Category: Issues Management

Who – or What is right? Just a Random Thought


Who – or What is right?

Just because you are right, does not mean that you need to exercise that point or view.

We are not fish who have to take a bait. What is more important- Winning the War or winning a battle?

We have choice, and I think that a lot of people have lost that ability to think about the decisions they make. As Postman & Weingartner said in Teaching as a Subversive Activity….we need to become crap detectors.

Even Anthony Robbins indicated that it is useful to sometimes check your own values and beliefs, to see if they are still relevant.

But anyway, I just thought I would share this story.

An old man and a young boy were travelling through their village with their donkey. The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked.

As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding.

The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people that remarked, “What a shame, he makes that little boy walk.”

They then decided they both would walk!

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So, they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed some people that shamed them by saying “how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey”.

The boy and man said they were probably right, so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned.

The moral of the story?

If you try to please everyone, you might as well kiss your ass good-bye!

Profit Warnings–Minimising the Damage

(This article previously appeared in my Powerlines Newsletter Number 38 – April 2004)


As a company with good intentions, how do you communicate bad news such as a profit warning, in such a way that you can minimise negative market fallout.

What goes through most company management’s minds are: “What if shareholders pull their money out? Well, they may or may not.

Today, that decision can depend at least in part on a company’s reputation in the market place – how a company is perceived by shareholders and the public- whether they think it operates efficiently, has credible leadership and has a firm grasp on the industry and its place in the market.

The challenge lies in how you manage and shape those perceptions and get the right message across to the investment community about your company. Especially in the Internet Age when you have no control over the flow of information and rumours.

After all, how can you control perceptions when any investor, large or small, can gather detailed information on your operations with the click of a mouse?

These days, it takes extraordinary knowledge and skill to navigate the territory of managing perceptions and building a corporate image and identity. Not only do you need to have a good understanding of how perceptions are formed and how the investment community operates, but more important, you have to find ways to get your message across in an era of uncertainty!

Indeed companies that once had time to react to a drop in earnings or an internal crisis before breaking the news to the investment community now must find ways to get ahead of the news or stay in a reactive mode and face the consequences.

In today’s high-pressure, nano-seconds environment, a company can’t afford to employ a communications policy that forces shareholders and potential investors to read between the lines when problems are present.

As a company you need to be transparent and communicate consistently and proactively. Some companies want to go quiet during bad news, but they need to communicate regularly in good and bad times.

Many companies have learnt that openness and transparency relates to much more than just financial data. A good example is the increasing interest in for example ethical investing.

More and more investors are looking at measures beyond the “financial statements”. They are increasingly looking at the drivers of reputation such as whether management is capable in running the company, whether the organisation is playing a role in sustainable development and whether it has an adequate record on managing it human capital etc.

So here are some valuable strategies and tips that can minimise the potential damage:

– Open the lines of communication and educate analysts and other stakeholders such as opinion leaders as your business climate UNFOLDS. Keep them in the loop through regular briefings and knowledge sharing LONG before whatever hits the fan, does.

Prepare for any fallout. Message preparation should take place long trouble strikes. In today’s climate a company only has a nanosecond in which to respond. How ready is your company to respond to a news crisis? How quickly can you post new information on your website? How quickly can you communicate DIRECTLY with key stakeholders and influencers? (What about the use of social media? A CEO Blog, Use of Twitter and Facebook?)

Take time to build relationships before a crisis hits. Build relationships with stakeholders, analysts and key opinion leaders. Another way of spelling the word TRUST is “TIME”. It takes time to build relationships and credibility. Start now. Identify stakeholders carefully. Today one person with a PC and a modem can damage your company’s reputation.

Benchmark your communication process both formally and informally. Executives go for annual medical check-ups but they also go and see the doctor when they are feeling uneasy. Conduct regular spot checks. (Use online survey methods such as zoomerang and surveymonkey to track issues and perceptions)

Incorporate maximum disclosure as part of your company’s strategy. That means that it’s not so much what you say; but how consistently you say it. Define what is meant by mandatory disclosure, voluntary disclosure and involuntary disclosure (I deal with that in my Stakeholder Reputation workshops)

Manage expectations. The best way is to be honest and keep people informed. No one likes untimely surprises. No one likes bad news, but it becomes more palatable when it is less likely to damage a person’s personal position.

As a general rule I would suggest that it is better to be honest upfront. Be careful to discern between pure hype and honest information.

If you do have negative news, be honest but concentrate on sharing that the company has a clear focus on its mission and goals and a commitment to follow through on its strategies. When potential investors sense the management team’s commitment, their confidence is strengthened.

Minimising the fallout from a profit warning is an essential strategic planning exercise. It is education of the highest order.

It is an exercise that deals in perceptions and intangibles. No company is immune to this happening.

The only positive lies in HOW your company will respond.

Your Crisis Communication Response Plan is Due for Maintenance (And/Or a Rewrite)

537104_41065708Any crisis communication plan that hasn’t been updated or tested in at least the last six months is fundamentally useless!

If you haven’t dusted off your plan lately, now’s the time.

The rapid evolution of citizen journalism and the collaborative Web has changed the way companies & countries need to watch for looming crises, assess the reaction to crises, and respond.

Citizen journalism, of course, is nothing particularly new, but the speed with which messages can circulate today – through the use of mobile phones, camera phones, Blackberry, Twitter and the Net-have changed the dynamics of how a crisis unfolds.

In fact, it now even has the power of getting a momentum on its own and assist in revolutions, such as what happened in Tunisia and now Egypt. Take a look at this article Egypt: The camp that toppled a president and click on the word blogger in the photo.

There are two factors at play when a story hits the Net. The first is the number of people influenced by what the person is writing, either in a mail; a tweet, a web forum or in a blog. The second is the attention paid to the spreading story by the media, which is often compelled to pick up the story and mainstream it, which makes it visible to all those people who don’t have access to the internet.

