The book’s co-authors are John Doorley and Helio Fred Garcia (president of Logos Consulting Group). The co-authors’ work is supplemented by contributions by leading practitioners who wrote chapters or supplemental material on their areas of particular expertise. From Logos Consulting Group these include Anthony Ewing (Corporate Responsibility), Laurel Hart (Social Media), and Raleigh Mayer (sidebar on The Art of the Pitch). The investor relations chapter was jointly written by Helio Fred Garcia and Eugene L. Donati.
The First Edition of Reputation Management was published in 2007. The Second Edition, published in 2011, is the edition that has been translated into Korean. The Third Edition was published in 2015. A Chinese language edition is due later this year from Tsinghua University Press in Beijing.
The English language editions of Reputation Management have been adopted by both graduate and undergraduate programs in dozens of universities around the world. The book serves as the foundation of the curriculum in New York University’s MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.
In 2015 Helio Fred Garcia was one of four international crisis experts to speak in Seoul, Korea to government, corporate, and public health officials in the wake of several major crises that rocked Koreans’ confidence in their leaders. Cosunilbo, Korea’s largest newspaper, hosted the Chosun Issue Forum,Crisis Management in Post-MERS Korea. He was also profiled in ChosunBiz, a weekly business newspaper, on recent crises in Korea and around the world.
Logos president Helio Fred Garcia at Chosun Issue Forum in Seoul in September, 2015
In early 2017 Garcia will visit Korea in support of the launch of the Korean edition of Reputation Management. The Korean edition can be purchased by clicking here.
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The committee initially asked Adams to write the first draft. But Adams, 41, considered himself a statesman and thought the work beneath him. So he suggested that Jefferson, 33 and a rising star, take the first draft.
Writing the Declaration by JLG Ferris
According to the biography John Adams: A Life by John Ferling, Jefferson was confused by Adams’ suggestion:
“Jefferson asked, “Why will you not? You ought to do it.”
To which Adams responded, “I will not – reasons enough.”
That didn’t satisfy Jefferson, who insisted,
“What can be your reasons?”
And Adams responded, “Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.”
Adams may or may not have been sincere.
“Well,” said Jefferson, “if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.”
Adams concluded, “Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.””
There is no evidence that such a meeting took place. There is evidence that Franklin, then in his 70s, edited Jefferson’s draft carefully.
Start With WHY
So Jefferson took on the task. But instead of simply listing the grievances against the King, Jefferson, who knew a lot about persuasion, decided to start with WHY — First, with a meta-WHY, why a Declaration of Independence, as opposed to simply an account of the vote? And second, the WHY of separation.
First, WHY the Declaration: Jefferson wrote that in such circumstances,
“a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind
Think about that for a moment: A DECENT RESPECT for the opinions of mankind. That’s the foundation of public relations — and of all civil government. This usually-overlooked opening to the Declaration is in many ways as important as what follows. It creates accountability and sets a standard — what reasonable people would appropriately expect a responsible provisional government to do when it decides to leave.
Second, WHY the separation: First principle: All are equal. Second principle: Fundamental rights are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Third principle: Government exists to secure these rights.
Move to HOW
And then the HOW: When government fails to do so, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that government.
Of course, it was more aspirational than normative, as Lincoln pointed out 87 years later. We’re still trying to get it right.
Finishing the Draft
Draft of the Declaration, with Franklin’s and others’ edits
Jefferson’s draft was powerful but wordy. Franklin edited it; the Committee of Five submitted it; the Congress tweaked it more.
The Declaration was ratified on July 2, and published on July 4.
The Broadside Edition of the Declaration of Independence, published on July 5, 1776.
Note that of the 1,338 words of the Declaration, the first 1,180 are all about the WHY and the HOW.
The WHAT, the text of the actual resolution of the Congress, appears only in the last paragraph and consists of only 127 words:
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”
And the Declaration closes with the final 31 words:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Rivals and Friends
John Adams as the second President of the United States
Adams never quite got over missing the chance to get credit for the Declaration. He went on to become the first Vice President and second President; Jefferson to be the first Secretary of State and third President.
Thomas Jefferson as the third President of the United States
History continues to view Jefferson — with all his flaws and contradictions — more favorably than Adams.
The two were fierce political rivals until both left office; then they became fast friends, frequently corresponding with each other (as only former presidents can do).
But Adams continued to envy Jefferson.
And both died on the same day, exactly 50 years after the Declaration was published, on July 4, 1826, exactly 190 years ago today.
According to legend, Adams, on his deathbed and unaware that Jefferson had died several hours earlier, lamented that Jefferson would outlive him.
He uttered this deathbed regret:
Of course, he was right.
Below, for reference, the final version of the Declaration of Independence.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
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In this blog, Jocelyn Jaixin Cao applies a foundational principle of effective persuasion – start with Why – to the core identity of companies. She notes that the most successful companies are those which make the Why a central part of their work, both in their statement of values, vision, and mission, and in the day-to-day decision criteria they use.
Quite presciently, among the many companies she studied, she contrasts Google, which has a very strong Why identity, and which just overtook Apple as the largest company in the world, with Yahoo, which has always been a What company focused on features and benefits but without clear purpose, and which is now struggling to survive, never mind remain relevant.
DEVELOPING THE “WHY” FRAME IN BUSINESS DECISION-MAKING AND COMMUNICATION:
GUEST BLOG BY JOCELYN JIAXIN CAO
Jocelyn Jaixin Cao
To stand out from competitors and to survive in a rapidly changing business environment, most companies spend the majority of their time in differentiating their products or services. However, studies show that differentiation is not enough to establish trust and loyalty. Companies need to earn trust by communicating and demonstrating their core values and beliefs clearly and consistently to their audience. Creating a “why” frame that includes these values and beliefs within the corporation becomes vital.
Companies influential on a global scale, such as Google, Facebook, and Uber, follow a similar communication strategy. They tell us first why they exist before talking about what they are selling. They know that to successfully connect with their audience, they need to first address what the audience cares about, not what is important only tothemselves. The origin of the “why” comes from the genesis story and the core values embraced by the company. It is not simply a slogan for the purpose of grabbing attention, but something the corporation truly believes in and is willing to fight for: it is the foundation of a corporation’s mission and vision.
The Importance of “Why” in Business Decision-making and Communication
Google, Facebook, and Uber all have a clear “why” of their existence in the first place. The origin of their “why” is not for themselves, but for better serving the society. Google was created because Larry Page and Sergei Brin wanted to improve people’s search experience at that time; Facebook was brought into being because of the desperate need by Harvard students for a comprehensive online social network based on real identity; Uber was built to tackle the common issue of frustrating taxi services in major cities around the world. They are all originated from finding solutions for problems experienced by people at that time, and this is valued more than making money.
In addition, they all place their “why” at the center of decision-making, whether for big business decisions or day-to-day management. When Google’s engineers were developing a new project, they were encouraged to ask the question “Is it best for our users? Is it evil?” When hiring new employees, Google ensured that the person not only had the skills needed, but also fit into its “smart creative” culture – a culture that is “willing to question the status quo and attack things differently.”
Facebook rejected advertisers whose businesses were not relevant to a college social culture even though they were companies like Goldman Sachs that could bring large amounts of money to them at their early stage. Later, it also turned down several deals with big investors such as Viacom and Yahoo because Mark Zuckerberg did not think those companies understood Facebook’s vision. When Uber was facing the huge backlash from the taxi industry and government officials, they did not fight back immediately, but focused on presenting their “why” to their customers and local governments through face-to-face conversations. It did not work out in every city, but it provoked a worldwide discussion on this issue, which to some extent increased Uber’s brand awareness.
In contrast, many of the competitors in the history of Google, Facebook and Uber failed to create their “why” or prioritize their “why” in communications. Therefore, they either lost the competitive advantage quickly or simply could not compete at all.
(1) Facebook vs. MySpace: MySpace existed and was widely welcomed before the inauguration of Facebook. It targeted the same audience – college students, received a lot of early press, and generated huge valuation among its investors. However, Facebook quickly overtook its market share. One crucial reason is that after being purchased by the News Corporation, MySpace’s original “why” no longer fit into its new reality. News Corp tried to guide MySpace by using the “professional management” approach. Leaders from News Corp sat down describing where the business would head, where they would invest and how they would earn a positive ROI by carefully calculating what would work. Those professional leaders at News Corp had no idea about the nature of social network among college students and they ran MySpace like a professional business. Contrarily, Zuckerberg allowed Facebook to go wherever the market wanted it. His team looked into the comments of their users and understood their audience well.
(2) Google vs. Bing: On May 28, 2009, Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, publically demonstrated Bing for the first time at the All Things Digital Tech Conference in San Diego, California. In the live interview at the conference, when asked the reason Microsoft decided to rebrand the name of Live Search as Bing, Ballmer said the search engine industry was a large growing market and Microsoft should be in that market. To make their presence more obvious, they needed a short and crispy name that could “verb it up.” Reports also showed that Microsoft was planning to spend $100 million for the marketing campaign of Bing. Compared to Google, Bing indeed differentiated itself in many aspects to demonstrate its specialty. However, after six years, statistics shows that Google is still the dominant search engine with 66% market share around the world while Bing only accounts for 12% even after its partnership with Yahoo. When companies lose their “why” at the beginning, it is usually hard to catch up later. Microsoft did not know clearly why they rebranded their search engine. Therefore, even though they successfully differentiated the product from competitors’ via marketing campaigns, loyalty did not follow.
