Sometimes noise is just that…

by Rick on February 7, 2012

Watching recent Internet backlash and organizations reacting to it is fascinating. The volume is certainly up higher on people’s reaction to your decisions. While that may be a good thing in some ways it can also lead to some big mistakes, like changing an organization’s decision when the one they’ve made is the right one for its future. If you’ve done it right then you should be able to support and stand behind major decisions.

First and foremost, leaders and organizations need to remember that pleasing all the people all the time is neither possible nor a viable goal. There are going to be people who disagree just because disagreeing makes them happy. Stop trying to please everyone and focus on earning support from the people who matter most to your success.

You can’t just ignore every critic all the time either, but you don’t have to jump and change direction every time a dog barks. As already discussed here, listening and learning are key communications and leadership skills, but overreacting to what you hear is a mistake.

There is a time for listening and time for doing. The time for listening and thinking is before the big announcement or implementing a decision. If it is a major policy decision, something that is going to affect the majority of your customers or a change in practices on a polarizing issue, then you better have thought it all through before you take action. If you haven’t explored how your key supporters are going to react, then you are not ready for that kind of decision.

And yes, an organization’s public relations / communications professionals should be included in those kinds of conversations. If a CEO and Board of Directors don’t think their communications advisors belong there, they need new thinking, education or advisors.

If the advisors haven’t earned their place in that conversation, they need to work harder, think differently or get new jobs. There are fewer of these self-inflicted crisis situations when we are doing our job and being included in the right conversations, but that is a role we must earn in every organization and with every leader. Like it or not, it is not something we’re entitled to even if we do end up being the people who clean up the mess.

Once an organization has gone through the thought process, evaluated the risks and rewards and decided what’s best for the future, it is time for doing. Deal with the issues and likely objections upfront. You should show the people who matter that you’ve thought it through. Tell them why it is the right choice for the future and why it matters to them. And, if you want to succeed, give everyone the full picture behind the decisions not just a peek at what you think might be enough.

By going through the right process, you can weather most storms that might come.

That includes letting the detractors vent on your Facebook page and only stepping in to correct inaccurate portrayals of the decision you’ve announced clearly and honestly. Pick your battles carefully. Let small groups vent away, they’ll burn out eventually. Plus, you’ve already countered their arguments. Put your earplugs in and leave your hurt feelings about being called names back in nursery school. Focus on the people who matter most to your cause or situation.

Making tough decisions and implementing them are leadership requirements. Sure, there are times to take small risks when it is just fine to change your mind, but those are experiments not major decisions. You have to take some risks, but you better know the difference between little and big risks.

Changing your mind on a big risk says bad things about leadership. It says the homework wasn’t done and calls into question the conviction and competence to doing what is right for the organization. People expect leaders to do their homework.

Yes, critics can make a great deal of noise today. More than they’ve ever been able to make before. That isn’t going to change and it needs to be figured into both the decision-making process and the implementation. Still, no matter how loud it is, some noise is just that—Noise. There are times you need to ignore it and do what you know is right for your organization.

Does anyone else think that we’re seeing more companies either not thinking things through or caving just because small groups have loud voices?

  • Excellent thoughts, Rick! I totally agree with your points here, especially in light of the recent Komen/Planned Parenthood fiasco. Wouldn’t you think Komen would have thought about the possible public reaction to changes in their funding strategy before making an announcement? And to your point, maybe try to get out in front of any public criticism by providing rationale for the reasoning in the announcement itself?

    I do think many organizations are still very social media “shy,” and find themselves like deer in headlights when faced with such a crisis online. Still, that really doesn’t excuse the lack of foresight and preparation.

    IMHO, it was the right move for the Komen’s VP of Public Policy to resign today…

    Thanks!
    Jenifer

    • There was certainly a lack of preparation in the Komen announcement. It is very hard to believe that people didn’t know that it was going to set off a firestorm. And, it is OK to set one of those off if you really believe it is something that is best for your organization as long as you are ready to deal with it. They were totally unprepared when the bad reactions started. I’d call that a failure of leadership.

      While it has been a hot topic I’m not sure whether the resignation is the right move but why start making those now? I doubt that one individual was behind this decision. Wasn’t it approved by the full board? There is probably more to come from that situation.

      Yes, I agree organizations are very social media “shy.” They also tend to overestimate the impact of some disagreement in that world. Lowe’s Corporation overreacted to a small, noisy group and ended up creating a bigger mess with the Muslim community. People need to be smarter about all of this.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  • Anonymous

    Not everyone matters when it comes to running a business or deciding its direction. Let noisemakers make noise.
    Nicely written.

    • Exactly!

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by. Glad you liked it.

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