Thursday, December 30, 2010

Effective Goal Setting for 2011

Dear Readers,

As we prepare to usher in the new year, many of us will be reflecting on our past and setting new goals for 2011.  Appended below is an article I wrote on effective goal setting which I hope you'll find useful.

Happy 2011 and may all your dreams and wishes come true!

CW Fong


Effective Goal Setting

In any journey, knowing the destination is logically the beginning. Unfortunately, in their journey to success, few people start with the destination in mind. Without this focus or established goal the journey will be fraught with many pointless and unnecessary detours and reversals.

Goals then are the compass that provides direction and purpose to our actions. However, merely having goals is equivalent to merely possessing the compass. Knowing how-to set goals is then equivalent to possessing the knowledge and skill to using the compass proficiently.

To be functional, goals must be SMART. SMART being the acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-specific. Satisfying these five criteria alone is however not enough. In order for goals to be powerful and compelling, they must also fulfill the following conditions …

Step One: Know the Sacrifices and Higher Purpose

In the pursuit of any goal there will be sacrifices that need to be made. It is therefore important that after setting your goal, you then question your own willingness to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve it. If by doing so you find that you are unwilling to make the required sacrifices, you can then either choose not pursue the goal, or adjust it such that the sacrifices are ones you are willing to make. Once you have decided what you are willing to sacrifice, you have in effect made a commitment to achieving this goal.

In line with this, it is also necessary that you seek to understand the higher purpose you have for setting this particular goal. To do this, you simply ask yourself the question, “What is important about achieving this goal?” Repeatedly asking yourself this question, you will reveal the higher meaning of why you want to achieve this goal. It is this higher meaning that, more often than not, will give you the more compelling reason to achieve your goal.

Step Two: Collect Evidence and Retain Control

As part of setting well-formed goals, you must also define specific “evidence” of you achieving or, at least, moving towards your goal. This is an important step in the process as it serves the twin purpose of motivation and feedback. Motivation in the sense that nothing motivates you more than seeing yourself succeeding; and feedback in the sense that it is important to know if what you are doing is putting you on track to achieving your goal. If it is not, then adjustments to your plans can be made.

In addition, stated goals must also be those within your control. In life, there are many things that are beyond our control. Setting goals that depend on others or nature’s compliance is futile and is doomed to failure. Instead, goals must be focused on what we can control. We may not be able to control how someone else responds, however we can control our own behavior such that it increases the chance of the other person responding the way we want. In other words, the process is within your control and the outcome is not. You must trust that if you follow the process, you will get the desired outcome. This is a goal that is within your control.

Step Three: Use Self-to-Self Comparisons

The third condition to setting compelling goals is to use self-to-self comparison. No matter what we want to believe, in life no two persons start from the same point. Comparing ourselves to others, especially in the initial stages of our journey, often leads to discouragement. It is more important, and useful, to do self-to-self comparisons to judge your progress, or success, based on where you were and where you are now. Save the self-to-others comparison till you have had a reasonable time to progress.

Rest assured, that by adopting and adhering to the concept of Never-Ending Process of Improvement (where you constantly and relentless improve daily no matter how small the improvement), you will soon be comparing yourself with the best.


Many people know how to set goals, however, few achieve their goals as there is more to it than being SMART. Keep in mind these three conditions and you will be on your way to success. So go ahead. Set those goals and achieve it!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

TSA vs The Patroit Pilot: Chris Liu Whistleblower Pilot

CNN today reported the on-going controversy between the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Chris Liu's (The Patriot Pilot) personal crusade to expose the nation's faulty airport security.

In response to Liu's claims that security at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was a “farce”, the airport responded by (a) claiming that Chris Liu has presented “false and misleading information;" (b) clarifying that the door in Liu's video led only to an employee lunchroom and not the main airfield as Liu had suggested; and (c) stating that “San Francisco International Airport is proud to both an innovator and a trendsetter in aviation security," and that "SFO meets, and in many cases, exceeds every federal security requirement."