(3) Uber vs. Lyft: On May 22, 2012, John Zimmer and Logan Green launched Lyft to “give Uber some low-priced private driver/taxi competition.” Lyft differentiated itself from Uber by adding two more pillars to its business: ride sharing for long-distance car rides, and a University program where Lyft charges colleges for specific campus car-sharing programs. Now three years after its launch, Lyft has indeed received positive reviews from its community and is growing steadily in the U.S. However, compared to the sensation Uber has created around the world, Lyft looks more like a different version of Uber, rather than having its unique corporate identity. When a company’s “why” is mainly based on business competition, rather than the solution to the problems cared by its users, it may see a sound short-term gain by differentiating the services, but will soon be replaced by new companies with better products. Zimride, Lyft’s predecessor, is a failed example.
Developing the “Why” frame
The process of creating the “why” frame can be divided into two parts:
The first part is the formation of the original “why.” Usually, a company’s genesis story is at the core of its original “why.” Page and Brin created Google in Stanford dorm as part of their PhD research, and their academic backgrounds and personal beliefs later influenced many aspects of Google’s growth. Zuckerberg’s dramatic founding story distinguished Facebook from other startups at that time, and was later brought live on the big screen by Hollywood in 2010. Uber’s original “why” emerged in a raining night in Paris when Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick were annoyed by the taxi services there. At that moment, they decided to crack the problem. These stories were not just stories, but later became core elements of their corporate cultures.
The second part is the enlargement of the “why.” To successfully fulfill the mission of the original “why,” leaders need people who share their vision to make it real together. At this time, corporate culture becomes significant for a company to convey and to represent its “why” to the outside world. Both Google and Facebook establish their unique cultures at very early stage. Both of them adopt the bottom-up management style and the flat corporate structure as they believe in openness and transparency, but despise bureaucracy. Both of them use the working environment to demonstrate and communicate the values to their employees. They build up their offices based on those values so that employees can be constantly reminded and inspired.
Implementing the “Why” Frame in Daily Communications
The implementation of the “why” begins first internally among employees. Google and Facebook start very early on establishing an effective communication mechanism within the corporation. Whether it is Google’s weekly all-hands (TGIF) meetings, the quarterly OKR (Objective and Key Results) reports, or Facebook’s Q&A session every Friday with Zuckerberg, the regular Hackerathon competition, leaders at Google and Facebook know clearly the importance of internal communication to a corporation’s long-term success. Employees are, after all, a company’s best and most valuable brand ambassadors. An inside-out approach to engagement empowers employees in this process by allowing them to personify the company’s values externally. Therefore, companies should first think to develop an efficient and sustainable system for internal communication – to create a culture of “why” within the company.
After having a solid “why” internally, companies will have more confidence in external
communication. One key principle in external communication is to meet audience where they are. This requires companies to shift their focus of communication from brand itself to its audience because the audience, or the market, is always the “why” brands exist in the first place. By first addressing what the audience are concerning about, companies create a frame of communication that provides meaningful context for introducing the facts and features of their brands. It is also a process to activate and connect with the frames already existed in the audience’s minds. Companies should always ask themselves why the audience should care about what they are saying.
Start with Why
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This is the core argument Simon Sinek articulated in his TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” and his book Start With Why. Sinek says there are only two ways to influence human behavior – manipulation or inspiration. Business decision-makers can easily grasp and reproduce manipulative strategies such as reducing prices or increasing marketing campaigns to grab attention, while generating inspiration usually requires richer thoughts and deeper motivation. Developing the “why” frame starts the company on a journey of self-exploration and lays the foundation for a steady flow of inspiration.
Jocelyn Jaixin Cao received her BA in English Language and Literature from Southern Yangtze University School of Foreign Studies and Honors School in Wuxi, China. She studied linguistics in the Global Studies program at University of California, Davis. She received her MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication from New York University in December, 2015. She is a certified interpreter in the New York City mayor’s office.
Jocelyn Jaixin Cao with her professor and Capstone advisor Helio Fred Garcia.
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Eleven years ago, in the book The Game-Changer, Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley defined the First Moment of Truth as the moment when consumers are physically reaching for the product they intend to purchase. The concept was further developed, as the Second Moment of Truth and the Third Moment of Truth, referring respectively to the moment when consumers purchase the product and the moment when they share reviews after using the product.
Five years ago Google released its study on the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT): the moment when consumers research before they decide whether to buy. According to Google, 88% of US consumers explored online before actually buying a product (ZMOT, 2011). The number is still rising as Internet and mobile technology have advanced in recent years to make buying products online and on a phone easier than ever before.
ZMOT was a revolutionary idea in brand management and marketing by quantifying consumers’ behavior patterns before they bought a product. While many focus strictly on the “numbers” around ZMOT, the impact of this insight could be applied far beyond just numbers. And beyond just brands and marketing.
As I watched the ZMOT video above and read other journal articles about the topic, I found an interesting parallel between this concept and what I have learned and practiced when working with clients on how to manage their reputation. Just as with Moments of Truth when products are being judged, and those same critical moments exist when a company, leader, or organization is being considered and judged. If we understand those moments when organizations can influence the perception of their stakeholders, what I call Moments of Reputation, we can be more prepared to maintain the strong reputation no matter what happens.
Before I translate the four moments of truth into four moments of reputation, we should note that a company’s reputation is not only determined by consumers, but also broader stakeholders such as investors and employees. Reputation symbolizes an organization on a macro-level. It goes beyond the goodwill on the balance sheet. Reputation is the way in which a company is perceived by those who matter most to the company. The same is true of brand reputation, and even an individual’s reputation.
The Four Moments of Truth:
Zero – Consumers research a product prior to their purchase decisions.
First – Consumers are physically in front of the product.
Second – Consumers buy the product.
Third – Consumers share their thoughts and experiences about the product.
The goal of the brand or company is to sell the product.
The Four Moments of Reputation:
Zero – Whether positive, negative or neutral, every stakeholder holds his or her own perception of an organization. Note: No perception is also a perception; it counts as neutral and is very easy to change.
First – Something happens. Sometimes that something is planned (a product launch); sometimes that is accidental (an acute crisis); sometimes that something is not bad enough cause criticism; sometimes that is so good that it evokes envy.
Second – Stakeholders are influenced by whoever describes that event first.
Third – Stakeholders follow what happens next and judge the company the through a tinted lens. Most of the time, the tinted lens is comprised of what happened in those first three moments.
The goal of the company, leader, or organization, is to maintain their reputation.
These Moments of Reputation can help us understand when a company, leader, or organization has the greatest chance to influence the perception of the company to stakeholders.
From what we can see, after the Zero Moment of Reputation, a company’s perception is taken to some degree outside of their control – something has happened, good or bad, that the company has to manage. This means that first and foremost, companies need to invest in the Zero Moment of Reputation, because this moment is when the company has a greater degree of control in building up the perception of the company to stakeholders, before something else happens that makes them visible.
However, companies also need to be prepared for when that First Moment of Reputation arrives, that turning point for the company and its reputation. It is hard to predict what will happen at any minute, so companies should be equipped with mental readiness the moment something happens to respond quickly and effectively. Most of the time, they rely on the communication department to clear up a messy situation. They think they are safe once they have a communication director, a spokesperson; a media list spreadsheet and a 100-page crisis plan.
But they are not necessarily as safe as they think. This mental readiness goes beyond any practical tactics. It is also about being strategic – how can the company maintain the trust and confidence of their stakeholders. It means thinking more clearly about those practical tools already available to the company with critical eyes. Does the communication director leverage both internal and external partnerships? Does the company have an appropriate spokesperson and is he or she well trained? Is the media list double-checked? Is the crisis plan up-to-date? Can the company seize the initiative when the First Moment of Reputation occurs?
Reputation is hard to measure and manage. The Zero Moment of Reputation is a good opportunity to examine whether a company is prepared for anything that will make it suddenly visible. Once a company passes this first test, it is more likely that it will control the other critical moments when their stakeholders are making judgments about them.
The Zero Moment of Reputation is an undeveloped blue ocean. I will continue study and research this topic. Stay tuned.
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Ten years ago today Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The rest, as they say, is history.
I won’t recount that history day-by-day here. There are plenty of special reports on TV and in the newspapers this weekend that help us see the horror as it unfolded. For a day-by-day timeline of the federal response, see Chapter 3 of The Power of Communication, or see Failure of Initiative, the final report of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. That congressional report concluded:
“The Select Committee identified failures at all levels of government that significantly undermined and detracted from the heroic efforts of first responders, private individuals and organizations, faith-based groups, and others.”
But on the tenth anniversary of the flood, we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of that bungled response and to re-commit to the discipline of effective crisis response. I will hit the high points (or low points) of Katrina response as teachable moments.
