You know stuff happens.
Even when your team does all it can to avoid screw-ups and mistakes.
The thing is — mistakes aren’t what will land you (and your credibility) in trouble with your public… It’s the knee-jerk reaction we all have to them that will actually make matters worse.
Here are 3 tips to help your team handle inevitable mistakes.
1. It’s human nature to try to justify (even to ourselves) why the mistake happened, whose fault it is, why it wasn’t that big of a mistake (if one at all)…
This is the real mistake.
Of course you’ve got to be careful in how you go public with acknowledging any screw-up, miscalculation, poor analysis, or serious error. But giving in to the reflex to be overly-protective or defensive is guaranteed to make matters worse.
So, rather than being “careful” in how you go public with a mistake, the better advice is to be “thoughtful” and not cave to human nature when you deal with your team’s mistakes.
We wish we could prevent you from dealing with any mistakes, but that simply isn’t possible, nor is it necessary.
However, we’ll help you prevent those mistakes from damaging the public’s trust in you — and help you shape them into opportunities to deepen your credibility, even with the most cynical public.
2. Public Official? Don’t Act Like a Private Firm. Except When…
Even when you try you HARDEST to avoid mistakes…Embarrassing things still manage to happen. Even to the best teams.
Mistakes don’t discriminate, do they? They happen in public-sector, as well as private-sector organizations.
The question for you is:
How should folks like you, in the public-sector, handle mistakes? Especially BIG ones… that your team caused?
When businesses mess up big-time, they hire a big name Public Relations firm.
These firms specialize in salvaging the company’s name, or saving the brand in face of the screw-up.
But what can you do when you work in the public-sector?
One of the few areas where our advice to public officials is similar to that of private-sector “crisis-communications PR experts”: Get the information out!
Don’t sit on it… Don’t DRIBBLE it out. Your team has to get the word out about your mistake immediately.
Since so little is shared between the private and public domains, we felt it was worth sharing this particular piece of parallel advice with you.
3. Hiring a PR Firm Can Backfire for Public Organizations
You know what happens when a big corporation messes up. They hire one of the few Madison-Avenue PR firms with a reputation for knowing how to help clients who have been caught with their pants down.
Public agencies can’t really do that!
The trouble is, while the public doesn’t protest when a private-sector organization hires a spin-doctor (with the clear and obvious intention of “spinning” the public, saving face, and their image)…
That same public will NOT put up with a public agency doing the same thing.
Double standard alert!
Even so, we have to admit that even we, as a citizens, don’t really want our government to spend our tax money to hire a “spin-doctor” to “spin” us.
Yet mistakes happen, and your team needs to deal with them.
So how can you save your credibility with your public, when hiring a PR firm will only create more animosity and cynicism?
Is it a crazy “Catch-22” situation? What’s the best way to deal with it?
We explain the double-standard in more detail, including what you can do about your team’s mistakes in this month’s webinar.
As a Subject Matter Expert, you’re prepared to deal with all sorts of technical problems. But are you equipped to deal with the human conflict integral to public-sector work?
Let’s take a look and dig a little deeper by focusing on four key points.
1. Even if your role was said to be of a purely technical nature….
The truth is your work surfaces deep divisions among the public.
That’s because group decision-making is complicated by the various values people hold. The more your projects provoke people’s values, the more conflict you’ll encounter.
If you don’t handle that conflict well — even your best technical work will go down the drain!
2. The most precise data, and stringent science cannot survive human conflict….
…Unless it is put into the context of values.
You see, we all have different values — including likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, fears, etc…
As we know from holiday get-togethers and reunions, even members of a close-knit family differ.
So how are you supposed to make a proposal, that elicits deep divisions among the public, survive the decision-making process?
You find common ground in people’s Higher Values.
3. Many public professionals mistakenly water-down their technical work so that it’s more palatable to the general public — and doesn’t ignite conflict.
The problem is — watered down technical work makes matters worse.
Because now the technical work is less rigorous, less responsible, and less effective — while the conflict has been masked at best.
4. Your work is meant to solve specific problems.
Don’t make the mistake of watering-down those solutions! And don’t shrink from inherent conflict!
You can be both responsible to the mission you were given — to solve significant problems, and take advantage of important opportunities — AND be responsive to that diverse, diametrically opposed public.
It is possible!
Through the Systematic Development of Informed Consent, you CAN be technically rigorous, and resolve conflict by appealing to people’s Higher Values.
That means, you have to go deeper than the surface issues.
You have to get to the heart of your mission and your role in the public sector.
