Tag Archives: communications

The Myth of 100 Days, and the Reality

presidential sealMuch of the news for the past couple of weeks has revolved around how is President Trump doing in his first one hundred days in office. President Trump himself set high expectations before he was inaugurated, and recently he has been trying to tamp down the importance of the 100 day marker. He hit that marker this past Saturday.

One hundred days is an arbitrary period. It is less than a year, less than one-twelfth of a president’s term of office. Nevertheless, it is used as a milestone not only for new Presidents but also for new corporate executives.

I’ve read many articles outlining what a new CEO or CFO or head of Human Resources—or any other “chief” of a corporate function, for that matter—ought to accomplish when he or she takes office. Here are just a few articles telling new executives what to do in their first one hundred days:

Five Myths of a CEO’s First 100 Days, by Roselinde Torres and Peter Tollman, January 30, 2012, in Harvard Business Review

Your First 100 Days as CEO—Eight Must-Avoid Traps, by Scott Weighart, Bates Communications

An Action Plan for New CEOs During the First 100 Days, by M.S.Rao, October 8, 2014, on TrainingMag.com

Assuming Leadership: The First 100 Days, by Patrick Ducasse and Tom Lutz, The Boston Consulting Group

Rather than go through all the recommendations, which they are not entirely consistent, I want to focus on two topics: setting up for long-term success and strong communications. These, in my opinion, are critical marks of new leaders.

1. Long-Term Success

One area in which there is a difference of opinion among the experts is whether to strive for “quick wins” or whether to focus on setting up for success in the long term. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and a few quick wins can win over supporters who will improve the chances of long-term success.

It all depends on whether the wins are what the organization needs or wants, or whether the new leader achieves them by running roughshod over the organization. If the early wins are gained at the expense of long-standing corporate culture, then the new executive will be seen as insensitive.

I believe that long-term success is more important than early victories. It is better for the new executive to be seen as listening to stakeholders than to introduce change without an understanding of the impact on the organization. Obviously, if there are some early wins that most stakeholders approve of, then the new CEO should undertake them immediately. But these actions will have the best impact if they are consistent with the CEO’s long-term strategic plan and vision.

2. Communications

Most commentators agree that it is critical for the new executive to take control of communications, but to balance listening with revealing his or her own vision and priorities. The executive must be seen as a leader, but also as someone who understands the organization’s needs. Particularly for executives hired from the outside, it is critical that the new leader not come across as arrogant and dismissive of the company’s past.

Building relationships with those in the organization is essential. That requires an open dialogue in which the new executive really listens to the stakeholders and also reveals his or her own intentions and beliefs. The incoming CEO will have his or her preferred communications style, but must also adapt to the needs of the organization. Also, it is important to set realistic expectations on what will and will not change and how fast change will come.

So, on these two points, how is President Trump doing?

Each of us will have our own answer to this question. In my opinion, President Trump gets decidedly mixed results.

He has had some short-term successes (the confirmation of Justice Gorsuch, the limited strike on Syria) and some failures (the travel ban, the failure of the House health care reform proposal). But I don’t believe he has defined his vision of long-term success clearly enough. We don’t yet know what he hopes to accomplish in four years, which campaign promises he means to keep and which he does not . . . and maybe also how he has changed since taking office. Without this clarity, it is hard to decide if he is focused on the long term.

On the communications front, his core audience still seems supportive of the President, but he does not appear to be expanding his reach beyond his base. People who didn’t like candidate Trump tweeting now find tweets by President Trump are even scarier. Maybe he doesn’t care about broadening his appeal, but I think it would be wise if he did. And to broaden his appeal, he will have to communicate in more than 140 characters. He will have to appear to listen as well as to speak and to speak at length and with heart.

As with any change, some people will show patience toward President Trump, others will have no patience. Some will be skeptical, but silent. Others will be vocally displeased. Much like what happens in any organization when a new executive enters the scene.

What do you think of President Trump’s first one hundred days?

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Should a Mediator Let the Parties Vent?

conflictI attended a mediation training program several months ago in which the question was asked: As a mediator, should I let the parties vent or should I control what they say to each other?

