Wednesday, August 31, 2011

10 Communications Lessons CEOs Learn from Egypt's Mubarak

The question all the world is asking nowadays: why the Egyptian president Mohamed Hosni Mubarak - who was described as proud man by ABC's Christiane Amanpour - why his 30 years of governing the country were resulted in protests in Tahrir Square asking him to leave?
Mubarak has been described by Facebook page of We All Khaled Saed in 15th of January 2011 as leader who had been "serving the nation for 30 years".

Away from political, social and economic factors within Egypt, here are few important communications lessons for each and every CEO to avoid facing Mubarak's end while leading a corporate or multinational company:

1-Only God is Forever the One:
Every one of us has role that will end one day whether by death, succession (i.e. end of term), promotion, resignation, or even lay-off. CEO is no exception for that.

Egypt has vast majority of Muslims who believe in one God and in death as fact. Although the toppled president Hosni Mubarak was Muslim, it seems that he did not realize the importance of having clear and solid succession plan in country like Egypt (85m+ population, army of 1m+ soldiers, etc).
Mubarak didn't assign deputy or vice-president unlike late presidents Naguib, Nasser and Sadat who always assigned at least one vice-president (Mubarak himself was VP for Sadat).

In today's dynamic environment, one-man show is no more accepted whether for large corporation or leading country.
Achievements of ex-leaders and previous managers should be communicated among the entire organization, so it would be the 'normal' situation that CEO and any other person will deliver the responsibility to someone else after him at certain moment.

2-Prioritize Your Stakeholders:

50% of Egyptian population are between ages of 15 and 45 years old. This segment was totally ignored. Most cabinet officials and government senior employees were 60+ years old with mentality of decades of 60s and 70s.

The media (especially state-owned TV channels and press) was addressing the segment of young Egyptians in very traditional old way ignoring the role of interactive communications, digital production and psychological factors.

Events where Mubarak or senior officials were communicating with young people (i.e. university students) were very few.

As Chief Executive Officer, 20/80 rule is important for you. Also, you have to list your stakeholders in visible place in your meeting room, on your desk, and at your laptop Windows background.

Let's assume that 30% of your corporate annual sales are derived from Paris, 40% of your corporate suppliers are based in Brazil, and 50% of your employees are belonging to certain ethnic minority.

For you as CEO, this means three things:
1-Labor strike in your Paris stores should immediately get your full attention to solve the issue.
2-Your assistant's KPIs should include daily briefing on Brazilian affairs especially political events (i.e. parliament elections) and economic developments (i.e. tax regulations). Also, plan B should be ready somewhere in strategy department so in case of communist military coup in Brazil, you can find another supplier at similar price and quality.
3-If you said/did something that is offensive to that ethnic minority (50% of your employees), and then employees had protested to get you out of your office, then please leave immediately.

3-Key Stakeholders Must Be Able to Directly Access You Personally:
In the last decade, Mubarak was not meeting or listening to opposition leaders. Some of them used to address the president in form of press article since communications seemed to be lost with the president who started his early days in presidential palace in 1981 by meeting with leaders of opposition political parties and public figures.

One of the senior aides to president Hosni Mubarak (Dr. Mustafa El Fiky in CairoToday TV show) unveiled that when Iraq's Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait after mid-night in 90s, the chief of Egyptian military intelligence informed him of latest updates at Kuwait-Iraqi borders, so he would immediately notify the president Mubarak.
Presidential communications protocols were not allowing such high-ranking intelligence officer to contact the president directly.
Disasters must happen with existence of a protocol that prevents the CIO from directly contacting CEO!

4-Internal Marketing is Essential while Monopoly is Extremely Dangerous:

Hosni Mubarak oppressed Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) and opposition parties for a long time.

