Schools in Crisis : Why Schools Administrators Should Continue To Be Afraid … Very Afraid

School predatory sexual abuse scandals continue to be a “hot” issue for decades for educational institutions. Schools can be a Petri dish of opportunity for those who seek to abuse or exploit young people, much like youth sports, summer camps, church groups, etc. How it is handled — whether it happened last week or many years ago — is critical to an institution’s reputation and relationships for decades to come.

It can feel unfair to have a school condemned for something that happened decades ago, when no one currently on staff, the board, or others were present. It can be frustrating to have a pristine institution painted with in broad-brush strokes, blemished just because something happened elsewhere. It can be horrifying to watch an institution’s reputation implode because of the actions of one individual.

There many examples of how not to handle these situations. Many administrations have chosen to keep their heads down, praying that nothing happens on their watch. But it is their responsibility to reduce the risk to their organization now and in the future — not just while in positions of responsibility.

It takes guts and a real concern for the future to scrub the institution for current or historical missteps, misdeeds or outright crimes. To face them, own them and do the right thing now. Tearing off the band-aid, acknowledging what went wrong, addressing the pain and then making things right is the only way to assure that an organization now and in the future will be understood as one that truly cares about its students and doing the right thing.

There will be those on the Board, as well as alums and staff who will react in horror: “why are you bringing this to light? Why would you voluntarily acknowledge something like this? This was decades ago and no one cares?” Ah, but they do. Somewhere, someone is dealing with the consequences of the decisions made by educational institution and their leaders.

If you educational leaders care about their school, then they need to stand up for the right thing now: Do a cleanse that goes back to the beginning and examine anything that can be found; Talk to those who were involved, document what happened and why, and start talking about it in ways that show an enlightenment that proves that your school will never again allow, never tolerate, never cover up, never sweep under the rug something so hideous.

Will it be bumpy? Yes. Will it raise questions? Of course. Will these schools be setting the best example for their students, their faculty – their community and other schools? No question. But, will the school that does the right thing be better off for it in the long run? Absolutely. And should you have a plan of action for how to handle, who and when to inform, how to talk about things? No Brainer!

 

Stacey Smith/ssmith@jjwpr.com

Internal Communication Is King: Kelly Ripa/Michael Strahan Controversy Is Case In Point

For years, JJ&W has counseled its clients, often anxious to rush out the door of external communication with whatever news they have, that their first stop needs to be communication to any internal audiences affected by that news.  It’s the priority.  And it’s common courtesy.  Period.

And we don’t stop with asking them to communicate with their employees – all of their employees, including the part-time flight attendants in the airlines, the cafeteria workers in the schools and the receptionists (especially the receptionists) at the desks of the Fortune 50 companies, who are likely going to be fielding the calls about the news when it gets out.  Go deeper than that.  In the case of the schools, think of your Board members, your parents, your alumni, your volunteers, your coaches of sports teams…even the vendors who are considered your business partners.  There is an easy way to determine who should be told before the rest of the world hears the news.  Think to yourself, if you were that employee, that volunteer, or that coach, wouldn’t you want to hear this from the organization you’re connected to before everyone else does?

Given that as criteria, it’s truly bizarre why Disney and ABC executives did not figure out that Kelly Ripa – the co-host of “Live” – would not deserve the courtesy of finding out that her co-host Michael Strahan was going to be leaving the show to go full-time at Good Morning America, where he is currently working part-time, in advance of everyone else.  Their rationale?  “She’s going to be upset no matter when she finds out.”  Perhaps, but what they forgot to think about was how they would feel if they were in her shoes and how much more upset she would be about the lack of communication and common courtesy extended to her in a place she has worked for over 2 decades.  So she gave them some time to think about what they had done while she took a few unplanned days off, as they scrambled for substitute co-hosts and flew their highest-level executives in to deliver a personal apology.

Kelly’s re-entry to the show today (on April 26th) was beautifully executed and appeared very genuine, and she delivered it to an audience that showed her the love and support she deserved with a standing ovation that went on until she finally shut it down to make her statement.

After acknowledging in a very honest way that she had taken some time off to process the news and really think about what she wanted to say in response (with some humorous comments about ABC likely having snipers with tranquilizer darts if she went “off message”), she talked about the fact that this situation had started “a much greater conversation about communication and consideration and most importantly, respect in the workplace.”  Amen to that!  She went on to talk about her longevity with the show and that it was a place that felt like family to her.  And all of us could imagine what it would feel like if family kept such an important piece of information from us.  It wouldn’t feel good.

