COLUMN-On the matter of confidence
For the past 18 to 24 months I have struggled with the commentary surrounding an apparent “lack of confidence in our economy”. My difficulty has stemmed from the fact that the more I observe the financial, economic, social and other challenges facing our nation on the 48th anniversary of its Independence from colonial Britain, I sincerely believe that any lack of confidence would have to rest with the person or persons responsible for the creation, maintenance and operation of any system.
From this point of view it is therefore my opinion that what we clearly have is a lack of confidence in our Government, our system of governance and in those individually and collectively charged with our leadership.
A strong presence of those that lead is paramount, especially during periods of crisis, if all stakeholders are to come together to ensure that the preferred outcome is achieved. For the past four years, we have needed a Government that would lead from the front and be transparent and timely in its communications with the public and other stakeholders as to the seriousness of our current situation. For me, this has been the single most distressing trait of this current Government that many (including myself) have encouraged them to address.
Why is leadership so important?
1. Leadership determines the destiny of the followers.
2. Leadership determines the attitude of the followers.
3. Leadership determines the commitment of the followers.
4. Leadership determines the mentality of the followers.
5. Leadership determines the quantity and quality of the followers.
There can be no doubt that our country has been immersed in an economic crisis for the past four to six years of some degree or another, and neither can we deny the role played by external factors in contributing to and perpetuating certain aspects of the effects of the said crisis. However, what is within our ability and reach is our response and the manner in which the crisis is ultimately managed.
In the television series Scandal, crisis manager Olivia Pope often assures her clients with these words: “It’s handled” –– exuding such confidence in her internal and external communications, even when she has no idea how she will indeed handle and fix the crisis. While I accept that my analogy is taken from the perfect world of television, it reiterates the importance of communication, both internally and externally, to stakeholders during periods of intense crisis.
Communication and reputation management is listed as one of six cornerstones of crisis management by renowned crisis management consultants Steelhenge Consultants. I found the following excerpts particularly relevant to our current situation after reviewing their white paper recently, and I quote:
1. “Crises are characterized by a thirst for knowledge, and communications are critical to success in satisfying this need.”
2. “Internal communications and the sharing of new, critical or developing information across the organization are particularly important to prevent escalation of a crisis, ill-informed decision making at other response levels and the spreading of rumours among staff members.”
3. “Effective external communication involves sharing relevant, factual and transparent information in a timely fashion with stakeholders and the media about the incident and the actions the organisation is implementing in response to the crisis.”
4. Every organization must have a crisis communications plan integrated with the crisis management plan. This ensures activities that are mutual or reliant upon one another are developed in concert and not in isolation. The input of up-to-date information on the crisis into Press releases, social media engagement, the appropriate sign-off of statements and a plethora of other needs require a coherent approach that has been built as a part of the pre-crisis phase.
In summary the white paper stated:
“The importance of communication in crisis cannot be overstated; reputations can be won or lost based solely on perception. Consistency, the use of non-contradictory information, and transparency within the messages communicated through appropriate channels during a crisis will enhance reputation and legitimacy. Inconsistency or a failure to communicate at the right time can severely damage credibility or create an image of passivity or concealment of information, which can damage reputation and decrease trust.”
There is no place for politics in the current situation our country faces economically, socially or otherwise. In many cases, despite utterances to the contrary, our credibility as a nation has been severely damaged due to missteps by our leaders. Our crisis is further worsened, or at least the perception, due to the lack of visible leadership that would address some of the communication and reputational risks above.
Barbados cannot and will not emerge from this crisis until confidence in our leadership, and their communication and decisions return. When this is achieved we can expect all stakeholders to fully put their hands to the plough and move our nation forward.
When the appointed leaders does not take their rightful place, others assume the role indirectly and chaos follows. Crises need assertive and visible leaders, and I am certain that confidence will return (to our economy, to our politics, to our households and workplaces), but the powers that be –– our politicians and leaders –– must take us the public
into their confidence.
Time is of the essence!
(David Simpson is Immediate past president of ICAB and a director of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation (BEF), and serves as co-champion of its finance pillar.)