First of all, let’s recognize the absurdity of thinking that a mediator can control what the parties say. A mediator can help the parties shape how they communicate, but the mediator cannot control anything.

But it is a good question to ask whether and how the parties should vent their emotions during a mediation.

I always believed–both as an attorney with clients and witnesses who were sometimes distraught and as a mediator trying to resolve sensitive disputes–that emotions were part of the case and needed to be recognized. Still, how those emotions are dealt with can affect whether the parties will reach agreement. I often found myself in the position of absorbing my client’s venting, or, in a mediation, one of the parties’ venting. I listened to them, and sometimes just having someone listen to them diffused the emotional tension in their conversation and they could move on to settle the case.

Early on, the mediator needs to assess how the parties are communicating. Can they express themselves well? Can they describe their feelings in addition to the facts? Do they listen to each other? How do they react to each other’s statements about their feelings? If the parties are already in a situation that requires mediation, it is quite likely that one or both of them cannot deal with their emotions and/or those of the other party. If they both could address the facts rationally, they would settle the matter themselves. But if they can’t deal with their emotions effectively, the mediator will most likely need to intervene.

How can the mediator intervene?

One way is to hold separate caucuses with the parties. In a caucus, the mediator can listen to the emotional content and help filter it. Then the mediator can coach the party on expressing his or her emotions in a less confrontational or blaming way. Alternatively, the mediator can convey the party’s position through shuttle diplomacy and decide what to share with the other side. Both of these methods can defuse tension. Which to use depends on how capably and quickly the party can learn to express his or her feelings constructively.

Another method to use, particularly when caucusing is impractical, is for the mediator to rephrase the emotional statements in a way that recognizes their validity but doesn’t blame the other party.

So, for example, the mediator might rephrase Employee A’s statement “Employee B is always bad-mouthing me to everyone else in the department” into “When Employee B says something about how you handled a task, you feel he is telling other people you aren’t doing a good job.” When Employee A agrees with this statement (he will likely agree or expand on the statement), then the mediator can turn to Employee B to ask, “Do you mean to imply that Employee A isn’t doing a good job?” Often this will lead to a fruitful discussion about what was really meant.

Emotions have to be considered in any mediation. How they are dealt with will depend on the parties’ communications skills and past relationship. The mediator needs to address the emotions, but must also understand that control is impossible.

When have you had to diffuse emotions during a negotiation?

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Planning and Leadership: You Get What You Plan For

leadership-1714497_1280The title of a recent TLNT article caught my attention—“Leadership Takes a Plan”—so I read it. The article was good (most of the TLNT articles posted on eremedia.com are good), but I was surprised at the direction author Randy Hall took in “Leadership Takes a Plan.” I had expected recommendations for how leaders should communicate with their staffs and organizations.

The leaders I worked for focused on communications, and that has been my focus also. I think of leadership as a hierarchical thing, while Mr. Hall focused on leaders as mentors and developers of people—a very important aspect of leadership. I was somewhat embarrassed to realize how narrow my first reaction to the article’s title had been.

In the article, Mr. Hall says that leaders need a plan for how they will mentor people. Leaders should schedule their mentoring, have a strategy or process for developing people, and measure the results of how protegés develop. All valid points.

I’ve written before about the importance of discretionary time, and I come back to the concept over and over again as I plan my weeks and months and as I make daily choices in how to spend my time. Like Mr. Hall, I believe that if you don’t put things on your calendar, then they must not be important. Scheduling planning time is important to me. I schedule daily (or at least weekly) time to work for long-range projects. And, as Mr. Hall says, it’s important to schedule time to meet with people you are mentoring. Do you have regular meetings set with your protegés?

The strategy for developing people may be more difficult. You probably need individual plans for each person you are actively mentoring. Some might need work on their communications skills, so getting together before and after presentations or other major communications opportunities might be important. Other protegés might be working on their project management skills, so periodic check-ins to discuss their project plans might be needed. And sometimes protegés might not even know you are actively focused on their development (though transparency will probably have a bigger impact), so regular meetings with no set agenda might work.