Many crisis communication plans these days don’t include specific strategies for using the Net and other forms of online communication. Have you considered and can you use the technology to use when there is a social media crisis via the Web? Do you know when and how to respond to a particular stance by a blogger or a nasty tweet? Should you even respond?

Unless you have a strategy in place and know how to use various tools and technologies you will be at a disadvantage.

Here are some questions that you have to consider:

  • How often do you monitor to determine your organisation’s name in forums, e-mails, online discussions or even in Messenger? Have you considered using online tools like Google Alerts, Cyber alert and SNS Analytics that can assist you with the process?
  • Do you participate in online networks like Linkedin and others? Since social media is about being part of a conversation, the building of trust starts long before the issue of a statement.
  • Where do you keep your plan? Hopefully you have a copy on your smartphone, in Dropbox, on the web and at home for real-time access.
  • Can you update stakeholder (audience) details in real-time? Do you make use of online address books/contact databases? You may want to consider using Gist or Plaxo for this.
  • Can you communicate with your audiences directly? How quickly can you get messages to them using social Media tools like Twitter, e-mail and SMS?
  • Have you considered using outside 3rd party experts, social media & crisis communication management experts to assist you with an independent analysis before a crisis hits?

With the emphasis today on speed, any strategic crisis communication response plan should include prioritization of audiences (stakeholders), honesty and transparency (levels of disclosure), concern for victims, and avoidance of speculation and selection of appropriate spokespersons.

But the new focus should take into account the era of the 24-hour news cycle or what David Meerman Scott calls the ‘real-time’. A Company has nanoseconds available today to respond to bad news or rumours.

That’s no joke. That’s for real and if your crisis communication response plans are not based on the ‘real-time ‘ principle it is not worth a tweet.

Don’t wait. Dust off that crisis plan before a crisis finds you.

P.S If you want to rewrite or benchmark your crisis plan, these resources can be of assistance:

What do Consultants bring to the Table?

What do consultants bring to the table?

This is a question often asked by management & staff.

How can they charge so much? Do they really offer value?

Well let’s consider first of all the Aslan phenomenon which was first mentioned by Dr. Roger von Oech in the ground-breaking book on creativity – ‘A Whack on the side of the head’. Von Oech writes that where all men think alike no one thinks.

This is interesting as it links on to study results by Deloitte that indicates that patterns of decision making can result in reputation risk.

Now you may immediately question this assumption by saying that you are a free thinker – especially in meetings. However, subtly and often subconsciously you are being manipulated by the corporate immune response – the corporate culture.

From the first day with an organization you soon learn what is necessary to fit in, to manage perceptions and expectations and to get on with your manager. This acculturation is part of the immune response.

This is why we frown upon those with novel and new ideas. We call them helicopter pilots, we call them rocket scientists. In fact, at one stage of my career, I was told by the then HR Director to stick to my knitting – which was to be a trainer.

We frown upon whistle blowers (look at the furore of Wikileaks), we frown upon people who do not conform. In fact, armed forces around the world actually operate on that principle – using discipline to ensure execution of military strategy.

j0422803So, what do consultants bring to the table?

1. They bring a different frame of reference. A different set of knowledge, skills and attitude set. They have worked in many industries and that is what they bring to bear upon your problem or issue.

2. They bring an expanded knowledge management capability. They have read the books, white papers and reports that you have not seen nor had time to read. They often belong to networks and institutes and associations that give them access to connections and access to resources you don’t have.

3. They bring 3rd party, objective insight – an ability to ‘see the woods from the trees’. They have seen the signs of war and have dealt with casualties in many trenches. They bring this unique insight to the table.

It’s a similar example of the difference between doctors who work in 1st world countries and those who have worked in both 1st world and impoverished countries where the same level of medical and hospital care do not exist. Their skill sets are vastly different.

Unfortunately this knowledge and ability does not come cheap. You cannot equate a daily rate with the amount of investment & time that it has taken to develop that skill set.

Let me illustrate:

Years ago there was a factory in Northwest America that would for some unknown reason; go into shutdown mode at the most inopportune times.

Eventually a group of consultants was called in and they resolved only part of the problem at a cost of about 40,000 USD. Although the incidences dropped, the problem persisted.

One day at a brainstorm meeting, someone remembered that there was an old- timer who used to work at the plant, and that he had a way to get the system up and running instantly.

So, they decided to bring him back as a consultant. One day he arrived with a small black suitcase. Inside this suitcase, was a small silver aluminium hammer. As the plant went down in shutdown mode, he opened his case, went up to one of the pipes, smacked it with his small aluminium hammer, and the system restarted instantly.

Very happy, his customer asked him to bill them. Which he did, only for the bean counters to return the invoice asking for how the bill of 1043 dollars was made up.

This was the answer they got.

43 dollars for hitting the pipe, a 1000 dollars for knowing where to look.

It’s that ‘look’ that costs so much. And, that is what consultants bring to the table.

Is the Past a Predictor of the Future?

Just wondering? Have PR lost the plot?

I was looking for something in my files when the following quote in a document caught my attention. This is what the Task Force on the stature and role of Public Relations formed by PRSA in 1980, pointed out.

"The greatest value of the public relations professional is in anticipating and shaping what is happening, not in reporting or coping with what has already been determined. By the time an organisation is confronted with attitudes of its publics (like negativity of the staff) it is usually too late for public relations thinking to have an effect on them".

Ouch! I read about PR & Publicity all the time. I read about Reactive thinking all the time. I read about publicity campaigns all the time. Seldom do I read about training staff in PR and related issues.

Our work lies in shaping the future. This got me thinking. These days PR knowledge is no longer enough.

You need to know what’s happening in the environment as well as knowledge management. Not only do you need to know how to do research, you need skills in futuristic thinking and the new discipline – knowledge management i.e not only is the PR person required to be a doer but also a shaper and an influencer.

I guess the ante has been raised.