I think that political sciences analysts would identify the reason for the oppression as direct outcome of Egypt-Israel Peace Agreement. The US-backed agreement guarantees security to Israel, which is seen by majority of Arabs and Muslims as occupying body within Arabic region even since 40's (US early intervention in UN vote when NYC police prevented representatives of countries that support Palestine from getting into the UN HQ). Jews had lived for centuries within Arab region and under Islamic rule since Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) himself.
However, the Islamic vision toward freedom of Palestinian people had been resulted in US-backed policy to prevent "Islamist" ideologies from governing leading country like Egypt.
Another reason for the oppression was the secretive membership that MB is applying, which made is easy for anyone to join them and spread ideologies or doing actions that damage even both the country stability and MB itself. This dangerous hidden mode had forced many members to leave and resign because of financial and administrative malpractices.

Regardless of oppression, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and opposition leaders were all the time appearing on TVs as professional experts who are capable to repair all the damage that caused by the cabinet.

Opposition newspapers were almost all the time against governmental procedures and regulations although In economics for example, MB is applying same ideology that is applied by Mubarak's ruling party NDP which is socially-responsible free market economy - almost similar to ideology applied in Saudi Arabia for example.

The result simply was: the government got blamed for all public problems and globally challenging issues as solely policy maker (i.e. health insurance coverage, unemployment, etc).Ordinary people were looking to government as "evil" while all other opposition groups (practically depressed) were "heroes".
The government failure to promote its policies and communicate its regulations was fatal. It was easy to identify un-satisfaction among senior police officers who were practicing "the oppression". The liberal presidential candidate Ayman Nour is clear example. He believed to be jailed for political reasons, and prison officers themselves were helping him to smuggle his articles and memos.

Even in politics, being the only provider of a service or product is not recommended at all - at least from stakeholders' point of view.
Availability of competing products/services will help your company to better differentiate itself, improve its customer service process and hence gain more market share; where customers (citizens) enjoy better services.
Nowadays, CEOs must realize that stakeholders are understanding -more than anytime before- the importance of availability of multiple vendors, providers, or manufacturers for a product or service.

5-Understand and Respect the Cultural Values:
Hijab is believed to be Islamic duty for adult females. Not wearing Hijab is not a crime but is against full obedience to God (ALLAH) - fullness that is hard to be applied generally.

Since 1952 revolution, all first ladies in Egypt were not wearing Hijab. However, this doesn't prevent others who wear it from being socially active or to have professional career.

Unfortunately, it was known that Mubarak's wife Suzanne was not allowing women wearing Hijab from joining boards of NGOs she is heading. Same Hijab ban was applied at state-owned TVs and national air carrier Egypt Air.
Such behavior was amplified by opposition groups to show Mubarak as person who is "against Islam" or at least against human rights.

CEOs have to carefully understand the culture of their organization as well as of the customers. The most important is to respect the values within the society.

6-Limit the Conflict of Interest:
In a world described by Thomas Friedman as flat world, it is difficult to completely prevent or stop conflict of interest. In the United States and Western Europe, 74% of high corporate officials have close, personal friends in high government positions (Source).
However, applying governance rules and transparent policies (and communicating them) all would truly limit the conflict of interest that might raises in your organization structure.

The head of Egypt's parliament committee for budgeting was ruling party senior official and very rich businessman. With absence of professional PR communications and lack of transparency, public opinion in Egypt believed that businessmen were using political bodies for their own interest in harmful way. Although some businessmen in cabinet were believed to be successful, people did not perceive them in that way at all.

Easiness of today's communications is really amplifying the interference of conflict of interest among colleagues, relatives, friends, co-workers, etc. Transparent communication protocols in hiring and managing business and government operations are required to strictly applied.

7-Trust Co-workers and Let Initiatives:
Tantawi; the Egyptian minister of defense; is believed to be a close friend for Mubarak. He was chief of Mubarak's presidential guards (that protect president among other strategic figures and locations).
A senior official told a daily Egyptian newspaper that when Egypt's unrest raised, Tantawi said to Mubarak: "I am your student, please take the decision that will save our country".

