I must heap praise on my colleagues at Ketchum’s Global Corporate Practice for their insights made available through the 2013 Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor. Apparently, there are nearly 70,000 books available on leadership. Yet, their work supplies much-needed data on the role of communications in leadership.
The Monitor covers much ground, but here I will stick to my knitting and probe its crisis management implications.
KLCM: Leaders are continuing to underperform on the very behaviors viewed as the most important to effective leadership – open, transparent communication, leading by example, admitting mistakes and handling controversial issues calmly.
J.D.: In other words – spin doesn’t work. As the findings suggest, good crisis PR usually applies a healthy dose of openness, leadership, humility and confidence.
KLCM: The C-suite trails employees and expert commentators for credibility, making internal and stakeholder engagement an imperative not a nice-to-have. They are the people who will do most to determine your brand’s credibility.
J.D.: “Peacetime” communications with employees and allies on sensitive issues is still a great booster shot to protect reputation. In the old days (2008?), this was because media used to go to these groups for comment. Today, employees and influencers will create news with their own posts, shares and tweets on the background/history that led to a crisis and if it is being well/poorly managed.
KLCM: Closing the gap between words and deeds matters now and will grow hugely in importance for leaders over the next decade.
J.D.: Companies must “walk the talk” when responding to crises. Today, technology has made it too easy for the public to play watchdog against company promises and to sound alarms if expectations aren’t being met.
KLCM: 60 percent said they had stopped buying or bought less from a company over the past year because of poor leadership.
J.D.: This is a worthy stat to share when companies ask you to prove the ROI of effective crisis planning. If a CEO is willing to remain ill-prepared to manage reputation in a crisis, we now know that’s a bet of more than half of the company’s market share.
KLCM: Political, union and community leaders scored poorly across pretty much every measure and each of these three leadership groups achieved a lowly 26 percent on communication effectiveness.
J.D.: People don’t trust politicians these days because it is obvious that many – on both sides of the aisle – consistently put their own aspirations ahead of what is good for the public. (A cursory reading of history suggests it was always thus – but in 2013 the pendulum seems at the far end of “audacious.”) As for union leaders, it’s likely getting tougher to justify their lofty compensation and perks to dues-paying line workers, especially in this age of a multitude of laws and regulations that provide a fair workplace. Corporate leaders had better take heed, and adapt.
KLCM: In a crisis, honestly acknowledging the problem and acting decisively to fix it are seen as essential to good leadership.
J.D.: Easy to say. But tough to actually do when a crisis strikes. Partially, this is because when you’re deep in it, it’s easy to lose perspective and difficult to rally the troops to action when everyone is licking wounds. This is why detached, external perspective is likely the most valuable thing an outside agency can apply in a crisis.
I am only scratching the surface of a wealth of insights available through the Monitor. I encourage you to dive deeper through the main link above, or by clicking on the Executive Summary, a page of Key Findings, or the one-page Infographic.