Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lukaszewski's 12 Axioms of Crisis Survival (2014 Edition)

Managing emergencies, crises, and disasters successfully means recognizing patterns of success and avoiding patterns of failure, and defeat. Understanding these patterns enables us to coach and prepare management's actions, emotions, and expectations before and during emergency situations. Here's what I've learned:

  1. Neither the media, your toughest opponents, smartest critics, nor the government knows enough to defeat you. Defeat is almost always the work of uninformed or over confident, overly optimistic bosses, co-workers and associates; well-meaning but uninformed friends, relatives, or from dysfunction in an organization. 
  2. All crises are local, at the beginning. Keeping the issues and focus tight and small will help you solve your problems and move forward. Your "industry," outsiders, or the media cannot solve your problems (they don't care), nor can you solve theirs. You must solve your own. It’s your destiny. Manage it or someone else will.
  3. Disasters and problems rarely kill products, brands or companies unless you let them. It is your silence, negative communication and attitude that cause tough questions, bad stories, and real damage. Silence is the most toxic strategy of all.
  4. Colorful and memorable language creates headlines that last forever, are impossible to live down and is among the most frequent causes for top executive dismissal during a crisis. Bad news always ripens badly.
  5. Twenty-five percent of your resources and fifty percent of your energy during emergencies go toward fixing yesterday's mistakes. Crises are messy, sloppy, imprecise situations. Everything gets worse before most anything gets better.
  6. Positive, aggressive, assertive communication limits follow-up questions, focuses on the most important aspects of the problem, and moves the entire process forward to resolution despite a negative environment, an antagonistic news media or contentious social media, angry victims and survivors. Positive, constructive, compassionate actions always speak louder than words.
  7. There is no question you can be asked about your situation that will surprise you. You may get irritated, agitated or humiliated because a really tough or touchy subject is raised, but you aren't surprised. Promptly answering every question is your ongoing opportunity to get your messages out, and calm things down. 
  8. Preparation, rehearsal, and a certain amount of luck will keep you going and help you win. 
  9. Luck is limited. 
  10. The general public does not care about your problems until you make them care. 
    1. Fifty percent have no reason to care; 
    2. Twenty-five percent probably have troubles worse than yours, from their perspective, anyway; and 
    3. If you get the attention of those remaining, they will probably be glad you have the trouble you have. 
  11. Leadership that shows compassion, community sensitivity and ethical response strategies moves companies to victory and out of harm's way. Timidity, hesitation, confusion and arrogance bring defeat and long term trust damage. Keep the positive pressure on to win. 
  12. Destructive management communication behavior and language often leads to similar troubling behavior at many levels within an organization. Leadership has three principal responsibilities in crisis: Stopping the production of victims, managing the victim dimension, and setting the moral tone for the response.

By James E. Lukaszewski, America's Crisis Guru sm

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Politics of Employee Communications: Building Community Consent

By James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA
Copyright © 2014, James E. Lukaszewski.  All right reserved.