The field marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is now the president of Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) - position that is equivalent to president after Mubarak's decision to transfer power to the army.

The military organization had been initiative to outline a scenario where Mubarak is absent for a reason or another. In 2010, military intelligence and army officers previewed key locations and police stations in Cairo. Once army forces were deployed in Egyptian streets, it was clear that they already experienced such training before.

As Chief Executive Officer (CEO), it is important to trust your overseas managers. In today's complex operations and dynamic changes, you need to trust and let. May be some initiatives would be completed out of your approval, do not get anger especially if the initiative was carried by colleague you trust and for organization's benefit. Breaking bureaucratic rules sometimes work.
Trusting your aides and co-workers is essential especially in crisis and turbulent times.

8-Support Career Development Plans:
Employees are not looking for promotions as financial rewards only, they consider being promoted as self motivation for more work and contribution to the organization.
Office politics and corporate internal communications failure both produce serious corporate issues that reduce productivity and damage reputation.

Kamal Hasan Ali was leading military officer who served as intelligence chief and defense minister in late 70's. During first term for Mubarak as president (1981-1987), Mubarak assigned Gen. Kamal as Prime Minister.
Once wanted to be changed (dismissed), head of president's office phoned press columnists and encouraged them to highlight the failure side of the cabinet performance. Few weeks later, the general resigns (or asked to do using justification of press).
Same indirect way was used with the Mubarak's defense minister (AbdulHaleem Abu-Ghazalah) few years later.

It was clear that the system's internal procedures were unable to smoothly remove military officers who reach senior positions. All sensitive considerations about military-president relationship were present in both cases of Kamal and Abu-Ghazalah, although Mubarak himself was Air Force commander before being vice-president to Anwar Sadat.

The military-president complex relationship seems to be severe in Egypt. In January 1977 huge "bread protests", Egyptian army was deployed in Cairo. The President Sadat directly ordered the chief of state security services (intelligence arm of ministry of interior) to monitor and report the number of deployed army tanks. It was clear that Sadat was afraid of facing military coup.
Also, it is believed that Anwar Sadat wanted to assign someone else as vice-president but Sadat's visit to Alexandria main military base forced him to cancel or postpone the idea because army officers in the base were asking about VP Hosni Mubarak and why he was not appearing in public for a while (at that time).

Undoubtedly, the Egyptian army is a powerful organization - but relationship between ruling bodies and authorities has to be clear to all parties involved in order to stabilize the corporate operations. Sometimes involving the stakeholders (i.e. parliament or citizens) can reduce any risk or malpractice in such situations.

As CEO, you should highlight career development plans for your company positions, so no one would stick to a position to the extent that we all go here and there to change him.
When entire organization and all stakeholders realize career path alternatives, this will definitely minimize the headache of sending 'powerful' employees to retirement.

Once minister of defense knows that he can be promoted as senior aide, retired as senior national security expert, or can resign to apply for presidential campaign, then things will run smoothly especially if all sides realize that only God is forever the One.

9-Communicate as Egyptian Wife not as American Girlfriend:
Reporting skills are key success factor for any organization.

In Egypt, the girls are believed to be amazing in communicating with their husbands. They know when to dress 2-piece hot lingerie and when to support her husband to find better job.
Egyptian wife is capable to know when to utilize her body language to satisfy her boy, and when to prepare a piece of work for him on his behalf (i.e. internet search report).

On the other side, the girlfriend in US is only triggered by amount of $ in the pocket of the boy who falls into her sexy eyes. As long as she desires and he will pay, then everything is OK. Simply speaking, money triggers the girlfriend while desire signals trigger the boy.

Mubarak's regime last 5 years was just triggered about "coup" . As long as there were no one prepares for coup, and as long as all mass protests (in 2008 for example) were going home at the end of the day, then everything is OK! Yes, it seems to be that simple at Mubarak's inner circle.

The difference between wife and girlfriend explains why marriage is a relationship that requires responsibility by both parties. Having room-mate requires responsibility as well.

