We all have issues, those tiny embers of trouble whose glittering heat and glow often murmur just beyond attention. Or perhaps they are not embers but fiery comets that blast across our ken but then disappear from view as they continue their orbit. Issues. Companies have them, too—each team, department, and division, at each level and often in the spaces between.
Unattended issues affect an organization's smooth operation, its expected success, sometimes its survival. But when issues are managed adequately, they become one indicator of a smooth operation and a step toward expected success. Thus a group or organization is wise to take the strategic step of forming an Issue Management Program (IMP), a process that consistently recognizes issues and mitigates the risk they present.
An IMP is proactive, not reactive; it creates a process for noticing and responding to those glowing embers before they burst into flame. It reminds us that the comet is still streaking across the sky even when we cannot see it. The Issues Management Council defines such a program "as the process used to align organizational activities and stakeholder expectations."
Issue management, then, is not spin, is not damage control, is not a defensive delay or face-saving deflection. It's not even fire-fighting. It's more like fire prevention.
A useful IMP identifies potential or existing issues and prepares contingency plans to ensure that organizational activities align with stakeholder expectations.
DELINEATE STAKEHOLDER GROUPS
In a very real sense, stakeholders are audience, participant, and beneficiary of an Issue Management Program. Yet stakeholders do not form a homogeneous unit, and their differences define at least some of the effects of issue recognition and resolution. Some stakeholders may be internal and others external. Some may know well the operations of an organization and its components, while others have only the vaguest of clues.
The consequence, then, is that you must also define stakeholder groups and some of their characteristics. Determine who constitutes each stakeholder group and what reactions they are likely to have to issues of certain kinds. Know the expectations they hold. Know their history with the company or group, what knowledge they already hold, what issues they may be most sensitive about. This awareness will help you once you begin planning an IMP.
While the exact details of an IMP may vary from company to company or team to team, each Program contains the elements bulleted below. But the content or plan devised for each element may also change over time; experience and assessment may well lead to revisions of the IMP. That's good. It's a living document, one that helps manage knowledge as well as issues. Expect to refine any of the six as you institute your Program:
- Definition/Description of "issue"
- Structured process
- Options for action
- Assessment of results
A separate Speak Previews® discusses each of the elements in detail. In the meantime, think about your stakeholders and their expectations. Think about embers and comets; an IMP can help ensure that the one will not build into flame and the other will burn out, its orbit ended.