Continuation of Preventing CP Error #5

To finish up on the last few points in this month’s Brownbag session, we left off in your handouts at IV. Fundamentals for Preventing / Correcting CP Error #5, item C on page 14, this was the last of three (A-C) points.

Here are the rest of the finer points we wanted to relay to you . . .

IV. CP Error #5C: Implementation Geniuses are Flexible about SOME things, and NOT about others

  • Their Mission is NOT negotiable . . . They are intent on accomplishing it.
  • They are very flexible on HOW to accomplish that mission.

These two points are probably a good short-hand rule for getting THIS part of CP Error #5 right.
It’s best if you can get clear in YOUR mind and in your publics’ minds that:

  1. You have every intention of accomplishing your mission . . . that you fully expect to SOLVE the problem at hand, that your Mission is NOT negotiable, and that you WILL fulfill your RESPONSIBILITY.
    But . . .
  2. You DO have an OPEN mind about HOW to accomplish your Mission . . . as long as it gets accomplished! Get them to conclude that you are willing to try to be Responsive to PAIs’ concerns, as long as it does not involve compromising your Mission.

V. The Damage / Costs of CP Error #5

A. Trying to sell the public a bill of goods that you, yourself, haven’t bought into is a truly cynical thing to do.

  • It creates mistrust and disrespect for you and your agency.Don’t EVER contribute to such sentiments!
  • If you DON’T have some Hidden — agenda, goal, objective (and we trust you don’t!) . . . Then you’ll WANT to do each of the 16 technical steps as rigorously, honestly, and transparently as humanly possible!

Here’s the Rub

You may NOT have a Hidden Agenda at all . . . But, if some of your stakeholders THINK that you’re NOT interested in doing the 16 Technical Steps rigorously, honestly, and transparently . . . Then, they will conclude you must have a Hidden Agenda!!!
Creating THAT kind of impression with your public is far worse than shooting yourself in the foot at the start of a marathon race. It’s more like shooting yourself in the knee-cap!
Giving the impression that you DO have a Hidden Agenda is a phenomenally stupid thing to do!
We are continually amazed how many public-sector professionals, who are otherwise sensible, manage to continually do this . . . And, therefore, to keep suffering the consequences of:

  • Mistrtust
  • Suspicion
  • Cynicism
  • Skepticism

All of it feeding already rampant ANTI-government attitudes . . .

It is also demoralizing for you and your team . . . You can’t afford to do that!

B. Refusing to Speak Up for Your Professional Colleagues

i.e. Failing to explain, justify, represent those Rules, Regulations, Standards, Guidelines, and Laws that you are implementing, but instead to just remark “Don’t blame me for these stupid guidelines, I just work here.”

  • This is the quickest, surest, most fool-proof way to create CONTEMPT for you and your agency.
  • There’s NO good reason why ANYONE would want to do THAT!

C. If you become SO responsive where you start to compromise your Mission

  • Your public might LIKE you, . . . But, they will no longer RESPECT you!Realize that if you have an important public-sector Mission . . .
  • Being LIKED is neither possible, nor necessary.
  • However, being RESPECTED is both possible AND necessary.

VI. Important Concepts to Help Prevent CP Error #5

Look at your Decision-Making environment in a holistic way.

“Talking Back” about Technical Steps – especially Judgment Steps — simply amounts to Internal Consent-Building . . . i.e. Getting your boss’ consent to make a mid-course correction in your Planning Process.

For those of you who ARE responsible for the Citizen Participation side of the two parallel processes we often bring up (doing Consent-Building simultaneously as you do your Technical work — those 16 steps):
1. Play the Devil’s Advocate . . .

  • Ask any and all questions a future opponents is likely to ask. Insist that the technical folks give you the ammunition to understand AND answer those questions, so that you can DEFEND the Problem-Solving / Decision-Making process — on EACH and EVERY one of the 16 steps!
  • Remember, finding fault with any of those 16 steps is the EASIEST line of attack, and, therefore, the FIRST line of attack your opponents will use to torpedo your proposal.

2. Get so comfortable and confident with those 16 Technical Steps where YOU will go public — aggressively — with the WEAKEST points in them BEFORE your opponents can go public with them!

All of this is about Consent-Building . . .

