Most issues managers are fire fighters: they are constantly reacting to an ever-growing list of demands, incidents and outright crises. There are never sufficient resources, least of which time. Priorities vary from day to day, largely based on which wheel is squeaking loudest or on pet projects of senior executives. Perhaps it would be better to call this issues care and feeding rather than issues management.
If you ask managers what issues their organizations are facing, they will generally take a deep breath and start reciting a long list, with boundaries between a number of these issues being quite blurry.
If you ask those same managers how they are addressing the issues, they will often start reciting another long list of key messages that they have been instructed to memorize and repeat over and over again to persuade the “opposition”.
The main drawbacks of fighting fires
- These managers are reacting to a context others are shaping. They are not trying to define the terrain for engagement. Indeed, they are not engaging at all — just chanting mantras.
- These organizations seem to be under the delusion that if they just talk louder, comprehension will suddenly dawn for their interlocutors. This is akin to the stereotypical Anglo-Saxon tourist speaking English VE-RY SLOW-LY AND LOUD-LY at people in foreign countries, rather than actually attempting to speak the local language
- This approach is indiscriminate. Each reaction or manifestation is treated as a separate issue, when many of them are related. All issues are seen as equally important, making it difficult to allocate limited resources.
The key is to move from issues communication to issues management
- Analyze the issues in order to group them into families and to separate causes, effects and reactions;
- Weigh the importance of each issue cluster based on its potential impact, organizational influence, timeliness and evolution;
- Identify the key stakeholders, understand what motivates them and map their vocabulary to your own;
- Understand what you can actually do and who else has a role to play, and build alliances.
At Prospero Communications, we have designed our Issue Navigator (TM) methodology based on years of on-the-ground issues management experience in European and international policy circles for producing a pragmatic framework in order to increase effectiveness, better allocate resources and demonstrate impact.