Method and Message Congruence in Risk

One of the toughest tasks in leadership and management is managing the narrative. Nothing does greater damage to brand, reputation and credibility than hypocrisy and incongruence between espoused ethic and moral action (yes AIHS BoK, there is a difference).

In Australia this week we saw a huge outage in the Optus Network leaving millions in limbo and many stranded. The fallout from this ‘event’ has become the ‘hot potato’ and demonstrates the importance of congruence between messaging and method. At the core of Enterprise Risk is reputation and credibility. These key elements of organising are immeasurable and years of ethical Capital can be lost so quickly.

Dr Andrew Hughes (ANU and marketing expert) stated that:

‘Optus had lost a billion dollars on their brand valuation, according to a brand finance report.’

He stated:

‘Optus hadn’t learnt any lessons from the past after the telco company suffered a worrying hack last year where millions of customers had their private information stolen.’

Apart from observations about co-dependence on the digital network, what is of interest to this blog is what followed this event, the management of the error has also been also a disaster. The incongruence between method and message has been awful.

Here are the Optus values (

A recent piece in The Conversation captures the problem well:

What is the take-away for those in the risk industry?

  • The key to tackling risk is learning from the past. Unfortunately, looking at all the investigations models on the market in safety, this is not what they do. Even though this is the discourse they espouse. Most models on the investigations market are focused on objects NOT subjects.
  • One of the most important lessons learned about mis-handling a crisis is missing the point that the medium IS the message. Safety is light years away from even exploring the basics (
  • Give your highest attention to language and para-linguistics. In a time of crisis, being sloppy with language and para-linguistics (all non-text communication) simply amplifies problems into a wicked problem.
  • Make sure messaging matches values and values match messages.
  • Consider by-products of messaging well before setting the message in concrete.
  • Be prepared to change the message.
  • Consult experts in messaging, semiotics, the unconscious and linguistics well before locking in a message.
  • If you start a ‘bushfire’ don’t fight it with a garden hose.
  • Apologise intelligently, with empathy and critically, consider perceptions.
  • Understand the basics of: pitching, priming, framing, re-framing, mirroring and anchoring.

So, this leads us to messaging in the risk and safety industry and it is clear that most of what is listed above and considered communications 101, is completely ignored by the industry. The classic example is the ideology and messaging of zero.

If your message is zero then:

  • You can dispose of any thought of empathy, tolerance, care and forgiveness.
  • If your focus is numerics, then you will never develop the skills needed in messaging to manage a crisis.
  • If your curriculum is focused on regulation, policing, injury rates and hazards, then any skills in messaging won’t make the syllabus.
  • You can forget any congruence between ethic, moral method and message.
  • Understanding fallibility, mortality and vulnerability will be suppressed.
  • Speaking gobbledygook to people will be normalised.
  • People will learn quickly that the message never applies to those in management (
  • People learn quickly that management ‘double-speak’ about risk is meaningless.

And these are just some of the by-products of zero messaging. More so, this is made worse because most people outside of the regulator and associations don’t believe it! (

People know that zero leads to brutalism, dishonesty, under-reporting, deceit and straight out lying.

People know that zero toxifies the workplace and puts the focus on objects not subjects.

So, soon in Sydney we will witness the great ‘zero event’ (, where Safety speaks about ‘golden rules’ ( that are a sham ( devised to delude the uncritical to part with their money.

And please note, all those who sponsor this ‘zero event’, who promote and support the messaging of zero. Make note that these ‘lovers of zero’ ( have not a clue about congruence between message and method. Note that the real message is support for the delusion of zero ( and its by-products of: brutalism, intolerance and incongruence.

However, if you are interested in learning a positive message about congruence between method, message and ethics in risk, you can learn here:

Or read here:


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