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
What’s become known as the “Aarhus Model” is an interesting take on developing trust with extremists — even those who are tempted to flee to Syria and support ISIS.
It touches on the underpinnings of what we discussed in this month’s Consent-Building Clinic #83, and what we’ve taught in our CPO-2 course that focuses on dealing with extremists.
That is, it’s not enough to say you care — you have to demonstrate it.
Look into the work of a handful of detectives in the Danish town of Aarhus, who rather than vilify teenagers tempted to join ISIS fighters in Syria, asked them to meet for coffee and then actually listened to how they became so disaffected with their homeland.
For many, if not most of those burgeoning terrorists, being heard caused them to finally believe what the officials and others were saying: they DID care about these youths and their frustrations.
Moreover, the police detectives acknowledged and validated the source of the teenagers’ feelings.
They HAD been treated unfairly, and while that was true they need not abandon Denmark and become radicalized to even the score.
Also laid out before them was that if they continued down the path of terrorism offered by ISIS, these teenagers could expect a grim future . . .
If rallying support in the public-sector is likely to backfire (and create more distrust) does the same go for the private-sector?”
(To hear John’s actual question and a summarized response, watch the video below.)
John is right, our answer and cautions ARE different for those working in the private-sector.
The short answer is — “Yes… BUT”
Here’s the “Yes” part . . .
Yes they can. Private-sector entities have every right to lobby FOR their proposal and to hustle up other supporters.
After all, they ARE a stakeholder — i.e. a self-serving special interest.
While they CAN do that, don’t assume that the public is naive about this!
As we mentioned in Clinic #81, the public takes the self-serving nature of a stakeholder’s actions and arguments into account.
Here’s the “BUT” part . . .
Professional consultants — a role we’ve often filled, both for private clients (e.g. developers), as well as public-sector clients — however, need to careful just how far they go in advising a private client that she/he should drum up the support of OTHER stakeholders who — in their self-interest — may help give the impression there’s a lot of “public” support for the client’s proposal.
Keyword here is “professional” consultant.
Generally, a “profession” is a discipline — or an area of expertise — that PROFESSES to be motivated in the manner society has defined appropriate for that “profession.”
Think about how American society has defined…
the medical profession as serving first, and foremost, the health and well-being of the patient. Period. (Hence why the medical profession has trouble dealing with the “right-to-die” issue.)
the legal profession’s mission to advocate UTTERLY in the client’s interest. Period. Even if that client is a mass-murderer.
the civil engineering profession’s mission to serve — ultimately — the safety of the public. Regardless of who the actual (paying) client is. Period!
Back to John’s question —
Unlike public-sector clients, private clients CAN do virtually anything (within limits of the law) — that serves their self-interest . . .
The professional consultant’s advice to such a client MUST be tempered by the his/her code of ETHICS. Even if it is NOT in the client’s interest.
Each profession defines what behavior would be considered “unethical” or “unprofessional”.
Whenever we, the Bleikers, agree to work for private clients, we generally warn them (in writing) that we DO subscribe to the Code of Ethics of the American Institute of Certified Planners.
For that reason, we can help private-sector clients only insofar as they don’t do anything, we’d feel, would harm the public’s interest.
To drill down more into John’s question —
What do you do when a private-sector client proposes to drum up supporters in order to. . .
mislead policymakers into thinking there’s more support than there really is?
bully decision-makers into an unwise decision?
interfere in any other way with the elected officials making an informed decision?
If it was our client suggesting such reasons to rally support, we’d strongly advise against it.
If the client insisted, we would have to end our role as we couldn’t be party to such manipulation.
And so too, we advise you to stick to the moral high ground, and encourage your private-sector clients to do the same.
Taking the high road won’t backfire, whereas other tactics eventually will, even in the private-sector.
It’s not news to you that the public expect things —
Roads to be maintained . . .
Restaurants not to make them sick . . .
Water to be safe to drink . . .
Schools to educate kids . . .
First responders to aid in emergencies . . .
But — did you realize, that INCLUDES stakeholders with “anti-government” attitudes?
They too expect these things (and MUCH more) from government — which is YOU.
Know the secret to unwinding this paradox?
How do you get those who profess to HATE government — who make calls for a smaller and “more competent” government, for blanket cuts to organizations and regulation — to realize the don’t really mean what they say? That they need government agencies like yours, just as much as anyone…?
One way is through your Citizen Participation.
Beware, that does NOT mean more public involvement.
It means doing your outreach in a strategic way — aimed to diffuse anti-government sentiments so they realize the paradox themselves.
Your Citizen Participation has to create a paradigm shift in the minds of anti-government stakeholders.
Chances are, your current Citizen Participation is actually exacerbating this paradox.
While this is no small task, it’s entirely doable!
In Clinic #77, we help you see how to create Citizen Participation that diffuses such hatred, and illuminates the true expectations and needs of these anti-government stakeholders.
Things in Burns, Oregon might get have officially turned ugly.
And while the folks at the wildlife refuge in Oregon aren’t your average opponents, their stance isn’t legitimate, there is an element of their stance that no public official should ignore…
Unfortunately, NO ONE is immune from anti-government attitudes.
(Ironically, especially in a democracy… But we’ll cover that topic on March 8th in Clinic #78.)
Because this attitude is something you either ARE dealing with or likely WILL be confronted with, we’ve adopted “Anti-Government” as our theme for all of our monthly Consent-Building Clinics in 2016.
In a self-governing society, it’s THE PUBLIC who decides — via our rules based decision-making process — what government institutions it wants to create and maintain.
If you encounter stakeholders who perceive an “Us vs. Them” relationship between the (them) public and (you) the government . . . something’s gone wrong.
Chances are it’s simply a misunderstanding . . . a misperception.
Because even “simple” misperceptions can be challenging to correct, don’t expect that lecturing these folks is going to change their view of the world.
Your stakeholders need to discover . . . they need to see — with their own eyes — and conclude on their own terms that it’s ultimately THEY, the people (i.e. all of us) who make all the decisions.
It’s WE, the people, who created your agency and it’s mission.
It’s critical that your stakeholders realize this paradigm-changing insight.
But how do you stimulate you stakeholders to have such a critical insight?
While there’s no quick-fix, there IS much you can do.
The first of which begins by answering 6 Questions
In addition to the recording of this webinar, we’ve created a follow-up video with 6 questions to help you make real headway in preventing such attitudes from being aimed at you and your organization.
Starting with the basics in this recorded webinar, we delve into every angle of WHY Anti-Government sentiments are ratcheting up all across the country, and WHAT you can do to diffuse them, and even better yet — PREVENT them in the first place — from impeding your ability to accomplish your mission.
In this session, we’ll cover something so SIMPLE and yet POWERFUL . . .
6 Points We Cover
1. How you DEFINE “public” and “stakeholder” plays a central role in anti-government attitudes towards you and your agency.
2. Whom should you INCLUDE and EXCLUDE in your definition?
3. Should your definition of your “public” and related “stakeholders” SHIFT from project to project?
4. How should you handle people who THINK they are affected?
5. What’s the appropriate ROLE of number of constituents, majority vs. minority opinions, and representativeness?
6. How to identify WHICH of the 4 Fundamental Points your team is failing to address.
Don’t be caught off guard by anti-government attitudes that are sweeping the country!
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