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I decided to join Orchan Consulting’s Directors, Craig J Selby and Farrell Tan for lunch this past week, to discuss a few ideas on the broad topics of change management, crisis management, and reputation management – core foci to Orchan’s areas of expertise.

1. What is your take on the importance of change management strategies within a business? 

CJS: Having a strategy, even if it is fluid in its approach, is always important. Change is always going to be hard, and its important to be aware of ramifications of each possible action. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take that action; it just means that you are better prepared. The old saying, “you cant please 100% of the people 100% of the time” will always ring true; hence, ensuring that there is a strategy and a direction to changes being undertaken is essential.

Do all strategies work out? No! That does not mean the strategy was wrong – resistance to change is often greater than one can imagine. It just means that the hard decisions have to be made. It’s ok to make hard decisions – when the future of your business is at stake, be it turnaround from failure, desired expansion and growth, or just taking it to the logical next level, these decisions have to be made. Having a well-thought out strategy in place enables a smoother transition, rather than a series of disjointed, knee-jerk reactions. 

2. Why is change management a challenge for business leaders? 

CJS: Because people, and ultimately organisations, are inherently resistant to change. We like our comfort zones a little too much, and stepping outside them is a major inconvenience for people. Our job is to prepare people for change, as part of the actual change initiative.

FT: Change can fail. Take the recent MAS attempts by Christoph Meuller. It is rather directly obvious that the organisational culture is highly resistant to change. Unions protested the termination of 6000 employees – at the risk the airline would shut down and over 20,000 of their members would be unemployed. Need we even examine recent minister comments about “sleeping on the job”? 

CJS: Ultimately, people are always the biggest factor, and the hardest factor to placate. This is why change is so challenging – its not about growth, adjustment, etc – it is about balancing ego’s and ultimately disappointing some of them.

3. Is it ever advisable for a company to sweep the truth under the carpet when trying to manage a crisis? 

CJS: Never. We have seen in several high profile scenarios over the last eighteen months, the truth always comes out. 

Lets look at this from two angles. 

First, ethics – we all embrace organisations and people that we perceive as ethical. Even if someone “thinks” that you are hiding something, regardless of the reality here, the perception is negative. People want answers, and deserve answers. As human beings, we don’t like not being told the full picture. As kids, when a decision was told to us, we always ask why. We want to know more – even if its painful.

More practically, and as a sign of our times, is the second point. We live in a digital culture. In the 80’s, it was considered the surveillance society – big brother watching over us. Now its big brother, little sister, grandma and her mahjong buddies. With a huge proportion of our society being digitally-enabled – having smart phone and internet access; recordings, pictures, and that thing, the truth, is bound to be out there somewhere, waiting to go viral. You just can’t take that risk any more that evidence isn’t out there.

FT: Our advice to clients is always take it on the chin, acknowledge what went wrong, and work with your stakeholders to better the situation. Hiding information will just push them further away, making it that much harder for you to get them back onside later.

4. With social media becoming a popular venue for ascertaining news, we see a lot of businesses using holding statements. Are these holding statements valuable and contribute to the overall perception of crisis management, or do they play poor lip service to insincere businesses?

CJS: Holding statements are a double-edged sword. In a nutshell, they look contrived, placed, and unauthentic. But they are just a holding statement. They are, at the very least, an acknowledgement that the organisation is aware, and working on an issues. They also hint at a modicum of preparedness – something which should inspire confidence in an organisations ability to wade through the issue soundly. I personally view them as valuable – at a time when the team needs to be focusing on understanding the issue at hand, they offer a communicative front, allowing the team to draw together and understand the situation, enabling them to present facts, rather than guesses.

5. Should we be reading our textbooks and following the typical models of change in today’s world? 

CJS: If one uses textbooks to determine ones actions, we would be a very homogenous bunch, wouldn’t we? The rules of change, change in an instant. So, my answer is no. But, with every action of change, there are commonalities, and it is these universal commonalities, which help us to strategise the best course of action.

