Pandemic planning

 As you’re reading this it’s anyone’s guess at what stage we’ll be in terms of the current swine flu issue.  That is the nature of issue/crisis management. 

 First things first: Epidemic is defined as an outbreak of disease that occurs in more cases than you would normally expect. Pandemic is defined as an outbreak of disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high percentage of the population.  Semantically it’s that simple.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) moved to Phase 5 (of a six phase scale) on Wednesday. It’s likely that a pandemic is inevitable, but not necessarily imminent (it could dawdle for months, especially if it doesn’t like Northern Hemisphere summers) and not necessarily severe (mild pandemics are still pandemics, but noticeable only to professionals; it’s too soon to really know how mild or severe this one might be).  As of today it looks like this outbreak might not be quite as severe or unmanageable as some agencies had originally feared.  But H1N1 or some variation will probably be back during the next flu season.

According to the WHO, since the 18th century we have averaged 3 pandemics per century, every 10 – 50 years, so there’s no reason to think this won’t happen.    

Public awareness and concern is growing, which is probably good, but public trust of authority has declined over the years, not the best of situations.  

David Satcher, former U.S. Surgeon General said, “To the extent that the public panics, to the extent that the public demands antibiotics when they don’t need them, all of these things represent weaknesses in the public health infrastructure”. 

Some people are appropriately worried; some are excessively worried; some are imagining that what’s quite possible soon is already here (e.g. “worried well” showing up in hospital emergency rooms with mild respiratory symptoms); many are unduly apathetic.  Panic would be a VERY bad sign, but official fear of panic (“panic panic”) tends to lead to over-reassurance and suppression of alarming information – which tends to undermine trust and perhaps even lead to public panic. 

Public health agencies have a tough assignment – making sure that people are adequately aware and informed enough to take care of themselves, without being too apathetic or too panicked.  While the agencies themselves try to hit a constantly changing and moving target. At the same time experts have to rely on news media to get the facts right and get the facts out, without overhyping it to the point that people stop paying attention.

Officials at every level need to be candid, to encourage dialogue, and to tell citizens the things they can do to prepare and ways they can help their community prepare.  We want a public that can bear its fears, not a public that has been persuaded not to feel them. 

If your family or organization doesn’t yet have a plan, today would be a good day to develop one.  Your planning should be built keeping the following in mind: 

  1. Follow the hygiene recommendations and instructions of your local health officials — wash your hands often with soap and warm water and cough into your sleeve.  Prepare to stay home for awhile — make sure you have enough food, water, medicine, and anything else that you might need if you couldn’t get out or if stores were closed.    
  2. Government encourages ‘social distancing’ as the primary preventative course of action.  Sick people need to stay home and others will want to, but critical work and functions will have to continue.
  3. The uncertainty of a chaotic and unpredictable situation highlights the need to know what’s going on.  Communication is and will remain critical.
  4. The first goal of an effective communication strategy is to create a community or ‘social context’ for dealing with an unfolding situation.  Make sure you know how to reach and communicate with your family and critical employees at all times.  Make sure that you have a way of communicating with your sick employees.   

Crisis planning and response should err on the side of overreacting and over-communicating.  Don’t allow a vacuum of information to be filled with rumor.

Here’s a link to a good checklist for your business or agency.  



Stay well.






Building great teams and managing monster egos

Back in a previous life I worked with and managed high profile radio personalities.  Legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) recently told business executives at the Milken Institute Global Conference how he builds winning teams.   Anyone who supervises talented people can relate.  

·   Leadership isn’t singular. No one leads alone, Coach K says. When he was building the team that won gold at the Beijing Olympics, he relied on Lebron James, Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant as the team’s “internal leaders.” They had tremendous sway on the rest of the team. “If they said it, it’s pretty much going to go,” he says.

·   Soaring egos need a higher purpose. Talented players often have outsized egos. It’s not Krzyzewski’s style to break them down, but he has to keep ego from blocking improvement. To get them working as a team, Krzyzewski first meets with each player individually, lays out what he expects from him and instills in each a common purpose. Fellow panelist Pete Carroll, head football coach at the University of Southern California, said it best: No matter how huge the ego is, a star player needs to feel he is part of something bigger than himself. “You have to look every one of them in the eye, respect that they’re unique and figure out where they’re coming from,” Carroll said. “You have to give of yourself to figure them out.”