Questions are Powerful Tools for Effective Communication

j0382674 Questions are powerful tools for effective communication. The questioning technique(s) you select can be critical to achieving your desired outcome.

Your choice should depend on the situation, whether you are exchanging information, seeking the solution to a problem, interviewing or counselling.

But before we speak about questions, we need to take a step backward. I believe that we need to first understand the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROBLEM AND A DECISION.

A problem is a "train off a track". Something has not gone the way it was planned or expected to. Problem solving is finding out the reasons why and the possibility of getting things back on track. Decisions are about deciding which alternative is best.

To become adept at solving problems you need to master both analytical and creative problem solving techniques, so that you can ask the relevant questions. For instance there are times when you need to ask objective questions – these are to ask for specific information. "What evidence do you have for that conclusion?" "How have you been handling this process?" "What factors are necessary to raise your Customer Satisfaction Index?"

Problem Solving questions – ask these when you want action ideas. "What should you do next?" "How would you implement the steps we just discussed?"

"Why are we so much better at answering questions than at answering the right questions? Is it because we are trained at school and university to answer questions that others have asked? If so, should we be trained to ask questions?" [Or trained to ask the complete set of right questions in the right way?] Trevor Kletz (Analog Science Fiction, January 1994, p195)

One of the problems with looking for solutions to problems is that we always come to a problem with our years of experience behind us. This can sometimes direct our thinking down certain familiar paths, and we can miss other paths which might lead to better solutions.

When people do this, always tell them this quote – In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few — Shunryu Suzuki

One way to help overcome this tendency is to force yourself to approach a problem from a completely different point of view. Alex Osborn in his pioneering book Applied Imagination talks about "Questions as spurs to ideation", and outlines about 75 idea-spurring questions in his book.

The simplest set of questions comes from the six basic questions:

  1. Why is it necessary?
  2. Where should it be done?
  3. When should it be done?
  4. Who should do it?
  5. What should be done?
  6. How should it be done?

Osborn went on with the following questions:

Adapt? Modify? Substitute? Magnify/Maximise? Minimise/Eliminate? Rearrange? Reversal? Combine?

Start applying these questions to your problems and see what ideas come forth.

In your quest for learning to ask different questions, you should read Michael Michalko’s book Thinkertoys in which he describes the rearrangement of the above questions into the mnemonic SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Reverse)

You should also consider the 7s Mckinsey Framework. My own perspective is that the type of decision isn’t as important, as knowing the questions to consider, or having a good model which shows different considerations to explore.


  • What’s the impact on people?
  • What’s the impact on process?
  • Impact on Technology?
  • Impact on the marketplace?
  • Impact on the business?
  • Impact on Reputation, Trust & Integrity?

The best I believe is a combination of a systematic and creative approach to problem solving and decision-making. Understanding different models of thinking will enable you to look different at every situation or to apply the right question to the right problem.

As someone once said: "Solutions often lies in the question not asked".

The Skills needed by a Chief Reputation Officer

In an excellent article Chief Reputation Officer: Whose Job Is It, Anyway?, Anthony Johndrow, the U.S. managing director of the Reputation Institute in New York makes the point that ‘’the requisite skills that reputation managers and stewards need to thrive in this brave new world appear to come in five diverse skill sets’’:

  1. Cognitive Skills (knowledge about business and communication functions, plus stakeholder-specific know-how)
  2. Analytical Skills (causal thinking and drawing inferences, plus systems thinking and contextual analysis)
  3. Process Skills (change management, plus facilitation and coordination execution)
  4. Communication Skills (writing, speaking, presenting, plus comparative dynamics of old and new media)
  5. Organizational Skills (persuading others and mobilizing support, plus organizing and leading high-performance teams)

This is what I have been writing and saying in my presentations the past few years. I have always stated that the ideal CRO will need OD (Organisation Development), Management Consulting and PR skills,. and have used techniques and tools from these various disciplines in my courses.Now finally there is a dawning and an understanding that Communication is only but one tool to use to manage Reputation.

credited_207102084_79747d8a40 Let’s analyze this further, by looking at some definitions. This is vital because communication is the sharing of meaning. As Abraham Maslow, the motivational psychologist ( The Hierarchy of needs originator) said :

" If the only thing you have is a hammer you tend to treat everything as a nail". Definitions create the lenses through which we look at the world.

Here are some of definitions that I use in my work:

Public Relations is the management, through communication, of perceptions and strategic relationships between an organisation and its internal and external stakeholders.

A company’s reputation is its most valuable asset. The reputational implications of a business decision is those that impact the way in which the organisation is regarded by those with whom it interacts, including shareholders, customers, employees, the media and any other stakeholder. Reputation is not optional. Every company, organisation, individual has a reputation. The only option is whether to manage it or allow it to be inferred.

The management of Reputation includes a proactive and systematic approach to identifying issues that currently affect your company or will affect it within the next 12 to 36 months. Like it or not, your company’s policies and actions are shaped and developed in anticipation of, and reaction to, political, economic, social and technological forces. PEST will impact.

It is also a process of casting a look internally and examining processes, procedures, policies and issues that could impact and damage the company’s reputation. It involves an in depth look at the quality of management, financial soundness, use of corporate assets, community and environmental responsibility, quality of products or services, value as a long term investment, innovativeness, and the ability to attract, develop and keep talented people.

Thus, reputation management goes beyond the traditional parameters of marketing, public relations and communications. It is much more than just measuring reputation annually through some research. It is in my humble opinion a far more holistic management approach than previous traditional approaches.

Corporate Communications is quite broadly—the professional practice of developing and implementing communication “rules and tools” to enhance the dissemination, comprehension, acceptance, and application of information in ways which help to achieve an organisation’s goals( Diane Gayeski)

Organization development (which is part of Strategic Management) is defined as a planned effort, organization wide, managed from the top, to increase organization effectiveness and health through planned intervention processes, using behavioural science knowledge" (Richard Beckhard)

Looking at these various definitions and realizing that Reputation is both an organization’s biggest asset but also its biggest risk today, it must be clear that what is necessary to build, sustain and protect this asset is a multidisciplinary effort in any organisation. It is no longer a PR only function.

