Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

“Out of control” is picking up steam in Washington, and it’s worse than reality TV. It’s using social media to confuse, not communicate. It’s about a president who believes that keeping people guessing is a legitimate leadership strategy. And it’s turning out to be the best example yet of how communication and media chaos can destroy any sense of social order and well-being. Make no mistake. Words really do matter. And the words of top leaders matter a lot.

Just think about it. Periodic bi-partisan White House meetings repeatedly turn out to be no more than reality TV. Twitter feeds always follow to disrupt and create chaos. Then more surprise pronouncements add to the chaos. And in the midst of this mess cabinet members and staff are doing high security work without clearances and squandering taxpayer money on luxury travel and purchases. And this is a White House where complete loyalty is demanded by the person who is creating the mess. No wonder resignations are rapidly mounting up. Constant turmoil eventually becomes unbearable.

Sometime around mid-career I found myself teaching management communication in banks, manufacturing companies, public utilities, and all manner of institutions. We frequently talked about crisis management. But I must admit it was always in the context of a rational CEO with a team of experienced managers developing responses so that the organization would be legitimately seen as knowing what it’s doing! When the purpose of the leader, however, is to create chaos… all rational bets are off!

Ethical leadership and honest teamwork “earn” loyalty. No need to demand it. But when loyalty is demanded and communication is in disarray everyone ends up focusing on their own survival. In private business, trustees can fix such situations. In today’s Washington, there are no rational fixes

In the past, I wrote that city leaders usually become bipartisan and pragmatic because their citizens are right there in their face demanding action. When all is said and done, immigration, homegrown terrorism, police-community relations, drug problems, air pollution, clean water, healthcare, election districts, industry closings, and unemployment, all end up playing themselves out locally.

In the end, maybe the bottom-up pragmatism of cities and NOT the top-down chaos of Washington is our best way forward. If so, when cities show they can produce results, we should pressure Washington into giving them the resources they need.

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The simple laptop accelerated the development of global markets and enabled those who knew how to use technology to become competitive from any place in the world. As a result, globalization has become an established fact, and political ideologues have had little to do with it. It’s mostly about technology and economics.

  1. The digital technology revolution changed the speed and direction of the international economy which rapidly changed the dynamics, relationships and opportunities of businesses, institutions and nations.
  2. Even the smallest businesses and institutions now could easily find foreign customers and clients… and thereby become global enterprises that are not limited by borders.
  3. Admittedly many companies that move operations and plants to other countries are seeking cheaper labor. But many are also becoming global businesses, ones that operate beyond the boundaries of their countries.
  4. As a consequence most of these companies will not return. And those that do will automate rather than replace lost jobs.
  5. Like it or not, governments and institutions are already operating in a global economy. Their futures will be shaped more by unavoidable economic forces than by the whims of individual autocrats. Professional diplomacy between governments and public diplomacy between citizens and organizations are absolutely essential in such a world.
  6. It is true that President Trump’s base has not benefited enough from this global economy, and this has been ignored by the majority of a polarized and politicized Washington.
  7. But more focus on community college education and better training programs for a technology driven world are the only viable solutions. Therefore, supporting training and education budgets with adequate resources is the most productive thing Washington can do now.
  8. As higher education becomes a global industry, international leadership development, better cross-cultural understanding, and the soft-power of citizen diplomacy will gradually produce a wiser world. Many institutions will also find themselves focusing more of their research and consulting talent on solving global problems… big problems such as poverty, disease, climate change, clean energy, water shortage, space exploration, nation rebuilding, and many more.

Reopening old coal mines, bringing back assembly lines, expanding offshore oil and gas exploration, eliminating clean air and water regulations, closing borders, selling off national parks, and restricting trade… none of these are viable solutions in a technology driven world. Rather the future will be in preparing, educating, and training American citizens for a completely new and digitally transforming world economy.

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Most every international, national, or community issue has a very strong local component. Be it political polarization, terrorism, or neighborhood school effectiveness, every solution begins with thoroughly understanding the audience.

Politicians must understand their voters’ needs, and those of their donors. Each is a separate audience. Education officials must understand the neighborhoods and families that shape each student. And understanding terrorists begins by understanding the neighborhoods that provide them psychological safety and time.

You will therefore find political polarization in districts that have been designed to embrace it. You will find school success stories in schools that understand their neighborhoods and families. And you will find various stages of homegrown terrorism in neighborhoods that provide them shelter.

It simply follows that if you want to bring broader choice back to elections you must work locally to change how political districts are designed. For example, you might try launching an organization something like “Citizens for Fair Elections,” raising awareness for the problem while focusing on changing those districts. Or if you want to improve the public schools you might try launching a project to better understand the neighborhoods and cultures that surround each school. And if you want to end home-grown terrorism you might try learning more about the neighborhoods and local cultures that end up sheltering it.

First, thoroughly understand the audience. It’s always the point of departure for finding real solutions. And most big issue solutions are very local.



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Have you ever worked in an organization where expert researchers were doing important scientific work and their bosses banned their use of words customarily used in their field when reporting findings? What could be the point of this, unless it is to muddy their conclusions?

The Washington Post recently reported that the Trump administration informed the Center for Disease Control (one of the world’s foremost public health research organizations) that its researchers could not use certain words in their reports. These words are: diversity, entitlement, evidence-based, fetus, science-based, transgender, and vulnerable.

