When bosses don’t get it

August 6, 2008

I was talking not long ago with a senior communication manager working for a very large corporation who is trying to get his boss to agree to acquire our communication management system. The purpose would be to have the ability to communicate instantly with a large group of employees, customers, management team members as well as the media if a major incident occurred–particularly involving a large complex with thousands of people at risk.

The manager didn’t really see the point. He was asked: if something happens here, how do you expect you will find out about it? He answered: Channel 2 news.

This is what we talk about when we say some people just don’t get it. Here’s why:

– how does he think Channel 2 and all the others will get that news to give to him? The communicators have to be able to communicate instantly with those news channels or else everything they get will come via police scanners, eyewitnesses and bloggers.

– After the fact, he will likely be one of the first in line to scream and yell: why wasn’t I informed about this directly? When it hits the fan, suddenly execs and communicators have exceptional demands from all kinds of people who have every right to think they should be on the top of the call list.

– Does he really want to trust the information about what is happening to his company and his employees to the hands of people whose overriding interest is in attracting an audience as big as they can so they can get max dollars for their ads? That’s what the media business is–no criticism intended, but if something happens at that facility, it simply becomes a way to grab a big audience–if it bleeds it leads.

As another senior communicator recently pointed out, communicators are in a tough spot. They have a devil of a time getting the resources and technology they need to get their job done. Then, when it hits the fan, they are asked why aren’t you more prepared? That’s why a lot of them lose their jobs after a big event.

I want to suggest a solution to all you communicators out there: 1) send your CEO and leadership group my book Now Is Too Late–it is my best attempt at addressing this problem of not getting it. 2) Beg, plead, cajole–do everything you can to get your bosses to run a realistic large-scale incident drill. Drilling reveals the gaps and problems better than anything except a real incident.

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2 Responses to “When bosses don’t get it”

  1. neil chapman Says:

    This post and the one about Pat previously highlights what is not always appreciated about crises before you have been in one:
    – they can bring about radical change to an organization, good and bad
    – they can be career enhancing and career threatening; and sometimes luck plays a part in that
    – lastly, crises are stressful and may lead to people being confronted with a situation they are unprepared to handle.
    Sounds like this boss will ‘get it’ when he’s ‘got’, but by then it will be too late.

  2. Bob Finch Says:

    Another version of this problem is when the execs don’t realize that their actions often communicate as clearly… even MORE clearly… than anything resulting from their communications planning or PR department.

    I had a situation once in which my executives at a government public/private partnership project went to great lengths to establish standards for both internal (team) and external (stakeholder) communications but consistently did things publicly that sent the exact opposite messages. Their habits completely ruined buy-in and ended all cooperation between the project and key players outside the project. I went to leadership on several occasions with examples of this dichotomy, but was rebuffed at every turn.

    When the blowback finally did come, their first response was to de-fund my communications executive gig. They pointed a finger at me for the problem, even though they knew that I had been the only one with the guts to point out their errant moves. Soon after that, the entire project team was disbanded, after three years of effort and nearly $100 million of taxpayer dollars were wasted.

    I had tried to get leadership to assume a crisis management posture, but they refused to admit they had even a little bit of a communications problem. It was a classic case of shooting the messenger. Leadership’s only salvation was that the project was too complex for any beat reporter to understand or figure out what went wrong. What could and perhaps should have been a major scandal was reported as just another failure of government with a media shelf-life of a couple days.


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