Less is More. Unless Less is Useless. Then it's Just Less.
Bans, bans, bans. Everywhere I turn I’m hearing about another ban somewhere, regarding something that “isn’t good for [insert any pronoun here].” Be it Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Mayer banning the flexible work option, NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg banning sizable sodas from being served, or the Boston burbs banning water bottles, it seems as though leaders are resorting to elimination to alleviate waste. Wasted time, calories, resources…you name it. While each of these measures have roots in good causes like increased productivity, healthier people or a more sustainable planet, the answer can’t simply be “no,” but rather “no, and here’s why.”
I’m not a parent, and kudos to the ones who raised me given my independent nature, but I view this as a parallel to parenthood. For example, as a child, I never took no for an answer:
Me: “Can I go to the park with my friends?”
Mom: “No honey, not today.”
Mom: “Because I said so.”
Me: “Why do you say so?”
I’m sure you can imagine how this ensued to an ongoing Q&A exchange. (I’m also sure Sheryl Sandberg would be proud of my “Leaning In” at a young age but, I digress). But anyone who has engaged in this conversation knows that “no,” is much better received when there is an explanation accompanying it.
Mom: “No, you can’t go to the park because you have a cold and it is raining outside. Your cold will get worse and then you won’t feel well enough for your sleepover this weekend.”
Touché, mom. Touché.
Much like the leaders of a household often have to reason with their children, leaders of companies and communities should reason with their co-workers and constituents. Rather than simply eliminating, we must start educating. Rather than banishing, we must start balancing.
In her first year as Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer discovered that the current state of her workforce wasn’t stacking up when it came to creativity or productivity. Rather than take steps and implement an internal communications campaign to educate her employees on the importance of a work-life balance, or demonstrate the direct value of being physically present in the office vs. the indirect cost of scattered team members, she eliminated an option that I’m sure many of her employees heavily relied upon.
Similarly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took drastic measures by attempting to implement a soda ban on sugar laden drinks exceeding 16 ounces in New York City, and nudging the nation to adopt the same law. While less soda will obviously improve people’s health, educating people on the long term effects of a healthy lifestyle is much more valuable. (At the time of publishing, this law was blocked by a New York State judge as a result of a challenge brought on by the American Beverage Association).
And while some Massachusetts communities are concerned with the environmental impact of bottled waters and plastic bags, what are the economic impacts of eliminating these items from stores? Wouldn’t an educational campaign around alternative options, or ways to reuse and recycle these items, strike more of a balance and perhaps resonate with a wider crowd than just supporters of the ban?
This is where Public Relations come into play. As its moniker states, the core of public relations is about relating to the public, translating multi-tiered messages into simplistic stories that people can reason with. While politicians can legislate and litigate day in and day out, or CEOs can sign off on new corporate policies, Public Relations professionals can creatively communicate messages that sound less like “no,” and more like “here’s why.”
I believe that moderation is key to everything we do – be it working out or working late. It seems that balance is absent from most people’s lives, diets, careers, so on and so forth. Like approaching our lives with balance, we must approach our leadership with balance. Rather than making decisions for people, leaders should use communications as a tool to educate people about making better decisions for themselves.