Being responsible CEO requires you to communicate with your partners in the way they understand at proper time. You even have to be initiative to find out if your partners are unsatisfied of something you (or your corporate) said or did.

It was very common in Egypt to hear anger statements against cabinet and Mubarak for the high prices and low employment rates. Those statements are said in social clubs, taxi cars, public transportation buses, university gatherings, business networking events, family outings and even ruling party non-official gatherings.

Mass protests were raising for freedom, food and job related needs. Over and above, non-college graduates youth from poor villages were sinking at either coasts of Egypt or South Europe while trying to immigrate for better job. People of Egypt watches this while ruling elite seems to have other issues.

In fact, cabinet-funded research bodies were honestly publishing studies and surveys that raise a flag of something wrong. It seems that all Egypt was expecting something - only Mubarak doesn't.
In 2009, Yousri Fouda - Reporter at BBC and AlJazeera - had returned to work in Egyptian TV channel ONTV since he expected something to happen in Egypt (Interview with him in August 2011).

The system truly failed to 'sense' that something wrong would happen. Although social media networks were perfect tools to monitor and scan the public opinion, but no one cared about them.

While cabinet was not initiative to communicate with end-users (Citizens), reporting methodologies within the regime were extremely poor. Investigation documents and both revealed a disaster that partially explains why police intelligence failed to expect what happened in January 2011.
The revealed secret documents from centers of state security premises unveiled paper-based reporting documents full of information that are not arranged or properly organized to communicate political activities or security recommendations.

In fact, April 2008 in city of Al-Mahallah was small prototype of Jan25 but again and again: the security services failed to analyze and overcome.
Chaos and fires in City of Al-Mahallah, Egypt (April 2008)

The city of Al-Mahallah was just small model for Cairo in January 28th (Friday of Anger) where traffic was stopped, police stations and cars were burned, two schools damaged, more than 2 were killed, 150 were arrested, stores closed, and more.
Clashes and unrest did not stop easily in Mahallah city:
"Security surrounds Mosques of while relatives of arrested rioters are threatening to protest again"
Newsletter headline in 12 April 2008

Above-mentioned newspaper headline is small part of what's going on at that city. Media coverage was limited in order to limit spread clashes and unrest.
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif visited the city at same week announcing immediate wage increase while parliament discussed the city unrest. All residents in Al-Mahallah city recalled 6th of April 2008 when Egyptian revolution was triggered in Tahrir Square and unrest reached its peak during protests of January 25th, 28th and afterwards.

Back to the wife and girlfriend comparison and to roommate experience, all the time each partner is keen to satisfy other partner(s). If one of the sides lost the feeling and understanding of other side's problems or needs, then problems raise.

In country or large corporation, leaders and CEOs have truly to get attention to satisfaction statistics, to hear directly from junior levels, get updates for public perception, and ensure professional up-to-date reporting mechanisms.
USA faced 9/11 partially because of the loss of effective intelligence integration (CIA, FBI, NSA etc).
Egypt faced Jan25 partially because of the loss of effective intelligence information.

10-Digital-ize Your Messages:

Egyptian opposition groups digital activities were booming while even PM TV interviews were not available on the internet! With lack of information availability act, journalists found internet as rich and easy source for news and information.
Young journalists were amplifying web activities against Mubarak regime in their daily newspapers and TV shows, pushing more fuel against Mubarak's heavy crowded bus.
Find more about role of social media networks in Egypt's Jan25 here. Up-to-date CEOs must consider social media, internet marketing and digital tools as communication channels between their organizations and the customers and suppliers.
Actually, social media networks act sometimes as focus group alternative (i.e. Dell's IdeaStorm).

Related Topic:
Egypt's Alarm: 5 Dynamic Challenges Face Today's Organizations

Not decided yet to digitalize your corporate communications?
New Egypt Consulting helps you and your CMO to get solid ROI on your digital presence investment.

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