Lipstick on a Pig

We have all heard the old saying, “Putting lipstick on a pig.”  This premise occurs when someone (a person or a company) makes superficial changes to improve the perception of an object or an event.  Examples could include a cosmetic paint job put on a house that is falling apart, or to apply a public relations spin on a highly sensitive topic to take the focus off of one organization and place blame on another.

This past week, we were invited to an event in California that focused on dealing with issues around adversity.  Panelists talked about challenging case studies in the sports world and how they were handled both internally and externally.  The topics covered included Lance Armstrong, the NFL (Ray Rice, Deflategate, Ardian Peterson), and Roger Clemens among others.

Here are the top three takeaways we garnered from the speakers at the event:

1.      Control the message – Several of the event’s panelists echoed the concept of taking immediate action when things go awry.  People will respond not on what happened, but how it was handled.

2.      Pigs like mud – The message here was that when things go bad, if you don’t take control of the message, those less scrupulous would love to take the low road.  They would rather have the fight down in the mud, than through an open, transparent, and fair process. 

3.      Have a plan – When a challenging issue comes about, those that have a plan will be able to respond in a more effective manner.  Several panelists talked about having a playbook ready to go when scandal strikes.  Many organizations role play potentially difficult situations in preparation for the day things take a negative turn.

As in any leadership situation, those that plan ahead will be better suited to handle the challenges that will come in the future.  As one of my old mentors used to say, “It’s not a matter of IF something bad will happen, it’s WHEN.”

Do you have a playbook for when something negative happens to your organization?  If you do, then you will be able to control the message, stay out of the mud, and handle the adversity in a positive way.  If not, you may end up trying to put lipstick on a pig.