Last year, I participated in Wharton’s Executive Education class “Strategic Marketing for Competitive Advantage.” Marketing professor and Joseph J. Aresty Professor Jagmohan Raju serves as the program’s academic director and teaches some sessions. In our closing session with Raju, we role-played a critical-incident press conference for a company that was facing challenges from activists.

After all the teams finished the role-play, Raju provided feedback. He shared that everyone in a company monitors marketing decisions and thus that all internal stakeholders need to understand the decision-making logic, so they can provide it when asked. This guidance echoes what I’ve often told my staff, particularly when they’re making decisions that others may question: You must have a clear logic for your decision, and you must be prepared to share that logic when asked. Others may disagree with your logic, but that can be managed. Communicating that you don’t know why a decision was made or that you don’t remember why you did what you did doesn’t help diffuse challenging situations.

Heightened emotions make it challenging to work together; if I think you made an arbitrary decision, our relationship suffers.

In a crisis like the case we studied, the decision-making logic needs to be shared all the way down the chain. Your foot soldiers need to be equipped with the right tools to handle whatever they’re faced with; in the absence of that, chaos takes over. Further, once given the information, the foot soldiers need to have clear direction regarding their degrees of freedom. Where can they expand on the rationale? How do they respond to follow-up questions? When the “logic tool” has been communicated, there’s a greater chance that everyone will stay on message, and you can control that message as you need to.

My communications team regularly makes decisions about alumni and donor stories — who they’re about, how we tell them, and how we share them — that are focused on people with whom our development colleagues have close relationships. We enjoy stronger credibility when it’s clear why we chose one story over another and when that logic is consistently at work.

I started coaching my team to be clear in their logic so they can mitigate emotions when people question their decisions. Content producers might take it personally when someone disagrees with them, because they may feel their judgement has been questioned. On the other side, colleagues who offer ideas and input might think we haven’t listened to them if we don’t do what they suggest, which further raises tension. Heightened emotions make it challenging to work together; if I think you made an arbitrary decision about something important to you, our relationship suffers.

So whether in a crisis or not, take the time to ensure that you know the why behind your decisions. While it may seem you “went with your gut” or decided on the fly, I suspect it’s because of your experience and professional judgement that your gut knows what to do (and really, no decision is made on the fly). When you can articulate the reason for a decision, you demonstrate your expertise and your thoughtfulness, paving the way for more productive conversations and collaborations.


Katherine Primus is executive director of communications and donor relations for Wharton External Affairs.