In responding to this potential crisis, the TSA appears to have adopted the standard twin crisis response strategies of (a) denying the existence of a crisis by “attacking the credibility” of Chris Liu; and (b) bolstering the organisation's reputation by “benchmarking SFO against federal requirements”.  Using comments posted on CNN's website in response to this article as a measure of effectiveness, it appears that the TSA's approach has been effective in containing this crisis.  Discontent with TSA, while present, appear to be a follow-on from their earlier poor handling of the enhanced pat-downs and full-body scanner image controversy.

Well done TSA!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Velcro Effect: When is Enough Enough

I came across an interesting 2001 study, conducted by Coombs (the father of Situational Crisis Communications Theory) and Holladay, that showed an organisation's failure to properly handle a past crisis causes stakeholders to perceive the organisation as having more responsibility when a new crisis erupts. Interestingly, the same study showed that a favourable reputation (gained from the handling of a previous crisis or from other Public Relations efforts) is no better than a neutral reputation. This effect where a negative reputation “attracts and snags additional reputational damage” is known as the Velcro Effect.

So what can PR Managers and Crisis Communicators learn from this study?

Firstly, and most obviously, all crisis must be properly managed. Failure to do so will put the organisation at a disadvantage when another crisis occurs.

Secondly, and less obvious, is that in the event a crisis is managed poorly, efforts need to be made to repair the organisation's reputation. However, since empirical evidence show that there is no difference between a favourable reputation and a neutral reputation, PR Managers and Crisis Communicators can reasonable cap their efforts at returning the company's reputation to “neutral” and hence refrain from unnecessarily expanding resources where no advantage is to be gained.

All companies exist for the purpose of maximising shareholder returns.  As such PR Managers and Crisis Communicators must constantly keep the company's bottom-line in mind and tailor their PR and Crisis Communication Plans accordingly.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Crisis Communications: Singapore Teaching Scholar Jonathan Wong Pleads Guilty to Child Pornography Charges

Singapore's The Straits Times today reported that Jonathan Wong received a suspended 2 year sentence for possessing child pornography videos.  People interviewed by The Straits Times expressed mixed views on the severity of the sentence, with most being surprised (and outraged) by the leniency.

Rebuilding his Life

From a crisis communications perspective, the next question is how does Jonathan Wong rebuild his life.  As I have mentioned in an earlier post, in the era of social media, the approach of avoiding media attention in the hopes of allowing public scrutiny to fade is no longer an option.  Internet reports by news agencies and blogs (like this) will ensure that the issue remains "alive" for a long time to come.  And the longer Jonathan remains silent on the issue, the greater the information balance will tilt towards the negative.  As I have opined before, Jonathan Wong must tell his side of the story.

As a crisis communicator, my advice to Jonathan Wong is that he must address the public perception of him.  Due to his silence on the issue, the stereotype of someone like him being a "monster" or "social deviant" has shaped public perception - this is demonstrated by public outrage on the perceived light punishment meted out to him.  Jonathan should therefore seek to "humanise" himself by expressing remorse, showing contrition and generally showing the public that he is just a human as them.  In addition, if Jonathan can also show how his family and friends are standing with, and helping, him work through this crisis, it will encourage others to come out to show support.  In essence, Jonathan should reframe the issue to one where (a) "everyone makes a mistake"; and (b) "where remorse or contrition or punishment has been meted out, offenders should be given a yellow-ribbon.

In short, while everything seems stacked against Jonathan at this moment, all is not lost.  Jonathan can rebuild his life by engaging the media and "humanising" himself to the stakeholders.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Press Release: Timing is Everything

In issuing a Press Release, an often overlooked consideration is the timing. Timing is important as the mainstream media (MSM) has a finite amount of print space, and depending on whatever else is considered newsworthy on that day, may add or subtract from your Message.

I know that I have said in an earlier post that delaying the Press Release in the hopes of having another crisis mask yours is not advisable. That however does not mean that you should not capitalize on opportunities. My earlier statement is made in the context that a long delay in being "open" about your crisis is dangerous as leaks may put you on the information defensive.