Lastly, Mr. Hall recommends measuring results. With people development, that can be a difficult task. Still, there are ways to set measurable goals—a certain number of opportunities to present, readiness for the next promotion, favorable reactions from certain managers and executives on a presentation, etc. The point is to think about what success looks like on the person’s development, and then plan your plan to reach that result.

As I’ve reflected on his article, I’ve realized that the point Mr. Hall makes—that you need to plan how you will develop people—is crucial in everything we do. Yes, it is important for developing people. But it is equally important for corporate communications—where I thought initially he was taking his article. And planning is important for accomplishing long-range projects. And for everything else.

With everything you want to get done, you need to articulate what you want to accomplish. Then put it on your calendar, have a strategy, and measure your results.

What do you need to spend some time planning? Do you need to focus on scheduling it, developing a strategy, or measuring results?

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Will Mediators Reveal What the Other Side Says in Caucus?

mediation2During most business mediations, the mediator will at some point break the parties into separate rooms and hold private caucuses with each side. Parties often wonder what the mediator tells each side about what the other says in these private caucuses.

Mediations are confidential proceedings. Except in rare circumstances (such as a party disclosing that he or she intends to commit a crime), the mediator cannot be compelled to disclose what happens during the mediation. So the mediator will not tell anyone outside the mediation about what either party says.

But what about what one party says privately to the mediator? Will that be disclosed to the other side in the dispute?

The answer to this question depends on the ground rules that the parties and the mediator set.

The first place to look is in the mediation agreement that the mediator and the parties typically sign either in advance of the mediation or when the mediation begins. Most mediators will also raise the issue in the opening session, before they start any private caucuses.

But keep in mind that mediators often find that selective disclosure of information from one party to the other will increase the likelihood of settlement. Most mediators have a bias toward wanting to be free to communicate what they think will help resolve the dispute.

There are two general practices:

1. First Approach: The mediator can disclose anything said by one party during a caucus to the other party, unless the disclosing party tells the mediator not to reveal it.

Most mediators tell the parties up front that they will feel free to tell the other side anything that is said in caucus, UNLESS the party tells them not to. If instructed to keep the information confidential, they will do so, until the revealing party says it is all right to reveal the information. That is the easiest practice for the mediator, because they can communicate more freely during private caucuses.

This is the practice that I use, because I believe that full disclosure during a mediation is typically better.

However, it is important to respect the instructions from the revealing party. I mediated one employment case in which the employer had evidence that the employee had breached a company policy (though that wasn’t the reason the employee was fired), but the employer representative wouldn’t let me tell the employee and his attorney about that evidence. I thought this was wrong, because revealing the employer’s knowledge of the employee’s wrongdoing could well have motivated the employee to settle for less. But I followed the employer’s instruction and did not reveal what the employer told me.

I did push back in later caucuses with the employer, but the employer stood firm, so the information was not revealed to the employee during the mediation (which was successful anyway).

2. Second Approach: The mediator will not reveal anything said in caucus to the opposing party unless expressly authorized by the disclosing party to reveal it.

Sometimes mediators tell the parties they will not reveal anything said in caucus without having the express permission of the party revealing the information to disclose it. Some mediators adopt this practice because it is hard to remember what they’ve been instructed not to reveal, so they decide not to reveal anything unless disclosure has been expressly authorized.

Even if the mediator’s practice is not to reveal what the other party said, the mediator remains free to give his or her own interpretation of how the opposing caucus went. So, for example, if the mediator has not been authorized to tell the plaintif that the defendant said this was a final offer, the mediator might still say to the plaintiff that the mediator doesn’t think the defendant has much room to maneuver in reaching a settlement.

Parties should be prepared to explain to the mediator why they don’t want the information revealed. There doesn’t have to be a reason, but a good rationale (e.g., the information is a trade secret, harm to the company if it is revealed would be irreparable, and the opposing party has blabbed inappropriately in the past) might keep the mediator from pushing back in later caucuses with the revealing party, as I did in the employment case described above.

3. The practical result of these two approaches is not that different.

Whichever practice the mediator adopts, the practical result is often the same. Because one issue during the caucus is often deciding how the mediator should approach the next session with the other side—not only the amount of the next settlement proposal, but also the issues that the mediator should stress in making the case to support that offer. This requires a discussion about what should be revealed to the other side. Some mediators will role play how the information might be disclosed to the other side, and the disclosing party agrees with the mediator’s approach.