Learn How to Get your Opponents’ Informed Consent in one of our few In-Person Courses
Public’s Trust is a Must
It’s hard enough to get your technical work done within budget and time constrictions.
It’s nearly impossible if you lack credibility with your public.
Even a private entity, like a utility, with a pretty obvious mission and type of service — will find it challenging to get much done without resistance if it doesn’t have the public’s trust.
Those fortunate enough to have credibility with the public can’t rest on that long as it’s far easier to lose, than to regain.
And the way to gain it, is anything but intuitive…
Polished has a Dark Side
As professionals, you want the public to feel at ease given your level of expertise and knowledge.
So it’s natural (and easy) to create polished looking handouts, flyers, and websites as a reflection of your team’s competence.
The problem is, you might unwittingly be also sending the message that you’re further along in your plans and decision-making process than you actually are.
When you claim “We’re just beginning to look into the issue of X, Y, Z…” the public finds that counter-intuitive considering how finished your materials appear to be.
If you’re really in the preliminary stages of a project, have your slides, handouts, and delivery of information reflect that.
Use like butcher paper and markers to outline information and simultaneously communicate — you really are in the “head-scratching” stage!
If you haven’t even settled on the project’s name — show those nominated and what, if anything, has already been ruled out.
Otherwise, you show up at a meeting asking for “input” and the public immediately senses you’re further along than you are because of the mediums through which you’re sharing information.
Find a way to make the medium communicate where in the process you are to help bolster your credibility.
Your Grandmother isn’t Fooled
You’re not fooling anyone. Not even Grandma.
You know it, we know it — no one is perfect. Not even your highly capable, dedicated, and talented team.
So why give signals otherwise?
Not only are you not fooling anyone. You’re making the public more cynical and skeptical about your sense of reality if you don’t openly admit to your team’s mistakes, gaffes, and mismanagement.
No one said this one is easy. But it is critical.
Without this level of humility and honesty, your credibility with the public will never be cultivated.
It’s Not All Roses
It’s tempting to get so focused on the benefits of the project at hand that you fail to get the public to appreciate — there will be drawbacks.
Drawbacks aren’t a sign of poor technical work, they’re a reality when you’re addressing serious and complex community problems.
Yes, share the project’s PROs — but only after you’ve really underlined the CONs. Otherwise, your credibility is in jeopardy as it appears you’re blind to these negative impacts.
Worse yet — you’ll seem oblivious about those who will feel them the most.
Explain that even given the negative impacts — and who exactly will feel them the most — this is STILL the right way to proceed.
(We know this is no tall order! But it is achievable as it’s at the heart of our whole Consent-Building methodology.)
The Short Cut to Credibility
Nurturing and protecting your credibility isn’t easy or even natural. If it were, everyone who deserves it would have it.
Even putting these three practices to work for your team will likely take some effort and won’t feel natural.
And that’s what developing credibility really takes — guts.
It’ll take the guts to go against your own reflexes, your team’s, your boss’, and your organization’s entrenched practices.
If being like nearly everyone else — frustrated, ineffective, distrusted — is your goal. Then you’re reading the wrong blog. Go back to the uphill battle that never ends of doing “business as usual.”
But if you want to have your public’s respect, trust, and credibility — then having the guts to follow these and our overall Consent-Building methodology will land you in a whole new paradigm.
We have case-study after case-study to back up these points on credibility (and many more) from the nearly 40,000 public professionals like you we’ve trained.
Gimmicks won’t gain you an ounce of credibility. Even the best PR eventually backfires.
With Consent-Building there’s NO gimmicks, NO trickery, NO spin. Just genuine honesty, humility, and dedication to your mission.
Upcoming training: Our “SDIC” Consent-Building training helps technical subject-matter experts (responsible for tackling difficult problems) get their proposals IMPLEMENTED … in what is – after all – a POLITICAL decision-making process!
That’s how we make you and your agency more effective: Helping you accomplish your mission by developing the Informed Consent of your fiercest opponents.
Sign up for SDIC Monterey today!
Being attacked is never easy… For many public-sector professionals, it never stops either.
Some members of the public act like making negative comments and online attacks on public officials is a sport.
And as anti-government attitudes heat up, so do the hateful social media posts toward public professionals. So how are you supposed to respond? Here are a couple of tips.
(Note, for our full Consent Building eBook on the topic, click here)…
1. Leverage Negative Comments to Better Inform Your Opponents
Start by assuming the inflammatory or hateful comments have been made by an actual person, with legitimate concerns about your agency, and the projects you’re working on.