I monitored the hurricane and flood and then deployed to New Orleans in the second week as part of a corporate response to the disaster. I saw first hand the consequence of the government’s ineffective handling of the crisis.
The author documenting Katrina damage.
The federal government’s response to Katrina was bumbling, disorganized, and dishonest. It cost hundreds of lives. Many of the nearly 1,500 deaths in New Orleans happened in the days following the flood. Many of those were preventable.
And the bungled response cost President George W. Bush his reputation. Until Katrina, President Bush had enjoyed a job approval rating above 50 percent. He had won re-election in a tough campaign just 10 months earlier. But after Katrina his job approval fell below 50 percent and never recovered. It fell first to 42 percent and a month later to 38 percent, and was below 30 percent the following year. President Bush finished his presidency with the lowest approval ratings of any president.
That loss of trust and reputation was preventable. Because most of the bungled response was preventable.
Effective Crisis Management is a Leadership Discipline
Crisis management is the management of choices – the management of decisions that leaders make when things have the potential to go very wrong.
Effective crisis management helps leaders and organizations make critical business decisions that can prevent, mitigate, or recover from an event that threatens trust, reputation, assets, operations, and competitive position.
There is a rigor to effective crisis management that is equivalent to the rigor found in other business processes. But that rigor is often unknown, ignored, or misapplied by many leaders, to their own and their organizations’ misfortune.
That rigor includes a systematic way to think in a crisis.
Many leaders who otherwise are gifted managers – managing finance, or engineering, or marketing, or any other professional discipline, or even a whole company or government – throw rigor to the wind when a crisis emerges. Then they either make up a response on the fly or try to cobble together bits of knowledge from other parts of their experience. Or they ignore the crisis until it is too late. Or they think that their problem is one of public relations that can be rationalized away.
All of these things happened in Katrina. Indeed, from the President to the Secretary of Homeland Security to the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there was lack of situational awareness, ineffective and dishonest assurances of an imminent response, and then denial of their own mis-steps. They focused more on saying what sounded good, but were singularly unable to deliver on the assurances they made.
August 31, 2005 — Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, addresses the media. Photo by Ed Edahl/FEMA
Every Crisis is a Business Problem Before it is a Communication Problem
Crisis management is far more than skillful public relations. Seeing PR as the solution to a crisis is a recipe for failure.
Every crisis is a business problem before it is a communication problem, and you cannot communicate your way out of a business problem.
The government set the bar very high early in the Katrina crisis.
The day before the hurricane made landfall President Bush went on television to reassure the citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. He said,
“We will do everything in our power to help the people and the communities affected by the storm.”
FEMA Director Michael Brown also reassured the public:
“FEMA is not going to hesitate at all in this storm. We’re going to move fast, we’re going to move quick, we’re going to do whatever it takes to help disaster victims.”
FEMA chief Michael Brown alongside Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, center, and U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, left.
These were the right things to say.
But simply saying them was not enough.
Regrettably, both FEMA and the larger US government, having set those expectations, spent the next week dramatically under-delivering on them. As the horror that New Orleans experienced unfolded over the next few days, the government’s lack of effective action, and the disconnect between the rhetoric and the work, defined the president and his administration.
Crises play out in an environment of emotional resonance: fear, anxiety, anger, shame, embarrassment and other, often confused, emotions. Effective crisis communication, combined with effective management of other elements of a crisis, can address and even neutralize these emotional reactions.
New Orleans flooded on August 29, 2005
Crisis Response =
Effective Action + Effective Communication
Effective crisis response consists of a carefully managed process that calibrates smart actions with smart communication.
The key to making smart choices is to use the right decision criteria – the proper basis for choice. And that means asking the right questions.
Indeed, in my experience working on and studying thousands of crises over more than 35 years, the most effectively handled crises were the ones where leaders asked the right question. Ask the right question, and the solution can become clear within a matter of minutes. But asking the right question requires mental readiness; a readiness to shift perspective and to think differently.
The Leadership Discipline of Mental Readiness
Most counter-productive crisis responses begin with leaders asking some version of What should we do? Or What should we say? The challenge with this kind of question is that it focuses on the we – on the entity or leader in crisis. This results in the consideration of options that may make the people in midst of crisis feel good. But it is unlikely to lead to what is necessary to maintain trust, confidence, and support of those people whose trust, confidence, and support are critical to the organization.
What is needed is a different kind of thinking that begins not with the I/me/we/us but rather with the they/them – with the stakeholders who matter to the organization. The leadership discipline of mental readiness – the readiness to shift frames of reference from the first person — I/me/we/us — to the third person — they/them — makes all the difference.
And that’s because of the way trust works.
Maintaining Trust: Meet Expectations
A common goal for most organizations and leaders in crises is to maintain the trust and confidence of those who matter – shareholders, employees, customers, regulators, residents, citizens, voters, etc.
Trust arises when stakeholders’ legitimate expectations are met. Trust falls when expectations are unmet.
Asking What should we do? runs the serious risk of failing even to consider stakeholders’ expectations. Worse, it further risks the leader becoming stuck in his or her own perspective, in I/me/we/us. Hence, such crisis whoppers as BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back,” or even President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”
Most crisis response failures can be traced back to the ultimate decision-makers focusing on their own frame of reference rather than on their stakeholders. This was the case in Katrina.
The right question to ask when determining the appropriate course of action in a crisis is not What should we do. Rather, it is this: What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do when facing this kind of situation?
Framing decisions in light of stakeholder expectations leads to smarter choices faster, and maintains stakeholders’ trust.
For any stakeholder group we can answer the question, What would reasonable members of this stakeholder group appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do? to a very granular level. And at the very least, one way to determine stakeholder expectations is to reflect on the expectations we ourselves have set. So, in Katrina, President Bush set the expectation that the the federal government would do everything in its power to help the people affected by the storm. FEMA chief Michael Brown said that FEMA would not hesitate at all, but would move fast and do whatever it takes to help disaster victims.
But when FEMA was seen to be slow and to create obstacles to rapid response, and when the U.S. government was not seen to be responding or even acknowledging the gravity of the situation, trust began to fall simply because the expectations the government itself had set were not being fulfilled.
Photo by the author.
We can inventory expectations to a very granular level for each stakeholder group, and we can then work to fulfill those particular expectations.
But regardless the particular expectations of any given stakeholder group, there is a common expectation that applies to all stakeholder groups all the time: In a crisis, all stakeholders expect a responsible organization or leader to care. To care that something has happened; to care that people need help; to care that something needs to be done.
One of the common patterns in crisis is this: The single biggest predictor of loss of trust and confidence, of loss of reputation, and of financial and operational harm, is the perception that the organization or leader do not care.
So effective crisis response, at a minimum, begins with a timely demonstration of caring. And it continues with a persistent demonstration that the organization and leader continue to care, for as long as the expectation of caring exists.
This is what was sorely lacking in the government’s response to Katrina. Officials said they cared; but the tangible demonstration of caring didn’t match the rhetoric.
New Orleans flooded on a Monday. Throughout that day and Tuesday, the government kept assuring the news media that FEMA and other agencies were on the ground and helping the victims. But news coverage showed little federal presence except for U.S. Coast Guard helicopter rescues. But no staging areas for victims; no shelters; but hundreds of people, mostly African-American, struggling against the rising waters and without help. On Tuesday the news media persistently questioned why there was little evidence of federal help for the city, noting even that dead bodies continued to float by.
On that Wednesday the media not only covered the lack of a FEMA presence on the ground, but also how FEMA prevented or stalled potential aid from other sources. For example, a fourteen-car caravan arranged by the sheriff of Loudoun County, Virginia, carrying supplies of water and food, was not allowed into the city. FEMA stopped tractor trailers carrying water to the supply staging area in Alexandria, Louisiana because they did not have the necessary paperwork. CNN also reported that during the weekend before the flood Mayor Nagin had made a call for firefighters to help with rescue operations. But as firefighters from across the country arrived to help victims, they were first sent by FEMA to Atlanta for a day long training program in community relations and sexual harassment. When they arrived in New Orleans, the volunteer firefighters were permitted only to give out flyers with FEMA number, but were forbidden from engaging in rescue operations. The media reported not only the resentment felt by the first responders, but also how FEMA’s policies hurt those people who were begging for aid in New Orleans.
That day Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff held a press conference in which he said,
“We are extremely pleased with every element of the federal government, all of our federal partners, have made to this terrible tragedy.”
That day Mayor Ray Nagin went on the radio and blasted the federal government for its failure to respond quickly:
“I don’t want to see anyone do any more g*d-dammed press conferences. Put a moratorium on press conferences. Don’t tell me forty thousand people are coming here. They’re not here!”
On Thursday, the news media reported that hundreds of people who had been sheltering at the New Orleans Convention Center without food, water, blankets, or any other help. FEMA Director Michael Brown went on four network news programs and admitted that FEMA had been unaware of the people at the convention center until the news media reported it.
That day commentators and late-night comedians began to question Mr. Brown’s fitness to serve.
On Friday President Bush visited the area, and famously praised Mr. Brown, addressing him by his nickname:
“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
President George W. Bush addressing FEMA Director Michael Brown: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
That caught people’s attention (and became a defining quote of the President Bush’s tenure as president). Media analysts wondered why the President would say that: Did he not know how incompetent Brown seemed to many people? Did he know and not care? Or did he actually want the ineffective response? It showed a president out of touch, or worse. This meme began to make its way across the television networks.