4. Attorneys and parties should be clear with the mediator about what they do not want communicated.

mediation_7Parties and attorneys who participate in mediations should always feel free to ask the mediator how he or she approaches disclosure of information to the other side.

When they reveal information to the mediator in caucus, if there is any question in a party’s or their attorney’s mind, these participants should raise the issue with the mediator. Ask the mediator what he or she intends to share with the other party. If the party/attorney doesn’t like the mediator’s approach, discuss it. Regardless what the mediator has said up front, the mediator and the disclosing party can and should agree on what will be revealed before each caucus ends.

Mediators are neutrals, which means at the least respecting each party’s desire for circumspection in revealing information to the other side. By discussing the issue openly during a caucus, parties should not later be surprised or upset by what the mediator tells the other side.

What experience do you have with mediators’ use of caucus information in a mediation?

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A Gorilla of a Crisis: Three Lessons for Managers After Harambe’s Death


(Photo: Jeff McCurry/ Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden)

In February 2009, President Obama’s then-Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” The idea behind his comment apparently originated with the economist Paul Romer, who in November 2004 said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

My corollary is that “A crisis can be happen at any time.” And leaders must be prepared for crises, whenever they occur.

I wrote last week about when time is on your side, and when it is not. I didn’t think I’d have a clear, well-publicized example of when time is not on your side so soon after that post.

When a toddler fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo over Memorial Day weekend, the zoo leaders immediately had a crisis on their hands. It was a crisis in which time was not their friend—a human life was at stake. I don’t know who authorized the shot that killed the gorilla, but it was the right thing for the zoo personnel to do.

Of course it was sad—Harambe, a beautiful silverback gorilla in his prime, was acting like gorillas act. He was unintentionally providing the type of demonstration of gorillas’ strength that zoo visitors wanted to see (although none of them expected to see a child harmed). He didn’t deserve to die.

But the zoo personnel had no choice. There was no time to soothe the gorilla, who was banging the little boy about in a concrete-lined pool. There was no time to argue about how the boy got into the gorilla enclosure, or whether the fences were adequate. A human life was at risk, and the most certain way of eliminating the risk was to shoot the gorilla with a kill shot. Good crisis managers can make that call in an instant.

This incident offers three lessons for leaders of any institution, in my opinion:

1. Articulate and discuss in advance your principles for decision-making.

I’ve done some work with an institution that works with animals and the public, similar to the Cincinnati Zoo. That institution made it clear in their policy manual, given to all employees, that human life came first. The animals’ care and comfort were of primary importance, more so than offering the public the show they wanted, but human life and health were paramount to all other concerns.

Under the structure that this institution set out for its employees, the Cincinnati Zoo made the only call possible.

2. Don’t be dissuaded by public opinion; hold firm to your principles.

The Cincinnati Zoo has incurred a lot of wrath for killing Harambe. The negative publicity may have started with PETA, but many others have also spoken against killing the gorilla, which, as noted above, did nothing wrong. The Cincinnati Zoo has appropriately defended itself, explaining why it took the action it did in unapologetic terms.

When you and your employees did what you were supposed to do, explain yourself directly and undefensively. This is one reason to have your policies and principles articulated in advance. If you’re prepared, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable with your explanation. The time to hash through your principles is before a crisis, not during.

3. Take the time to learn from each crisis.

After every crisis or near-crisis in which your principles are tested, it’s important to consider again whether any of your policies or procedures (or even principles) should change. No one is infallible, and we should refine and adapt as time passes and we face more complicated and nuanced situations. I am sure the Cincinnati Zoo has (or will soon) conduct some type of after-action review.

Other institutions can and should also learn from the incident involving poor Harambe. Where do your values conflict, and how will you prioritize them?

I’ve written this post from the point of view of institutional leaders. But it applies to us as individuals as well. Each of us has our own personal beliefs and values. How do you articulate them? How do you rank them? What do you do when they conflict? You should have some idea in advance, so that you do not dither when time is not on your side.