For an organization to succeed, each day, at least 51 percent of those who matter have to be pulling in the same direction.  That requires leadership from the top, every day, to show the way and to help forecast and overcome the new barriers that arise and the old barriers that persist.  This is a tall order in many organizations.
Some leaders are good communicators, some are non-communicators.  Some leaders are good delegators, some are autocrats.  Some leaders are bureaucrats, some are activists, and some are charismatic.  The reality is that organizations will be successful in the context of their current leaders and leadership.
The lesson for every leader is that success is more likely when simple, sensible, constructive efforts are undertaken to build and maintain a base within the most important audience most leaders have, their employees and others whose lives are directly affected by their organizational relationship.
The question is, of course, how can management accomplish its goals while allowing undisciplined, often chaotic communication strategies?  Answer: With great difficulty, if at all. 
A business organization is very similar to a political body, so we begin with a political strategy—to win in any environment, those seeking to advance, lead, or achieve must have a base of winning-minded collaborators and followers to get the job done and establish the momentum to tackle the next challenge.  The political exercise is one of simplification rather than complexity.  Effective communication is an exercise in process-driven execution.
We begin the process of base building using the Ridgeway Audience Issue Analysis[1] model.  Communication success is dependent almost solely on the base audience’s level of interest in participating, or not, in a given situation.  Figure One is the fundamental tool for carrying out this analysis.  Here is the key:  an issue generally has two types of audiences—the Base Audience and Special Publics.  The Base Audience consists of those who have an ongoing, voluntary or involuntary interest or connection to the issue or circumstance.  Usually the connection is a paycheck, some overwhelming benefit, or a threat that needs to be constrained.
The second audience component is the Special Publics grouping.  Special Publics are individuals, organizations, or entities that have a relationship with the sponsoring organization based on the individual agendas of each Special Public, sometimes in opposition to the agenda, issues, or questions of the Base Audience.  In this template, the small circles on the left represent a wide variety of organizational types and groups that are connected to the issue or organization by their private agendas.
In the Base Audience section, you see, by the construction of the model, that the ideas and concepts to drive the issue or the organization forward begin in the center with Leaders.  Communication moves out systematically to Top Management, then to Upper Management, then to Middle Management, then to First-line Supervisors, then to Employees, then to Employee Families, and then to the Community as a whole.  There may be some other some groups (such as retirees, crucial customers or clients, sympathetic public policy makers, or any discrete group with collateral interests who make up the remainder of the Base Audience).
Perfecting the ability to systematically communicate with these groups and maintain a relationship is where most corporate and organizational initiatives fail.  The process requires discipline, constant analysis, feedback, and action taken immediately or preemptively, as required.  Base Audience success is almost always dependent on the First-Line Supervisor.  Special Publics pay attention, on their own, talk to Top Management directly, but also (and often) throughout the Base Audience as well.
Note the arrows moving out from the Leader.  This is a reminder that, to really benefit from this process, leadership must enforce the process of cascading communication from the top of the organization all the way out until the public or target audiences are reached, if that is the goal.  The crucial insight of this model is that failure to energize the base and capitalize on what often are hundreds and, potentially, thousands of communicators is the chief cause of defeat, delay, or base confusion.
Also note the arrows going into the Base Audience circles, from the outer most ring to the inner most ring.  Failure to systematically cascade information outward destroys the opportunity to have a continuous flow of incoming information, intelligence, and responses from the communities of interest that each of these Base Audience segments connects to.
Most successful initiatives require effective intelligence, input, and issue surveillance.  The success of this entire approach rests on top management and, in particular, the leader of the organization, and the nature of the relationship desired with the front line supervisor.
There are five predictable, usually ongoing mistakes that cause internal communication efforts to fail:

1.         Too much attention is paid to Special Publics.  Chances are that we like these Special Publics.  They are more like management in terms of leadership and, perhaps, even social station.  Some may be famous, rich, or powerful.  It is just more fun to deal with the publics that seem to be ready to deal with us.

Why is this a failure strategy?  Because every one of these Special Publics has its own agenda that predominates and dominates its reason for being connected to you and your issue.  Special Publics may abandon you, or bug you if their interests are being underserved or ignored.

2.         Failure to plug in your base.   When the Special Publics have questions about motivation, strategy, decision making, and even results, they move around Leaders and Top Management, and talk to friends, relatives, acquaintances, and informants located throughout your Base Audience.  If the Base Audience’s response is, “Management never tells us anything,” you can bet that you have given the Special Publics more power than you intended.

3.         Avoid answering questions the base is asking.  When members of the community—including public policy makers, potential beneficiaries, or victims—inquire or are concerned about your strategies, they too will check with your base rather than with senior management.  Once again, if the Base Audience is out of touch, disconnected, or disgruntled, the community will get mixed signals at best, if not outright internally sponsored opposition to the key ideas you are proposing and communicating about.

4.         Allow Upper and Middle Management to block or control communication.  This is silo country.  The job of these managers is to sanitize, prioritize, homogenize, and detoxify any information getting to Top Management or Leaders.  This group I refer to as the “ladies in waiting” (maybe the boss will stumble today and one of us will get the job, at least for a period of time).  In all my years of working in this arena, breaking down these barriers, punching holes in the silos has been an almost insurmountable task.  The one strategy that does work is to leapfrog over these individuals and have the boss go directly to First-line Supervisors, Employees, and even the Community.  Force them to pay attention to what is going on in the organization rather than just looking up, blocking key information, and watching what the boss is doing, thinking, or deciding, all the while protecting their own turf.

Get ready for the complaints, whining, and pushback of Upper Management.  Here is what you are going to hear, “If you insist on going around us, you diminish and, in fact, destroy our authority.”  “How can we be expected to run the business if the boss can do and runs all the time, whenever he or she feels like it?”  “I worked a long time to get here, now I want to have the control I thought I would get.”

5.         Engagement failure by Top Management and Leaders   This is the most crucial ingredient to any employee communication strategy.  Leaders must have the courage and the strategic foresight to leapfrog Middle Management and have an ongoing conversation and relationship with First-line Superiors.  First-line Supervisors are kind of like Crew Chiefs or Master Sergeants in the military.  The place falls apart unless these individuals are there to run it in a knowledgeable, useful, and helpful way every day.  It is the boss’ job to get out to the Supervisors on a regular basis to brief them, coddle them, compliment them, cite their successes, help them learn from their failures, and force them to pull information from those above them (in Middle and Upper Management).

