Now that my comments about Montreal’s Dawson College have spilled onto another crisis blog site (crisismanager.wordpress.com) and after having some time to think about Valerie’s comments about my harsh judgment, I can’t resist commenting more.
First, the distinction between a Canadian “college” which is part prep school and part university and a US university. Are the communication expectations the same? My answer: Yes. The expectations for communication for all stakeholders are largely the same. The more your life is impacted personally by what is happening, the more you have a need and an expectation for personal, direct and instant communication. That is the way it is. That’s the expectation. Doesn’t mean it is possible to meet. Doesn’t mean it is easy to meet, but that is the expectation. The closer an organization can come to meeting that, the better their communication response. That means that high schools and schools at all levels need to be aware of this expectation and prepare to respond.
The primary concern of Valerie is the “F” grade I so quickly assigned. I think Valerie has an important point. But I used to be a teacher and the grading process dies hard I suppose. The headline on the blog I wrote said “appears” and that is important. But Valerie is right that in the hours after the event it was far too early to judge the overall communication response. So, in retrospect, I should have made it clear that it was a very initial judgment. Sort of like a pop quiz on the first day of class rather than the final grade. They may do much better in the long term. The problem with communication in this instant news world is that initial impressions count for an awful lot and so that first day pop quiz may actually represent about 50% of the total grade. Even if it is 50%, the F was premature.
Where Valerie and I disagree more fundamentally I believe is that while stakeholder’s expectations may be entirely unreasonable from a responder’s perspective–perception is reality. Those responding during Katrina could give all kinds of reasons why their communication was inadequate. Ultimately, it didn’t matter tot he public. Expectations were not met and that is the bottom line.
I’m also struggling with Valerie’s sense that I was trading on a tragedy. If that is the case, it is truly despicable. But while I might have used some thoughtless “blogstyle” comments about this, and showed some insensitivity, the purpose of this blog is to examine how organizations are responding to crisis events and learn from them. To not comment because there is a human tragedy involved would eliminate such tragedies from the opportunity to learn. But, would love to hear other thoughts on this.
And Valerie, thanks for the conversation! You certainly have helped me slow down and think about these things.