As good communicators know, there is no true preparation for what will happen in real business scenarios. People make their bones on the job, and often the one way to rise to the top in a profession is by not being afraid to confront some harsh realities.
There's plenty to be terrified of in corporate America these days — botched or non existing community relations at a time when organizations are active in more channels and potential customer issues or crises due to scarce resources on the front lines.
In a world where everyone has access to the tools to talk about their experience and people double as media with social megaphones at their disposal. The mobility and nature of journalists jobs is challenging many companies that face dwindling relationships to get more creative in engaging with free lancers and bloggers. And there is the old standby, imminent job reductions.
For this special Halloween edition of Conversation Agent, we will take a look at the things that scare business leaders the most.
Monster in the closet
Why this puts business leaders on edge
Many are struggling with this one because they are often not thinking in terms of the unintended consequences of their decisions and actions until something bad needs fixing — a crisis, a layoff, a recall, consolidation, a hostile takeover, service interruption, or a known operational problem that is creating a bad customer experience.
In some cases, the business team tries to keep everything under wraps. But with access to sharing technology in the mix, it's fairly easy for someone to find out or for an insider to be willing to talk and blow the whistle.
In most cases, they do not think to invite the communication team or person in the room to have the conversation about what went wrong and to offer strategic advice about how to proceed. Instead, they either tell someone to handle getting the message out, or worse, they leave it it to them to handle an irate customer or media calls without much support.
In others, the company reports the issue but doesn't do what needs to be done to fix it. Which then becomes a question of ethics.
Trick or treating
It can be tricky, bu the truth needs confronting. The first question a good communication pro asks leaders should be about what happened and gather the facts, which goes to the heart of the ability to explain to third parties what they want to learn, “is it true?”
This is something professional learn to to do with experience — because establishing the facts and understanding how things developed is key to developing a response. It also means helping leaders who are afraid they'll need to take responsibility understand why it's important to do so.
A good working relationship with leaders, and colleagues in legal and regulatory, for example, speeds up the process considerably and can make many headaches go away.
Monster under the bed
Why it scares business leaders
Many businesses still do a very poor job at using conversation as a tool to connect with stakeholders and communities. Instead, they hire public relations professionals and internal communication people to work in a symbiotic relationship with them. Which means asking them to reflect senior teams own ideas and vocabulary in communiques and reputation-protecting activities (and now blogs), instead of driving a proactive communications agenda.
It's scary because it might lead to uncharted territory in situations when having a communication strategy and plan could save the business and its leaders many headaches. Worse yet, a conversation agenda aimed at the media might not play well with the media's ambiguous relationship with the public.
Trick or treating
Typical job descriptions for communication people say things like, “maintain good relations with the press,” “create interest and awareness of the company,” “control the amount of information that the public receives,” “issue press releases to reporters and get placement of stories in broadcast, print and virtual media,” and so on.
What business leaders may not appreciate is that the how to part of doing those things needs to include access to them, and an open mind. Being well versed in news and current affairs, immersing in popular culture, and being adept at researching information and displaying data are a good starting point.
Listening to stakeholders and bringing their concerns and questions to the table is a game changing proposition — and potentially a business-saving, too.
Leaders become closely associated with a job title and company, rather than what they stand for. What happens when the job goes away?
Why this is scary
Because many still closely identify themselves with their role in an organization, in addition to having a hard time letting go of that identify, their reputation may suffer if the business misbehaves. It's become easier than ever to establish professional credentials by having direct market conversations about beliefs and purpose. It's useful to know what we stand for when making decisions, but also to recast careers.
Developing stronger communication skills is a must in a fluid world. Being curious about exploring where our other skills are in demand helps avoid the trap of trying to find a needle in a haystack — exactly the same job they held before. Hardly anyone willingly tries to become very successful at what used to work, but now less and less in demand.
Trick or treating
Becoming more effective at using conversation as a tool can help us stretch beyond our comfort zone, network inside and outside our organizations, and broaden our horizons as a consequence of being more accessible. We learn the most when we're actively working on new things as well. Collaboration with others helps us create new opportunities for all.
Sharpening presentation skills, getting better at running meetings as strategic conversations, and using curiosity to connect with our customers are all undertakings with high returns on investment.