After Dr. Misner shared about his diagnosis with prostate cancer in Episode 336, many BNI members asked how he had handled telling his business associates about it.
Some people wanted to know why he went public with the news, but in a word-of-mouth organization, people talk. It was important to Dr. Misner to help guide the conversation. Here are some suggestions for effective transparency when things go wrong.
- Have a communication plan in place.
- Decide how you’re going to address the problem.
- Create a hierarchy of who you’re going to tell and when.
- Check off each group as you go inform them.
- Ask for help. You may not need someone to take over for you, but you probably need assistance.
- Don’t worry about how your competition will react. Focus on improving your business every day.
- Provide regular updates.
In the almost 3 years since Dr. Misner made his announcement, BNI has grown by more than 21%. Transparency is good for your bottom line as long as you have a good communication plan.
Brought to you by Networking Now.
Complete Transcript of Episode 401 –
Hello everyone and welcome back to the Official BNI Podcast, brought to you by the NetworkingNow.com, which is the leading site on the net for networking downloadables. I am Priscilla Rice, coming to you from from Live Oak Recording Studio in Berkeley, CA. I am joined on the phone today by the Founder of BNI, Dr. Ivan Misner. Hello, Ivan. How are you?
I am doing great, Priscilla, which is kind of important for the topic today, which is what to do when things go wrong. I would like to refer everyone to a podcast that I did some time ago, episode 336, when I talked about the Misner Plan. In there, I shared, you may recall, about the diagnosis that I had about three years ago. Almost exactly three years ago now. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
A lot of people have asked me over the last couple or three years, “How did you handle it?” Not the medical part, because I have talked about that, talked about that publicly and put that on podcasts. But how about the business side of it? “What did you do? Why did you not keep it secret? Why did you go public with it?”
What I tried to do in some articles that I have written and what I am going to try to do in this podcast is talk a little bit about my strategy and why I think an open strategy is a good idea with your clients. When you are diagnosed with cancer, it is a very personal pain, so if you disagree with this, I get it. I understand completely. Of course, it is very personal and you have to go with your gut feeling.
As the founder of an international word of mouth or referral organization, I have a fair amount of public recognition. I am sort of the public figure for BNI. One of the things I was concerned about was that people were going to talk because we are a word of mouth organization. They are going to talk. I wanted to have an influence on the dialogue. I didn’t want people to just make up stuff.
I lost a lot of weight. It was on purpose. I lost like 45 pounds. I wanted to try and control the whole, “Oh, he is dying,” sort of proposition. I was losing that weight on purpose.
After wrapping my head around the diagnosis, I started thinking about the impact on BNI. The kinds of things that I was asking was should I keep the diagnosis a secret? Do I only tell key people? Will I still be able to run BNI? Will I need to hire someone to take on my role? What will the competition do during this time? Will my illness hurt the organization?
These are the things that I think any owner of a business might want to ask, so if you are listening to this, make a note. Make a mental note because if you ever have a health issue or something, I think coming back to this- this is, I believe this is some decent advice on what to consider if there is ever a health issue or serious problem that you are having that needs to be communicated somehow in the organization. Does that make sense?
Absolutely. You are such a communicator and you have so many outlets for your thoughts. You can blog and you have several blogs, right? And you have Facebook and several places.
I do. I do, but I think anyone can. I use my blog as a key communication tool but I think Facebook can be a good way to communicate with the people who are a part of your organization or clients of yours.
I felt that the idea of keeping this kind of thing secret in a network organization is impossible. So I chose to go public. I had to guide the message. You can’t control a message like this but you can help guide it. So having decided to go public, I literally went public, but I did have a communication plan in place.
I sat down and created a communication plan and here is really the core of my message to the listeners of the podcast. Part of the plan had to include the message that I wanted to communicate, so first I decided what I was going to do for my treatment and why. Then I created a communication hierarchy of whom I was going to tell and when I was going to tell them.
What I did was I created a list of about eight levels of my communication. You talked about my blog but actually my blog was the last level of communication. The first one was my extended family. I felt my family needed to know before anyone else. My second one was close personal friends. I literally listed this all out. I made a list and I checked it off as I went through.
Why doesn’t that surprise me?
