Pearl's Paradise

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled teams yearning to breath free…"

November 9, 2011
by Steve Pearl

Crisis Communications 2: You Only Get One Chance to Get it Right.

(In our first installment of our Crisis Communications series we talked about how two very different organizations shared some eerie similarities as they confronted world-rocking crises.)

Hot Topic:

You only get ONE chance to do each crisis communication with excellence.  Start planning NOW!

Teaser alert:  In a couple of days I will recommend a book that will help you prepare to lead your organization through a crisis.  (It's such a great book  I devote an entire section to it!)  

For now I want to get you started with a simple concept, one that will help you survive your next crisis with fewer butterfly bandages on your organizationally battered carcass.

A carefully crafted "Crisis Communications Plan" is the most critical component of a comprehensive "Crisis Management Plan."

(We use the terms "Crisis Response Plan" and "Crisis Management Plan" interchangeably in this series.)

You say your organization doesn't have a Crisis Management Plan?  What are you waiting for?!  START WRITING IT TODAY!  Shame on you if you get caught flat-footed in the face of a crisis because you didn't put in a few hours to get a skeleton response plan together.

There are multiple facets to every crisis management plan, from security considerations, to financial considerations, to leadership structure sustainability, to technology considerations, to physical plant preparation, to social media connections, to web site capacity, and much more.  

Perhaps the most critical component is the most overlooked…

An effective Crisis Communication Plan and a decent set of Crisis Communication Protocols.

Click to continue reading “Crisis Communications 2: You Only Get One Chance to Get it Right.”

November 8, 2011
by Steve Pearl

Crisis Communications Concept: Emergency Plan, Crisis Plan, or Both?

(This brief side note expands concepts introduced in our “Crisis Communications” series.)

Key Concept:  The Difference Between “Emergency Response Plans” and “Crisis Response Plans.”

When it comes to anticipating and planning for a crisis or emergency, most organizations don’t understand the differences between these two types of response, mitigation, and organizational recovery plans.

“Emergencies” are almost always “crises” but “crises” are not always “emergencies.”

Emergencies usually require a quick, pre-defined, tactical response.

Crises, on the other hand, require a thoughtfully crafted, more fluid, strategic response.

Emergencies often pop up on you without warning, requiring you to mobilize your team with tactical responses like building evacuations, fire suppression efforts, flood mitigation, contacting loved ones of affected employees, or cleaning up a mess after a snow-collapsed roof.

Crises, on the other hand, can sneak up on you over the span of weeks, months, or even years, leaving the urgent, tactical tools of emergency response sitting on the shelf.

A crisis can also be the outcome of an emergency, laying bare an organization’s inability to move beyond tactical responses and onward to thinking strategically about the future.

Click to continue reading “Crisis Communications Concept: Emergency Plan, Crisis Plan, or Both?”

November 8, 2011
by Steve Pearl

Crisis Communications 1: Jack and Jill Went Up the Crisis Hill…

“Wow!”  That’s all my friend Jack could say.  Then there was another moment of stunned silence before he added an even louder, “WOW!” for emphasis.

I had just finished telling my long-time friend the heavily abridged, ultra-sanitized, super-condensed version of my eight month journey through an organizational crisis of mammoth proportions.  It wasn’t a tidy little, “here today, gone tomorrow” crisis.  It was a, “This isn’t going away any time soon and we could lose the company” crisis.

Jack’s reaction pretty much said it all.


Jack and I hadn’t seen or talked to each other in nearly two years, so we had quite a lot of catching up to do.  The last time we talked he was congratulating me on my new job.  A few months later I was heading off to another state, believing I was about to build a brand new college from the ground up.  As far as Jack knew when he picked up the phone, I was about to share the good news with him about the college opening in the fall of 2012.

We reconnected when I called Jack for some advice on a potential consulting project.  One thing led to another and our conversation soon took a turn toward my eight-month-long trip down the crisis management rabbit hole.

Click to continue reading “Crisis Communications 1: Jack and Jill Went Up the Crisis Hill…”

October 14, 2011
by Steve Pearl

Adaptive Leadership in a New Job

<p><a  data-cke-saved-href="">Image: href="">Image: africa /</a></p>We take this brief side-trip from our, "Making Meetings Matter" series to talk about an under-appreciated concept in organizational leadership.  Sometimes it feels like leadership experts talk about the practice of "leadership" in narrowly-defined, myopic terms.  "Leaders" tend to say "this," or "leaders" behave a certain way in certain situations.  

