: When fronting the media and you are not absolutely certain of your position don’t try to muddle through. If you have not done something yourself don’t assume it has been done and state it as a fact. If you don’t know or are not sure, say you don’t know or are not sure. That may not be the best outcome, but it’s better than getting it wrong because today’s instant media feedback loop will catch you out and make you look a fool, or worse.