Can you imagine researchers investigating the impact of the West Nile or Zika Virus on fetuses not able to use word fetus in a report?  Or a researcher investigating the impact of pest control chemicals on humans and animals not able to use the terms science-based or evidence-based? Certainly smart people can find their way around such censorship, but can they do so and keep their jobs in such a political environment?

Is this an attempt to discredit important scientific investigators?  Or is it actually the beginning of an attack on the integrity of science itself? Put another way, why should scientists ever have their report vocabulary freedom taken away?

When increasing numbers of highly qualified professionals depart government service out of frustration only plutocrats and politicos will be there to oversee diplomacy, education, health, housing, energy, clean air, disaster recovery, and many other critical programs? And if gutting institutions and programs continues in this way, soon there will be no experienced experts or talented new graduates willing to consider government service as a career?

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Communication lessons learned:

Experience and research teach that intended messages are often not what audiences receive. Therefore, what a monument communicates will depend on what its’ various audiences want to receive. And even then, that will likely change when situational, historical or political circumstances change.

When a monument is intended to mark a historical event, it should best be placed in a museum-like environment where context can help reinforce its history lesson purpose. A clearly defined indoor or outdoor museum space with historical captions and explanations is the best approach. Otherwise, any monument will mean different things to different people, and there is no way to change that.

So in the case of today’s monument controversy, unless they are already located in a museum-like space, some people will be thinking either positively or negatively about a divided country, white supremacists and Nazis will have racist and pro-slavery responses, others may simply see a message of hate, and only a very few will see the monuments as purely historical. And the strong emotion produced by all these different responses will very likely lead to hostile demonstrations, and some of those certainly may turn violent.

For better or worse? Simply put, context clearly helps define how most messages are received. If a statement is intended to be historical, a clearly defined historical context is essential. Otherwise, most people will only “hear what they want to hear.”




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Many years ago I used a film called “Meetings Bloody Meetings” in some management training. It was a hilarious look at why so many people say they hate meetings, and it demonstrated many of the problems associated with making meetings productive.

I was reminded about this film and its lessons when I overheard a reporter talking on television about a meeting he attended in the White House Oval Office. Apparently the president briefed reporters with numerous staff members constantly wandering in and out. The meeting was not well-organized and took place in a confusing and chaotic environment. The reporter came out not sure about why he was there.

VIP’s have been invited to the White House for meetings that obviously were not called to use their experience and expertise to find workable solutions to complex problems. Rather they simply appeared to be awkward gatherings of important people to hear a brief report from the president, give a few informal reactions, and then be photographed.

Effective meetings are complicated and require expertise. My training film showed meetings that were called at times people were not prepared to listen, or were confused about the purpose. The film also depicted the consequences of inadequate preparation, the absence of an agenda, poor group facilitation, missing key people, people present without a role, needed expertise that was not there, distracting noise nearby, and much more.

Successful information giving, problem-solving, planning, and evaluation meetings all have their own planning, facilitation, and follow-up requirements. Meeting management expertise is therefore a requirement for everyone involved in advancing institutions, causes, and yes even cities, states, and countries.

Sadly, after 100 days of governing many observers are still wondering if critical domestic and foreign policy decision-making meetings at the White House are engaging the best experts and incorporating even a few of the most essential planning and process requirements.

Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson said it best… when he said, “Let’s make America smart again!”

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Somewhere in the avalanche of pundit commentaries following the inaugural address I remember ‘hearing the words “Trump is more interested in America’s competitive interests than in our founding values.”  From my perspective as a communicator, that characterization rang true.

In fact, listening carefully to Trump’s actual content it seemed to me that he made “America first” his primary value, and possibly his only one. He asserted that coming together was important but there was no empathetic content or even tone there to support it.

He made firm promises to literally fix all of America’s infrastructure problems… from roads, to overpasses, to bridges, to tunnels, to organizations. All of them.  He also said all the problems of the inner cities… from poverty, to drugs, to police violence, and all that “carnage” will be fixed immediately. And he further asserted that beginning right now it will be “America first” in all dealings around the world.

Thinking as a communication analyst, experience teaches me that with speeches like this audiences will fall into at least three response categories: First, there are those who see these pronouncements as huge over statements; they don’t expect much of this to actually happen; but they are willing to hope that some improvements will be made. Second, there are those who are in really dire situations and actually do expect significant improvements in their personal lives. And finally, there are those who see all of this a pure theatre; they see the lies, personal attacks and vulgarities of the campaign as character traits, and therefore find that the tone of “America first” so aggressively stated to be a threat to the world order, and maybe even world peace.

If poles were completely reliable we could use audience research to see how many people are in each of these categories. We could then determine each category’s preferred media, and we could contact each of them… learning from and responding to interactive dialogue. In this way pragmatic problem solvers could try to work gradually at adjusting each overstatement to doable improvements.

But alas, the campaign proved that our polling is not yet accurate enough to accomplish this. And extreme polarization in congress currently continues without any hope of collaborative pragmatic planning. So from a communication perspective, we are beyond “calculated risk” well in to “high risk” territory.

Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” argues that keeping the other guys guessing is good. But the entire history of foreign policy, diplomacy, and at least two world wars would warn that this approach could result in international chaos, or even worse.



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