It is strategic management of the highest order.

Take a look again at your definitions – and you will see how it shapes your thinking and your consulting (internal or external) approach in situations.

If I have to make one point I think what needs to be added to Anthony’s list of skill sets is the ability and knowledge to handle crises of all kinds under all types of conditions. Crisis Management skills is a skill set on its own driven by experiences and knowledge gained by Emergency Management, Disaster, Crises Communication and Business Continuity fields.

Organisations will have to have a rethink of who they believe is capable of managing and protecting their organisation’s biggest asset.

Results change when we change

Results change when we change.

We experts are always debating change – large systems scale change, etc. But let’s narrow it down to the jugular. If it is going to be, it is up to me!

It is when individuals start to take responsibility that real change occurs. Look at Mandela, Ghandi, etc.

We advise, we consult, we conjure! But is when a person says so far and no more.

We have CRM systems in companies, we have large systems, and yet research will tell us that people want to be acknowledged as individuals. The lessons are paramount. We need to ensure that all our change programs touch the individual.

So , what can we do? Plenty! If we see a truck in front of our car that is smoking badly, why do we not take a photograph, write about it to the company or even write on our blogs about it.

In the picture below this baby is pointing at the Baby Food Manufacturers saying: ‘’Don’t think you can just put G.M. food into my baby milk powder. I will hold you accountable”


rudebabyHe is making a difference.

Why do we wait for others? The era of citizen journalism have arrived. In South Africa they even pay citizens for that type of information.

Minimise Reputation Risk by Complying with the Consumer Protection Act

Yesterday I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on Reputation Risk and the Consumer Protection Act at a conference held at the Indaba Hotel in Fourways, Johannesburg by the Intelligence Transfer Centre (

Not wanting to overdo the legalities of the Act itself (since that was covered by other speakers) I focused on the implications of this Act and its potential impact on the reputation of an organisation.

Since the audience consisted of mainly legal advisers, I focused on the court of legal opinion versus the court of public opinion.

What struck me in the interaction with the audience was the disconnect between the two. Obviously this act brings a number of difficulties to the table, but it seemed that the focus by companies is minimum legal compliance, i.e  doing only what is necessary in terms of the specifications of this Act.

The audience found it interesting when I showed them why the Act was promulgated in the first place, namely that it was because companies paid lip service to the reasonable expectations of the consumer stakeholder. The Act now codifies basic rights such as the right to safety, the right to not be taken unduly advantage of and so on.

j0382683In my presentation I also focused on the importance of having proper and tested product recall procedures, adequate product labelling, communicating in a crisis situation and I showed them how lack of compliance with this Act could be equated with the lack of commitment to show that you care about the consumer, could lead to public naming & shaming on top of penalties, an increase in lack of trust, a damaged Reputation and ultimately lead to an increase in unnecessary cost.

I also emphasised the point that an organisation will have to address the thinking processes in the company through increased awareness training of this Act and Consumer focused thinking training sessions.

What got me though, was the lack of understanding and preparation amongst the audience when I gave them a simple exercise to do:

Think about communicating about a defect to consumers. What would you need to have in place?

Granted the audience were mainly legal advisers, but they did not know where to start. They did not know where a strategic communications plan would start or end. I just hope that they do have skilled PR or Communications personnel in their companies, otherwise they will find themselves in a pickle over their lack of adequate communication when the time comes.

Ultimately this Act does pose Reputation Risk in that a lack of compliance or adherence to public opinion demands will raise questions about the ethics, values and practices in an organization.

In 2010 I will be assisting companies with this compliance by facilitating in –house workshops on the importance of the Consumer Protection Act. This compliance needs to be viewed as part of the Stakeholder Management processes of a company and should not just be seen as a Compliance issue to be handled by the Compliance Officer or Legal Advisers.

Advertisement: I do offer a Crisis Manager Toolkit that can be used by companies as part of their preparation for product recalls and other incidents. See for more information or contact me.

Reputation Protection & Defence Master Class 7 – 8 December

What: Reputation Protection & Defence Master Class
A 2 day Master Class that will enable Reputation Managers, Risk Managers and Crisis Management controllers to design and implement strategies and frameworks to mitigate reputation risk and manage repoutation risk incidents when they occur. (Event is already 50% full)
When: Monday, December 7, 2009 8:30 AM to Tuesday, December 8, 2009 3:30 PM
Where: Hotel Apollo, Ferndale, Randburg, Johannesburg

Johannesburg, Gauteng   South Africa

A Communication “Bill of Rights”


I recently had to facilitate an improved service level agreement between two parties in the IT field. The particular project was about to be shelved by the client due to severe scope creep.

I quickly assessed that one of the root causes of the scope creep was caused by the lack of defining interpersonal and organizational communication proccesses before the start of the project.

To help them solve this problem, I got them to draw up a communication ” bill of rights”. These guidelines will now form the basis for future dealings and relationships.

A Bill of Rights is defined as the formal summary of those rights and liberties considered essential to a people or group of people:example – a consumer bill of rights.

In this instance it was useful to develop such a communication bill of rights to govern the communication processes between the client and the supplier.

This is what the group decided upon:

  1. Agree on a glossary of terms. Always check for understanding.
  2. Communicate without an element of commercial interest at first.
  3. Any form of communication that impact in terms of time; scope or money must be formalised.
  4. Be specific. Relate this to standards specification.
  5. Listen! Listen! Listen!
  6. Always give feedback – Respond appropriately i.e. If you receive an e-mail with an idea, at least acknowledge receipt.
  7. Proper communication upfront at the start of a new project or phase with the whole team is essential.
  8. Establish channels of communication at the beginning of each new project.
  9. Communicate the Bill of rights – structure, purpose and method upfront.
  10. Separate personal issues from professional issues

You may find this technique useful the next time there is inter-departmental or client conflict. Facilitators often use it another form, such as establishing ground rules for a meeting.