That night, Friday, on a live televised concert to raise funds for Katrina victims, entertainer Kanye West gave voice to the pent up frustrations of many:
“George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
Kanye West gave voice to pent-up frustrations when he declared on live TV: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
This changed the dynamic completely. The next morning, six days after the flood, the President spoke to the media in front of the White House. Flanked by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Meyers, and Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, the president acknowledged shortfalls in the federal response and committed to direct a more effective response. He said,
“Many of our citizens are simply not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable.”
After six days of seeming out of touch, the acknowledgement of the inadequate response seemed a heartening development. That day a larger federal presence was seen in New Orleans and President Bush ordered over 7,000 troops and an additional 10,000 National Guardsmen to the disaster area.
On the weekend talk shows, the focus shifted from why the response was inadequate to who was to blame for it.
Meet The Press host Tim Russert with Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff
Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff appeared on NBC’s Meet The Press and was questioned by host Tim Russert. Russert asked whether Chertoff or anyone who reported to him would resign given the poor response. He quoted the Republican senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, who gave Secretary Chertoff a grade of F. He noted that Mitt Romney, Republican governor of Massachusetts, said that the U.S. is now an embarrassment to the world. He then challenged Secretary Chertoff:
“Your website says that your department assumes primary responsibility for a natural disaster. If you knew that a Hurricane Three storm was coming, why weren’t buses, trains, planes, cruise ships, trucks provided on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to evacuate people before the storm?”
Secretary Chertoff gave a response that was, at best, disingenuous. He said,
“Tim, the way that emergency operations act under the law is – the responsibility, the power, the authority to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials.”
Even if the statement were true, it was a sharp contrast from President Bush’s and FEMA Director Brown’s assurances that the federal government would do everything it could to help those affected by the storm. But as a PBS Frontline special pointed out, evacuation is a shared responsibility. The law establishing FEMA spells out:
“The functions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency include…conducting emergency operations to save lives and property through positioning emergency equipment and supplies, through evacuating potential victims, through providing food, water, shelter, and medical care to those in need, and through restoring critical public services.”
By the following Friday, 13 days after the flood, Secretary Chertoff announced that operational responsibility for the Katrina response was shifting from FEMA to the Coast Guard, and that Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen would take charge. FEMA Director Brown resigned the following Monday.
9 Lessons for Leaders and Communicators
The Katrina anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on foundational principles of effective crisis management. These include:
Leaders are judged based on how they deal with their most difficult challenges. Crises can literally make or break reputations.
Crisis management is the management of choices – the management of decisions that leaders make when things have the potential to go very wrong.
There is a rigor to effective crisis management that is equivalent to the rigor found in other business processes. But that rigor is often unknown, ignored, or misapplied by many leaders, to their own and their organizations’ misfortune. That rigor includes a systematic way to think in a crisis.
Every crisis is a business problem before it is a communication problem, and you cannot communicate your way out of a business problem. Crisis management is far more than skillful public relations. Effective crisis response consists of a carefully managed process that calibrates smart actions with smart communication: Crisis Response = Effective Action + Effective Communication.
The key to making smart choices is to use the right decision criteria – the proper basis for choice. And that means asking the right question: What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization to do in this situation?
Trust arises when stakeholders’ legitimate expectations are met. Trust falls when expectations are unmet.
Framing decisions in light of stakeholder expectations leads to smarter choices faster, and maintains stakeholders’ trust.
In a crisis, all stakeholders expect a responsible organization or leader to care. To care that something has happened; to care that people need help; to care that something needs to be done.
The single biggest predictor of loss of trust and confidence, of loss of reputation, and of financial and operational harm, is the perception that the organization or leader do not care. Effective crisis response, at a minimum, begins with a timely demonstration of caring. And it continues with a persistent demonstration that the organization and leader continue to care, for as long as the expectation of caring exists.
https://i0.wp.com/www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Logos-Consulting-Group-practices-social-distancing-with-personal-touch-covid19-maidazeng.jpg?fit=1054%2C960&ssl=19601054Helio Fred Garciahttps://www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/HQ-Lambda-Consulting-Lockup-1030x562.pngHelio Fred Garcia2015-08-29 14:46:592021-10-11 08:21:26Crisis Management Lessons Ten Years After Hurricane Katrina
Mandatory human rights reporting is coming soon to a jurisdiction near you. Is your company ready?
Large European companies need to review their human rights policies and the risks of human rights impacts linked to their operations over the next two years. The catalyst is a European Parliament Directive adopted in October that requires companies to report annually on non-financial issues, beginning in 2017. Under the Directive, large, publicly listed European companies must report annually on how they are meeting the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, as well as environmental, social and employee-related, and anti-corruption and bribery matters. The Directive mandates corporate disclosure of human rights due diligence and consideration of human rights risks, consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Non-financial reports must include a “description of the policies pursued” relating to respect for human rights, including “due diligence processes implemented;” “the outcome of those policies;” principal human rights risks linked to the company’s operations, including its “business relationships, products or services” likely to cause adverse impacts; and relevant non-financial performance indicators. While the regulation is of the “comply or explain” variety – companies must disclose existing policies or explain why they have no policies on these matters – and carries no penalty for noncompliance, the twenty-eight member states of the European Union will implement the Directive through national legislation, in which each country is free to set more stringent disclosure requirements and possible penalties.
The European Non-Financial Reporting Directive is part of a broader trend of mandatory reporting that seeks to promote corporate respect for human rights through greater corporate transparency. Like financial reporting that provides material information for investors, human rights reporting informs consumers, investors and policymakers about the human rights impacts of business operations. Advocacy organizations, like those in the European Coalition of Corporate Justice, and investors, like those in the sustainable and responsible investment network Eurosif, pushed for adoption of the Directive. In the United States, mandatory corporate human rights reporting is emerging around specific issues, such as conflict minerals, forced labor and human trafficking, and specific geographies, such as Central Africa and Burma. No non-financial reporting regulation to date in the United States applies as broadly as the European Directive, however, which is estimated to cover some 6,000 European companies.
The Directive and similar regulations will force many companies to address their human rights impacts for the first time. How should executives prepare? Companies can take a number of steps to meet escalating expectations of greater transparency about corporate human rights impacts:
Conduct human rights due diligence.
Companies that understand the human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships are in a better position to prevent or mitigate those risks. Conducting a human rights impact assessment can reveal actual and potential human rights risks and allow a company to prioritize actions to address the most severe risks. Nestlé, for example, based on information from human rights impact assessments (PDF), has taken steps to reduce excessive working hours, improve road safety training for its drivers, add human rights principles to its contracts with security providers, and develop an external grievance mechanism.
Integrate human rights considerations into existing policies and procedures.
A growing number of companies have made explicit commitments to respect human rights in corporate codes of conduct, supplier standards and corporate responsibility reports. Adopting a human rights policy is an important step. Companies are also finding ways to integrate human rights considerations into existing management systems, which can be easier than creating stand-alone policies. Even without “human rights” language, corporate policies and procedures can relate to a company’s human rights impacts. Executives should review their employment, security and compliance policies, for example, to identify ways that they can address the human rights impacts of the company’s operations and business relationships.
Become familiar with human rights reportingframeworks.
Meaningful human rights reporting accounts for how a company addresses its human rights impacts, especially risks of severe human rights impacts, and serves as a basis to measure future performance. Companies are developing key performance indicators relevant for their businesses and the particular human rights risks they face. Almost all of the world’s 250 largest companies are publishing non-financial reports. More than 7,000 companies have reported non-financial issues consistent with the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, which include human rights indicators. The recently launched Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative (RAFI), piloted by the European multinationals Unilever, Ericsson, Nestlé and H&M, can help companies report on their human rights performance in line with the UN Guiding Principles. The European Commission is expected to issue non-binding guidelines for reporting non-financial information under the European Directive.
While European companies now have a regulatory deadline to start reporting, all companies would do well to better understand their non-financial impacts and how to manage them. Whether mandatory or not, non-financial and human rights reporting is an emerging business practice and stakeholder expectation of leading companies with the potential to influence your company’s reputation and bottom line for years to come.
https://i0.wp.com/www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/HR-Reporting-e1428516872643-1.jpg?fit=602%2C400&ssl=1400602Anthony Ewinghttps://www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/HQ-Lambda-Consulting-Lockup-1030x562.pngAnthony Ewing2015-04-08 14:15:412021-09-07 22:33:31Mandatory Human Rights Reporting
The concepts from the book and the best practices and principles applied by Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership have been very well received by both academic and business audiences here. I have spoken so far in three cities: Shanghai, Nanjing, and Tianjin. I’m now in Beijing, and all the remaining work will be here.
By the time we’re done, I will have spoken at fifteen universities, including most of the top-10-ranked Chinese universities. And also will have spoken at a half-dozen corporate events.