She ended by acknowledging the personal apology by the parent company and the happiness she felt about the new opportunity for Michael – and he reciprocated with a heartfelt response.  If there was tension there, it didn’t show, and they went diving into the entertainment portion of the show with their usual carefree back-and-forth banter.  So it ended happily, at least for now.   The proof will be in the pudding when her contract comes up for renewal.

The lesson for the leaders of any organization – be it of a national television show, a corporation or a school – is really as simple as the Golden Rule.  Treat others the way you would like to be treated.  Period.  Internal communication will always be, and should be, your priority for news that impacts members of your internal family.

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com

The Power of Triggering Events

When we talk about motivating behavior change, we tell people that simply making them aware of something rarely drives them to that behavior.

They usually need a triggering event – whether it is naturally occurring, like a time of year or an anniversary – or “manufactured” – something the organization does – to gently push stakeholders toward a behavior. The possible exception to this is advertising during the holidays, when people are already poised and ready to deliver the ultimate desired behavior in a retailer’s
eyes…buying merchandise!

Even with the naturally occurring triggering event of the holidays, though, companies are creating “manufactured triggering events” to drive behavior in the form of sales, coupons, emails, apps that entitle the shopper to discounts etc. Once they get you into the store to purchase what you came for, of course, their ultimate desired behavior is that you make some spontaneous additional purchases of cool stuff that catches your eye.

New Years as a triggering event? Everyone in the personal training/fitness facility world knows that New Years is the perfect triggering event for signing people up for health and fitness programs…since they have probably just made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, train for a specific event or just lead a
healthier lifestyle.   (Personally, I try to avoid going to the gym at peak hours during January  because it is packed! I wait until February to resume my normal routine,  knowing that even the best-intentioned folks will have trouble sticking to their newly-adopted behavior without some positive reinforcement to keep them
going).

In our business, the New Year is a triggering event for our clients to finalize budgets, conduct strategic planning and re-evaluate their activities from the past year … what’s been working and what hasn’t?

This is the time of year that we like to remind them how JJ&W can be helpful in many areas beyond our crisis communication work…including (but not limited to) research, strategic planning and employee communications. The intermediate behavior we want is for them to think of us when they have a need for public relations or management consulting services…the ultimate desired behavior is that they call us to help them on  whatever problem or issue
they are about to tackle.

The question for you is: As we enter the New Year, what are the triggering events to get YOU to move YOUR key stakeholders toward specific desired behaviors?

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com

Helmetless Practices: How Behavior Change Strategy Is Paying Off For The UNH Football Team

Because JJ&W has counseled the Brain Injury Association of NH for a number of years, we’ve gotten very familiar with the concussion issue – it has certainly been in the spotlight with triggering events like the death of Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers and more recently, the movie “Concussion”.

Of course, any social problem involving behavior change is of interest to us…but I was particularly fascinated by the approach UNH Kinesiology Professor Erik Swartz took with “Helmetless Tackling Training” or HUTT, pilot-tested on the UNH football team.  Swartz, using the “Head Health Challenge II” research grant funded by the NFL, Under Armour and General Electric, worked with the UNH football coaching staff to incorporate a tackling drill, with half of the players wearing helmet… the other half, not.

Head impact sensors worn by all the players collected data on the impacts.  The question:  would removing helmets cause players to adjust their tackling technique and build muscle memory that would result in a safer tackling technique and fewer head injuries going forward?

The results from the 2014 football season:  a decrease in head impacts of almost 30% among those who participated in the helmetless drills – in practices and games where helmets are worn. In the words of Schwartz:  “this is the first study out there to really focus on changing behavior to mitigate risk rather than finding ways to accommodate it.”

Breakthrough thinking, and the next steps will be developing appropriate training for players at the high school level and below – those audiences, and their behaviors, need to be studied and carefully considered first.

Many lessons to be learned for public relations practitioners as they design behavior-change programs for their clients!

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com

Issues Anticipation for Healthcare Institutions

There are a wide variety of issues that can cause organizations significant heartburn — if not outright damage — and occasionally, destruction.

It is the role of the public relations practitioner to conduct an ongoing scan of the environment (from both an internal and external perspective) to predict and prepare for these issues before they develop into crisis situations.

