Pathways — September 2001 — Volume 13, Number 2

Focus — The Loss of Trust

Many factors cause our stakeholders to begin to question the ongoing viability of our enterprises.  Lately there seem to be even more reasons than normal:

·        Customer dissatisfaction

·        Plunging financial markets

·        Revenue shortfalls

·        Layoffs

·        Collapsing dot.coms

·        Government inaction

·        Plummeting employee morale

·        Frustration over working conditions

·        Long, thankless hours of work

·        Higher costs of housing and energy

·        Rage on the road, in the office, and everywhere else we look


Is this a unique time in the history of business, is it an unexpected adjustment to an over-inflated investment period, or is it just business as usual?

The answer to this question is not as important as our response to the situation.  A proper response is critical to the survival of our organizations.

So, how can an organization respond to such a catastrophic combination of negative conditions?  Fortunately, the solution is not new.

We must respond by picking a direction, communicating that direction clearly to our stakeholders, continuously monitoring our progress … making the adjustments necessary to survive … and communicating, communicating, communicating … where we are going, what we are doing, and what every stakeholder needs to do along the way to make sure we get there.

In our At Issue section, we explore some ideas that can help you address the challenges of the current situation head-on and find a path to help your organization’s stakeholders contribute in whatever way they can to support the organization’s survival.

If this sounds a little too dramatic for you — I suggest that you re-read the list of issues at the top of this column.

John C. Wills

At Issue — Where have all the successful organizations gone?

Many organizations are having a difficult time this year for a variety of reasons:

·        983,337 employees[1] have been laid off by their organizations in the United States though July of this year, and more are predicted to follow.

·        Over 575’s have closed their doors forever and more are predicted to follow before year end.

·        Employees that remain find themselves feeling overworked and, typically exhibit low morale.

·        Middle managers — that is the few that remain — describe themselves as unsure of their organization’s direction.  They complain that they are given little if any opportunity to provide input to senior management … with most communication flowing downward. 

·        Survivors — the stakeholders that remain — are hiding out or keeping their heads down while waiting for some leadership to appear that will guide their organizations back to historically successful ways.

Meanwhile, the press is full of all types of news stories about our organizations.  These stories are usually written with one “spin” or another, leaving the reader to wonder what the truth is … if there was any truth in the story in the first place.  For example, the financial press focuses on immediate results … those infamous quarterly earnings reports … with little regard for longer term goals.  The business press concentrates on “will we or won’t we have a recession this month or a recovery next month.  It is all very confusing to our stakeholders.

I suggest that this is the time to (1) stop focusing on the negatives of the recent past … and (2) start leading our organizations into successful futures.  But, this is easier said than done.

Let’s look at a proven approach for getting back to more successful levels of performance.  This approach entails two elements: a Strategic Plan and a Communication Plan.



Recommended Approach

Strategic Plan

Communication Plan

Start by developing your plans

Develop a strategy and vision that you believe can be implemented and sustained by your organization.   Even during that exuberant period when individual investors and venture fund firms were throwing money at the companies, the motivation was based on a belief that their strategy and vision would change the world as we knew it.  We have learned that it takes more than just a good idea to succeed; that is not new news either, but it is important.

The first step is to ensure that your organization’s strategy and vision become shared by all stakeholders.  Identify ways to:

·        help all stakeholders become aware of the organization’s future direction

·        gain their commitment to the concepts

·        solicit their ideas and talents to work toward its implementation

Assess where your organization is in reaching the strategy and vision.

Identify the future requirements of the organization and measure the gap that exists today that is keeping you from getting there.  This look at the “to be” and “as is” condition of your organization needs to be comprehensive enough for you to be ready to identify the actions your organization needs to take, prioritize those actions, and then turn those actions into projects that start you on the journey to your future.

Get the word out concerning the actions that the organization is taking to move toward its future.  Use this opportunity to:

·        recognize the stakeholders who are participating in the assessment effort

·        communicate what will be expected from each and every stakeholder in terms of effort and responsibility.

Down Arrow: 3

Implement the priority projects designed to lead your organization to its goals.

The selected projects will involve a variety of activities.  They will vary depending upon the nature of your organization.  Maybe you will be developing new products and services, or re-creating approaches within your organization to deliver greater value to your customers, or …. the list will go on and on depending upon your organization’s unique strategy, vision, and goals.

Publish the details of your short- and long-term projects.  Reinforce previous communication efforts by continuing to:

·        Recognize the people that make positive contributions to your organization’s progress. 

·        Encourage on-going participation in the change effort.

Re-assess your organization’s progress against its stated business goals.

It is best to have a balance of measures representing key improvement areas the organization is trying to address.  Too often, only financial measures (such as increased revenue and improved market share) are observed.  Unfortunately, financial measures alone can provide incomplete information.  Also, look at Human Resources Development measures (such as faster career development and higher employee satisfaction), Business Effectiveness measures (such as reduced operating costs and improved customer satisfaction), and Product and Services Quality measures (such as reduction in returns or complaints and increases in repeat orders).

Communicate your measures:

·        Document the results

·        Let all of your stakeholders know what is happening

·        Recognize the people who are getting the results.

Down Arrow: 5

Analyze the results of the projects as they are implemented … make adjustments to your plans … and keep the momentum of the change moving in a positive, success oriented direction.

If you aren’t vigilant, efforts may wane as time goes on.  It will be easier to maintain your momentum if you are continuously measuring the business results of the projects you have implemented.  Be ready to re-energize your stakeholders regularly.

Keep your Communication Plan alive and current.  Continuously provide your stakeholders with information about your organization’s progress.  Make sure all stakeholders continue to see the:

·        Commitment of management

·        Results of their own efforts

·        Future direction that the organization is taking.


As I said, this isn’t new … it is the message that we have all known for years.  However, right now is a critical time to revisit these steps and begin implementing them in our own organizations.  Otherwise, we could create our own self-filling prophecy — the world around us is providing a lot of negative input to our stakeholders and if these stakeholders believe it is the reality, then it will become their reality, and it can seal our destiny in a very negative way.  Help change the equation for your organization’s stakeholders.  Establish a strategy, put a plan in place, implement it, and communicate, communicate, communicate …

John C. Wills



Don’t let today’s bad news become your organization’s strategic and communication plans.

[1]Reference: Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2001.