From business school deans and graduate students to newspaper editors to business executives, there has been an appetite for the best practices in crisis management and crisis communication, and also in executive leadership skills. As China goes through extraordinary change, there is also a recognition that a management approach that promotes a culture of compliance but not of innovation may not be sustainable. The tough migration to leadership that inspires, and to timely decision-making that maintains trust, has produced meaningful desire to get the principles right. It is part of a larger change taking place across all elements of Chinese society.
Announcement at Nanjing University
Three universities so far have asked to discuss formalizing long-term relationships with Logos Institute, but no commitments in either direction have yet been made.
The tour started in Shanghai, in friendly territory: NYU Shanghai, where NYU Shanghai student and Logos colleague Evan Chethik made introductions. The school, only in its second year, is housed in an ultra-modern building with smart classrooms, up-to-date labs, and even iPads in public areas for student use. Their art lab has two 3-D printers. I gave two classes, one on The Power of Communication and Leadership for the Global Liberal Studies course, and a public lecture focusing more on Power of Communication and barriers to effective audience engagement. The students were smart, engaged, and engaging. About half of my group were Americans visiting for a year; some were from NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus; the rest were Chinese, part of the first two classes of Chinese students to get an NYU Degree completely from NYU’s Shanghai college.
With my Logos colleague and NYU Shanghai student Evan Chethik
Our NYU Shanghai contact, Professor Ray Ro, is also on the faculty at Sino-British College, a consortium of University of Shanghai for Science and Technology and nine British universities. We went there the next day. Most of the students were Chinese, majoring in either engineering or business. They too were quite engaged and engaging.
Teaching MBA students at Shanghai International Studies University
The same day we visited Shanghai Jiaotong University’s School of Media and Design, teaching graduate students on effective interpersonal communication. Great students.
With Dr. Zhen Fan, Dean of the School of Business, Shanghai International Studies University
The next day we visited Shanghai International Studies University School of Business. This was the first of two visits to the university, and three classes. Here the students were getting their MBAs, some with a concentration in communication. Most were Chinese, but there were some Americans and several Europeans. The discussion was lively and vivid.
Teaching undergraduate business students at Shanghai International Studies University
We returned to Shanghai International Studies University, to teach School of English Studies and in the undergraduate business school.
NYU MS in PR/CC Student Reunion
2014 grads of the NYU MS in PR/CC. L to R, Iris Wenting Xue, Ci Song, Judy Zhu, and Ada Yang. (I was thesis advisor to Iris and Judy)
One of the highlights of the Shanghai visit was a reunion of several of my NYU MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication students who now live and work in Shanghai. All are working in good public relations jobs. (A similar reunion is planned for Beijing.)
While in Shanghai we had the opportunity to speak at three corporate events.
Shanghai Daily, the English language newspaper of Shanghai, invited me to give a luncheon workshop on crisis management to the heads of communication of about 25 multinational corporations.
The event was also attended by a number of editors and reporters from the newspaper, and officials of the Shanghai city government.
With Joyce Wu, Editor-in-Chief of Shanghai Daily, the English language newspaper of Shanghai
That evening we went to the headquarters office of Vanke, a the largest residential real estate developer in China. Our evening was jointly sponsored by Vanke and Ivy League English, which hosted us several times. The session was on strategy, leadership, and the power of communication.
The main room at Vanke, 250 people, plus 40 offices participating remotely via video hookup
In addition to the 240 people in the headquarters office, forty of Vanke’s offices throughout China also participated via video hookup. This was the first session we held where we needed simultaneous translation into Chinese (although at all sessions, our slides were in both English and Chinese). Ivy League English will also sponsor a similar session in Beijing.
Vanke employees at one of 40 remote locations participating in the workshop
Several days later we met at Ivy League English’s Shanghai headquarters offices for a meeting of Shanghai CSR We Can, a group of 25 heads of corporate social responsibility for major Chinese companies and for the Chinese offices of multinationals. We spent the afternoon covering the overlap between corporate responsibility and crisis management; especially the need in each instance to take seriously stakeholder expectations and concerns. We had lively discussion and debate.
We then took the bullet train to Nanjing, and spent a whirlwind 36 hours there.
That night we gave a public lecture at the Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center, a campus of the School of Advanced International Studies. The topic was the use of power in all forms, but especially communication as soft power, and therefore more sustainable than hard power. The students were getting their MAs or graduate certificates in international relations and foreign policy.
The announcement at the Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center
These students, generally older and more experienced internationally than the business students I had met at other universities, had a sophisticated understanding of foreign policy, economics, and military force. We had lively discussions of American foreign policy, framing (ISIS or ISIL?), and the limits of soft power.
Student interaction at Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center
Another unexpected delight on the trip was a surprise visit to the Johns Hopkins lecture by my former NYU PR/CC student Tao Feng. He graduated in 2014, and now works for Burson-Marsteller in Guangzhou, China. He happened to be in Nanjing for a client meeting, and saw the notice of the lecture on Weibo (Chinese equivalent of Twitter) and was able to get to the lecture, his boss in tow. We shared a taxi afterward.
With Tao Feng, 2014 graduate of the NYU MS in PR/CC
The next day we returned to downtown Nanjing to speak at a public workshop at Nanjing University on maintaining trust in a crisis. It was a small but focused group of undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctorate students.
We spent the afternoon at a distant campus of Communication University of China, Nanjing. The public lecture on effective leadership communication was held in the library auditorium to a standing-room only crowd. The discussion was lively and toward the end got a bit raucous. Or, as Dr. Shirley Tse, our host, said, the students were vivid.
Teaching at Communication University of China Nanjing
After class we took the bullet train from Nanjing to Beijing, and seven hours later took the bullet commuter train the half hour (90 miles) to Tianjin, a city of 13 million known for its technology and manufacturing base. (Logos has several large industrial clients with facilities here.)
The announcement at Tianjin University College of Management and Economics
That day we spoke at Tianjin University’s College of Management and Economics. Tianjin University, founded in 1895, is the oldest university in China.
With Dr. Zhang Wei, Dean, College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University
We spoke to the MBAs, Executive MBAs, and other business students on leadership and the power of communication. The next day we were back in Tianjin to speak at Nankai University’s business school.
Teaching business students at Nankai University Business School
And then we rested.
My wife, Laurel Garcia Colvin, returned to New York Saturday, after four and a half weeks in China. I got a three-day weekend, just ending now.
The trip has been ably assembled and managed by Logos Institute Research and China Business Development Associate Iris Wenting Xue (who also did most of the simultaneous translation, when needed). She has worked closely Beryl Young, a manager with the book’s publisher, Publishing House of Electronics Industry.
Tomorrow the Beijing portion of the trip begins, and will last nine days. Stay tuned…
Watchtower on the Northwest Corner of the Forbidden City, Beijing, from across the moat
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Every year I look for great moments in leadership and leadership communication. This year offered many candidates for the greatest leadership moment. The usual suspects come from the world of politics, sports, or business. But there was one unlikely moment in 2014 that in my view shows leadership in an unexpected light, one that offers both teachable moments and hope for leaders in any field.
Great Leaders Transcend the Either/Or
Ever since the murder of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri in August, there has been a growing movement calling attention to the disproportionate number of black youths who are killed by police officers. In the months following the Ferguson shooting, other police-involved shootings led to national protests, including the “Hands Up/Don’t Shoot” rallies and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The media has framed the conflict as police v. black communities, and New York City police have played into that dynamic by showing disrespect to New York Mayor Bill De Blasio after he noted that he has spoken with his own son, who is black, about his personal risk when interacting with police.
But however convenient for the media to paint the conflict as either/or; as pro-police or pro-community, it doesn’t have to be this way. And great leaders can transcend the bifurcation and find ways to unite and move forward.
My pick for the best leadership and leadership communication moment in 2014 is Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. I’ve taught his case in several graduate business and communication courses in the five months since, and each time it brings tears to the students’ eyes. I share it here.
Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on Saturday, August 9. The police mishandled the investigation and aftermath, and by midweek the St. Louis county and other local police forces mishandled the protests that erupted. The US and national media descended on the scene, broadcasting live from the streets.
The police over-reaction included paramilitary police in military gear riding on an armored vehicle, with a sniper aiming his rifle at protesters. It included tear-gassing of the crowds and of journalists, and intimidating journalists and other observers. The scene was reminiscent of a war zone, and covered that way in the national and international press.
By late week, Missouri governor Jay Nixon took control of the situation, and named the Missouri Highway Patrol as the agency responsible for crowd control. He appointed State Patrol Captain Ron Johnson the commander on the scene.
Johnson, who is black and who grew up and still lives in the Ferguson area, immediately reframed his role: it was not to protect Ferguson from the protestors, but to protect the protestors’ right to peaceably assemble.
The Transforming Moment
But the great moment in leadership came the Sunday eight days after Michael Brown’s shooting, and four days after the tear-gassing in the streets. It was at a church, at a rally in support of the Brown family. Capt. Johnson arrived wearing his state trooper uniform. There was palpable tension in the large crowd as he took the pulpit. But he began in an unexpected way:
“I want to start off by talking to Mike Brown’s family. And I want you to know my heart goes out to you. And I say that I’m sorry. I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.”