Can it be this simple, you ask?  In practice, it requires discipline and a genuine commitment by managers at every level to recognize the need to cascade information further down the process.   By the same token, managers need to make sure that appropriate feedback gets pushed up the line and actually reaches top management.
Management’s goal in employee communications is to connect with and direct 51 percent of those who matter.  If 51 percent of those who matter can work together, the success of virtually any organization will be assured. 

[1]  The Ridgeway Strategic Audience Analysis Worksheet/Model is named for Paul Ridgeway, Chairman of Ridgeway International, a global special events firm based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The diagram was originally sketched on the back of a napkin in a fast food restaurant, in the middle of the night, in Canton, North Carolina.  We were preparing to work with a huge paper mill as it encountered a serious community relations and political problem.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sitting Down with Critics, Bloviators, Bellyachers and Complainers…Why?

Wisdom of America’s Crisis Guru sm

Q: “I was wondering whether you think it’s a good idea for us to sit down with a group of people who are the equivalent of the chain-themselves-to-trees people, who have a list of demands which are in some cases reasonable and in most cases impossible.”
I'd Rather Not...

~ Would Rather Not

A: Yes. In fact, you must meet with these people – or make serious attempts to do so. In every culture I’ve worked in, when there is contention, reasonable people ask why the contenders haven’t sat down and talked. You have to try, even if the outcome is fruitless, which is as likely as not. You have to sit down if possible because your own supporters need to know that you have tried. You will be criticized by some of your supporters for doing so, for lots of really stupid reasons, but still you must make the effort.

The foundation of your success is your preparation for these face-to-face meetings. Your preparation is going to include developing key documents that you can share with others that directly comment, correct or clarify (CC&C) what others are saying, or advocating about you.

If your critics refuse to meet, send the documents to those who care about you and your goals. If your critics come to a meeting advocating things that are different than that which you expect or have experienced, prepare another CC&C document contrasting their statements and comments against what you expected or experienced. Take good notes…they do. Send out additional communications that continue to clarify, correct or comment on their postures, purposes, assertions and allegations.

Failure to take this approach is why good people lose. It takes real work and discipline to succeed. Good people lose because they are not as committed to winning as those who oppose are committed to defeating them. Actually, the negative behaviors by those who oppose benefit us because these negative behaviors and statements give us a platform for our views, ideas and rebuttal. Good people like to whine about people attacking them, but whining is neither strategic nor successful. There is nothing sillier and sadder than a whiny do-gooder.

However noble your cause, you will have to prove why, how and what you do matters and is essential, every day. Your opposition doesn't have to prove you wrong; they just have to repeatedly claim or allege something that goes unanswered to be right or just to prevail.

Why do good people and good works have to defend themselves? Because…that’s just the way it is.

Why do good people doing good have to justify their actions and beliefs? Because…that’s just the way it is.

Why don’t good people doing good get some credit for what they do? Why? From whom? For what? Because…that’s just the way it is.

How good do good people and their good works have to be to get some credit, or a good defense? Depends on how convincing and persuasive the good people and their support base can be on their own behalf.

Why is someone else always managing our destiny? Because we seem to be waiting for somebody else to do it for us; and they never show. The other guys are always waiting in the wings to do it for you. Manager your own destiny, or someone else will.

Doing good is hard and getting harder… In reality, every good idea needs an antagonist or adversary to prove the value of the good. Look around. No matter what the culture is, it’s good vs. evil, conservatives vs. liberals, liquid soap vs. bar soap, my truth vs. another’s truth, my data vs. your data.

Sitting down with your critics and naysayers time and time again is actually a crucial strategy for your success. Yes, the moment you sit down with these people, you will be criticized by many of those around you. They’re going to ask, “What are you thinking?” Yet, fail to sit down and many in your own base will question and reject you faster than your opponents.

To get to agreement requires contention reduction. Why leave getting face-to-face to the end of a struggle when you could win or lose much faster? Start with face-to-face and win earlier because you answer questions and keep repeating the answers; stop whining and start winning.

If you want to be in a serious game, be prepared for serious opposition. And one more point, serious whining and suffering are individual activities about which no one but those who suffer will care. You’ll suffer alone, whine alone, and lose alone.

It’s up to you. Because…that’s just the way it is.

America’s Crisis Guru sm

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at

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