04 November, 2014

The Chatham House Rule

A common phrase often used at large meetings is that they're being held "under Chatham House Rules", which some people seem to think is an agreement of complete confidentiality. This isn't so.

As Michael Gregg once politely reminded me, there is only one Rule. Quoting from Chatham House itself:
“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed”.
Whenever I chair a meeting or conference under the Chatham House Rule, I tell everyone precisely what I mean.
"After this meeting, you are free to talk about the ideas you have heard here, but without reference to people or organisations."
The Chatham House Rule is  usually invoked by the chairman, the speaker or via the invitation.  Normally it is only a gentlemen's agreement.  If you need more certainty, either get people to sign a non-disclosure agreement before the meeting (as some groups do) or don't disclose the information.  If media (including bloggers) are likely to be present, it's a good idea to get their personal commitment to abiding by the Rule when inviting them to the meeting

The Chatham House website explains further:
Explanation of the Rule
The Chatham House Rule originated at Chatham House with the aim of providing anonymity to speakers and to encourage openness and the sharing of information. It is now used throughout the world as an aid to free discussion. Meetings do not have to take place at Chatham House, or be organized by Chatham House, to be held under the Rule.

Meetings, events and discussions held at Chatham House are normally conducted 'on the record' with the Rule occasionally invoked at the speaker's request. In cases where the Rule is not considered sufficiently strict, an event may be held 'off the record'.

Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. When was the Rule devised?
A. In 1927 and refined in 1992 and 2002.

Q. Should one refer to the Chatham House Rule or the Chatham House Rules?
A. There is only one Rule.

Q. What are the benefits of using the Rule?
A. It allows people to speak as individuals, and to express views that may not be those of their organizations, and therefore it encourages free discussion. People usually feel more relaxed if they don't have to worry about their reputation or the implications if they are publicly quoted.

Q. How is the Rule enforced?
A. Chatham House can take disciplinary action against one of its members who breaks the Rule. Not all organizations that use the Rule have sanctions. The Rule then depends for its success on being seen as morally binding.

Q. Is the Rule used for all meetings at Chatham House?
A. Not often for Members Events; more frequently for smaller research meetings, for example where work in progress is discussed or when subject matter is politically sensitive. Most Chatham House conferences are under the Rule.

Q. Who uses the Rule these days?
A. It is widely used by local government and commercial organizations as well as research organizations.

Q. Can participants in a meeting be named as long as what is said is not attributed?
A. It is important to think about the spirit of the Rule. For example, sometimes speakers need to be named when publicizing the meeting. The Rule is more about the dissemination of the information after the event - nothing should be done to identify, either explicitly or implicitly, who said what.

Q. Can you say within a report what you yourself said at a meeting under the Chatham House Rule?
A. Yes if you wish to do so.

Q. Can a list of attendees at the meeting be published?
A. No - the list of attendees should not be circulated beyond those participating in the meeting.

Q. Can I 'tweet' while at an event under the Chatham House Rule?
A. The Rule can be used effectively on social media sites such as Twitter as long as the person tweeting or messaging reports only what was said at an event and does not identify - directly or indirectly - the speaker or another participant. This consideration should always guide the way in which event information is disseminated - online as well as offline.

First published June 2007

08 October, 2014

A lot of knowledge is a dangerous thing

“There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.” - US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, 2002
Gobbledygook or profound insight? I’m inclined to the latter. Boards and managers tend to manage the risks they think they know, not the ones they don’t. The quality of your own business processes. The quality of input, processes, outputs, logistics, channels - upstream and downstream from your business. The degree to which your business and brand is isolated from other people’s actions.

Chances are, you try to manage those elements which have a known impact in your value process. You know a lot about them. But what about something completely beyond your knowledge and control? What about a key supplier or customer going bust as a consequence of someone else going bust? How about a subcontractor running hidden, unacceptable practices elsewhere in the world? Someone using your product in new unintended dangerous applications? Or a logistic provider’s people subverting your process to run a scam, smuggle drugs, launder money?

At least on this, Rumsfeld had it right; but there’s no easy answer. Just be wary of what you think you know and don’t know. Assumptions are very dangerous. What are the things you take for granted in your business? And, given that you don’t know what disasters may sideswipe your business, what’s your generic crisis management process? When the organic fertilizer is sucked into the air conditioning system, how will you cope?

First posted  26 August 2009

18 September, 2014

Never deceive your customer

Do you get angry when you order a product or service, only to get stung by unexpected extra charges? Over-hyped product specifications? Deceptive project bids with swingeing prices for subsequent changes to requirements? Of course you get angry; everyone does.

Mark Di Somma wrote about an EU finding that half of all European airlines’ websites are guilty of misrepresentation, and many of actually breaking the law. Mark comments:

Perhaps these companies think they’re being clever behaving this way. Perhaps they think they have no option. They’re wrong on both counts.

Deceiving people isn’t just stupid, it makes no sense commercially, because all these airlines are doing is setting themselves up to disappoint their customers.

As for the no option argument, that’s equally dumb. If everyone else is behaving this way, simply following them is lemming behaviour. Instead, there’s an immediate and important opportunity to put distance between your brand and others, and to take the moral high ground by doing so

I totally agree. Most people I know would agree. Most businesses are not run by evil people. So what is going on? Why do some businesses (or rather, the people who work in those businesses) do it?
  • Either they don’t think their product and their price represents value for money; or they don’t know how to demonstrate that value.
  • They are looking for excuses as to why that is so.
  • They don’t know what to do about this problem; or they do, but can’t/won’t take the necessary steps.
  • They don’t personally face the consequences of their deceptive actions.
Anyone who thinks their product and price doesn’t represent value for money needs to either change their product, change their value proposition, or both, or get out of that business. Those are tough choices, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be made.

Many years ago, new in the CEO job, I heard a product manager say to me in front of a dozen people, “We have to pump our specs up - if we don’t, our products will look bad. But don’t worry - the competitors all lie about their products, too.” I realised straight away that my reaction to this would set the tone for my leadership. In a very firm and measured tone, I declared that we did not deceive our customers, and that anyone who set out to do so would have a very short tenure while I was in charge.

Here’s a simple set of principles:
  • Be proud of your product, price and value proposition.
  • Never deceive the customer (or yourself for that matter),

PS. The product manager left soon after. I never saw any evidence that the competitors lied. Fortunately, we had a great product, and we did find a better way of demonstrating its value.

First posted November 14th, 2007