Banging your head against a wall of issues

Back in the early 2000s I went along to hear a leading pollster talk about ‘issues management’. I was a bit in awe of the fellow and rightly so. He had the ear of Prime Ministers and CEOs not just in Australia, but around the world. I’m sure many of you can guess whom I am referring to.

Anyway, at the time I was discovering the processes to good issues management within a company and so would drop everything if anyone had anything useful to say about the topic.

But I was in for a bit of a shock, as my spreadsheets of issues and risks, and methods of determining which were most important to a company, and which we had to double-down on, and all those things that seemed to fascinate me was not in fact the main course for the day.

Instead, “Issues” pronounced with a purposeful lisp were derided. There was too much of a focus by companies and governments alike on which issues were the biggest, what they were, what position you were on, which issue needed to be attacked, and how to get them in front of the people that mattered most to influence the outcome on an issue.

What was being left out was why anyone should care. What was the motivator behind the issue. What was driving communities, or customers, or stakeholders. What were their hopes and dreams. Their fears and their ambitions.

Rather than the issue itself, the view was that it is understanding how to respond to these motivators and manipulate them that helped drive a strategic approach to a company’s reputation.

The alternative was to keep banging your head against the brick wall of issues.

This different approach was and is still today hugely useful to helping companies identify and manage the risks to their business and reputation. It allows you to put yourself in the shoes of the people who matter most to you.

Combining the sentiments driving your audiences and stakeholders together with the business challenges you are seeking to resolve, enables you to identify what can be done to deliver progress.

Sometimes the issue that pops out is not what you think it was.