Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Leadership
How relegation, delegation, and escalation can help
“[O]thers would have to pay the price if we held our hands.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, 1901
The positive side of the ubiquity of online conversations is that it’s easier than ever to know what’s being said about us.
The negative side of the ubiquity of online conversations is that it’s easier than ever to know what’s being said about us.
In short, there is a glut of data and information. For the leader who is concerned with being vigilant, it can be maddening to try to keep up with all of that information, let alone manage a cogent response strategy when necessary.
Over the course of the previous four years, chaos was the point. The media were drinking out of a fire hose, and one scandal after another meant that every one — scandals that would have sunk any previous administration — made the next one less outrageous or effective. The result was exhaustion, exasperation, and dulled senses.
Leaders don’t have that luxury. We need to be on point for current developments as well those looming in the future.
Agony Breeds Business
For a historic-literary perspective, we turn again this week to the sage of Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes.
Even in his time, London was a booming metropolis. In 1891, he mentioned a case that didn’t seem to be a crime, but was more of a curiosity amid a large population:
“Only one of those whimsical little incidents which will happen when you have four million human beings all jostling each other within the space of a few square miles.”
He kept his eye on the papers, particularly the agony column, or personal advertisements. It was like hunting for a needle in the haystack, but he found it useful:
“Dear me!” said he, turning over the pages, “what a chorus of groans, cries, and bleatings! What a rag-bag of singular happenings! But surely the most valuable hunting ground that ever was given to a student of the unusual!”
Millions of people, thousands of personal ads—what’s a consultant to do?
In Sherlock Holmes’s case, he turned to a group of homeless children that he referred to as the Baker Street irregulars. It was a matter of scaling.
“There’s more work to be got out of one of those little beggars than out of a dozen of the force,” Holmes remarked. “The mere sight of an official-looking person seals men’s lips. These youngsters, however, go everywhere and hear everything. They are as sharp as needles, too; all they want is organisation.”
The Corporate Irregulars
When you’re part of a complex organization — let’s say anywhere from 500 to 300,000 employees — and you need clarity on how to effectively coordinate your monitoring, particularly during crises.
Having spent some time at a Fortune 10 company, I can say that some days the flurry of incoming activity from consumers and the media was harrowing. There were touchpoints in marketing, customer service, and communications in traditional, social and broadcast media.
The data that each of those groups throws off are extraordinary in volume; and the velocity makes it even more difficult to actively monitor and manage the situation, let alone perform any meaningful analysis. The goal is to move from seeing to observing, and then to action based on the insights from your observations.
While traditional tools have been more directional in nature, when you’re trying to reconcile information among many business units during a crisis a workflow is necessary for consistency and clarity. A workflow that follows this formula is a good start: relegate, delegate, escalate.
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” (The Sign of Four)
The first step is to determine which data matter and are actionable. I’ve often seen customer service reps fret about a tweet, only to discover that the writer had just opened his account that morning and had zero followers. That puts a different weight on the situation than the celebrity with hundreds of thousands of followers.
Looking at high-impact individuals and sources of information is a critical first step when assessing what to do.
“In future you shall send up Wiggins alone to report, and the rest of you must wait in the street.” (A Study in Scarlet)
Different business units have varying responsibilities with regard to external communications and internal reporting during a crisis, as well as during normal business operation. You’ll want a system that provides clarity in assignments and that ensures that the data are consistent in reporting. Having one set of data from a CMO and a separate set from a chief communications officer makes the business look as if the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
With more clarity comes the ability to effectively delegate responses, business process changes and other necessary actions within the enterprise.
“The summons was a brief and urgent one.” (“The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”)
With millions of data points in the signal-to-noise ratio, ultimately a business needs to know what to act upon and what to ignore. Being able to ferret out the nugget of online information — whether it’s a single tweet, a video, a blog post, a Facebook boycott page, or a forum thread — that is at the root of the issue and to be able to address it.
One of the reasons Sherlock Holmes is just as popular today as he was over 100 years ago is because he represents a common thread of human nature: our desire to create order out of chaos.
Today’s digital world is probably more chaotic than Holmes could have ever imagined, but with the right framework and tools, it becomes much more manageable.
In fact, you might even call it elementary.
More links and resources to help you pay attention to what matters. ⬇️