Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Workers' Party: Yaw Shin Leong Saga

I was recently asked for my take on the Workers' Party (WP) long silence and sudden sledgehammer news conference to announce the axing of MP Yaw.  The question was whether it was a communications masterstroke, or late and untimely damage control to mitigate further risk to the erosion of credibility of the WP name.
This was my response ...

Firstly, all crisis communications must be based on the truth.  This is because we now operate in a perfect information environment and a crisis of deceit is much more damaging than a crisis of competence.  Secondly, if crisis communication is based on the truth, then crisis communications is about guiding stakeholders to correctly attribute responsibility to the agency/ organisation or individual responsible.  And, in the instance that your organization is responsible, to help stakeholders deal with their anger.  Thirdly, as a theory, we must understand stakeholders attribute responsibility based on the factors of (a) locus of control; (b) predictability; and (c) controllability.

With these three thoughts in mind, I believe that the WP’s initial silence on this matter was the correct strategy as it was meant to separate the individual’s action from that of the party’s.  Based on attribution theory, if Yaw had come out to face the issue on his own, I believe that the fall-out to WP would have been minimal.  After all, it was something beyond the locus of control of the WP and it was not something the WP could not reasonably have been expected to control.

However, as time passed and there were increasing calls for him to address the issue, Yaw’s continued refusal to face up to the matter, then morphed the issue from the “act of an individual” to one in which the WP’s credibility was questioned.  Hence, in light of Yaw’s refusal to address the issue and his departure from the country, the WP had no other choice but to further separate itself from Yaw.

Overall, notwithstanding Khaw Boon Wan’s comments for the WP to come clean, I think the WP has handled this crisis well and I doubt that the WP will suffer from this crisis.  On the contrary, I think the WP will emerge stronger.  Kudos to the team at WP.

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