Friday, November 30, 2012

Contrast Analysis: A Tool for Strategists to Get Management’s Attention

Executive Action

Urgent Information for Executive Decision making





TO:    Executive Addressed
FR:    James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA
          President
RE:   Contrast Analysis:  A Tool for Strategists to Get Management’s Attention

This is one of my favorite tools for discussing serious problems with management.  It is simply a side-by-side comparison of the assumptions we make about a given situation, and the realities of that situation in the words of victims, employees, those indirectly affected, and critics.  The dialogue is based closely on a conversation I witnessed with one of my hospital clients not too long ago.  The situation being the death of a child and the hospital trying to explain its way out of the problem it had created for itself.
The question this method of analysis answers is, “Which matters more, our assumptions or the perceptions and realities of those whose lives we affect?”
Do I need to tell you which answer is correct?
Test your assumptions and theories against victim, survivor, family, and community realities.


What We Assume / Say
What Victims, Families/Survivors, Employees, Communities Really Care About

1.     Deaths of this nature are very rare.


1.     “So, my son’s death doesn’t matter?”
2.     We asked your son to be more vocal about what the procedure actually was supposed to be.

2.     “So, it’s my son’s fault that you removed the wrong organ?”

3.     We donate millions of dollars of charity care and research each year.

3.     “It didn’t prevent my son’s death, did it?  How many others had you killed this way?”
4.     It’s a very complicated procedure that was explained to you and your son, and we told you there were going to be risks.

4.     “I don’t recall your talking about your own negligence and callous carelessness.  You don’t care, do you?”
5.     Our staff saves thousands of lives every year.  We are one of the most highly ranked hospitals in our market.

5.     “So, you should get to forgive yourself because so many are luckier than my son?”
6.     On the scale of problems and tragedies hospitals can experience, and while any death is one death too many, on the whole, we are very proud of our medical practice excellence.

6.     “He was my only son.”
7.     We are so very sorry for your loss, but your son’s situation just doesn’t merit the kind of settlement you are looking for.  Even if we gave you 10 times what you’re asking, it wouldn’t bring your son back and it would ruin the reputation of a top physician.

7.     “True, but it would hurt you badly enough that you’ll think long and hard before you make the same mistakes that took my son’s life, and murder someone else’s child.  I’m not doing this for me; I’m doing this to protect others from you.”
8.     We don’t believe it was our fault.

8.     “It happened in your hospital, under your care, with your award-winning staff in charge.  Who else is there to blame?”




          When we examine typical trust behaviors, it’s helpful to look at them from a “right way-wrong way” perspective.  The contrast analysis below is designed to vividly demonstrate with useful examples both the expectations of the trust environment and the contrasting behaviors and language that can damage that trust.

The Lexicon of Trust Expectation 

A Contrast Analysis

Ideal Trust Approach
Common Real Behavior/Words


1.       Responsiveness:  When problems occur we will be prepared to talk about them internally and externally as aggressively as we respond to them operationally.
1.       Aloofness: 
·         Wait to respond - "no one may notice."
·         Develop our own story.
·         Don’t respect questioner.
2.       Openness:  If the public, customers, shareholders, and collaborators should know about a problem we are having, or about to have, which could affect them or our credibility, we will voluntarily talk about it as quickly and as completely as we can.
2.       No Commitment: 
·         Refuse to talk; volunteer nothing.
·         Answer only if they get the question right.
·         Don’t respect questions
3.       Concern:  When business problems occur, we will keep the community and those most directly affected posted on a schedule they set until the problem is thoroughly explained or resolved.


3.       Delay: 
·         Stall responses.
·         Hire big-time outside expert to study; report something next year (maybe).
·         “We can't talk until we know all the facts.”
·         Defensive threats.
4.      Respect:  We will answer any questions the community or constituencies may have and suggest and volunteer additional information in the event the community does not ask enough questions.  We will respect and seek to work with those who oppose us.

4.       Disdain: 
·         Avoid opponents; disparage them.
·         Belittle uneducated questions and people.

5.       Cooperation:  We will be cooperative with the news media as far as possible, but our major responsibility is to communicate compassionately, completely, and directly with those most directly affected by our problems, as soon as possible.

5.       Umbrage: 
·         "They have no business being involved in this."
·         "There is no news here, why do they care?"
·         "Be careful not to appear responsible."
6.      Responsibility:  Unless incapacitated or inappropriate, the senior executive on-site is the spokesperson during an emergency.

6.       Stonewall: 
·         "Not to my knowledge."
·         The lawyers will convey our "no comment."
·         “No one told me.”
7.       Sensitivity:  At the earliest possible moment we will step back and analyze the impact of the problems we are having or causing, with the intention to communicate with all appropriate audiences to inform and to alert.


7.             Hunker Down: 
· Anything we learn will be saved for litigation.
· We'll talk only as a litigation prevention strategy.
· "If they can't get it right, we don't and won't have to talk to them."
8.       Ethics:  If we are at fault, we will admit, apologize for, and explain our mistakes as quickly as possible.

8.             Arrogance: 
·         No apology; no admission; no empathy.
·         "Up yours."
·         “We are the victims here.”

9.       Compassion:  We will always show concern, empathy, sympathy, and remorse or contrition.


9.             Reticence: 
·         “We don’t want to encourage copycats.”
·         "We can't set a precedent."
·         Do nothing that can be interpreted as taking responsibility.
10.   Generosity:  We will find a way to go beyond what is expected or required, even to "do penance" where appropriate.

10.         Avoidance: 
·         "Offer them 10 percent less than they need."
·         Let them sue. We'll investigate, stall and pay as little as possible as far from now in time as possible.
·         “Make ‘em get receipts.”
·         “Any payment now will be deducted from the final settlement.”

11.   Commitment:  We will learn from our mistakes, talk publicly about what we've learned, and renew our commitment to keeping errors, mistakes, and problems from re-occurring.  Our goal is zero errors, zero defects, zero mistakes, zero crises.

11.         Defensiveness/Threats: 
·         Our mistakes are our business.  Accidents happen; everything in life carries some risk.
·         Zero is impossible.
·         We'll do the best we can, and that will just have to do.
·         "If you don't leave us alone, we'll take our jobs, industry, and payroll elsewhere."
·         “There aren’t even any standards to cover this.  How can you expect us to comply?”
·         “We can’t make a decision until the data is complete.”
·         “”You don’t understand why this process is important.”
·         “We can’t do this any other way efficiently and effectively.”
By James E. Lukaszewski

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