Tuesday, May 16, 2006


There was a story a couple of days ago that the President's wife doesn't believe the bad polling numbers related to her husband. She says she travels the country and people she meets are more supportive than polling suggests.

It's easy to mock misperception and provide a basic lesson in statistics. I won't do that here. Laura Bush is a smart woman. She knows the difference between random number polling and self-selected comments from individuals she meets. What did strike me, however, is that she is doing what every manager should to understand relationships between key audiences and leadership. She's getting to the field and seeing for herself. Even if people she meets are polite to her and hostile to her husband, she is gaining a sense of what is actually occurring.

There is too much reliance on polling as a substitute for human experience. This is an old lesson proven decades ago by Harry Truman in his whistle-stop campaign. Everyone knew Harry had lost the election except Harry who went to bed election eve confident he had won -- and awoke the winner.

One of the hoary management tenets is that the best leadership device is a good pair of shoes. Constant visitation to the field is the only way one escapes tyranny of numbers that look good or bad but may not tell anything close to a truth. Great executives rely on numbers and manage by numbers but constantly check numbers against reality. They understand numbers cannot replace relationships even though one must decide by them.

It's easy in PR to manage by metrics and miss the relationships for which PR is responsible. The higher one rises in PR, the more important it is to remain in touch with employees, customers, vendors and other audiences important to the company. Get out of the office regularly.


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