The signals we send

As we have become more and more skilled at marketing and PR have we forgotten that people judge us on what we do, not what we say?

That thin veneer of promises and beautifully crafted messages is a skinny and fragile veneer glued on top of the deep substance of what we actually and consistently do. My thought was triggered by the conservative party senior management reaction to thumping loss in a by-election that took them by surprise. Co-chairman of the party, Amanda Milling, said “the Conservatives would look at how they could regain their trust”, and “ministers needed to “shout louder” about Boris Johnson’s promise to “level up” the UK”.

Those of you that know me will be aware of my lack of enthusiasm for the party but putting that to one side, the assumptions made here are telling. “Regaining trust” is a major, long term exercise requiring consistency and a change in behaviours, and we all know changing behaviours is more than a decision; it is hard work that has to be supported by those around us to keep us on track. Then, “needing to shout out about promises” suggests an assumption that it is the message, not the substance, that matters.

I thought this reaction was an excellent example of a broader issue, from responses to reports on corruption and social care to corporate tax avoidance to policies on global warming. People in head offices remote from those affected by their reactions treating surprises that are, in reality, no surprise as a technical issue that a change in the message can correct.

In a series of conversations this week, we talked about the subject of “micro rebellions”. These rebellions seem unlikely to be about big revolution and placards on the street, but rather many, many small actions taken by people affected by broken promises and consistent egregious action.
Many small actions about many things eventually join together. But, whether it is politics, or business, or “working from home”, a tipping point will be reached where the people affected will disregard those carefully crafted messages and stop turning up.

Our actions matter. It signals character. Character and consistency are the foundations of trust. If we do not maintain them, we can hardly be surprised when the building we occupy in society starts to crack visibly.

In times of change, it is who we are, not what we promise, that matters. People are watching, noticing, and remembering.

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