Managers are from Mars, All others are from Venus

Here is a story that resonated with me. It reminded me a lot of the crisis consulting I do….

A man is flying a hot air balloon and realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts, "Excuse me. Can you help me? I promised my friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am."

The man below says, "Yes, you’re in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above this field. You are at approximately 42 degrees North latitude and 60 degrees West longitude."

"You must be an engineer," says the balloonist.

"I am," replies the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," says the balloonist, "everything you have told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost."

The man below says, "You must be a manager."

"I am," replies the balloonist, "but how did you know?"

"Well," says the man below, "you don’t know where you are, or where you are going. You have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now it is somehow my fault."

When I speak to managers about the need to plan for crises before they happen, they treat my information sparsely and then when the paw-paw strikes the fan, then they want help.

Only when they are lost.

What has the SABC and a Fish Bowl got in common?

The dramas and changes unfolding at the SABC in South Africa can serve as an interesting case study about how leaders destroy the reputation, faith and trust in organisations. Not only has there been negative publicity about the organisation, but now even their nomination process for selecting new candidates for the Board has come under fire.

Prof Kupe, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Wits University and a member of the Save Our SABC Coalition has written an interesting opinion piece about this, to which I would like to add a slightly different take.

I believe that serious questions will have to be asked by those involved in changing the organisation around. It goes beyond just selecting new candidates for a Board.

I would ask: ‘’ What must be done to radically transform the SABC?’’. Obviously the quickest way to turn around any organisation is to get rid of senior management. In this case not only do they need new CEO, but even the Board has been dissolved.

But what about the people in the institution? Did they have no role to play in the fiasco? What did they contribute to the problem of decay and why should they get away with no action been taken?

Perhaps the best way for me, an outsider based on what I read to describe the SABC, is to use the fish bowl metaphor.

070803a5078 The fish bowl metaphor begins with a question. The question is this; "If the fish is sick what would you do, treat the fish or change the water?"

The logical answer is, you would change the water. Why? Because the fish is only as healthy as the water it swims in. The fish is the human cell and the water is the fluids around the cell(s). The ocean has a delicate pH balance of 8.3 and is maintain by alkaline mineral salts. Our internal fluids are like the ocean and are maintained by the same alkaline mineral salts – sodium, chloride, magnesium, potassium and calcium. At the present the ocean pH because of global warming has gone from 8.3 to 8.2. This huge decrease in the ocean pH has caused potential health risks to all sea life including the loss of the coral reefs.

The same thing is happening to many of us with body warming, as our bodies are affected by our lifestyles. In the same way I believe that the SBDC is also suffering from the same ailment – body warming. It is not going to help to just change the top fish, even if one author did write a book called Fishes rot from the head.

What is needed at the SABC is a multi-faceted large system scale change intervention. The culture (the fluids) and communication patterns of the organisation will have to be changed.

Culture is often defined as it’s how we do things around here, but the other day I heard an even better definition – It’s how we intuitively do things around here. In other words it’s the way things get done without really thinking about how we’re going to do it. A Stage of Unconscious Incompetence or Competence?.

So, can the culture at the SABC be dissected? Edgar Schein (among others) points out that culture exists in layers. It is often compared to an iceberg. The level that is visible above the surface is the level of behavior. This is the easiest layer to observe and change but it is affected by invisible layers underneath. The first invisible layer of culture below the surface, according to Schein, is the layer of values: what we care about and what we think is important. You can’t observe values directly the same way you observe behavior but you can certainly infer what they are from the way people act. The deepest layer of culture – and the hardest one to observe, measure, or change – is the layer of fundamental beliefs.

What is the driving beliefs at the SABC? It is not enough to make structural changes, intangibles like morale will need to be tackled.

In my opinion, the only way the SABC can be changed around is if we radically change the way people think, act, communicate and participate at the organisation.

Joyce Wycoff wrote in her book “TRANSFORMATION THINKING” that thinking within an organisation is defined as the mental activity of every member of the organisation…all the idea generation, learning and skill development, exchange of information, communication and problem solving that make up the intellectual capacity of an organisation. (Intellectual capital is the sum total of what everyone knows in the organisation).

I just hope that the decision-makers at the SABC will not suffer from the monkey’s dilemma – the unwillingness to let go of something even when holding on, but will effect real changes.

When a monkey reaches into a jar and grabs a fistful of nuts, he’s delighted because he’s got what he wants in his hand. When he can’t get his enlarged fist out of the jar, he winds up not getting the nuts in the jar or the ones that he could get by going outside and climbing the nut tree. If he would just let go of the nuts in the jar, he also might stumble onto the idea of turning the jar upside down and pouring the nuts out!

The "fistful of nuts" syndrome is one of the main reasons that breakthroughs seldom come from the most logical place. Microcomputers were not invented by a major computer manufacturer; cellular phones didn’t come from AT&T; railroads, the major transportation system of yesterday, didn’t invent airplanes, the major transportation system of today. It’s very difficult to let go of something tangible to look for new possibilities.

The late Harry S. Truman said “We shall never be able to remove suspicion and fear as potential causes of war until communication is permitted to flow, free and open, across international boundaries”. To which can be added, “organisations will never be as successful at transformation unless it does the same to its communication and thinking processes”.

How Reputation Event/ Crisis-Ready is your Organization?


The following self-diagnostic is not a replacement for a comprehensive crisis audit of your organization by a qualified consultant. But it may help you determine whether it’s time to initiate one!

For scoring, see legend at the bottom. Just answer Yes or No.

