The Komen Foundation Kerfuffle

The commotion surrounding the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision and subsequent reversal to fund Planned Parenthood activities illustrates several best practice anti-corporate suffering behaviors.

1. Be Clear
Komen Founder Nancy Brinker originally stated that they changed their grant criteria for two reasons 1) flaws in their grant making process eg “the issue is grant excellence” and 2) they wanted to bar contributions to groups under investigation (which currently only affected Planned Parenthood.) While they have continued to insist that they were not targeting Planned Parenthood specifically and that they are dedicated to “grant excellence,” by reversing their decision they are continuing to fund what they’ve already identified as flaws. “Many of the grants we were doing with Planned Parenthood do not meet new standards of criteria” Ms. Brinker said to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. While I’m personally happy they reversed their decision, how they explained the change makes no sense and raises many questions. If they really believe changing criteria will lead to better outcomes why would they have backed off their position?

2. Manage Perceptions
Today’s resignation of Karen Handel, VP of Public Policy, former candidate for governor of Georgia and outspoken critic of Planned Parenthood adds more weight to the argument that the original decision was less about grant excellence and actually just a smokescreen for those who fear Komen money was funding abortions at Planned Parenthood. Particularly when you read what was publicly said. Five days ago Nancy Brinker stated “Karen did not have anything to do with this decision” in her interview with Andrea Mitchell. Today’s resignation quotes Handel as saying “I openly acknowledge my role in the matter and continue to believe our decision was the best one for Komen’s future and the women we serve.” Komen’s mixed messages are more damaging to their image than almost anything their detractors are saying. If you were working for them, imagine having to explain and/or defend their actions to others. How would you feel about your role at the foundation?

3. Be Accountable
While I believe the Komen Foundation has every right to decide where they want to direct their money, it was apparent from their subsequent actions that they weren’t prepared to accept the consequences. If they anticipated the backlash as many “unnamed sources” have suggested, then they didn’t have a good plan for handling the resulting fallout. Management has said one thing and done another consistently during this episode – eroding the goodwill they’ve built over 30 years of doing important work in the breast cancer arena. This whole episode has many questioning whether the Komen Foundation actually does care about saving lives.

When we watch these business dramas play out in the media it’s important to look for parallels in our own workplaces. Are we being clear, accountable and managing perceptions so that our audiences stay focused on what’s really important? Or are we inadvertently creating distractions and mini-dramas? Often it’s easier for us to see dynamics when we’re not directly involved. Our challenge is to not perpetuate the same mistakes other more high profile people and organizations make in our own work worlds in order to reduce corporate suffering.

Amanda Mitchell is an executive coach and strategist specializing in helping senior executives deal with disruptive drama within their teams. An advertising agency veteran, she experienced first-hand the business implications of corporate drama both with her Fortune 500 clients and within the Manhattan ad agency she led. She founded Our Corporate Life (www.ourcorporatelife.com) to help executives solve the problems no one wants to deal with. She has been published in Bloomberg Businessweek, and quoted in Fast Company, CNBC.com, and Monster.com. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

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