3 Ways to Avoid Cultural Crises

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There’s a big difference between knowing and doing. How many of us PR professionals have advised a client or leader just to have that gold nugget of advice ignored? The gap between hearing and actually listening is wide. The gap between knowing something and taking action is often wider.  

For example, I’ve had people I care about share with me repeatedly how they want to lose weight. As a person who has lost over 100 pounds myself, that used to send me into a coaching “here’s-how-you-can-do-it” frenzy. My passionate advice came from a good place, but I potentially offended some people. Why? Because I was assuming people didn’t know how to lose weight. 

After time, I realized that most adults know how to lose weight. They just weren’t ready or able to take the actions necessary to change their lifestyle. My lived experience and later my work experience in health and wellness taught me that how we regard our health is influenced by our culture. 

That culture — the set of behaviors and norms we subscribe to as part of how we relate to others — can make changing our lifestyle a more complex journey. Not recognizing that complexity made me sound flippant at times. Sometimes as communicators, we jump into the how logistics before we recognize the complexity of the why in the first place. 

Learn what’s right.

The more I learn about diversity and inclusion, the more I learn about culture and the role it plays in our lives. DE&I efforts only work if there’s an ongoing commitment to respecting and involving all kinds of people.

Research by the Institute for Public Relations Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion shows organizations were more likely to publicly express a commitment to DE&I (76%) than to take action – either internally (70%) or in society (59%). 

However, one common way organizations demonstrate their DE&I commitment is with cultural month observances or events. Jumping into the tactics of how those observances are held versus analyzing the strategy with which they are planned could cause a crisis.  

To put cultural strategy into practice, we have to consider how people feel. Making sure our actions make people feel respected and valued through planning and hosting cultural events should be the goal.

Do what’s right.

A good PR professional will come off as “judgey” if they’re acting as an adviser. Pros should point out the good, bad and iffy. When leadership or clients don’t want to take action, that’s often when a crisis occurs. Is there anything more discouraging than having pointed out an issue, been ignored and something bad happens? 

For most people, that ranks fairly high. For PR professionals, that can damage our confidence or reputation. Culturally, it can cause stakeholder disengagement and distrust in employees or publics. That leads to lower job satisfaction, lower external support, and lower level of performance or profitability.

Here are three ways to practice to avoid a cultural crisis: 

  1. Listen to committee, employee and stakeholder ideas. Ask for input, then listen and document. Share for accuracy and then build plans from there. 
  2. Involve people in your organization who work with, represent or study the culture you want to honor in the planning and decision-making process. Additionally, get involvement from an outside nonprofit, academic or cultural expert source. Not including members from the culture we’re “appreciating” is the beginning slide down into cultural appropriation. 
  3. Act on stakeholder feedback, employee suggestions, or consultant recommendations. Don’t just know better — do better. If an expert tells you something is an iffy or bad idea — believe them. 

Close the knowing/doing gaps in your work whenever you can. You’ll find it safeguards your organization, increases stakeholder engagement and even may help you sleep easier at night! 

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