Yeah, I think we have talked about my OCD in the past. I think having a list and knowing who- one of the benefits of it is it helps you determine who you haven’t told. As I did the list, I realized I was leaving certain people out, so I had to tell them.
The third level was key management of the company. The fourth was the employees at my headquarters office. The fifth was BNI Directors worldwide. I felt the Directors needed to know before the members needed to know. Global employees worldwide. I don’t know if you know- independent contractors like Director Consultants- but we have close to 4000 people who work for the company. I don’t know if you know that. Close to 4000 people work for BNI. It’s a huge number, so I felt they needed to know.
Then I sent out a message to Directors that they could share with members. The last was public. I put the word out through the blog and social media, Facebook, Twitter. I decided that for transparency about the diagnosis, I chose not to hire someone to come in and take on my responsibilities so I ever brought in someone to take over my role.
Instead, I asked for help from people I work with directly and indirectly. I asked my close team to step up and fill in as needed. I asked that my extended team such as the Executive Directors would give me grace to allow me time to do what I needed to do on certain issues because there are a lot of things that are pressing. Directors need stuff done from me so I just asked them to give me some grace and time.
You know, the amazing thing is that people were really cooperative. Just very cooperative. Here is the part I didn’t understand. For me, it didn’t make sense not to be transparent. I met people who said, “ Don’t tell this to anybody, Ivan. I am not healthy and I don’t want anybody to know.”
I wonder why. You know, you will make your life easier. In a tough time, you will make your life a little bit easier if you tell them because if they know, they are more likely to give you grace and let you do what you need to do.
So the last part of it was really competition. As for the competition, that was really easy. I have always believed that we shouldn’t worry about what the competition is doing. You have to know what they are up to but don’t obsess over them. Focus on improving your business every day. I knew that if we continued to do that with the team we had in place, we didn’t have to obsess over the competition and we didn’t.
So that just left the question of the bottom line. Before I answer that, let me talk about my mindset just a little bit further. I chose transparency as the approach to my diagnosis. I posted on my blog site as you mentioned. I knew that if I did not update people, that they would fill in the blanks so I updated them every few months. Here is where I stood. And I showed them every few months before and after pictures because they could see I was losing weight. I told them why I was losing weight.
As you know, I didn’t do chemotherapy or surgery. I didn’t do any of that. I simply changed the way I ate. Because I changed the way I ate, I lost a lot of weight. So I wanted to put that message out there myself. Whether it was a good decision or a bad decision, I set sail for that approach not knowing how it would all end, in terms of whether it would clear up.
As many of you may know, I am pleased to say that I am fully and completely in remission and I did it without surgery or chemotherapy, but what was also important was my organization was able to follow my journey firsthand. So there was no guessing or wondering what I was doing, and I think this is a message that is of value to any business owner, to hear how you can be transparent and honest about a health issue and it can work out well.
How did BNI do during this period? The diagnosis was almost three years ago and in that period of time, the company has grown by over 21% , in the last three years.
You know, in a tough economy all around the world, having a growth rate of over 21% is, I think, pretty amazing. I think it happened because I had good people in place who were willing to step up when the boss was down. I was transparent. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it exactly the same way that I did it.
That means really thinking about who needed to be told. Did I want to keep it secret or not? Who would run the company? Who needed to be told and in what order. Then being fully transparent. This is the strategy that I used. I had it pretty much laid out before I started going public. I went public literally within a couple of days so this is a pretty quick strategy that I put together and altered it as I went.
I think anyone can take these ideas if and when they need and use it to put together a communication strategy when things become difficult.
You didn’t mention that you created this beautiful website as well and described how you are eating and what you are doing. Misnerplan.com, right?
Yep, misnerplan.com. We are not selling anything there. It is all about what I did to get healthy. So if anyone is interested, please go to misnerplan.com. There is lots of information on what I did personally- not about the strategy that I used but what I did personally. Thanks, Priscilla.
Okay. Great, Ivan. We are all so happy that you are healthy. I just have to say that.
Okay. Great. Well, thank you so much. I think that is it for this week. I would just like to remind the listeners that this podcast has been brought to you by NetworkingNow.com, which is the leading site on the net for networking downloadables. Thank you so much for listening. This is Priscilla Rice, and we hope you will join us next week for another exciting episode of The Official BNI Podcast.