31 October 2014

The Devil’s Snare #nlpoli

The latest eruption of  the Manning political controversy volcano is evidence of many things.  Not the least is that Premier Paul Davis and his team have a monumental problem in their organization.  It’s the one that steps in to manage political crises. Davis and his crew don’t have one.

So far, they’ve let Judy Manning wander in front of cameras,  call radio open line shows, and continue to do everything in her power to defend herself and justify her actions. She did all of that on Thursday, starting with VOCM’s Fred Hutton,  followed by a call to Open Line with Paddy Daly and finishing up with an interview on NTV

Manning gave reporters a couple of e-mails that showed she had, in fact, submitted a couple of draft decisions. Everything else has been a personal attack on her.  Manning even managed to get in a slam at James McLeod from the Telegram over a piece he did a while ago that showed Manning hadn’t finished her master’s program.

All that probably makes Manning feel really good.  It’s possible that the great minds at the Confederation Building think that Judy is doing the right thing. The Conservatives have got a record of handling political problems in this way.  The reality is that they are just making the whole thing worse.

You see, Judy’s goal has been to prove she’s right.  She is defending herself. She claims everyone else is attacking her. No one cares about that. The only one concerned about Judy is Judy.

People have already decided she’s wrong or, at least, could not be right. After all, she got a cushy job.  NTV’s poll shows that a substantially majority has already decided she shouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place and shouldn’t be allowed to stay unelected. The massive shag-up that the Conservatives made of the appointment laid the foundation for what’s happening now a month later.

Zero Sign of Compassion

Meanwhile, 19 injured workers and their families are left in the lurch. Nowhere in Judy’s tortured language with CBC or in her self-defence on Thursday did we get any apparent concern for the people whose hearings are now in limbo.  Sure she said something about it with NTV, but those were just a few words said after the first interview.

In that one, we heard without any doubt that it was all about Judy.  She pronounced herself satisfied with how she’d handled things:  “I'm entirely comfortable with how I've discharged my duties as a review commissioner and certainly to date I'm entirely comfortable with the energy and the enthusiasm that I've brought to this position.”

And for the 19?

Not really much concern, apparently.

That doesn’t mean Manning doesn’t have some compassion for the people who are now in a tough spot as a result of her appointment to cabinet.  It’s just that she has shown no sign of any concern for them.  She’d resigned.  She’d handed all the materials over to the review commissioner and she was “entirely comfortable” with herself.

She quit to go to cabinet, but she was planning to quit anyway, according to Manning. That’s because she couldn’t make enough money as a review commissioner. See?  There’s that focus on herself and her own interests, again:  “I don't apologize for one moment in saying that I had a profit-seeking motive.”

Problem-solving versus Ego-focus

Manning’s egocentric focus is a huge part of the difficulty she is having.  It makes her think of every issue in terms of how it affects her, rather than in terms of how she can resolve a problem, even if she had a hand in creating it.

Take a look at how she approached this business with the workers’ compensation review committee.  She had the job.  She did some of the work.  By all signs, the chief commissioner and her people were taking their time with Manning to help her get up to speed. 

Manning was planning to leave the job, according to her own account.  Had she resigned for any other reason,  the chief review commissioner would have reasonably expected her to finish the cases she had outstanding before leaving.  It’s part of that professional obligation Manning mentioned.

As things turned out, Manning had a better offer,  this time of a cabinet job.  She resigned  - as anyone would have - and wouldn’t have been able to deliver the appeals decisions even if she had wanted to do so.  That doesn’t mean that Manning could just walk away and pronounce herself satisfied that her obligations ended.

If the review commissioner was short of funds and staff,  Manning could have done something about it in her new position.  Alternately, Davis and his staff should have been aware of this issue when they appointed Davis. Political common sense would have told them to get on top of this quickly in order to avoid the very problem they are now facing.

That’s what a problem-solving focus would get you.  Ego-centric decision-making or some other major flaw led the Conservatives to this spot.  And that major flaw is still at work, as Manning proved on Thursday.

 Going Defensive is Deadly

The usual practice in healthy political organizations is for somebody very high up to take control of crises like Judy Manning in order to get them off the news cycle.  Obviously, that hasn’t happened.

The people who are good at this sort of thing know that going defensive never works.  If they didn’t fix the problem before it started, their next best answer would be to fix it now:  get some resources in there and get these cases solved.  Manning would be a secondary consideration, and her scripted lines might well include an expression of regret or even an apology.

When it comes to crisis management, an apology is like an atomic bomb.  Once you drop it, there’s nothing else.  People can get as angry as they want.  They can call you names.  But you’ve taken responsibility for your actions and for the injury – real or perceived – that you may have caused or inadvertently made worse.  And all those resources now to solve the problem makes things right.

Going defensive is deadly.  It’s like the Devil’s Snare. The more you struggle by defending yourself,  the more trapped you’ll become. 

Attacking the media makes it worse, again.  You can’t win a fight with someone who buys their ink by the gallon or who gets their airwaves and pixels for free.  When you start quibbling about whether you finished one or two cases,  as Manning did on Thursday,  as you do is acknowledge that the core story was right.  If you slam the reporter because they failed to mention you were a good student,  as Manning did in her attack on McLeod,  you’ll just win smiles because you are missing the point of the story.

Compassion and Responsibility

It all boils down to compassion and responsibility.  Those are the two things missing from anything Manning has done over the past couple of days.  She showed no compassion for others, no sense that she was aware of the impact her actions had on others.  Manning also didn’t take responsibility for anything that had gone wrong and she certainly didn’t take any responsibility for fixing or helping to fix the problem.

Even if there was no way to avoid the difficulties, Manning has certainly be in a position to help lessen them.  Fixing the problem, not defending herself, was the best response.  And just so that no one forgets this,  Manning and the people in Paul Davis’ office have been aware of this problem for a month.  They didn’t do anything to deal with consequences of Manning’s resignation as review commissioner until CBC contacted her.  Even then,  the planned response was defensive and ego-centric.

Had Manning demonstrated compassion and responsibility, perhaps in the way your humble e-scribbler described above,  there’d be no story.