Using the Jonathan Wong (MOE Scholar Pleads Guilty to Child Pornography Charges) case as an illustration, assuming the MOE wanted to announce more information about the case but knew that the MSM would be reporting another incident of a teacher being charged in court for sending lewd messages to a student, it would be unwise for the MOE to release it on the same day. Having "two incidents" will allude to a pattern which will be damaging for the MOE. The MOE would be wise to delay the release by about a week, or seek to time the release with another on-going crisis i.e. Singapore's comments on its neighbors as revealed on WikiLeaks.

Hence, in my opinion, PR Professionals must (a) always consider timing when planning a Press Release; and (b) balance the need for being "open", with the need to control the crisis.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Delivering the Truth is the Duty of the PR Professional

In response to my earlier post on the Pierre Png road rage incident, I received a comment that PR Professionals are not interested in the truth.

While I can understand the reader's perspective, I am afraid that delivering the truth is the duty of the PR Professional.  This is because social media has created a perfect information environment in which nothing stays hidden forever.  Any PR Professional that encourages, or allows, his client to be less than truthful is being irresponsible.

So if PR Professionals only deal in the truth, why then do we need them?

The answer is simple.  While the truth will always reveal itself, unfortunately the manner in which is does is not predictable.  Leaving it to chance may then result in the "truth" taking on a life of its own and going off in tangents that are not beneficial to the company.  In some instances, minor incidents may be blown out of proportion and result in the destruction of the company's reputation and brand image. 

Hence, in the era of social media, the PR Professionals' role is to deliver the truth in a controlled manner with the interest of the company and its stakeholders in mind.  Delivering the truth is thus the duty of the PR Professional.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Red Cross finds $90k has gone missing

On 6 Dec 2010, the Singapore Red Cross Society (SRCS) reported that one of its employee had misappropriated $90,000.  In a positive example of how crisis communications in the era of social media should be done, the SRCS' response incorporated the 5 essential elements of an effective crisis communications plan.  As a result of their effective response, Asia One News reported on 8 Dec that "donors here remain confident in the charitable efforts of the Singapore Red Cross Society." 

Firstly, the SRCS was timely and open in managing this crisis.  The SRCS made the police report on 3 Dec (Fri) and the SRCS issued a press release on 5 Dec (Sun).  Secondly, the SRCS was 100% truthful about the circumstances leading to the misappropriation and accepted responsibility for the error.  Thirdly, the SRCS ensured that their message was broadly communicated and that it had an Internet presence.  This was engendered via the issuing of a press release and then following up with the posting of an open letter of apology by it Secretary General on the Society's website.

The SCRS' crisis communication plan allowed the Society to successful gain the information initiative.  By doing so, the Society (a) established/ reinforced its credibility in the eyes of stakeholders; (b) allowed the Society to frame the incident as a one-off lapse; and (c) prevented the crisis from spiraling out of control via a lack of information.  The SRCS' handling of this crisis is a classic example of how crisis communications, when done correctly, can mitigate any negative fall-out.

If there is however one thing that the SRCS could have done better, it is to capitalise on this opportunity to reinforce its brand image.  This the SRCS could have done by simply incorporating the Society's Vision or Values into the various Messages being released.

Overall, a job well done for the crisis communication team at the SRCS.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wikileaks: U.S. Agencies Warn Unauthorized Employees not to look at WikiLeaks

On 3 Dec 2010, CNN reported that the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a memo "forbidding unauthorized federal government employees and contractors from accessing classified documents publicly available on WikiLeaks and other websites using computers or devices like BlackBerrys and smart phones."  The memo stated that the publishing by WikiLeaks does "not alter the documents' classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents.  To the contrary, classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites or disclosed to the media remains classified, and must be treated as such by federal employees and contractors, until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. Government authority."

While I can understand the US Government's legal intent to continue to maintain the security classification of the documents and hence maintain its case against Julian Assange, I think the approach of forbidding federal government employees and contractors from viewing the cables is an epic crisis communication mistake.  This is because, like it or not, the information is already out there and instead of using finite resources to restrict employee usage, the US Government should instead be capitalising on it.

