It looks set to be another difficult week for policing after reading the newspaper reports about the impending publication of the Casey review into the Metropolitan Police. In this world of good v bad managing the communication around this is going to be very challenging but will be important for the future of the whole of policing not just the Met.
There have already been Government ministers reported saying that the vast majority of officers are hardworking and focused on doing a good job. This adds to the ongoing commentary about rooting out ‘bad apples’. While I don’t disagree with the sentiment of this it will be of little comfort set against a public that are growingly losing confidence in experts and institutions.
When I am talking about crises I always stress that perceptions are as crucial to your response and communication as that is actually happening. Don’t ignore the views that exist around you when considering what to say. I have been reading some articles about not saying anything and using that as your response. This is a very difficult one to consider.
The bottom line is that if you are Amazon or Facebook you have the option of saying nothing because no matter what people will still go back because of the convenience factor. Many will disconnect the delivery driver that brings your parcel with the giant corporation. But if you are a public sector organisation or a smaller business in a competitive market place your position is more precarious. If your customers become so disconnected from you the business may be pushed out or leaders will be forced out.
When a reputational crisis is happening, or is about to happen, you need to really consider what you are doing, and then saying, being fully aware of what it looks like from those outside of the business. So, what of the Met’s position? The key is for it to be more than words, and it has to be action that people can see. There is little to be gained from saying ‘we are taking action’ if people can’t understand what that really is. You can see how complex messaging can lead to more problems if you look at the response to the recent train derailment in Ohio, USA.
Communicators should be prevented from writing ‘we are, have, or are about to learn the lessons’. In the case of those with ongoing reputational issues there is little to be gained from saying ‘these are a few bad apples’. The situation needs to be recognised for what it actually is and then be followed up by those tangible and visible actions. The internal communication will be even more complex and nuanced. Attempting cultural change under the spotlight of the media, politicians and others needs some strength, humility and drive to transform, as well as having the right resources in place to deliver the communication. It should not be done on a shoestring or added on to the rest of the day job.
One of the biggest challenges in this situation will be ensuring that leaders are listening to their communication advisors, to the public, and to their staff. Policing can be a very insular organisation with people working in it for many years. Really listening has to be the foundation to making the change that is needed.