What would you add regarding the importance of being prepared for a crisis?

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Beyond Integrity, Leaders Need Ability and Persuasiveness

sekulic-Vetta-Getty Images

Sekulic-Vetta-Getty Images

Last week I wrote about the importance of leaders having integrity. It’s a baseline that followers must feel they can trust their leader. But we’ve all known people of great moral fiber whom we wouldn’t follow anywhere—they don’t have other critical leadership attributes. So integrity is a foundational leadership competency, but insufficient by itself for success.

While other writers might group leadership competencies differently, in my mind, leadership requires skills in two main categories—ability and persuasiveness. In turn, ability comes in two forms—(1) knowledge of the enterprise, and (2) strategic skills and visioning.

Here’s what I mean by these categories:

1. Ability: Knowledge of the Enterprise

The first ability leaders must have is specific knowledge of their own enterprise. Most people begin their careers as tactical workers. They handle specific tasks. If they are successful in the minutiae of a role, they get bigger jobs. They begin to learn more about the organization in which they work.

To lead the organization, they need to understand how its parts fit together—its internal workings. They also need to understand the organization’s place in the world—its suppliers, its customers, its economic and political and social environment.

Over time, as employees’ jobs become broader, their roles become more integral to shaping the organization, rather than carrying out its daily work. Some people make the transition well, others do not. To be successful as a leader, this transition to systematic thinking is critical.

How, then, do leaders who move into a new organization at the top learn about the workings of their new enterprise? Quickly, one hopes. And some are successful, and others fail at this initial critical responsibility. This is why so much is written about the “first ninety days” of a new leader’s assignment.

While they are learning about their new organization, transplanted leaders must rely on their more general strategic skills and visioning, as described in the next section.

2. Ability: Strategic Skills and Visioning

Many of us remember President George H.W. Bush’s reference to “the vision thing.” The Senate bio of this President called vision “a clarity of ideas and principles that could shape public opinion and influence Congress”, and says that he was criticized for not having it.

Business and non-profit leaders need to have “the vision thing” just as much as political leaders do. They need to know where they want to take their organization. And along with vision, they need to have and idea of the strategies that are likely to get them there successfully.

As described above, leaders must see how the parts of an organization fit together and how the enterprise relates to the world around it. They must understand what is working and what isn’t in the current environment. They need to see the threats to the organization and how it must evolve to increase its effectiveness in the future.

As the TechTarget website states:

“Strategic management is the continuous planning, monitoring, analysis and assessment of all that is necessary for an organization to meet its goals and objectives.”

And BusinessDictionary.com defines strategic management as:

“The systematic analysis of the factors associated with customers and competitors (the external environment) and the organization itself (the internal environment) to provide the basis for maintaining optimum management practices. The objective of strategic management is to achieve better alignment of corporate policies and strategic priorities.”

So leaders who have a vision must be able to put that vision put against the real world—both inside and outside the organization—and understand how to get from here to there. These skills are applicable to any enterprise, though the details are specific to the particular organization at hand.

3. Persuasiveness

The other critical competency for leaders to have is strong communications skills, so that they can persuade people to follow them. There are many communications styles that can be effective, from charismatic to quiet, but the important thing is that others in the organization be convinced that the leader knows what he or she is talking about and has a strong sense of where the enterprise should be headed.

Leaders must be able to work with people both up and down the organization. Even executives have people to whom they are accountable, and they must be convincing to these stakeholders inside and outside the organization. Middle managers spend even more of their time working up and down the enterprise, as well as developing their strategic abilities.


I hope it is obvious that all these competencies work together. Integrity helps to persuasiveness, as do knowledge of the enterprise and a strong vision for the future. A powerful vision cannot be developed without specific knowledge of the organization.

When have you worked for a leader who had it all—integrity, ability, and persuasiveness?

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Effective Communication in the Workplace

524 vector open  stock mtg

A student in a management program at a local university contacted me recently to ask my opinion on Human Resources communications. Many of her questions were far broader than HR communications and actually related to all corporate communications.

One question she asked was “What constitutes effective communication in the workplace?”

