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Public Relations

Planning Makes a Difference: Announcing Difficult Decisions

Difficult decisions lead to old camps being closed

Announcing difficult decisions or actions can backfire without preparation. Whether an organization is a for-profit entity or a not-for-profit, if you must choose what will surely be an unpopular course, do some advance work so you are prepared.

Difficult decisions for the Girl Scouts

In Iowa and across the nation, there is turmoil among the Girl Scouts. No, someone didn’t steal the cookie money; the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa had to make a set of difficult decisions regarding their summer camps. They along with others across the country have had to choose to sell their camps. The potential sales have caused quite a ruckus among those who feel these camps are essential to the real scouting experience.

Nationwide, Girl Scout councils are confronting intense opposition as they sell camps that date back to the 1950s and earlier. Leaders say the properties have become a financial drain at a time when girls are less interested in camp. Defenders insist the camping experience shaped who they are and must be preserved for future generations…

The Girl Scouts, which began a century ago, established hundreds of camps nationwide as the organization expanded. But in recent decades, the group has consolidated its local councils. That process accelerated dramatically under a plan that cut them from 330 to 112 by 2009.

The restructuring left groups with additional properties to manage, many featuring old cabins and dining halls that need upgrades. Read more

Now confronted with lawsuits and disgruntled members, the Girl Scouts are having to expend precious resources responding to and trying to resolve this situation.

How could it have been different?

When announcing any difficult decisions or drastic changes realize that your constituents are going to have a reaction. Managing bodies whether boards of directors or owners have fiscal responsibility to their organization, but they may lack comprehension of how emotionally fraught their change-making decisions can be. Customers and donors alike have opinions, feelings and will react negatively if they feel they are loosing an essential service, or in the case of the Girl Scouts, a much beloved feature of the organization.

Beware of core DNA changes.

Scouting emerged in the 19th century as a way for young people to engage with the land and learn leadership. This DNA is embedded in the psyches of members and the public. By choosing to sell camps, Girl Scouts have essentially decided to alter their DNA. While they may be doing so for all the right reasons, this drastic action has created a gut-response from core constituents.

Preparing for difficult decisions

Your corporate reputation will be enhanced by bring a group of highly engaged members into your decision making conferences. While neither quick nor easy, laying out the situation, seeking alternative options and engaging with those most likely to react negatively will help prevent emotional riots among your members or customers.

Make use of the innate desire most people have—to be of useful service.

Steps to facilitating community involvement when making difficult decisions:

  1. Identify the issues, both worst case and best case scenarios; e.g. If we do nothing what will happen? If we do X what will happen? Back up with hard facts
  2. Comprehend the situation from the view of each potential stakeholder.
  3. Identify key stakeholders and potential leaders among each of these affinity / stakeholder groups
  4. Meet singly with leaders from each camp to gauge their reactions and learn if they will help you navigate the way forward
  5. Meet with stakeholders either as individuals or as groups based on their affinity
  6. Outline the situation
  7. Invite alternative solutions / ideas
  8. Task a leader for each stakeholder group to come up with alternatives and funding mechanisms to support their ideas
  9. Seek Angels whose interests may align with or help provide funding or alternative support; forestalling the hard choices
  10. Receive reports
  11. Have stakeholder leaders make recommendations
  12. Finally, have the board make the decision and make sure that decision is supported by clear, credible evidence

If your board or you as an owner must make the difficult decisions which you know will cause a negative reaction among stakeholders or customers, keep in mind that the more evidence you have of why you were forced to make these decisions and the more evidence you share, the better off you will be.

… a “considerable number” of councils have opted to sell one or more sites, said Mark Allsup, a property consultant for the organization. He said some councils have handled sales smoothly by keeping members informed during reviews so that final decisions aren’t a surprise and are backed up with data.

Some decisions “are being made soundly, and we are very supportive of them,” he said.

Transparent, clear, fact-based communication with all stakeholders at all times and participation of stakeholders in seeking alternatives can mitigate some of the bad blood which may occur. However, if your board must make the unpopular choice, recognize you will have fallout, dissension, and loss of business, and this must also be factored into your future as an organization.

As a woman who benefitted from going to Girl Scout camp, I know how heart-wrenching the decision to sell a camp must be, however as a business owner, I also understand needing to have funding to support every part of my enterprise.

Need to plan the announcement of a difficult decision? Need guidance on how to communicate your firms new direction or gain alignment with constituents? If your business or firm is facing a crisis, contact us at 843-628-6434 for consultation and assistance. If you would like to have us perform a crisis audit for your firm so you are prepared in advance, we welcome your call.

Call us now about your PR or Crisis Communications. 1.843.628.6434
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