Issues management is a proactive management process to identify and then manage risks that can have a significant and corrosive impact on the reputation of an organization. While typically in the domain of a communications department, issues management can only be truly effective if it is aligned with the organization’s priorities and proactively incorporated into strategic decision-making.
Why Is Issues Management Important?
Issues Management has two distinct roles–first, to incorporate stakeholder expectations into decision-making; and second, to increase understanding of the organization’s goals and values amongst those stakeholders who are important to its long-term success.
Oftentimes, the focus of issues management programs is only on the latter. If issues management is only about “positioning” problematic issues rather than actually listening, meaningfully, to stakeholder concerns, its value in reducing reputational risk is minimized.
How We Think About Issues Management
Issues management takes the same stakeholder-centric approach that is critical to effective crisis management and applies it to day-to-day decisions. Through issues identification, options analysis and meaningful stakeholder engagement, issues management can serve as an early-warning indicator and, through either strategic changes or more effective communications, prevent an issue from becoming a crisis.
Issue Identification requires an understanding about what your stakeholders think about you as an organization? How much do they really understand about your strategy or how you operate? What issues could damage or burnish their perspective of you?
Options Analysis & Decision-Making is a structured approach to first assess the relative strategic importance of that issue and second, to assess which of five basic strategies your organization should take to mitigate each issue.
Stakeholder Engagement defines the how, the who, and the what of the organization’s engagement strategy for each stakeholder group. With key decisions made, its time for communications to identify the “influencers,” and clearly and effectively articulate the organization’s point of view.
Issues management can also help build reputation by identifying tangible opportunities to collaborate and create new relationships or solutions that not only meet stakeholder expectations but drive reputational and financial value to the organization.
It is not always possible, however, to solve every identified issue and depending on industry sector, there may be a higher tolerance for certain risks. But, in these circumstances, it is critical that the organization has an aligned crisis management capability that is ready to handle the ‘inevitable’ crisis.