Here was my answer:

Communication must at all times be accurate and courteous. It doesn’t matter if it’s between supervisor and subordinate, between co-workers, between employees and HR, between leadership and employees, or between insiders and outsiders. At all times, in all communications, written and oral, employees at all levels must state the situation accurately and clearly, and they must be civil in the language and tone they use.

I always have told people that every communication should be stated or written as if the CEO, a newspaper reporter, and your mother were all hearing or seeing it. It is even more true today than it used to be that anything you say or write or do can and will be used against you. So be careful.

Obviously, some communications are less formal than others. But the rules of accuracy and civility should always be followed.

Readers, what do you think? What should I have added?

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Responding to High-Conflict People During Disputes

On April 15, 2015, the Wall Street Journal ran an article by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan entitled “Mind Your Email Manners.”  In this article, Ms. Tan recommended more formality in emails than many of us use, as well as brevity in what we say. A workshop I attended later that week on Approaches for High Conflict Disputes, offered by Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute, reinforced that message for me. Part of Mr. Eddy’s presentation dealt with how to send BIFF responses—Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm responses—to persons who are difficult to deal with.

I think I generally follow these principles in my written communications. As an attorney, I learned early to be direct and accurate in my communications. In dealing with corporate leaders in a variety of contexts, I learned to be brief and to ask directly for what I needed from them. In all communications I strove to be courteous and respectful.

But as I lauded myself on my strong communications skills, I remembered the many first drafts I wrote to opposing counsel, in which I lambasted them for their stupidity in opposing my client’s position. I used to type these drafts so furiously my fingers hurt when I was finished. My later drafts usually sounded more reasonable, but I cannot say that I didn’t leave some caustic phrases in the final versions of these letters that got mailed.

I can still dash off an angry letter, which I have to edit before sending. Clearly, BIFF responses are not my default style, no matter how much I tell myself otherwise.

gmail iconIn today’s world, with communications flying back and forth in seconds, it is even more important that we step back before sending our initial drafts of correspondence, particularly when we are dealing with difficult people—whom we might define as anyone with whom we have a conflict. I have found that it is useful to draft my email responses in a Word document, and only past the final version into the email program before I push the “send” button. Another approach is to delete all the recipients’ names from the reply until I am satisfied with the message I want to send.

Although the workshop I attended was focused on “high conflict” individuals—who are often people with personality disorders or other psychological problems—it occurred to me during the workshop that all of us can at times become “high conflict.” All of us have times when we are emotionally involved in a problem and our flight/fight/freeze instincts take over our brains. Some people live in this state more than others, but we all go there at times.

So it is always important to keep all of our communications as rationally based as possible. We should be Brief, Information, Friendly and Firm in our letters and emails, regardless of the circumstances, to minimize the likelihood that we will escalate the situation rather than defuse it.

9781936268726_frontcover__50452.1419805581.500.659Mr. Eddy also recommends that we not Admonish, Advise, or Apologize in our responses to difficult people. While there might be times when apologies or advice are appropriate in normal business communications, his theories are worth considering when we are in the middle of a dispute, as I was in my communications with opposing counsel I mentioned.

The bottom line is a question that Mr. Eddy recommends we ask about our initial drafts—how is the receiving party likely to react? That question applies to any situation. We should reflect on what impact our communications are having while we still have a chance to change them. Seek advice from a good coach or colleague if you have doubts about what to say or how to say it.

For more on Bill Eddy’s BIFF responses techniques, see the High Conflict Institute website, which offers many free resources for mediators and other professionals engaged in dispute resolution. He has a book entitled BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, which also provides more information.

When have you encountered a problem because of a communication you sent?

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Crisis Management: Lessons from Ebola for All Employers

ebolaUntil a few days ago, I didn’t think the Ebola crisis was likely to have much impact on the American workforce. I still don’t think that most U.S. employers will have to deal with Ebola exposure on their premises. But as I listen to the news, I have come to believe that there are lessons that all employers can learn from what has happened since the first Ebola patient was identified in Dallas.

First, let me emphasize that employers in the healthcare field do need to prepare immediately for the possibility of their employees being exposed to Ebola. They need a plan to implement at a moment’s notice. I am not experienced in dealing with infectious diseases, so I won’t presume to tell healthcare managers how to address the risks to their employees.