2. Resist getting emotionally sucked in — publicly or privately.
Think of an attack as a hook dangling online… Don’t bite! Expect what you say privately in response to online attacks to be made public anytime someone Googles your name, agency, or project (including texts, emails, and comments made within the confines of your office space).
Don’t wait too long, but gather your thoughts (and cool) before responding.
3. Never ignore or disregard negative comments.
See each of these as a chance to make progress on the issues being aired, the misunderstandings that linger, and your overall credibility. To the “silent majority” watching from the sidelines, if you don’t respond to attacks you look tone-deaf, and conveniently inclined to only acknowledge the positive, or more tempered comments regarding your work.
People who didn’t necessarily question your work or motives,start to wonder if you’re online presence is purely self-serving. Responding only to the to level-headed and complimentary comments actually creates cynicism where it didn’t necessarily exist before.
Even though it’s natural to want to ignore the negative and most extreme comments, doing so will actually hurt your credibility among the broader community.
For more the full list of tips, please download our free Consent-Building eBook on this topic. Click here!
How Public Agencies Need to Use Social Media to Get Respect, Not Hatred.
It can sometimes seem like Social Media is just one more facet for the public to dump on you and your team. Attacks at public meetings have never been pretty, yet what is often said online can make those meetings look like a love-fest by comparison!
Understandably, many public professionals shy away from posting anything to social media platforms as a result. The thing you need to remember is this… Social Media is just a tool! If you use it for its strengths, you can actually develop respect, credibility and appreciation… instead of more hatred.
1. Why Using Social Media for “Branding” is a Mistake in the Public-Sector
It’s tempting to look at how online “brands” create a Social Media presence and try to use it as a template for your organization. The problem is, you’re not like the mega-corporations and individuals using it to create or build a brand. Branding is a self-serving endeavor. Companies need to do it to set themselves apart.
Public agencies not only lack a brand, the professionals running them would be ill-advised to try to create a “brand”, when their only purpose is to serve the public.
Remember, it’s not as if the public can choose which U.S. Forest Service, state Department of Transportation, or local Department of Public Works they prefer over another. Those are the agencies here to serve all of us– like them or not. That’s why “branding” has no place in the public-sector’s use of Social Media.
2. What’s Posted Isn’t What Makes It Viral
You know not every cat or kid video goes viral, but do you know why?
Why did a video of woman in her car wearing a Chewbacca mask get millions of views, and the next one didn’t?
Not every salacious, witty, or insightful comment “trends” on Twitter, so what’s the common thread?
It’s not Google’s algorithm, some clever use of site SEO, or even the intention of the person who created the post.
As discussed in a past webinar on using Social Media, it’s not the post itself that makes the content go viral… The virility comes from what it elicits: emotion.
3. Leverage Viral Power for Your Team
Chances are, you already have an agency/project Facebook page, Twitter feed, or website (perhaps even several). So how do you tie the two (above) revelations together to put them to use for your team?
One way is to harness the virility of emotion. Of course, that doesn’t mean you want to elicit just any old emotion, (especially when hatred tends to flow freely these days!).
As the anti-government climate heats up, you certainly don’t want to evoke more anger, more frustration, or more hatred towards you, your team, or your proposals. (Using Social Media as a branding tool in the public-sector is likely to do just this!)
Something makes you get out of your comfy bed every morning and go to work. That same “thing” compels you to spend countless hours away from your home, your family, your hobbies.
Don’t tell me it’s for money.
Working in the public-sector is not going to make you rich. Yet here you are, dedicating your life to this work. Why?
Get to the essence of that “why” and use it as your guide in every Tweet, Facebook post, and video you upload.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking emotions have no place in public-sector work. You’re dead wrong if you do. Because like it or not– your work is steeped in emotion.
Emotions show up at your public hearings, Letters to the Editor, and the pages of every anti-government group online.
Using the same “why” that gets you out of bed every day to communicate out to your public through Social Media is the key.
You’ll know you have it right when the emotions you elicit will come with comments like “Thank God you’re there!” “Thank goodness you are willing to do this work!”
In two recent webinars, we covered this and much more (including: how to deal with Social Media mistakes, build your credibility online, and a 4-step recipe for each and every post):
– #82: Anti-Government Groups – Using Social Media in Public-Sector (Why You Should Give a Twit!)
– #75: Cracking the Code to Digital Engagement
We are here to help you get that “Thank Goodness You’re There” reaction from your public not just once in a while, but all the time.
Get tips like this delivered straight to your inbox.