  1. You regularly scan your socio-political and stakeholder environment (news media, Internet, consumer surveys, etc.) for possible threats to your organization’s reputation.
  2. You regularly scan your internal environment (union issues, corporate governance issues, etc) for possible threats to your organization’s reputation.
  3. You have identified the main current potential threats to your organization’s reputation (risks are threats which are at least “medium” both in terms of likelihood and seriousness).
  4. For each of these threats, you have prepared a “what if” scenario describing how the threat would most likely unfold, and how the organization should, ideally, respond to it, including your main communication messages to stakeholders.
  5. You have prepared a set of procedures which are to be followed by managers throughout the organization, should any of these threats (or some unanticipated crisis) transpire. These procedures include specific protocols such as notifications of appropriate executives.
  6. You have designated and trained a Crisis Communication Team which is to be convened in the event of a crisis. This may be the same people who sit on your Emergency Response Team, or another group linked to it.
  7. You have prepared a comprehensive, regularly-updated database (ideally in electronic form) of all the key people you may need to reach in the event of a crisis. This includes key media contacts, key contacts in government, key managers, etc., with their home, fax, cellular telephone, twitter, instant messenger and other coordinates.
  8. You have included everything from steps 3-7 in a regularly updated crisis communication manual (paper, electronic or both) which is readily available to all your key executives and managers.
  9. You have condensed the key contact information onto a wallet card which all your key executives and managers can have with them at all times.
  10. You have tested your organization’s ability to carry out this plan and these procedures in a simulation.


Award your organization 10 points for each “yes.”

Under 50 points:
Either your organization has consciously decided it likes living dangerously or it’s living in a fool’s paradise. Let me guess: the organization also carries the least possible insurance, because one of your executives said “the premiums cost too much.”

50-60 points:

You’ve got something stuffed into your parachute sack…unfortunately you don’t know whether it’s a parachute or a dirty hanky. It’s time to turn your plan into a high priority business project with a completion deadline and support from senior management. The majority of listed type organizations fall into this category.

60-80 points:
Now you’re training for the big time! Time to focus on those few things that are keeping you in from being the leader in your field!

80 points or better:
Welcome to being a leader in your industry. You can sleep nights; at least as far as crisis preparedness is concerned. All that is required from you is to benchmark and audit compliance to ascertain levels of assurance.

The questionnaire above is just a small extract of a detailed questionnaire that is included in a product – The Crisis Manager Toolkit that is available on CD or for download. For more information and rates, send me an e-mail.

Brochure for the Reputation Defence Masterclass

I have uploaded the Reputation Defence Masterclass brochure and registration form to my blog for ease of access.

Just visit the link:

What: Reputation Defence Masterclass (Reputation Risk Mitigation)
This two-day Johannesburg-based Masterclass provides comprehensive and practical coverage of all aspects of implementing reputation risk management & protection frameworks and is based on more than 25 years research and experience on how to protect business reputations. It offers not only international best practices but also covers the requirements of some of the principles in the new draft King Code 3 on Corporate Governance, especially “Principle 4.14: The board should ensure that the company’s reputational risk is protected”
When: Wednesday, June 10, 2009 8:00 AM to Thursday, June 11, 2009 5:00 PM
Where: Hotel Apollo

Corner of Bram Fischer Drive and Republic Road, Randburg
Johannesburg, Gauteng 2118   South Africa

If you scroll down the page, you just have to click on the two links, to observe a detailed brochure outlining the programme for each day as well as the registration details. Should you be interested in saving R800, then access the registration form now and make use of the Early Bird option.

I look forward in meeting you and sharing the ways and means to protect your organisation’s biggest asset and risk in today’s knowledge economy.

Please share this information with other colleagues who might benefit from this exposure. Remember Knowledge only becomes Power once it is shared. Your assistance in this regard will be much appreciated.

Oops! This was not meant to happen!

Oops! This was not meant to happen!

j0341502Nobody was supposed to question South Africa’s readiness to deal with Health & Safety and Emergency Management issues!

Who would dare question the number of advanced life care paramedics in this country (Carte Blanche – – See paramedics show)?

Now we have the fire chief at Cape Town Airport resigning ( after information was released showing that two-thirds of the 62 fire fighters stationed at Cape Town International Airport are “poorly trained” and have little or no general fire fighting experience.

Both reports are scandalous and raises some serious questions and concerns about levels of preparedness for crises and emergencies in organisations.

Do you want to tell me that the authorities do not know or understand that Health & Safety is an international non-negotiable right and directly involved in the creation of a favourable reputation of a country and its people? (Emergency management is an integral part of the Occupational Health & Safety Act)

No wonder that today’s Star reports that an international tourism expert Linda Pereira said that myths and negative perceptions abroad about South Africa’s high rate of violent crime could prevent the desired number of foreign visitors from attending next year’s Fifa World cup (See article on Page 7 of The Star newspaper today).

I guess the word myths is a misnomer, because every day more and more negative publicity is coming to the fore of this country’s non-readiness state. Whilst she is correct that tourism bodies must try and dispel negative perceptions, it is pointless if other parties do not understand the value of a country’s reputation.

How dumb can leadership be? Last year we had the investigation into Mine Safety, and that put our mining sector under the spotlight. Did the rest of the country really think they were going to stay immune? This is the problem about managers not understanding reputation and issues management. An Issue in one sector can spiral into other sectors. And in South Africa, there are still managers who do not realise the damage articles and negative TV programs can do to a country.

The two examples are classical Reputation Risk case studies. It is obvious that there have been an inability to deal, with issues at source and when they are small.

It is also clear that for too long, management has paid lip-service to Health & Safety issues. In most organisations , even the liberated ones, OHASA matters have been seconded to a second –tier individual with an attitude of ‘’we will deal with it when it comes’’. In many organisations, executives are always too busy to attend OHASA committees, ask any Health & Safety representative.

Why? Well, I think the reason is simple. Managers and staff are instructed to be Health & Safety, and never sold the real reasons why, as well as the long-term benefits. Most managers take is…again we will deal with it when it comes…

Dealing with issues and complying with matters such as basic Health & Safety standards are not just compliance or Public Relations responsibility, the process plays a part in building the reputation of an institution or country.