It is essential to know how to identify different types of issues,  find “triggering events” that could  spotlight these issues and have action plans in place for dealing with them.

JJ&W has prepared this piece from the perspective of our clients in the healthcare industry – though the issue categories and preparation tips are applicable to all industries. It is based on lessons learned firm’s long history of preparing for and dealing with issues (and crisis situations) and it integrates our behavioral approach to public relations. Click here for article

Your feedback is welcomed!

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com

Pan-Mass Challenge: A Case Study In Establishing A Signature Event

This past August was my 4th opportunity to ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), a 2-day bike ride across Massachusetts ending in Provincetown, to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The PMC raises more money for charity than any other single athletic fundraising event in the country. I’ve been reflecting on what they do right from a PR perspective, and there is a long list.
Goal-Driven: The PMC raised $45 million in 2015 with a goal of $46 million in 2016. Visit www.pmc.org and check out the Vimeo with PMC founder Billy Starr – powerful!

Get An Early Commitment: Those of us who are repeat riders are signing on the dotted line in January for an August ride, giving us ample time to train & fundraise. We put our credit cards down & then pray we can do the hard work ahead. One PMC t-shirt says it all: COMMIT – You’ll Figure It Out!

Establish A Clear Mission: The PMC’s mission is “Our hope is to provide Dana-Farber with the necessary resources to discover cures for all cancers”. Tough not to be for that one.

Design Healthy Competition. The fundraising can be overwhelming, but the PMC is a well-oiled machine that provides plenty of helpful tips, templates and systems to help you succeed. The “heavy hitter” and “top 10%” levels urge those with a competitive spirit to go above the required minimums.

Create Ambassadors. Last year the PMC attracted 6000 riders and 4000 volunteers – it takes everyone to pull off an event of this magnitude, from the folks pouring Gatorade at rest stops to those loading luggage bound for specific locations. Participation is infectious – all of us that have ever experienced a PMC will tell you to join the movement! There is nothing like seeing the crowd lining the streets with cowbells and signs, thanking
you for what you are doing, to pump you up as you muscle through the final miles.

Have A Passionate Champion Leading The Charge. Billy Starr founded the PMC in 1980, and he is out there creating events around check presentations, raising awareness through speaking engagements and touting accomplishments to keep everyone motivated.

For more information about the PMC, visit www.pmc.org – and consider becoming a sponsor, a rider, a volunteer!

Robin/rschell@jjwpr.com

 

How Improving Employee Communication Skills Can Make The Difference

Overall success in a matrix organizational structure depends largely on the presence of constant, clear communication.  From the very beginning, all aspects of the matrix process — from roles & responsibilities to the evaluation process need to be clearly defined and managed with open communication and unambiguous accountability.  But what if they aren’t established or working properly?
Many organizations assume the effectiveness of operating a matrix structure lies with the human resources department. In most organizations, communication professionals do not set up the matrix structure – that is usually the purview of human resources.

However, it is the skill set of the communication professional that can help the matrix structure function effectively and ensure its success.
Those who have lived in a matrix structure easily can point out pros and cons:

Click Here for Full Article

Stacey Smith/ssmith@jjwpr.com

“The new CEO does not know our culture” Union Leader, July 28, 2014, pg. 1

There is likely not a business school nor a communications program out there that is not following the developments of the Demoulas/Market Basket crisis as it is unfolding.  To JJ&W, it is yet another illustration of how powerful corporate culture can be when it comes to the success or failure of an organization.

For those not yet aware of the events, the upper and middle management of the chain, headquartered in Tewksbury, Mass, walked out in protest of the ousting of their leader by the Board of Director’s, Arthur T. Demoulas, the long-term CEO and leader of one segment (slightly less than half) of the family of investors.  The management team, many who were fired but continue to protest, have taken the brunt of the punishment, encouraging hourly employees who need their jobs to pay weekly bills to stay at their post and not risk their jobs — a very different approach from typical strikes where the average employee is out on the street and middle management is working to keep things going!  

For many years, the Market Basket stores had been known as only one place to shop among many but nothing special; some perceived the family as tough to work for and a bit unfriendly.  There were always rumors of how the family was divided and internal fighting would go on from time to time but the stores just plodded along. About five years ago, the quality of the stores began to turn around.  Click Here for Full Article

Stacey Smith/ssmith@jjwpr.com