If you remember your Cold War history, you may know the Distant Early Warning Line or DEW Line, which was a system of radar stations in the Canadian Artic constructed in the mid ‘50s. Its purpose was to detect incoming Soviet bombers and provide early warning of any sea and land invasion.
Your organization needs a DEW Line.
To protect your reputation, you need to be constantly scanning the horizon for threats. What’s out there? Who is saying what about you? What are the contentious issues that could blow up any moment, what matters are coming up slowly and steadily and which ones are just simmering away in the background?
In communications, we call it an “issues management program.” A sophisticated issues management program needn’t be onerous, expensive or time-consuming, but it does need to be formalized, its value recognized with participation from throughout the organization and responsibility for its management needs to be assigned.
In larger organizations, the communications department is the logical centre for an issues management program, but take care to involve experts from across the organization and your executive team. Being ready for that ‘lob from left field’ can still catch your leadership off-guard if there isn’t an awareness at the top of the current issues affecting your company’s well-being. Issues management is definitely a ‘team sport.’
The Internet is a great tool for issues management with the ease of Google searches, news alerts for mainstream and social media and the myriad other methods of ways of keeping current and trolling for information. Gathering intelligence about subjects, people or other organizations that can have an impact on your company’s business can also come from conference presentations, academic studies and research, blogs, white papers from associations, regulator and government agencies and those conversations you’re always having with your stakeholders.
Mapping issues managements systems works really well and can help everyone involved see shifting scenarios more easily. Begin by identifying the issues, then prioritize them and then develop strategies and actions to manage them. The list may be long at first, but once you prioritize the issues and identify their level of urgency (hint: use colours), you can begin to create a strategy and actions to deal with each of them…or not. Your company’s reaction to each issue will be unique and will range from taking immediate action to simply ignoring it for now.
Of course, creating your map is just the first step in a never-ending journey. Things never remain static and your issues management map will need to be constantly updated as things shift and yesterday’s ‘ignore it’ issue becomes today’s ‘burning’ issue. But the good news? You’ll be ready.