·   Great players learn best from each other. When Krzyzewski met with Lebron James before training for the Olympics began, James told him that he wanted to learn the secret of Jason Kidd’s excellent passing, and how Kobe Bryant, whom he considered the best player in the sport, prepared off court. James forged close relationships with both men and has become a better player because of it, Krzyzewski says. The trick for the coach, he said, is to create an environment in which the players learn from each other without having to expose vulnerabilities. “The guys who are really good in our sport don’t want to show weakness,” he said.

·   Love them after they leave you. College players, like rising young executives, will move on. Fulfill your commitment to them by maintaining your ties, Krzyzewski advises. His players have gone on to play in the NBA, to coach at influential colleges or to new endeavors. “We maintain a relationship of being a friend and part of their family for the rest of their lives,” he says. It’s a form of networking that he finds particularly rewarding. He suggests looking for ways to make it easy for former protégés to ask for help without losing face.



Prepping for TV


A story in Forbes by Klaus Kneale lists some tips for doing well on any TV appearance. Simply put, arm yourself with simple facts, wear solid colors and focus on just three ideas you want to get across.

Scott Baxter was on CNBC in recently to talk about the economic stimulus package’s effects on small business, but when he got there he found his interview was actually a live debate with Reps. Maxine Waters and J. Gresham Barrett.

He says he survived because he had come prepared with “fun facts.” He had rounded up some simple, poignant nuggets of information from sources like the Census Bureau and the Small Business Administration.

In a previous time on TV he wasn’t nearly as prepared, and the interviewer “ate me alive,” he says. It’s hard to stay cool on live TV, Baxter admits, “But knowledge is king,” he adds. Anecdotes aren’t bad, but you look your best when you can rattle off impressive facts.

Bill Delaney at Ketchum offers a list of the simple rules:

  • Wear solid, preferably dark colors, because dots and stripes can create weird patterns on camera and light bounces off lighter colors more.
  • Speak in straightforward, declarative sentences.
  • Stick to three key ideas in order to remain clear.
  • And no matter how busy you are, take 15 minutes ahead of the interview to arrange your thoughts.
  • Don’t debate reporters, it rarely works. Your interviewer will usually have an agenda and will want to steer the conversation. Remember that reporters ALWAYS have the last word. Use questions as a chance to tell your story.
  • Admit when you don’t know something, you’re wrong or you’ve made a mistake.



Office Politics

I ran across and edited a story from LeadershipBlog that reminded me why I gave up being a corporate puke.

We all play games. They’re a coping mechanism to help us to navigate uncertain and challenging settings. But they are self-serving and drain people of energy and commitment.

“A lack of knowledge about games allows them to thrive” say Mauricio Goldstein and Phillip Read in their book,
Games At Work: How to Recognize and Reduce Office Politics. “The more you know the better able you’ll be to limit their damage and turn the energy of your people in more productive directions.”

Some of the common games they mention:

  • Gotcha …where people act as if they get points for pointing out others’ mistakes.
  • Gossip …the rumor mill is used for political advantage.
  • Low Budget …where managers purposely low-ball budget requests as a negotiating ploy.
  • Marginalize …exile individuals from teams or groups because they challenge the status quo, or aren’t one of the boss’ people.
  • Blame …individuals find scapegoats to excuse failure.
  • Gray Zone …deliberately fostering a lack of clarity about who should do what to avoid accountability
  • Pecking Order …people play favorites and put others in the doghouse to show power
  • Pessimism …artificially inflating the difficulty of an assignment in order to create lower expectations
  • Big Idea …touting visionary strategies and concepts to promote your creativity regardless of whether the ideas can be implemented.
  • No Bad News …ignoring negative data in relentless pursuit of a positive approach.

Goldstein and Read provide an outline for managers to address and end the games people play in organizations. They also present five principles to keep in mind:

To game is human. Your goal is to have fewer and less.

Games flourish during times of high anxiety. Companies need anxiety to fuel performance, however this anxiety and stress needs to be channeled into productive rather than manipulative behaviors.

Your company’s games are not comparable to another company’s games. Different organizations have different game ecologies.

Minimizing game playing starts at home. As soon as you deny that you play or facilitate games, you’ve limited your options for dealing with them. Recognizing this tendency in yourself helps you deal with these issues at a personal level.

Dialogue is a natural antidote to games.  Don’t create programs and policies to punish game playing. This will serve only to create more games. Speaking openly and honestly discourages game playing.


Some of the best training you can get

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Certificate course – the best basic public involvement and consensus training on the planet – now qualifies for AICP CM credits.  (If you’re a member of the American Planning Association you know that this is a very good thing.)

The class is scheduled in Philadelphia, June 15-19; and, Boston July 13-15.  Call (602-266-5556) or e-mail me for more information.

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