  • Developing Informed Consent among internal PAIs that each of the 16 Technical Steps is DEFENSIBLE (i.e. is completed with a reasonable amount of rigor),
  • Developing Informed Consent among external PAIs. . . Ideally, on a pay-as-you-go basis for each of the technical steps so THEY come to the conclusion that what you’re proposing IS the right thing to do!
  • And if not on a pay-as-you-go basis, then AFTER you have done your technical work that: there is a serious problem / opportunity (one that HAS to be addressed); you are the right entity to address it (that, in light of your Mission it would be IRRESPONSIBLE if you didn’t address it); that they WAY you are going about addressing that problem (your Problem-Solving / Decision-Making process) is reasonable AND responsible; and that you DO care (if you’re proposing a course of action that’s going to HURT some interests, it’s NOT because you don’t care, it’s NOT because you’re not listening. . . ).

Recognize that you ARE part of government. Talking in a “blaming” way about other governmental entities breeds disrespect. Moreover, it’s unfair to your colleagues and their work, and it reflects poorly not only on them, but on ALL government — including you!
Don’t give in to the hypocritical temptation to bad-mouth “politics.” Using the term “politics” as if it were a four-lettered word.
When some of your colleagues talk of “politics” as if it were a curse word, point out to them that it’s utterly hypocritical to whine about “politics” while insisting on living in — and in your case WORKING in — a democratic system of government.
“Politics” is how democracies make decisions! Is it complicated? Is it crazy? Of course! But, the alternative is to NOT live and work in such a system.

Focusing on Your Opponents to Build Consent (an Example)

In winding up the August 14th Brownbag session, Hans promised to post an additional illustrative example on this blog.
The points this example is illustrates:

  1. Consent-Building has you focus your outreach efforts, your communications efforts, on your fiercest opponents.
  2. Focusing on your fiercest opponents is counter-intuitive . . . which means that your brain will come up with a dozen excuses why – this time – it’s not necessary, . . . or not useful, . . . surely a waste of time.
  3. Being committed to Consent-Building means you focus on your fiercest opponents in spite of all that.

We can illustrate these points without using the names of the parties involved (even though in the Brownbag session, Hans did mention the agency).

Journalist and Ever-the-Critic Mr. Z

The Director of Sport Fisheries in one a mid-west state Wildlife Department was routinely criticized by the columnist – the Fishing-Issues Columnist – of the state’s largest newspaper. Let’s call him “Mr. Z.”

No matter what the agency did in managing sport fishing, Mr. Z always knew better. In Mr. Z’s eyes, the agency – which really meant the director of Sport Fisheries – could do nothing right.

Because Mr. Z’s column ran not only in the state’s biggest newspaper, but was also picked up by newspapers throughout the state. This self-appointed critic had – in sense – a giant bullhorn, which he used to make his living criticizing the state’s professional fish biologists and their work.

The Director of Sport Fisheries had long ago learned that it was futile to try to reason with Mr.Z. He wasn’t interested in the biological realities; he preferred to sling mud, make accusations, and deal in innuendos.

When Disaster Struck

A time came when all it did was rain. It rained, and rained, and the rain just kept raining.

Rivers and streams flooded. One of the brown, swollen streams flooded the department’s fish hatchery where millions of tiny trout were being raised in preparation for release into all of the state’s trout streams a few months later.

This was a disaster; the hatchery was the only trout hatchery. If these fingerlings did not survive, there would be no trout season that year.

Could the fingerlings – even with the addition of the medication the agency added to the water — survive in the brown floodwater that had overwhelmed the hatchery? The headwaters of the streams where they were to be released later were less polluted, but the fingerlings were not ready to fend for themselves yet; they were still too dependent on the hatchery feeding.

Hard Decision

The Director of Sport Fisheries – and his staff – needed to make some decisions.

The options, as they saw them, were:


  1. Keep adding medication to the polluted fish tanks holding the fingerlings; hoping they’ll recover from the shock and survive until their optimum release time later in the spring. (There was, of course, the distinct possibility that they’d all die before they were old enough to be released.)
  2. Take the fingerlings out of the polluted hatchery now and, — in spite of their immaturity – distribute them all over the state to the many headwaters. (With this option too, there was the distinct possibility that they’d all die after being released.)

Even Experts Disagree

As is often the case, not even the experts – i.e. the fisheries biologists within the department – agreed on which of the two options was the better.

And, the external stakeholders – including the trout fishermen, the sporting goods stores and other businesses who depended on a good trout season, etc. were bound to be of many different opinions.

Of course, all the opinionated pundits in the various sport fishing media – including the perennial Mr. Z with the biggest of all bullhorns in the state – were going to second-guess the agency no matter what it did. They all were bound to have known better than the head bureaucrat.