What managers need to understand is that reputation manifests when perceptions and reality meet, and the reality is that South Africans will have to do a whole lot more to build, sustain and protect this beautiful country’s reputation.

Checklists – a Vital Tool for Reputation Managers to use

Checklists are a useful tool that any budding Reputation Manager can use. Not only do checklists enable a manager to anticipate and forestall events,
they also help to initiate a course of action that needs to be taken
. In today’s turbulent society, a manager is judged by how well he or she responds to crises and critical issues and manages to keep the organisation’s reputation intact.

How quickly and adequately these issues and incidents are detected, analysed, and resolved spells success or disaster for an organization.

By developing a set of checklists to which items can be added; a Reputation Manager will over time have tabulated and recorded his or her approach to
handling incidents that could affect the organisation’s reputation.

A manager’s use of a checklist can be likened to that of an airline pilot. I undertook but unfortunately due to work commitments; never completed the program to obtain my PPL – private pilot’s license. We were taught that before any aircraft leaves the ground, the pilot must conscientiously run through an exhaustive checklist of instruments, linkages, wheels, hydraulics, servomechanisms, etc checks. He needs to check every single unit, for failure of any single item could mean disaster, and remembering to check everything could mean a safe flight.

We used a document called an inspection flight pre-checklist. This document had to be completed every time before any take-off.

This checklist was not designed to tell me how to take off. It did not instruct me how to land. Its purpose was to ensure that the pilot has overlooked nothing in his prevention of accident or has been reminded of every procedure to achieve a successful flight. In Health & Safety Consulting we use similar emergency and other inspection checklists with great effect.

Every organisation will be faced with an opportunity to build, sustain or protect their organisation at some time or another. By developing checklists for every driver of reputation, categorizing them into opportunities, issues and potential crisis response strategies, the Reputation Manager will have developed a very valuable database that can be used to build intellectual capital in the organisation.

Is your company at risk of damaging its reputation due to noncompliance?

In August 2004 I wrote an article in my newsletter Powerlines Number 50 that is well worth repeating today.


Well, if you have been reading the papers lately, you would have noticed that quite a few organizations have received nasty fines from the Competition Commission of South Africa for price fixing and other anomalies. And, these are the ones in the limelight.

PricewaterhouseCoopers have found in one of their research studies that compliance failure is one of the biggest reasons for reputation loss.

Here is the article:

A company was fined a heavy penalty the other day for a workplace accident that was caused by the company managers condoning illegal actions, because that is the “way we have always done it in the past”.

In this case an unlicensed driver of a forklift caused an accident. The company decided to plead guilty being negligent in terms of the Occupational Health & Safety Act, expecting a thousand rand fine, but the court decided a fine of R10000 would be more appropriate.

The judge’s words: “Do not think you can just come in here and walk away with a small fine and continue the practice. This fine will help you to take Health and Safety issues seriously”.

What if the accident resulted in a death and the company had no proper safety practices in place? According to the law the CEO could then be held negligent, and he could receive a sentence of two years in jail and a fine of R100000. With that the media would have a field day!

Luckily in this case, no media reporter picked up the case, so the damages were confined to R 10000, but what if they did?

Organisations have two kinds of visibility to deal with.

The first is planned visibility, which is caused by day-to-day operations and actions by your organisation. The second is unplanned visibility, which is caused by the vulnerabilities you face due to the very nature of your business. These threats are caused by employees, environmental threats, safety issues and government intervention due to a company’s noncompliance to a changing legal environment, and unplanned visibility often does more harm, because of its editorial value.

In this case the company caused problems for itself by not taking the law seriously. In South Africa laws are changing “thick and fast”. Keeping up with all the new legal developments is difficult. Maintaining compliance is even more challenging. Fortunately, employers can take practical, proactive steps to maintain compliance and reduce liability risks.

Here’s a list of some of the steps you can take to reduce non-compliance:

  • Take appropriate measures to ensure that you receive timely notice of new legal developments, and that someone be instructed to evaluate its potential impact. Often in companies this is the job of the company secretary to evaluate the potential impact of for instance Internet legislation and the HR department to evaluate Employee Equity and whistle blowing legislation on company policies.
  • Take note of internal developments and their impact on the company’s legal obligations. Reengineering efforts and business expansions can have an impact on employee legislative matters.
  • Find out which policies are being complied with and which are not working anymore. Review current procedures and policies of your organisation — especially those regarding good business practices, including those to reduce risk of product contamination, etc; what hazardous chemicals are used; how product is labelled for distribution; and, what mechanisms are in place for communicating externally and internally. A simple exercise is to conduct a quick survey amongst senior management or the crisis team. Ask them to list those current procedures and policies that need to be examined and documented, or to list those that are no longer in use or working in practice.
  • You could even set up a web based survey using, or– Some of these sites offer a basic free survey. This technology can help you to quickly gauge opinion and get a feel for issues surrounding compliance.
  • Identify all the relevant legislation concerning your products and services. Consult various government departments and in-house or external legal counsel to ensure that nothing has been omitted. Measure your organisation’s compliance with these laws and evaluate likely impact of non-compliance.
  • Review your approach. The old Latin maxim: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” applies here. What is often ignored is the reputational impact of business decisions taken. Taking a minimum legal compliance approach in your business may not be enough to avoid potential litigation and the ensuing publicity that could accompany it. What about your company’s role in becoming a good corporate citizen and paying attention to the triple-bottom line? Should you go beyond what is legally acceptable? A useful rule of thumb; “Will your decision stand up in a court of public opinion, never mind a legal court?”
  • Noncompliance with changing laws can damage your reputation. How compliant are you? When last have your company conducted a reputational audit? A Reputation audit is a systematic way of approach to identifying issues and risks that currently affect your company or will affect it within the next 12 to 36 months. (Like it or not, your company’s policies and actions are shaped and developed in anticipation of, and reaction to, political, economic, legal, social and technological forces).
  • It is also a process of casting a look internally and examining processes, procedures, policies and issues that could impact and damage the company’s reputation. It involves an in depth look at the quality of management, financial soundness, use of corporate assets, community and environmental responsibility, quality of products or services, value as a long term investment, innovativeness, and the ability to attract, develop and keep talented people.

