As a Type A who wants to get from point A to point B quickly, I’m typically not a fan of road trips – am more of a direct flight kind of traveler. However, recent road trips to Wisconsin and Tennessee for husband Mike’s Half Ironman events had me appreciating the open road and seeing life in a different light.
While humming along I-57 in Illinois and mesmerized by the miles and miles of farmland and wide open spaces, my mind wandered to work – in a good way. I couldn’t help but think about how helping our clients manage issues that spark negative attention both inside and outside the organization was a lot like taking a road trip. Take a journey with me, and you’ll see how.
Whether it’s a badly behaved employee, upset resident or social media firestorm, managing an issue is a journey that requires the right navigational tools, flexibility and a whole lot of patience. No matter the distance you need to cover to manage an issue – whether it’s a short jaunt across state or a cross country trips covering hundreds of miles – it’s important to always use these tools and strategies:
- Road map: Lay out where you’re going/what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to get there/do this before you start your issue management journey. Time is of the essence when an issue crops up, so don’t waste time stuck in neutral. Pull the right people in right away and get planning so you can hit the road running on all cylinders.
- Follow directions and detours: Lean on your key messages and issues management protocol – and be nimble when road conditions change. That may mean taking another pass at your messaging or rethinking your social media strategy if it’s not resonating with stakeholders.
- Ask for directions: Make sure key stakeholders – both internal and external – are actively engaged in conversations around what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to do it. No one person has all the answers. No one – not even the person at the top.
- Pay attention to everyone on the road: Keep all audiences – both internal and external – in mind as you craft your communications and determine the best platforms to get your message out there. Don’t let the loud truck barreling down the road suck up all the attention – all voices matter and need to be considered in your response.
- Enjoy the journey – not just the destination: Take notes and be open to listening and learning along the way. Even with a road map and tons of experience, every issue offers a chance to learn, grow and get better.
- Take breaks: Don’t stay plugged in to media coverage and social media 24/7 – and don’t let negative headlines and social media muddy your mind. Just like we need to stretch our legs during long trips, our brains need a break from the constant barrage of information, especially when it’s negative. Do, however, stay focused on your road map at all times.
- Recap: After a trip, Mike and I like to name our top 3-5 favorite moments as a way to memorialize precious time spent together. Bringing the issue management team back together as soon as possible to debrief your response and how it was received by all audiences is a great way to learn what went well, what didn’t and what needs to be tweaked for next time.
Even with the right tools and strategies, issues management won’t always be a smooth trip. You’ll no doubt come across challenging conditions, bad drivers and frustrating moments. But if you stick with your road map and keep your destination in mind, you’ll get there safely and with your reputation and relationships with stakeholders intact.