What an Implementation Genius Would Do?

OK . . . Remember the Agreement / Disagreement Scale we discussed in the Brownbag session (the diagram on slide #11)? Well, the Director of Sports Fisheries clearly saw Mr. Z as being pretty much on the bottom of that Agreement / Disagreement scale.

If the state was going to wind up without a trout season – Mr. Z was going to have a hay-day trumpeting how this was just another example of the agency staff’s incompetence.

The Director of Sport Fisheries had our SDIC training. He understood the need for focusing on the bottom of the Agreement / Disagreement scale.

On the other hand, he also knew – from experience – that Mr. Z was pretty much a lost cause. So, should he make an effort to reach out to Mr. Z? What was his communications strategy going to be – no matter which of the two options he chose for dealing with the flooded fingerlings?
Well, he put his Consent-Building training to work and reached out to Mr. Z.

He called Mr. Z on the phone. It was pretty much a one-way conversation in which he told Mr. Z something along the following lines:
“Here’s what’s happening: the hatchery has been flooded, and the fingerlings are in serious trouble.

I see two options for dealing with this disaster, but the fingerlings are in trouble no matter what I do. There’s a good chance there will be no trout season this year.”
He went on to explain “There are two options that I think we as an agency have, both of which are risky…

  1. We can try to medicate the fingerlings and get them to survive until their optimum release time.
  2. Or, we can release them now, and hope they’ll make it even though they have had a shock and are way too young to be released under normal circumstances.”

The Director of Sport Fisheries went on to explain his decision and the rationale…

“I’m going to implement Option #2 even though – if there is not trout season – it will clearly have been my fault for rushing them out into the field prematurely.

  • I’m telling you all this because I know from experience that you’re going to criticize my decision in all of the state’s newspapers.
  • I don’t expect you to support my decision. I fully expect that you’ll do your level best to make me and colleagues look like a bunch of idiots – as you always do.
  • But, I’m calling you to tell you my reasoning so at least you’ll have the facts right and will have had a chance to understand my reasoning even though you’re bound to find your usual ways of distorting it. But, having at least the basic facts, maybe you’ll do less of a distortion job on us than you usually do.”

How Opponents Respond

As you can surmise, this wasn’t the most friendly conversation. The Director meant what he said; he was convinced Mr. Z would do one of his usual distortion jobs on him. Nonetheless, if Mr. Z had at least the basic facts right, he might do a little less distorting of the the truth.

This was a pretty humble objective: of trying to make a critic do a little less of a hatchet job with the truth!
Well, that’s not what happened. Instead of a milder hatchet job on the facts, Mr. Z wrote a very good — and more importantly FAIR — column! He wrote about the director’s agony of trying which of the two terribly options was better – actually – “less bad.”

In fact, Mr. Z did a very good job of explaining the pros and cons of both options, the courage and dedication to mission that was required to make the decision that he did in the face of critics in the media like himself.

Overcoming the Reflex to Avoid Opponents and Conflict

Not only did that rather desperate (and most likely futile) phone call to Mr. Z move him way up on the Agreement / Disagreement Scale, the Director of Sport Fisheries felt that it caused a significant change in his relationship with that particular stakeholder.

Even when an opponent seems unlikely to change their unfair and biased view of your work, don’t give in to the temptation to avoid that person.

Instead, follow in the footsteps of Implementation Geniuses and see what happens. You too might be pleasantly surprised!

Leadership & Conflict Resolution Crisis Management 101

Whatever “Leadership” is, one of its components is “Crisis Management.” Why? . . .

Because that’s one thing administrators, managers, . . . leaders . . . find themselves in: crises.

Leaders Deploy Two Kinds of Crisis Management

One of them (let’s call this “Type A Crisis Management”) is when some awful thing happens, some highly unusual, terrible situation – an airplane crashes in your downtown, an earthquake or flash flood destroys an area, it is discovered that people for whom you’re responsible have done a terrible thing, etc. – and you, as a leader, have to “manage” this crisis.

In that sort of situation, you have to figure out what immediate steps to take, how to respond to the media who are descending on your community from afar.  You have to “manage” this rather unmanageable crisis that you find yourself in.