Does your company have a dedicated person dealing with the issues of compliance? If it doesn’t, perhaps you need to reconsider. Tiger Brands recently only appointed a Chief Compliance Officer after a number of scandals. Perhaps you need to get some advice from the Compliance Institute of Southern Africa.

Take a look at Compliance Institute is the recognised industry body for compliance officers in the South African financial services arena and it endeavours to enable professional compliance and to promote the application of international best practice.

The lesson: Prevention is better than cure.

Think before you buy that useless Xmas present

The story of stuff: how the real world works

For those of you who embrace Feng Shui and GTD principles, this movie is a must watch.

A must-watch movie.

Help spread the word and change a system that has turned you into a shopping zombie.

“The Story of Stuff:

From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. (…) It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.”

This movie made me think about the clutter in my life. Last week I tidied up my storeroom and was shocked by the amount of stuff that I got rid off, obviously adding to another landfill!!!

Never sign anything you have not read!

An article called “Mayor comes clean on white ban” caught my attention today.

Not only does the article depict some compliance issues , it also shows up how easy it is for managers to damage reputation, when they do not understand how it manifests.

African Eye news reports that the manager of Mpumalanga’s Ehlanzeni district municipality in Nelspruit, Hugh Mbatha, claims he had been unaware he was sanctioning a ban on the appointment of white service providers when he signed a memorandum issued to senior staff.

Mbatha publicly admitted at a “setting the record straight” press conference on Tuesday that the instruction to officials who manage service delivery in six major towns and five large rural regions was unconstitutional and would have illegally discriminated against white businesses on the basis of their owners’ race.

Mbatha admitted he had signed the memorandum that was circulated to staff on the matter, but said he had not read the full document and therefore had not realised that it included an explicit ban on white businesses.

How can you call yourself a manager, when you sign documents without reading them? Is part of being a manager, not about leading and controlling?This seems to me rather a case of a decision that has backfired and now people are scurrying around trying to repair the damage to the reputation of the municipality.

“There were 30 resolutions in the [memorandum]. In this one resolution, somebody with a hidden agenda is deliberately playing the race card with the obvious intention to create unnecessary hatred between whites and blacks in our district,” said Mbatha.

“The matter was so serious that it could easily have been taken up by the SA Human Rights Commission,” he said.

Last week, however, Mbatha vigorously defended the ban on whites, saying: “We are capacitating blacks [through this new policy] so they too can get big business and become millionaires.”

This statement clearly reflects a misunderstanding of the concept of *** stakeholder management. Stakeholder management principles state that you should be inclusive and not exclusive and that you should care for all relevant stakeholders. Instead of trying to balance the rights of one stakeholder group against those of another, or make decisions based on power relations, managers should care for all stakeholders and use a rule such as, “Care enough for the least advantaged stakeholders that they not be harmed; insofar as they are not harmed, privilege those stakeholders with whom you have a close relationship” (Burton and Dunn, 1996).

A rule such as this one places relationships at the heart of the decision process and emphasizes the firm’s responsibilities to all stakeholders, those who are least advantaged as well as those with whom the relationship is particularly close.

Given that relationships are inherent in our existence, we have relationships to particular individuals and groups. It is on these particular individuals and groups that we focus our attention, not on some abstract idea of an individual or group that might exist such as “suppliers” or “customers.” We have relationships with real, concrete suppliers and customers, suppliers and customers that can be separated from one another and identified.

It is obvious that this decision was nothing other than one of those political decisions that did not take all factors and issues into account.

When challenged about his about-turn on Tuesday, he said: “All I can say is that it is impossible that we would have allowed black business to be given contracts at the exclusion of whites.”

The contentious policy was formulated at a two-day management lekgotla two weeks ago, when municipal officials tried to review Ehlanzeni’s broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) policies.

The resulting resolution was circulated to council staff as part of an urgent memorandum signed by Mbatha, that read “stop appointments of white consultants, contractors and any other service providers, and empower black consultants and any other service providers”.

So obviously he was not the only one who did not read the document. I guess it is like the law of commission and omission. It is not what you saw, it was you deliberately did not see or omitted to notice. 

Mbatha initially dismissed critics as being “out of touch with the reality of South African business”, but on Tuesday conceded he had been wrong.

Mbatha and Ehlanzeni executive mayor Khosi Mkhonto also lashed out at the whistleblowers who had alerted the media, accusing them of bringing the municipality’s reputation into disrepute by creating a “media frenzy”.

Did they honestly believe that they can control the flow of messages, just because they are managers?

“This policy was formulated at our lekgotla. A lekgotla is a gathering, where all present are given a platform. We are therefore surprised that somebody decided to voice their unhappiness in the media instead of at the lekgotla itself,” said Mkhonto.

I bet that if any one person objected at this lekgotla, they would have been ridiculed. After all, group think would certainly have been enforced. It is a known fact that patterns of decisionmaking causes reputation risk and that often there are psychological issues in group settings like that.

Mkhonto then stressed that the municipality faces “imbalances” in the demographics of its suppliers and contractors that went beyond race.

Supply Chain risk management is more than just demographics. It is about ensuring professional standards irrespective of race, colour or creed. Do we still wonder why there is lack of service delivery, when the wrong criteria is used to evaluate performance?

“I would estimate that 99% of our managers are males, while a majority of business is given to whites. Now we are not ashamed to say we need more of a gender balance and also need to create space for people with disabilities,” she said.

*** The term ‘stakeholder management’ refers to the development and implementation of organisational policies and practices that take into account the goals and concerns of all relevant stakeholders.