6. How difficult is it to erase something negative once it is online?

CJS: Almost impossible. But then, that’s not the goal. If 100% of the population is shouting your praises – no one will believe it. I know a lot of businesses want to erase negativity about them from online sources, it’s a normal reaction. I know restauranteurs who create fake profiles just to drown out bad reviews on platforms like trip advisor; but that’s not the way forward.

I firmly believe in the power of positivity, and the only way to counter a negative experience is with a positive experience.

For SMEs, that may be as simple as inviting the negative party to re-experience your offerings, to engage with them on what really went wrong, to show them improvements, and to get them to update their perspective on your brand.

For all organisations, it reinforces the importance of building a digital fortress – a stockpile of positive perspectives on your organization across platforms and media, so that even in times of difficulty, a basic search will result in a higher proportion of positive perspectives.

7. Can you ever recover from a crisis?

CJS: In most cases, yes. If you want to. But it takes time. Time to rebuild trust; to rebuild relationships; to attract new customers and brand supporters. It is most likely not an easy road, but it can, and most often will, happen.

FT: However, you must remember, things will be different. You will have learnt, and those learning experiences hopefully will shape you for the better. Ultimately, this is a good thing.

8. How much is your work reactive versus proactive?

FT: Well, I think the fact that we always recommend to Clients to have a crisis management plan in place highlights that as an agency, we are proactive. Sure, regardless of how detailed a plan may be, there will be some things that you, as an Agency, will never be able to foresee. Having a plan in place buys you a bit of time; and in the digital world, where everyone wants answers ‘yesterday’ when an incident happens, brands only have a matter of hours to chart their immediate next steps. So, by being proactive, brands will appear a bit more collected, as opposed to being reactive, in a time of crisis. 

9. Is change management always for the positive? 

CJS: No. Change management is always for a result – but that may not always be positive. It also is determined by what side of the equation you lie; do you personally benefit from the action, or does it impact you negatively? Change management may be to downscale – a result of a financial downturn, or perhaps the result of an entrepreneur who doesn’t want to expose their resources (including time) as much as previously.

Change is simply about doing something differently. Ultimately, it should be for the general good of the decision maker, but that is not always so. 

10. How do you manage change in a family business especially when you have
unproductive siblings / family against progression?

FT: Again, as brand guardians, our job is to put everything on the table, and highlight to each stakeholder the pros and cons of a situation. Ultimately, we are consultants, and therefore, our role is to consult. The ultimate decision, no matter right or wrong, is ultimately dependent on the Client.

CJS: In Asia, family businesses add another layer of complexity to what they do in the west. Familial ties that bind are stronger, and often we see siblings work together even though they clearly don’t want to. The key point to remember, family or not, is that it is business, and decisions made are for the best of the business. Sometimes, family need to take a step back and appreciate that the best change will come when family is not so deeply involved.

It’s always challenging to effect change in a family business – but the key to survival is to embrace change and realize that with it, benefits accrue to all stakeholders.

11. Can you manage your reputation solely through online platform?

CJS: You can, but is that advisable? One should always look at multiple methods to create a public persona.

FT: It is also dependent on who the target audience is. Sure, having an online presence is great; and whilst many Malaysians are digitally-savvy, we also need to remember that the older generations still rely on traditional means of getting their news. In time, this will change, which is why a lot of media outlets are investing heavily online; but for the time being, a mix of both offline and online platforms will ensure that your message(s) are clearly communicated.

12. How do you attempt to handle brand saboteurs?

FT: A brand can’t be everything to everyone. There will be consumers that won’t like the brand (for whatever reasons), and brand saboteurs that will only wish the brand harm. However, the trick is to ensure that the brand cultivates more positive news to downplay the negatives. Consumers these days are smart; they’re able to sift through information in order to make up their minds. The best move is not to appear defensive, and to open up a channel of communication offline (which is then highlighted online – once the issue was addressed) to help appease grievances. As long as the brand is seen as being calm, logical and pragmatic in their response (easier said than done), the likelihood of brand saboteurs being able to cause harm will be greatly reduced.

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