To hear some leadership gurus describe it, you would think that the same leadership skills and styles apply equally well to all disciplines, all industries, and all challenges.

That's just not the case.  Applying good leadership practices to the unique circumstances of one company versus another is rarely neat, tidy, or predictable.  Leadership can be messy at times as you use a method that worked one time before only to find out that the new team doesn't respond the same way as the old.

Sometimes a leadership style that worked well in one environment backfires in another.

With Steve Jobs' death so fresh on our minds, a perfect example of a leadership mismatch springs to mind.  John Sculley, skilled at leading consumer products giant PepsiCo, notoriously bombed at Apple when he tried to impose the skills he had honed at PepsiCo on the laid-back, Cupertino-based technology company.  Jobs and Sculley clashed horribly, resulting in Jobs' departure from the company he founded in a garage with his friend Steve Wozniak back in the late 70's.

Click to continue reading “Adaptive Leadership in a New Job”

October 5, 2011
by Steve Pearl

Making Meetings Matter: Step 1, Selflessness Matters

(In the previous installment of "Making Meetings Matter" we introduced 5 simple guidelines to help you get more value and effectiveness out of your meetings.  Now it's time to dig deeper…)

STEP 1: Selflessness Matters"I just packed a few bags for the trip…"

A weird thought crossed my mind the other day.  It happened while I was thinking about the first thing you must do to unleash the power of your teams.  I was mulling the notion that setting a general tone of selflessness in your organization is actually a huge part of effective team leadership.

And that was when my thought processes went sideways.  Hang in with me for a minute.

Most leaders expect that their people will show up and contribute when they call a meeting.  They pay their employees good money, so why shouldn't they expect good performance?  They assume the hearts and minds of the people who walk through the door are all-company, all the time.  Heck, in this economy most of us are lucky to have a job!  Just showing up to meetings with a bunch of great ideas isn’t a differentiator; it’s pure survival!

How dumb are we if we think that people become emotionless, unfettered, bottomless wells of great ideas the second they cross the threshold of the conference room?  

NOBODY walks through the door of a meeting room these days without carrying a load of emotional baggage on their shoulders!

Click to continue reading “Making Meetings Matter: Step 1, Selflessness Matters”

September 23, 2011
by Steve Pearl

Making Meetings Matter 3: Five Simple Steps

(This is the fourth installment in our series about how you can get more powerful results out of team meetings.)

No More Train Wrecks

Train Wreck Outside Pretoria SA

Train wrecks aren't pretty.

I once witnessed the fresh aftermath of a train wreck.  Hearing the crash at our home about 500 yards away, I grabbed my camera and raced to the rail crossing in the valley below.  I was a freshman in college, which means that I was both smart enough to know the risks of being close to a recent train wreck and dumb enough to take them.  The wreck created a virtual jungle gym of cars, coal, and mangled rails.  No matter where you stepped, you risked injury.

One of the cars came to rest no more than 3 feet from a home located next to the tracks.  That particular image is seared into my memory.

Nobody got killed in that train wreck and, thank God, nobody got killed in the train wreck pictured above.

But no, train wrecks definitely don't fall into the "pretty" category.

Neither was my client's meeting. People ran for the hills when it was all over. As soon as they could get free of the wreckage, the scrambled away.

Click to continue reading “Making Meetings Matter 3: Five Simple Steps”

September 14, 2011
by Steve Pearl

Making Meetings Matter 2: When The Going Gets Tough…

(In the last installment we introduced the story of how an important team meeting went off the rails when a senior leader made one small, but critical, mistake.)

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Call a Meeting.

The Tough Guy Wields a Sword."Thanks for being here, everybody.  We have a few challenges ahead of us and I'm looking forward to hearing your ideas."

Our client rounded up his executive team for a critical meeting.  He just finished two weeks of analyzing sales and revenue projections and the future of the company went from bright to murky virtually overnight.  It was just before the famous Wall Street meltdown.  Signs of economic stress were already percolating through the professional services sector.