It was a remarkable moment. And the crowd was not expecting it. There was initial silence, then applause, which lasted for more than thirty seconds; the final fifteen of which included cheers.
In that moment Johnson transformed the situation. He connected with the community; he opened a valve that allowed pent-up emotions to be released, in a positive and constructive way. He spoke first to the people most directly affected, the Brown family. He expressed sympathy for their loss, and then said he’s sorry. He repeated it in the frame of his uniform. Their experience of the police, from the shooting of their son to the mishandling of the crime scene to the bungling of the protests, was one of indifference and of confrontation. Here was a police leader moving past those experiences and connecting at a human level.
And there was significance in his phrase: “I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.” He was the first law enforcement officer to say so.
Having established an institutional leadership role, he then connected more personally, and made a personal commitment.
“This is my neighborhood. You are my family. You are my friends. And I am you. And I will stand and protect you. I will protect your right to protest.” (More cheers.) I’m telling you right now I’m full right now. I came in here today and I saw people cheering and people clapping, and this is what people need to put on TV.” (More cheers and applause.)
He then told his own story.
“When this is over, I’m going to in my son’s room. My black son. Who wears his pants sagging; wears his hat cocked to his side; has tattoos on his arms. But that’s my baby.”
Then he moved from the personal to the public:
“Let’s continue to show this nation who we are; continue to show this country who we are; for when these days are over Mike Brown’s family is still weeping, and they’re still praying…
He closed by connecting, promising, and rallying:
“I love you. I stand tall with you. And I’ll see you out there.”
A police officer told the community that he loves them. Remarkable.
Watch the six minute talk here:
Leadership Best Practices
Capt. Johnson’s six minute talk met many of Logos Institute’s best practices. One is that you can’t move people unless you meet them where they are. Capt. Johnson did that, connecting in his first sentence with the Brown family and throughout with the community, both black and white. He understood the power of framing: “I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and tell you I’m sorry.”
Our friend and fellow crisis counselor James E. Lukaszewski describes a pattern in crises he calls the Victim Cycle. Early intervention can pre-empt or shorten the victim cycle. In the early phases the victims (both those directly affected and those who empathize) need assistance with their own grief; to hear an expression of regret; to see involvement from the institution in queston; to receive information; and to have their plight recognized. In later phases they also need to receive validation of their suffering; get honest communication from the organization; to hear an apology from the top of the organization; to experience direct communication; and receive compassion. Capt. Johnson delivered all of those in his remarks.
And the Logos Institute best practices decision criteria were also met. The defining question in determining what to do or say is:
What would reasonable members of the stakeholder group appropriately expect
a responsible organization or leader to do when facing a situation like this?
And in the case of the Ferguson community, when Capt. Johnson addressed them, the reasonable expectations of a responsible leader would be to connect, express sympathy and regret, and to honestly declare his values, commitments, and next steps. Capt. Johnson did.
In many ways he was the leader best suited to do so.
Time magazine quotes St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, who knows Captain Johnson from working on large events such as a presidential motorcade:
“He’s a quiet guy, but he is professional. When he speaks, people listen. When he acts, people respond to it. He’s familiar with the area, he comes from the area, and he connects with the community.”
Time quotes his former boss, Patrol Superintendent Colonel Roger Stottlemyer, who promoted Johnson to captain in 2012:
“I think he’s a calming influence on people. I think he knows the people there, he knows what their concerns are, he can relate to them having come from that community.” …Stottlemyer said that at the time Johnson was rising in the ranks, there were fewer than 100 officers of color in a force of 1,200 officers. “He was a star, and it was obvious from the beginning.” Stottlemyer said he promoted Johnson to Captain partly because he was impressed with his leadership style. “I observed when he was a corporal and a sergeant, the way he handled his men and the way he handled issues that comes up,” he said. “He communicates well with his people. He was an officer that you didn’t have complaints about.”
The national debate set off by the Ferguson killing and aftermath is bigger than any one local community and any one law enforcement officer. And however effective a leader Captain Johnson may be, the national controversy is large and getting larger, and many other players are now involved. The media continues to portray the issue as either/or; as police v. community/community v. police.
But in all the controversy, it is reassuring to see real leadership in action, even in a small community, that transforms a situation and brings people together. For his courage, his compassion, his authenticity, and his effective leadership, I am pleased to pick Capt. Johnson’s remarks on August 17 as the leadership and leadership communication moment of the year.
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James G. Stavridis tried to leave the Navy in 1981, after his five-year commitment was up, to attend law school. But he got a call from his Annapolis mentor, then Lieutenant Commander Mike Mullen (later to become Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). Mullen said, “You want law school. OK. Let me try and get the Navy to send you to a law school.” The next day he called and offered to have the Navy send Stavridis to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Stavridis pointed out that Fletcher is not a law school, but school of international relations.
Mullen’s reply: “It has ‘law’ in the name. And it is hard to get orders to it. So you better take it now.” Stavridis did. He received a PhD in international relations and was named the outstanding student in his class, setting in motion a career that propelled him to be one of only two 1976 graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy to receive four stars. (The other, Marine General John Allen, served as head of NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan.)
The nation owes a debt to Adms. Mullen and Stavridis, both for their service and for the decision-making thirty-three years ago that kept Stavridis in the Navy.
In 2009 Adm. Stavridis was finishing a three-year tour as the four-star head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) when he was appointed by President Obama to become simultaneously Supreme Allied Commander of NATO (a position known as SACEUR) and also commander of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM). He was the first Navy officer to so serve. In those two roles he was simultaneously in charge of both all NATO operations around the globe (including the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan (ISAF)) and all U.S. operations on the continent of Europe. In those capacities he presided over the 2011 campaign in Libya that ultimately removed Muammar Gaddafi from power.
The Accidental Admiral is my pick for the best leadership and leadership communication book of 2014.
It is worth reading, not just because it is elegantly written and shows in clear language the challenge of leading such complex organizations. And not just as a good window into both diplomacy and military strategy over the last five years. But also for three other reasons:
Because Adm. Stavridis is an inspired and inspiring leader, and The Accidental Admiral is also a handbook on effective leadership, with application well beyond the military.
Because Adm. Stavridis is a proponent of effective strategic communication, again with application well beyond the military.
Because Adm. Stavridis is one of the big thinkers about national security, who will be shaping the views of the next generation of national security leaders. His views on smart power and open-source security (see below) are particularly worth noting.
Adm. Stavridis lays out the theme of his book early:
“The big lesson that I learned along the way, and which is the underpinning of this book, is in one sense very basic: the world is a diverse and complex place, and single-point ‘silver bullet’ solutions for its problems will almost always fail. Unilateral action is usually a disappointment; alliances, partnerships, and friendships are everything. We must apply international, inter-agency, and public-private connections in creating security in the twenty-first century.”
In many ways Adm. Stavridis echos the philosophy of his mentor, retired Joint Chiefs Chair Mike Mullen. In his 2009 article in Joint Force Quarterly, Adm. Mullen decried both the foreign policy and the strategic communication failures of the prior decade. He chided the nation’s leaders for the arrogance; for assuming that our good intentions by themselves would have us prevail.
“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate…. I also hope we learn to be more humble, to listen more. Because what we are after in the end—or should be after—are actions that speak for themselves, that speak for us. What we need more than anything is credibility. And we can’t get that in a talking point.”
Decision Criteria: When to Use Force?
One of the challenges Adm. Stavridis faced as SACEUR was achieving agreement and commitment for NATO operations, both in Afghanistan and in Europe, from Nato’s 28 member nations. His investment in relationships and diplomacy came to fruition during the campaign to protect Libyan civilians between March and November, 2011. That campaign led to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed by his own people. In addition to recounting the run-up to and the implementation of that campaign, Adm. Stavridis offers lessons learned from the Libya campaign that can help inform decisions on the use of force in other conflicts, such as in Syria or against ISIL.
“I do think we can draw some quick lessons from Libya that might inform the decision to engage elsewhere…
There must be a pressing need in a humanitarian sense. This is the somewhat controversial legal doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” or R2P, as it is sometimes called. When large numbers of innocent civilians are being killed or threatened by disaster (man-made or natural), intervention must be considered.
Allies and coalitions are crucial. The age of unilateral action is rapidly passing. Despite all frustrations, working with a coalition is vastly better than going it alone.
Regional support is vital. The presence of Arab coalition partners in Libya was key.
You must understand the language, culture, history, and hierarchy of any nation or region into which an intervention is considered.
Bring lots of capability: intelligence, surveillance, targeting, ordnance, ships, aircraft, and – if necessary (and hope that they are not necessary) – troops on the ground.
Try to minimize casualties. Interventions in today’s world are about relieving human suffering, not increasing it. That means working with humanitarian organizations, energizing public-private connections, using only precision-guided munitions, and paying attention to refugees at sea and on the ground.
It will be expensive. More than you expect. Much more.
Bring lawyers, strategic communicators, and public affairs experts, and engage the media early, often, and continuously.
Do it under the auspices of the UN if at all possible. There may be times when it is not possible, but it is vastly better to intervene under legal norms provided by the UN.
Probably most important, good luck. You will need it. In Libya, we had more than our normal share. It won’t always be so.”