My proposal is simple.  To win the battle for social media, the US Government must focus on achieving two things - (a) gaining and maintaining the information initiative; and (b) dominating the blogosphere by having information superiority.  To do this, the US Government needs to embrace their employees (especially their employee bloggers) and convert them into "ambassadors" for the US Government.  In this instance, federal government employees and contractors should be proactively engaged by their senior management to ensure their understanding of the principles and values of the US Government, the Government's  political and military objectives, the context within which the memos were written.  It is only with this clearer understanding of "management's thinking" will federal government employees and contractors be able to "speak up" (as third-party endorsements) and explain the rationale for the US Government's actions.

In addition, if the US Government's employee blogger numbers are large and their blogs well followed, their postings will then enable the US Government to gain the information initiative while simultaneously "drowning out" the anti-establishment voices giving the US Government information superiority in this crisis.

Hence, as I have advocated before in my earlier posts, I strongly believe that Internal Communications, and not Internal Censorship, is the key to gaining the upper hand in this cablegate crisis. The White House's decision to forbid federal government employees and contractors from reading WikiLeaks cables is thus a bad decision that will hurt it in the long run.

Celeb road rage? Pierre Png: I confronted him because he showed me finger

On 3 Dec 10, a Citizen Journalist (CJ) posted a story on The Straits Times Online Media Print (STOMP) website alleging an incident of road rage by a local celebrity.  Within days the story received over 19,100 page views, garnered 57 comments and was picked-up almost immediately by the mainstream media (MSM).

From a crisis communications perspective, Pierre Png could have handled the incident better.  Pierre did well when he sought to regain the information initiative by promptly telling his side of the story.  This then enabled STOMP and the MSM to include his side of the story in their reports which then "balanced" the CJ's claim.  A "no comment response" would have implied guilt and would likely have spiraled the incident out of control as rumors would have filled the information vacuum.  (See my earlier blog posting where "no comment says more than you think").

Pierre could however have done better in the following few areas:

a. Choice of "Tone".  Essentially, Pierre chose to come across as a "reasonable man".  While his response sought to make him appear as "mature", "rational" and "humble", Pierre's lack of anger is not congruent with a person who is falsely accused. (See my earlier blog posting on the Brad Lau Saga).  Pierre's side of the story would have greater credibility if he had expressed some anger over being falsely accused.

b. Personal Attack.  In his response, Pierre made a personal attack against his accuser by calling his a "coward".  As the aim of a crisis communication strategy in incidents like this is to reduce media interest as quickly as possible, making personal attacks is counter-productive.  This is because it is likely to instigate the CJ to seek "revenge" and this will drag the story out.  In this instance, Pierre would have done better to keep the attention focused on himself as the "victim" to garner greater support from interested stakeholders. 

c. Framing the Crisis.  Pierre also failed to frame the crisis to his advantage.  In any incident, crisis communicators should seek to elevate the issue at hand to one concerning socially accepted values.  In this incident, a good frame would be one of fairness i.e. why pick on me just because I am a celebrity?  Elevating the issue to this "level" will then make it harder for the accuser to continue attacking Pierre.  This is because continuing an attack would likely turn stakeholder support against the CJ.  Additionally, an issue of "fairness" will also allow Pierre to enlist other celebrities to his cause.

d.  Clear Outcomes.  Pierre's fourth and, in my opinion, biggest mistake is his failure to develop and pursue a clear outcome from this crisis.  In show business, they say "all publicity is good publicity", hence having a clear outcome will enable him to respond holistically to turn this to his advantage.  In my assessment, having a clear outcome would have shaped Pierre initial statement to elevate the issue, would have prevented Pierre from making a personal attack against the accuser thereby prolonging the incident, and would likely have enabled him to "gain" from this incident.

In summary, the key lessons learnt for PR Professionals are these: (a) never use "no comment" as it implies guilt; and (b) develop clear outcomes at the onset of any crisis.

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