"For the past two weeks I've been reviewing our sales growth and revenue projections for the coming year.  I am sorry to say that they don't look good.  We already saw some slow down on a couple of our key accounts, so what I'm telling you shouldn't come as a surprise.  I'm projecting as much as a 50% downturn in new sales in the coming year due to economic stagnation.  I also think we might see some additional trouble with existing relationships and revenue streams.  A couple of our clients are already 120 days behind on payments.

"All this means that we are looking at the potential for stagnant growth or possibly even a need for some retraction for next year."

The word "retraction" resonated with the executive team at the table.  To several who had come over from large, Fortune 500 firms, the word "retraction" was code for, "layoffs."

Before continuing with his introduction, the boss paused and looked around the table.  If he wanted to use blunt force trauma to get the attention of his team, he achieved his goal.  After his opening salvo, everyone in the room looked glazed and a little shell-shocked.  From where I was sitting I could see that the VP of Client Services went from bright and upbeat to shaken and visibly pale.

The boss continued his monologue.

"Now, here's what I plan to do about it…"

Click to continue reading “Making Meetings Matter 2: When The Going Gets Tough…”

June 24, 2011
by Steve Pearl

The “Making Meetings Matter” Series: Prologue

Meetings are a necessary evil of organizational life. Most big achievements in business, sports, and life depend upon a collection of smart, talented individuals all pulling together as a team to achieve a common goal.  You won't win the Super Bowl without a great team.  You won't achieve market dominance without building and leading a great team.

Your business won't survive if your team isn't communicating regularly and executing every play from the same playbook.

In leadership we often talk in terms of, "getting everyone on the same page" before tackling a big problem.  We are keenly aware of the importance of ensuring that every team member knows, understands, and is acting to achieve the same mission and goals.

So we "do meetings" to ensure everyone hears the same message at the same time from the same source.

Click to continue reading “The “Making Meetings Matter” Series: Prologue”

July 29, 2010
by Steve Pearl

Where There’s Smoke, It Might Just Be A Smoke Machine – Part II

(Editor's Note: This is Part II of a multi-part series offering a new take on the age old question, “Who do you trust?”  When selfish motives often lurk in the shadows, how can you really know whether spoon-fed “truth” is really “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”?”)

Just the Spin-Free Facts, Ma'am.

Selective truth telling – “spin” – masquerades as trustworthy “fact” with alarming frequency these days.  We see it in White House press briefings, from Republican and Democratic administrations alike.  We see it in those BP oil spill briefings which virtually nobody takes seriously.  We see it in Wall Street financial reports when a company highlights its up-tick in earnings while downplaying the fact that it just laid off 1000 workers to reduce expenses.  We see it every day on C-Span as both sides of the political spectrum bash each other, pretending as if the very solvency of the Union is teetering on the brink of disaster if one ideological slant is not pursued to the exclusion of all others.

Carefully selected snippets of targeted facts and figures are used to bolster this position or that, making one person (or company, or special interest group) look really, really bad while another looks really, really good.  What is thoroughly messed up about all this spin-mongering is that honest, hard-working reporters, pressed by rampant cost-cutting and a general lowering of editorial standards, regurgitate hand-picked “spin” as if it is hard-edged fact.  This new editorial expedience means that people or organizations with narrowly-targeted agendas get away with monopolizing the thought cycle of the day, often to the detriment of exposing deeper, trickier truths that get swept under the rug.

So perhaps it’s the awareness that we increasingly tiptoe through a “spin-controlled” world that gives me a more jaded sensibility about what gets offered up as “truth” these days.

Click to continue reading “Where There’s Smoke, It Might Just Be A Smoke Machine – Part II”

July 12, 2010
by Steve Pearl

Two Little Words with the Power to Hurt or Heal

Matthew 18:21-22 (New International Version)

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"  22 Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Today we ponder the power of words. 

No, I'm not talking about great works of literature.  Even as we approach the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee's ground-breaking, "To Kill a Mockingbird," I thought it was time to get a little more elemental, to dig deeper into the underlying meaning and power of smaller, more discrete building blocks of language.

Today, we consider two, inconsequential, three-letter words and the ways in which their placement in a sentence can either destroy a shaky relationship or heal a longstanding rift.

Today, we consider the sublime importance of those tiny, building-block words "did" and "you."

Click to continue reading “Two Little Words with the Power to Hurt or Heal”

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