Good advice. And note that President Obama seemed to follow many of these principles in formulating a response to ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
Lessons for Leaders
But the real value of The Accidental Admiral for civilian readers comes from Adm. Stavridis’ leadership principles. He summarizes his leadership approach:
“Any leader worth his or her salt understands that leaders must work hard to get to know the people on the team as individuals and demonstrate sincere concern for their families. In addition, they must master the skills and technology of any job; encourage teamwork and demand determination and dedication to task and mission; build innovation as a core competency; and insist on civility. In essence, leaders do best when they approach their position with an attitude of ‘leader as servant,’ always treating their teams with dignity, honor, and respect. No mystery there – except, perhaps, why so few leaders actually put those tenets to use…
People will almost always become what you expect and tell them to be: if you are suspicious and certain that they are going to malinger and procrastinate and do anything they can to get out of work, they usually will; if you tell them that they are going to get things done in record time and give them the resources and goals to do it, they usually will… But the key is always ‘leader as servant.’”
Adm. James G. Stavridis
Adm. Stavridis outlines what he calls “tricks of the trade: important ways in which a good leader can put broad philosophical ideas into operation, make sure the goals of everyone in the organization are aligned, and maintain grace under pressure.” They include:
“Speak and write with simplicity and precision, and don’t accept imprecision from those around you. Casualness in speech and writing can lead to huge disconnects. This is particularly true with e-mail, which – when you hit Send – becomes etched in stone…
Prepare thoroughly for key events. Make sure you understand which events truly matter. Don’t let the chaff floating around in the wind distract you from what is really important to your job…Leaders need to look ahead several months or even a year or two at a time; pick out the events that really matter; and spend an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources ensuring that they are fully prepared.
Be your own spokesperson. When things go wrong, it is much easier to find reasons why you should say nothing than to step up to your responsibilities…. But that gives the impression that the senior leadership is uncaring or unaware…After a sexual assault took place recently in the Australian Army, the Army’s commander, General David Morrison, posted a hard-hitting video and made repeated personal appearances condemning such attacks in the strongest terms and telling the offenders in direct terms: ‘Get out of our Army.’ Similar assaults have plagued the U.S. military, but many senior commanders have held back, fearing that they will ‘prejudice potential juries’ and ‘exert command influence.’ That is the wrong approach in my view – being your own spokesperson means stepping up and calling it like you see it in public. The Aussies have it right.
Carve out time to think. Write down your thoughts. Share them with others whose opinions you respect.
Don’t lunge at the ball. Too many decisions are made in haste, under pressure, based on emotional reaction, or with incomplete facts. Take the time to gather the information you need. Don’t be driven by anyone else’s timeline unless absolutely required (i.e., by law).
Details matter, but think big thoughts. Balance the time spent on absorbing and understanding details and that spent sitting back from the thicket of the day to day and trying to think through new ideas, concepts, and necessities for your family, your organization, and the nation.
Look at the new law or regulation for yourself. Don’t rely on summaries or a staff member’s or lawyer’s opinion as to what the law says. Get it and read it yourself.
Organize yourself. Don’t turn over personal organization to assistants, no matter how good they are. Much of the value of getting organized… is that it forces you to think holistically about events. The essential material thus gets into your head.
Carve out time to read. Take a balanced approach: fiction, nonfiction, professional journals, and so on.
Make mentorship a priority. Listen, learn, educate, and lead… Walk around and listen to your team. And show up early for meetings.”
Taking Strategic Communication Seriously
A second reason to read The Accidental Admiral is Adm. Stavridis’ view on strategic communication, which he sees as the glue that holds together all other strategic initiatives. His recommendations are completely consistent with best practices and with the approach I advocate in my book The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively (FT Press, 2012). He knows that you can’t move audiences unless you meet them where they are. In particular, he understands the power of human connection; of taking audiences seriously and engaging them effectively, not as an afterthought but as an essential element of leadership. As I often say, communication is the continuation of policy, by yet other means.
His philosophy of strategic communication is summarized as follows:
“Effective communication is the key skill a senior leader needs in today’s world… Winston Churchill is said to have observed that the principal difference between management and leadership is communication. Effective communication requires leaders of an organization to take an early and persistent role in deciding how ideas and decisions are shaped and delivered.
Simply stated, the objective of strategic communication is to provide audiences with truthful and timely information that will influence them to support the objectives of the communicator. In addition to truthfulness and timeliness, the information must be delivered to the target audience in a precise way. This generalized approach can be applied to essentially any organization. It may sound easy, but in practice it is as hard as hell. The U.S. Department of Defense and NATO are damn good at launching Tomahawk missiles but can’t launch an idea to save their lives, figuratively (and occasionally literally) speaking.”
He notes that strategic communication is vastly more art than science, but also offers the following insights.
“Here are some things that I have seen work, although none of them is foolproof.
Remember that the postman never rings twice. You get only one chance to make a first impression on any story. Pick your spot and start talking carefully, thinking about the setting and the context, getting expert advice, and get out in front – intelligently.
You can’t un-ring a bell. Something once said can never be pulled back, especially in the media echo chamber, which demands constant content to fill the 24/7 news cycle. Ill-advised short-, punchy, cute phrases can kill you. Before you speak, make sure you know exactly what you want to say. And remember, there are times when silence is golden.
Tell the truth. The most important principle is the simplest: Always provide the truth to your audience. Nothing will more quickly doom strategic communication to failure than a falsehood. A strategic communication team can have a superb message, excellent messengers, and a carefully crafted plan – yet a single lie can bring the entire effort crashing down… Tell the truth and emphasize that you do tell the truth. Over the long run, it is unquestionably the best approach.
Have a good message. The most brilliant strategic communication in the world will not sell a bad message… Again, this seems self-evident, but there are many in the world of strategic communication who believe that a bad message can be sold effectively. It cannot. The strategic message must resonate with the audience because it shares appropriate human values such as liberty, justice, honest, economic improvement, security, and fair treatment.
Understand the audience. Can there be two more different countries in the world than enormous Portuguese-speaking Brazil and tiny English-speaking St. Kitts? Or Spanish-speaking, economically strong Chile and poverty-stricken French-Creole-speaking Haiti? The audience is different in each country or territory and each group of people, during each particular season. Therefore, the messages must be evaluated and tailored with the diverse qualities of the receiver in mind.
Pull the trigger promptly… Do not let the ‘perfect’ become the enemy of the ‘very good.’ Develop a reasonably good plan fast and execute it right away. Otherwise you are likely to end up back on your heels in the world of the perpetual news cycle. Leaders tend to want to wait until they have all the facts before acting, but they often won’t have the time. Especially in this modern electronic media-driven world you will literally and figuratively be buried before all the facts come in.
Think at the strategic level… A strategic communicator must stay at the strategic level and not dip down into the tactical level represented by public affairs…. Indeed, strategic communication consists of a wide variety of tools and processes within a command… Each has a role to play in effective strategic communication at the tactical or operational level, but none of them is a substitute for a strategic plan operating at the level of the entire theater across time, space, language, and culture. At the strategic level, the intellectual firepower of the command must be brought most distinctly to bear.
Measure results. Many strategic communication plans flounder because the implementers, thrilled with having developed and ‘sold’ the plan, are completely consumed with its execution and fail to take the most important single step: measuring its results. The absolute key to effective communication is rolling out a plan, organizing it widely, executing it energetically, and then measuring its results. ‘Organizing it widely’ means making sure that all of the key stakeholders are in on the formulation of the plan – essentially, ‘in on the takeoff, in on the landing.’ Too often strategic communication plans are cooked up by brilliant public affairs professionals, vetted swiftly with the top leadership, and then promulgated. Without wide support on the buildup, though, it is unlikely there will be much ground-level support when the plan comes out.
Adjust fire. No strategic communication plan is perfect at conception. All must be adjusted as time goes by. You may go to war armed with the ideas you have, but you will not win unless you are willing and able to modify those ideas along the way – discarding those that fail and welding on new approaches as needed. One way to approach measurement is to adopt short-, medium-, and long-term views. The short term is immediate reactions – say, twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Medium-term measurement is done after thirty to forty-five days. Long-term measurement takes place at the one-year point. After each of these measurement windows, the plan should be evaluated and recast according to what is working and what is not.
Add spice. Strategic communication should not be boring.
Maintain steady pressure. Very seldom do strategic communication plans succeed overnight…. All good strategic communication plans take time, sometimes generations, to fulfill.
Bursts of energy. The analog of steady pressure, of course, is bursts of energy. In any strategic communication plan there will be moments when it is opportune to hit with bursts of energy…. A creative strategic planner is constantly looking for the right moment to come in high and hard with an energy burst.
Accepting defeat and moving on. Some strategic communication battles are un-winnable. Sometimes the message is not going to have any effect no matter how effective the plan.
Knowing when you win. Sometimes the hardest thing for any strategic planner is not accepting defeat but rather recognizing victory. As a general rule, ‘winning’ in the world of strategic communication is never clean and seldom obvious.”
