For those interested in issues and crisis management best practices, this impossibly long federal election has provided a very instructive lens that’s equally relevant for private and public sector environments.
Issues management, as the words suggest, begins with an assessment of what puts the enterprise at risk. One hopes all federal parties have a playbook in their respective war rooms that includes worst-case scenarios and how to respond to them. At the very least, they should have teams charged with this responsibility.
So it would be reasonable to assume the Conservative party had contemplated the possibility that Duffy’s trial might go sideways with unexpectedly negative developments. They might also have taken into account the possibility of global economic events beyond Canada’s control but with significant impact on Canadian markets.
In most organizations, smart people responsible for various business components can pretty quickly brainstorm their specific risk situations with good accuracy and completeness. It’s a valuable exercise, especially if rapid and effective response is a priority—as of course it should be.
So, many pundits found it surprising the Conservative party appeared unprepared for both these events when they occurred, seemingly a lifetime ago. Some thought the Conservatives didn’t adjust their messages to new realities, continuing to use old ones when they no longer made sense, undermining credibility. Evidence of an alternate narrative to distract voters was notable by its absence. It’s possible the brain trust concluded the best response was to do little, on the assumption voters have short memories. If that’s the case, we’ll find out if they’re right in about three weeks.
The other huge issue so far in this election season is the Syrian refugee crisis. While not quite a black swan event (one so unlikely no one could be expected to anticipate it), it would be fair if this crisis didn’t appear in any party’s playbook.
That it occurred speaks to another essential element of issues and crisis management: the ability to be nimble and adjust quickly to unexpected circumstances. Here too it can be argued the Conservative party appeared flat-footed and slow, missing entirely the need for an empathetic response, deferring instead to a security track that was totally out-of-step with the public mood. It took too long to catch up.
All parties have had to deal with candidates whose past actions did not conform to current standards. The parties have been variously effective in dispatching these troublesome representatives, proving the point it’s hard work staying in front of bad news.
Good preparation for bad events and the ability to be nimble are not inconsistent; both are essential for effective issues management. They have in common discipline and commitment to a process that is familiar and practiced, and not abandoned when the going gets tough. Critical success factors are knowing who the decision-makers are, what their roles are and what the foundational narrative is.
Staying the course but course correcting when circumstances dictate makes for effective campaigns and effective reputation management in any sector. Yet, it’s interesting how frequently the rigour political parties, like many organizations, bring to other aspects of business disappears entirely when things go awry. How effectively all parties established the narratives they planned to run on, adapted as needed without betraying their core positions and enhanced their standing with Canadians will be known when the election finally, finally crosses the finish line. Here’s hoping the conclusion in not inconclusive.