The Hardest Conversation: “Values”

By | March 21, 2017

posttruth3Our last post emphasized the somewhat counterintuitive idea of emotionlessly planning for an emotional response. Given that this is a fairly broad idea, I thought it might be helpful to do a deeper dive into some unique elements of this planning process for standing up or laying low.

As an organizing principle, when working with clients, I’ve found it helpful to separate the process of planning to stand up or lay low in response to a notable cultural event from traditional crisis planning. Lots of companies plan for a predictable, potential disaster where your company is front-and-center – say, an airline planning for a crash or an oil and gas company planning for a spill. In fairness, due to the explosive potential of wading into certain highly charged cultural issues, the two can feel like fruit of the same tree.

But planning to stand up or lay low in response to specific events is a more existential and deeply rooted conversation that needs to occur internally at every organization. And the first step is seemingly simple, but profoundly complex in practice: you need to have an honest discussion about what your organization stands for and how you live those values on a day-to-day basis.

If immigration matters to you, and you have the track record of fighting for H1-B visas and supporting pro-immigration policies, stepping into the public debate on immigration may be a great opportunity to develop your brand identity in the public mind. But if you’re jumping on the pro-immigrant bandwagon with a nearly all-white, male, American leadership and you generally lack meaningful organizational diversity or supportive policy, you may be setting yourself up for trouble. Of course, there are a dozen of other variables to consider before throwing your hat into the ring – tone, content, channel, spokesperson, validators – but it all starts with the old aphorism: “To thine own self be true.”

Of course, every organization is different. For some, talking about values is quite natural and may already be publicly articulated and embedded in your culture. But for others, particularly companies with diverse customers and stakeholders that operate in industries with high volume and low margins, organizations with leaders who are narrowly focused on the bottom line or a few wealthy donors, or those heavily reliant on government contracts or foundation funding, these conversations can be much more difficult. But make no mistake – these days, they’re necessary.

Some things you can plan for, and some things you can’t. But it’s the job of every communications leader to have that conversation about what your company stands for. In fact, I’d take it one step further, and say that it’s increasingly within the remit of communicators to not simply explain our organization’s choices, but to influence them while still in development.

To that point, in upcoming posts, we’ll explore how to aid your organization in thinking about these issues and managing crises in the post-truth era.  In the meantime, I’d welcome your thoughts on standing up versus laying low, and whether your organization has begun to have renewed conversations about what it stands for in the post-truth era. What’s worked and what hasn’t when approaching your organization’s leaders?

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