Second, many workplaces have had to deal with health scares in the recent past, from the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) to the 2009 swine flu (H1-N1) pandemic. Even if Ebola does not spread, other health issues will impact employers in the future. We all need to be prepared.

pulsenet-team-300pxFor the general employer population, here are some questions we should be asking:

On Health Scares:

1. What should we do if employees report exposure to Ebola or another infectious disease? Do we quarantine them? Will we pay them while they cannot work? What monetary and non-monetary support will we provide them and their families or help them obtain from other community resources?

2. Will we change our travel requirements for employees in response to health concerns? If so, how will we get necessary work and communications done with less travel?

3. How will we address our employees’ fears?

4. What has worked and not worked in the responses from the Centers for Disease Control, from the Dallas hospital where Ebola was first found in the U.S., and from the White House? How will we prepare to do better if we are faced with impact from a pandemic in our workplace?

5. Do we know who the local authorities are dealing with health disasters in our area? How do we build channels of communication now?

On Non-Health Crises:

6. If our next disaster is not Ebola (and it probably won’t be Ebola), what is the most likely risk to my company’s employees? How are we working to reduce that risk?

7. If something deadly happens in our workplace, how will we communicate? What audiences will we need to talk to, and what messages does each audience need to hear? Who will be our spokesperson?

It is the responsibility of leaders in every organization to reduce the number of “unknown unknowns.” Only by asking questions such as these, can you be prepared. You may not know what will cause a crisis in your organization, but something will. “How might we handle that?” is a far better thing for leaders to say than “That will never happen here.”

For other posts on crisis management, click here and here.

What is your organization doing to reduce its risks? What are you doing?

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Hanlon’s Razor Explains (Almost) Everything

How did I live almost six decades without hearing about Hanlon’s Razor? I read an article in The Wall Street Journal on September 25, 2014, titled The Source of Bad Writing, by Steven Pinker, which described this theorem. Hanlon’s Razor and its corollaries explain almost everything in life.

Hanlon’s Razor states:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Although no one is certain where this saying came from—variations of the adage have been attributed to persons as diverse as William James, Albert Einstein, and Robert Heinlein—it does explain a lot. One variation states:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.

If you want to be even more forgiving, here is a more complete series of postulates derived from Hanlon’s Razor. These statements may not be provable, but I believe them to be true:

  • Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.
  • Never assume stupidity when ignorance will suffice.
  • Never assume ignorance when forgivable error will suffice
  • Never assume error when information you hadn’t adequately accounted for will suffice.

See RationalWiki.org, which cites here, which links here.

In The Wall Street Journal article the theorem was used to explain why so much writing is bad. According to author Steven Pinker, bad writing results from knowledgeable people simply not understanding that not everyone knows what they know. He says:

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows—that they haven’t mastered the argot of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

What is required, according to Pinker, is that writers get feedback from their readers to find out what is unintelligible in their writing.

How many times have you thought someone had it in for you? I think it is human nature to jump to this conclusion when we are thwarted by bosses and co-workers, spouses and annoying relatives, bad drivers and government clerks. The reality is that the people we encounter in life are simply ignorant or have not considered our point of view, just as we are probably not considering theirs when we jump to the conclusion that they want to harm us.

In my own life, I can apply Hanlon’s Razor and its corollaries to:

  • The idiot cab driver who cut me off on the freeway yesterday, who probably just didn’t see my vehicle when he realized his lane was ending.
  • The parties in a mediation who can’t resolve their dispute, when I can see clearly what they ought to do.
  • My family members, when they again do something I have asked them many times not to do. They probably just forgot.
  • My nemeses, when they behave in ways seemingly designed to thwart me, but probably are just pursuing their own misguided agendas.

I’m not saying that there aren’t times when people want to hurt you. But those times are far fewer than we first believe. Now that I know about Hanlon’s Razor, I’ll try to remember that it’s ignorance and stupidity that causes problems, not necessarily malice.

Can Hanlon’s Razor explain some of the problems in your life?


Filed under Human Resources, Management, Mediation, Workplace, Writing