Four reasons to thank Dom (OR Learning corporate comms lessons from a crisis)
I started my career in politics but these days I leave the dark arts to my former colleagues and instead look upon each crisis as a source of moral tales to use as ammunition in the boardroom. This one is no different. If you can find a silver lining in the shenanigans of the weekend, let it be this: four great tips that will now be far easier to explain to your board. Thanks Dom!
If a mistake has been made, don't hide it. Explain, apologise and set out how similar mistakes will be prevented. Yes, you have to say the word sorry even if it feels unjustified. You may be tempted to avoid it, or add caveats: "I'm sorry if you are offended" "I'm sorry if it seemed..." Stop. They want to hear you say it and if you don't say the actual phrase it is all they will be asking afterwards. A stand-up comic once taught me this valuable lesson: say the obvious thing. "I'm a skinny ginger c&*t," he said "and if I don't mention that in my first breath, it's the only heckle I get all night. It's f*&%ing dull." Sadly, this anecdote only really has an impact if you use the obscenities. Thanks to Dom, I can update my anecdote.
The audience can only draw conclusions based on the evidence that they SEE. Get your story out there early and often and don't rely on 'the truth' becoming clear later. Cummings realised this too late and says he now regrets not making a statement earlier. Don't make the same mistake: there is NOTHING to be gained sitting around in team meetings lamenting that the public don't understand. Or that an MP giving you flak doesn't have their facts straight. Interviewing an MP for a stakeholder audit a few years ago, I was horrified to hear her admit that she knew pretty much nothing about the main regulator in her shadow portfolio. "That's not my fault, that's their fault" she blithely told me. This remains a source of horror, but an instructional one: she judged them on what she did know. She was the definition of a person with a stake in understanding and she wasn't prepared to put in the work. So why would the public?
You can't spend years being antagonistic towards important stakeholders (like the media or MPs) and then expect their support in a crisis. If you don't have a clear idea of who your stakeholders are, what they think of you and what they want, you are missing a trick. More importantly, you leave yourself open to disaster. Over the years, Dom Cummings has been publicly dismissive of civil servants, of journalists, of MPs of every stripe. His position has provided him with a certain amount of protection (and we are much more forgiving of winners) but it cannot be surprising if those chickens finally come home to roost. You may not be blogging about the inadequacies of your key stakeholders but what messages are your other behaviours sending out?
Being disliked can be an existential problem; don't ignore it until it is too late. There are days when it will feel as if everybody hates you. Maybe they do. But if you choose to give up, turn your back and embrace the role of Disney bad guy, that is on you; and it will come back to bite you.
Want to know why everybody hates you? Find out here
Or discover more reasons why you should care about your organisation's reputation here.
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