1st Type of Crisis Management

This first kind of “crisis management” refers to how leaders deal with the crisis-at-hand.  Examples of this kind of crisis management include:

  • A1. How the various public officials responded to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina
    • Officials of the City of New Orleans
    • Louisiana and Mississippi State Officials
    • Federal officials in such agencies as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Corps of Engineers, and others
  • A2. How the Executive branch of the US government — and how the New York City First Responders — managed teh response to the 9-11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (September 11, 2001)
  • A3. How the US Treasury Department (Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Bernanke) managed the Financial Crisis that was triggered by an overnight inter-bank credit freeze in September of 2008
  • A4. How an organization – in the private or public sector – handles the public revelation that its staff has been guilty of gross negligence, incompetence, and worse: corruption or moral turpitude.

2nd Type of Crisis Management

The second kind of “crisis management” (let’s label “Type B Crisis Management”) refers to how you manage your normal, day-to-day management responsibilities while you’re in the midst of a crisis. . . i.e. How you guide your organization as it tries to perform its routine, normal functions at a time when things are far from normal because there is some sort of crisis that is taking place.

Examples of this kind of crisis management include:

  • B1. How government entities in New York – such as police or firefighters not directly involved at the World Trade Center — tried to continue performing their normal functions . . . in spite of what was happening at the World Trade Center.
  • B2. How organizations – private or public – tried to continue with their normal functions . . . in spite of the disruption caused by Hurricane Katrina, such as, the New Orleans Police Department, the Times-Picayune newspaper, local hospitals, local public utilities, etc.
  • B3. How an organizational leader tries to motivate – but also re-direct – the organization’s staff even though a scandal is unleashing a torrent of harsh criticism in the social media . . . as well as in the traditional media.

On-Going Example in the News

At this writing (spring 2014) serious students of leadership are being treated to a ring-side seat at a classical “Crisis Management” event:

  • General Motors CEO Mary Barra’s handling of a crisis that landed in her lap.

GM’s Board of Directors appointed her, a 30-year GM employee, as the company’s new CEO on January 15, 2014.

Two months later she is faced with having to handle the kind of crisis that makes for the kind of classic case study that constitute the core of most graduate management programs.
Here’s the Crisis GM CEO Barra has to handle:

By mid-March 2014, it was revealed that GM safety engineers knew years ago (for as long as 10 years) that the ignition switch in hundreds of thousands of Chevrolet Cobalt vehicles had potentially fatal defects.  The defect could, under certain conditions, disable the car’s air bag.

In spite of mounting evidence. . .

  • GM lied to the families of accident victims about what they knew,
  • GM refused to talk to one survivor family unless it was through their attorney (they did not have an attorney because they were not suing GM),
  • In a case where a survivor family did sue them, Gm called their lawsuit “frivolous” . . .

An Exercise in Crisis Management 101

What Would YOU Do in the GM Recall Crisis?

So, let’s stop the clock right there and put on the Crisis Management thinking cap . . . Imagine YOU (rather than Mary Barra) are the new CEO of GM, and the very damaging revelations are not just shocking the public, they’re shocking GM employees (because very few of them were privy to what the safety engineers and the attorneys knew); the revelations are equally shocking to you!
You need to think — and plan — how you ought to proceed with managing the Type A and the Type B Crises.  i.e. How to deal with the storm of a quickly widening public and legal scandal, as well as with managing the rest of the organization — that’s trying to produce competitive cars — while this storm plays out.

You’ll get the most out of this if you:

  1. Go online and read more background on the case.


  • One link, gets you to the USA Today article by Hillary Stout, Bill Vlasic, Danielle Ivory, and Rebecca Ruiz: “Carmaker Misled Grieving Families on a Lethal Flaw.” It is a pretty good description of the smoking gun that cinches GM’s guilt.  It gives you sense of the questions the Congressional Committee that you’re going to face next week will be asking you.
  • Another link, gets you to the very perceptive USA Today article by Michael Wolff: Wolff: GM’s Barra shames voiceless CEOs.”  This piece Wolff’s is insightful, explaining just how uncommon, how unusual, Mary Barra’s approach to managing this crisis is.
  • And finally, the link takes you to a NY Times article by Vindu Goes: “G.M. Uses Social Media to Manage Customers and Its Reputation.” In it, he gives some examples of how they are using Social Media in a very creative, gutsy way, as one of their Crisis Communications Tools.

2.  Discuss what you think of all this with a colleague or two.

3. Then, submit your thoughts to Jennifer (  She’ll post those of your comments that meet this blog’s “Terms of Use,” and we’ll pick up the discussion from  there.