These principles make sense, but like Adm. Stavridis I am often shocked by how many individuals and organizations that use the phrase “strategic communication” seem to be neither strategic nor focused on effective communication. Rather, they tend to blend the strategic and the tactical, or assume that only one set of tools (media, social media, lobbying) matters, rather than seeing the big picture and aligning all the forms of influence. The discipline of thinking first at the strategic level, what I call being habitually strategic, is difficult, but the key to effective communication. Flawless execution at the operational and tactical levels also matters. But if the strategic part isn’t right, flawless execution can have counter-productive consequences.
Adm. Stavridis offers four recommendations worth considering for strategic communication in the twenty-first century.
“First, strategic communication is a team sport. It must be part of a joint inter-agency, and commercial system. It does no good whatsoever to have a perfect strategic communication plan that is ultimately contradicted by other U.S. government agencies, as – unfortunately – is often the case.
Second, at least for strategic communication that goes beyond the shores of the United States, … the international community must be considered and then consulted often.
Third, as we develop and execute our strategic communication plans, we should ask the simple question: who are the thinkers, the idea makers?… Recognize that the ‘strategic communication director’ is more like the conductor of a band than an expert on any given instrument. Moreover, give the director of strategic communication unfettered access to the commander.
Fourth, and finally, anyone who is trying to move a message must work with all the participants to arrive at a shared understanding of what constitutes strategic communication in an international sense.
These insights by themselves would make paying attention to Adm. Stavridis a good investment of time and energy. And it is gratifying to see this generation of military leaders — Adm. Stavridis, Adm. Mullen, Gen. Allen, understand the need to be effective both in leading complex coalitions and in aligning all actions with effective communication.
But there’s a final reason to follow Adm. Stavridis: He is helping the nation and its leaders re-think the use of power.
In many ways he is following in the footsteps of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government professor Joseph Nye, whose 2002 book, The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone described the distinction between hard power — military might and economic clout — and soft power — diplomacy, academic and cultural exchange, and other forms of attraction. The paradox, according to Nye, is that the more the US would use hard power the more it would squander its reservoir of soft power. But the converse didn’t apply: the US could use its soft power effectively without diminishing its hard power reserves. And in his 2011 book, The Future of Power, Nye describes how power is now diffusing and how many threats to national security now come from non-state players.
While still in uniform Adm. Stavridis took this approach and introduced the notion of Open-Source Security. In a TED Talk while still serving as SACEUR/EUCOM, he outlined the concepts of Open Source Security as follows:
“Instead of building walls to create security, we need to build bridges. Open-source security is about connecting the international, the inter-agency, the private-public, and lashing it together with strategic communication, largely in social networks. Why do we need to do that? Because our global commons is under attack in a variety of ways, and none of the sources of threat to the global commons will be solved by building walls.”
Among the threats to the global commons — the infrastructure we all share — he includes piracy on the seas, cyber crime, and trafficking — the movement of narcotics, weapons, and humans. These are done primarily by non-state players, but they create instability and flash-points that can lead to shooting wars. But there is no single state player solution to these global threats.
Says Adm. Stavridis,
“So here we are, twenty-first century. We know our twentieth century tools will not work. We will not deliver security solely from the barrel of a gun.”
While some military might may be necessary, and while it must always be available to policymakers, the challenges are much more complicated. He gives the example of the Afghan security forces. One of the key challenges they face is that the Taliban restricted education. So most men and women who serve in the Afghan forces join without the ability to read or write in their own language. So through a combination of security services, many government agencies of many nations, and private contractors, the Afghan security forces learn to read. This creates lasting benefits and stability for Afghanistan, and helps fulfill the national security interests of the United States, NATO, and our coalition allies. But it requires resources of the fifty nations in the mission, plus public-private collaboration.
“Life is not an on-and-off switch. You do not need to have a military that is either in hard combat or is in the barracks. I would argue life is a rheostat. You have to dial it in. And as I think about how we create security in the twenty-first century, there will be times when we will apply hard power in true war and crisis. But there will be many instances… where our militaries can be part of creating twenty-first century security: international, inter-agency, private-public, connected with competent communication.”
His TED Talk is worth watching to the end. It’s just under 17 minutes long.
“No one of us is as smart as all of us thinking together. No one person, no one alliance, no one of us… My thesis for you is that by combining international, inter-agency, private-public, and strategic communication together in this twenty-first century, we can create the sum of all security.”
I believe that open-source security will be a key organizing principle of much security discussion in the years ahead. Reading The Accidental Admiral to see the practice in action, and watching the Ted Talk to see the current conceptual framework, will give you a pretty good head start.
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Today I share the post with Claudia Espinel, whose thesis focused on a challenging topic: ways to reduce violence in regions with conflict caused by the extraction of oil. Her full capstone, A Discourse Analysis of Major Players in Regions with Oil Conflict: The Case of the Niger Delta, can be found here.
During the last five years, Claudia has worked for both national and international NGOs, using communication to promote social change.
By using the Niger Delta conflict as case study, Claudia analyzes the written documents of oil companies, the government, and the community involved in the conflict. Even though violence in this region has its roots in ethnic issues, the arrival of the oil industry enhanced the existing violence. Political, economic, environmental, and social factors have created an environment in which there is friction between the oil companies, the government, and the community. They have built a relationship characterized by lack of trust, respect, and tolerance.
Claudia argues that communication practitioners can help build sustainable peace by creating initiatives to change the dynamic of the relation of players of the Niger Delta conflict. Although it is difficult to create a common communication strategy for different cultures, regions dealing with oil conflicts share characteristics that make this capstone useful for similar conflicts across the world.
Changing Narratives in Regions Dealing with Oil Conflict
by Claudia Espinel
When the oil industry drilled the first oil well in 1958 in the Niger Delta, Nigeria became one of the strongest economies in Africa while the Niger Delta remained as one of the poorest regions in Nigeria.
Even though underdevelopment in this region is rooted in ethnic conflict since before Nigeria’s independence from England in 1960, the arrival of the oil industry worsened the already fragile situation of the Niger Delta. Since then, oil companies, host communities, and the government have built a narrative of blame, hate, accusations, and stereotypes that sustain a culture in which violence is understood as the only way to survive.
This long-standing violent conflict is a classic example of the “the oil curse”—the theory that oil wealth engenders violence and slow economic growth in countries with weak governments, under-developed oil regions, and petroleum dependent economies. Key players in oil conflicts—such as oil companies, the government, and communities—use narratives that support the use of violence as a protective tool, increasingly making it impossible for people to see others as anything different than enemies.
In order to transform oil conflicts, it is necessary to create a disruption in the dominant narrative people create to understand and frame them. Communication plans should focus on changing the relationship between the parties on each side of the conflict by promoting a narrative of respect, trust, and tolerance. In order for this to happen the following strategies should be put in place:
Build a unified community voice: If the local community wants to have a seat at the table where decisions are made, they need to have a clear agenda and someone to lead it. Elders, community leaders, and grassroots organizations need to build a leadership structure that facilitates the process of decision-making within the community and develop skills to transform conflicts using non-violent means.
Promote reconciliation: Rebuilding the relationship among players of oil conflicts requires an environment in which justice is possible and people have the opportunity to heal past injustices. In this way, they can focus on building a future instead of focusing on the past grievances.
Address the root of the conflict instead of focusing on interventions to tackle the symptoms: Addressing only the symptoms of the conflict such as oil looting and militant groups has not brought peace to the Niger Delta. It has only momentarily decreased violence. As people begin to demand jobs, better healthcare systems, and prevention of environmental degradation, they also begin to feel betrayed by the government and the oil companies, which seem to bring palliative solutions, instead of action to promote the long-term survival of the local community.
Place accountability and transparency at the heart of every communication: Ensure congruence between discourse and actions. In order to build constructive relationships in which cooperation is possible, it is necessary to promote trust among oil companies, the government, and the local community. It requires fighting against corruption and a strict policy of accountability and transparency in every project that operates in the region. For instance, oil spills may happen, however, if the community knows what the oil companies are doing to prevent them and mitigate the subsequent impact of them, communities will be more likely to engage in campaigns to stop oil theft and inform the authorities about oil spill.
Establish a mechanism to promote two-way communication with host communities: The government and the oil companies need to be aware of local traditions, use communication channels that are familiar to the host community, work with community leaders, and respect traditional political structures. Communities need to be informed in a timely manner to any major development and must have the opportunity to present their opinions.
Build partnerships: Blaming and emphasizing the other party’s responsibilities does not help to reduce violence. Nor does prioritizing the relationship between oil companies, the government, and elites while disregarding the importance of building partnership with the local community. Rather, it is vital to create projects and promote dialogue in which those involved in the conflict cooperate towards a common goal.
These recommendations are aimed at achieving peaceful relations in regions facing oil conflict.
However, there is more that needs to be done to promote a narrative of non-violence in countries dealing with this issue. Please share your thoughts on how to use communication to build a culture of peace in those places where oil or other natural resources have become a source of violence.
Claudia’s continues to investigate and develop communication strategies that build peace, and to create initiatives to motivate people to use non-violent means of transforming conflicts.
You can follow Claudia on Twitter at @claudiaespinel. You can reach her directly at email@example.com.
In future posts I’ll share the work of other recent NYU MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication graduates. Stay tuned…
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