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Water Under the Bridge; No Surprises



We have been having water trouble lately. Recently, a water main near our beach house burst. And in an effort for symmetry, we had the exact same thing happen by our house in Durham. In both cases, the house(s) were without water for about 12 hours and in both cases, it was challenging. 


However, one large difference made my view of the two incidents quite different. 


At the beach house, our water is supplied by ONWASA. As soon as ONWASA suspected trouble with the main, they emailed and texted me. About an hour into the water outage, they again texted and emailed me, this time with an estimate of when the main would be fixed. Once the main was fixed, they texted and emailed again not only announcing the fixed main but announcing a boiling water advisory. They carefully noted that no reason existed to think the water had been contaminated but in an abundance of caution, they suggested boiling cooking and drinking water. Finally, a day later, we got one last email and text ending the boiling water alert. 


On the other hand, when our water was disrupted in Durham, we heard nothing. (I guess they figured we knew we had no water because well … we had no water.) I finally wandered down to where the repairs were being done and got an estimated time for the repair. When the main was fixed and the water started flowing again, it came out of the pipes full of dirt. We had to run each outlet for about five minutes to clear the water up.  Even with this disturbance to our water, we heard nothing from the city. Who knows if we should have been boiling water. 


Needless to say, I was much happier with the way ONWASA handled the situation. 


As leaders, we know bad things are going to happen. How we respond to them and the level of transparent communication is important. In my experience, leaders tend to want to under-communicate. They seem to feel that people cannot deal with a negative situation, or they want to keep bad news confidential, or they are too busy dealing with the crisis to let people know about it. 


Our instinct should be just the opposite. Let people know what is going on, even if it is bad news. Your constituents can handle bad news--they are living life too--and appreciate transparency and information. Information is power. Knowing about a situation is so much better than being left in the dark.


Fight the instinct to protect bad news; sharing what is going wrong, what you are doing to fix it and how long it will take to return to normal will win you points. Hiding the bad news will often bite you and cause your customers and employees to lose trust in you.


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