It is a mantra among just about everyone that we must speak with one voice during times of crisis and uncertainty. It is also a mantra among just about everyone that we should speak with one voice during times of certainty and non-crises. One voice is always justified in the name of consistency, to reduce anticipated public confusion, and if we are being honest, it’s done because the larger organization does not trust some folks to get it right when difficult topics come up. Thus, top-down talking points and no deviation from the core message. The problem, as Peter Sandman points out, is that when you speak with one voice, there is a predictable and increased interest in what those other voices might have to say.
Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.
--James MacGregor Burns, Leadership
Leader's Intent came to the incident management community from the military. It's a great concept, built around the idea that under the pressures of a complex and dynamic environment, centralized command and control will break down. When that happens, everyone needs to know the expectations and strategy of the incident so they can continue to work with the big picture in mind. A shared intent empowers everyone to work towards the common goals.
Last week, the Salt Lake Tribune cut their newsroom staff from 90 to 56 and announced they will stop publishing statewide news sections and reduce content in other sections. The Denver Post announced they will drop 30 positions. The Boston Herald recently went from 240 employees to 175. The reduction of reporters is a trend that has been going on since the digital became ascendant.
In 2000, there were 65,900 reporters in the United States, but by 2015, there were 45,800 reporters and their salaries had cumulatively diminished over those years to fall behind the inflation rate. Take broadcast reporters out of the equation, and pay for reporters is below the national average. The decline in job numbers fell mostly on the newspaper side, but local radio also took a big hit.
Every incident management team has an equilibrium--a balance, a state of mind--where maximum efficiency is reached, maximum effort is possible, and stress is maximally managed.
Think of it as spinning plate. If everything is in balance, the plate spins smoothly but once the balance is upset, wobbles ensue. Wobbles have a nasty tendency to quickly become more dramatic and are difficult to return to a balanced state. We've all probably been on wobbly incidents and it is not a good feeling. The stress increases and the incident issues do not receive the best thinking the IMT can bring to bear.
Well, this blog is three weeks old so it seems like a good time to ask for feedback.
How are we doing? Any criticisms, problems, trials, or difficulties? Any topics you'd like to see addressed?
The next three scheduled posts cover challenges brought forth by changes in the reporter profession, how good internal communications lead to a balanced IMT, and my issues with Leader's Intent. I'm also working on a "Speak With One Voice" post and plan to do a future series on media briefings.
I've already figured out that I can precisely plan posts, but depending on how I'm feeling on any particular day, my whims can get the better of me. So, the above list will likely change via addition, subtraction, delay, or whether the dog wants to play.
Thanks for reading!
The Wildland Fire community borrows frequently from other areas, but has established a culture unlike any other in the response field. As part of that culture, we have a certain way of communicating, even to the point where cliches specific to Wildland Fire have developed.
PIOs occasionally ask me for advice. Even if they don't ask, here's the advice I give in part or whole to those who may want to stand up in front of a group or do media interviews:
1. Be true to yourself. The easiest way to lose credibility is to pretend to be someone else. People will know right away. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
2. Be humble. The ancient Greeks wrote a lot about hubris for a reason.
3. Be honest. Albert Einstein's quote applies to our work: “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
Occasional thoughts on incident response, crisis communications, wildland fire, and other topics.
Docendo disco, scribendo cogito.
Copyright © Jim Whittington, 2019.