I was consulting a division of a company in the hospitality industry.
Before I began working with the senior executives, a major event occurred and was represented in the news.
The Warning Signs and External Signals of trouble in the Court of Public Opinion were everywhere:
I watched as the executives, and in particular the CEO, “whistled in the dark.” You know—if you’re walking down a dark and menacing road at night, if you whistle a happy tune, everything will be ok! Right?
They did not address this honestly in the public domain nor in employee meetings.
I watched the impact on stock price, revenue growth, and internal defections of valuable personnel.
CEO’s and other C-Suite Executives, BEWARE!
There is something all around you that can sink the best of intentions and plans! You must attend to it or face dire consequences for your company: the Court of Public Opinion (COPO).
At first, it may be invisible, like air to a bird, until we intentionally become aware of it.
There is a human tendency to avoid what is unpleasant, disturbing, threatening, disruptive—what appears to be “bad news.” So it is counter-impulsive to take on COPO and have an effective and even masterful relationship with it. And, this is crucial to effectively lead and to succeed.
Four aspects of COPO and their corresponding registers/dashboards are:
- The internal rumor mill
- Marketplace reputation and perceived company future
- Customers and general public
- News media
- The company culture
- Stock price
- Sales and market share
- All of the above
An additional complexity is that these four aspects influence each other.
To deal with COPO powerfully, you must begin by understanding what it actually is.
What is the nature of it? What is the DNA of COPO?
Very specifically: it is what people are saying and what people are hearing.
So the key is listening. Not to the noise of our own internal dialogue, our interpretations, judgements, and opinions. The CEO needs to listen outwardly and vigorously to her/his executives. And the executives need to listen outwardly and vigorously to each other. And the entire C-suite needs to listen to the workforce, the public media, customers. How can a leader effectively respond to others in an authentic and persuasive way if that leader has not fully heard exactly what people are actually saying?
No question that there is certain information that cannot and should not be said outside the C-suite and/or Board room. However when an event occurs, such as a critical change of leadership, an SEC investigation, a security breach, a crisis, etc. if you do not manage The Court of Public Opinion consciously and intentionally, then it will go its own way and you will be subject to it and the victim of it.
As the leadership of the company, what guides you in your response?
Shakespeare gave us this sage advice:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
What do the executives on behalf of a company stand for?
Every company these days has mission-vision-value statements.
Are these alive and practiced in the daily life of the company?
Are they the basis for actions, for strategic choices, for dealing with breakdowns?
Or are they wall-paper: good intentions but not actionable? We all know the proverb ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’
We make sure our clients learn to listen deeply and thoroughly, and to respond effectively and powerfully to the Court of Public Opinion.