Wednesday, July 6, 2011

HR People and Consultants Can Learn From the Casey Anthony Trial

I know. You read the subject line of this post and the only reason that you made it into the body of the post is you were curious to see just how I have lost my mind. 

I'm not nuts. I swear to you that I have, in fact, not lost my mind. This trial was an exercise in communications. Two teams of attorneys and their various witnesses were communications consultants. They were each communicating to twelve people. And, unlike, you, me, and tens or hundreds of millions of other Americans, those twelve people didn't have any additional communications consultants -- all the talking head attorneys and attorney-wannabes on the various television and radio networks. These twelve clients, if you will, were held captive, largely in front of the communications consultants, for six weeks. They literally lived and breathed this trial.

Let's get back to benefits and compensation -- human resources issues. If you look at the HR press these days, you can find survey after survey about things like employee engagement, dissatisfaction with managers, cuts in benefits that are untenable to employees, workforce reductions, and many more. I say that the companies who score particularly low in these surveys suffer from the same malady as Linda Drane Burdick and Jeff Ashton, the two lead prosecutors in the Casey Anthony case.

Let's consider. [WARNING: There may be lots of cliches in here]

You only get one chance to make a first impression. In the Casey Anthony trial, there were lots of first impressions. There were the opening arguments. There were the beginnings of testimony by witnesses, both fact witnesses and expert witnesses. I heard a litany of legal experts say what a great job the prosecution did of wrapping up the case. I heard that Linda Drane Burdick put the nail in the coffin. Let's go from the courtroom back to the corporation. The jurors (the employees) were so disengaged by then that they already had one foot out the door. 

Consider this. The prosecution put forth more than 400 items of circumstantial evidence. The jury deliberated for about 11 hours. In reality, though, the jury deliberated for less than 6 hours. I say this because they all returned for the second day of deliberation dressed differently. They had their verdicts. They just wanted to be sure.

Let's reconsider. 400 items. 349 minutes of deliberation. That is less than 53 seconds per item of circumstantial evidence. 

Their minds were made up long before the closing arguments. The fact is that once a manager or consultant (prosecuting attorney) has failed to keep an employee (juror) engaged (on their side), that employee (juror) is likely lost.

The defense did not have a great case. The prosecution told us so. They told us that their experts were more believable. They told us that only Casey Anthony had a motive to kill Caylee. But, the case was lost by then.

If you didn't follow the trial at all, you may get a bit lost now, but I will try to tie it together (for all I know, you may be lost already, but I hope not).

The prosecution delivered a long and eloquent opening statement. Nobody quotes from it. Nobody remembers it. Whatever they said, they didn't link everything to their opening statement.

Jose Baez, the lead defense attorney, is not experienced. He began practicing law in 2005. To my understanding, this was his first murder case. His opening statement was not eloquent. But, as hokey as this is going to sound, Jose Baez did something different and, in my opinion, it stuck with the jury because, ultimately, he built his defense around it. He said. "Follow the duct tape."

From a communications/HR/marketing perspective, do you know what he did, on Day One, and thereafter, and constantly? He branded the defense. The defense's brand was simple: Follow the duct tape. The jury could understand this.

The prosecution case was all-encompassing, or overarching if your game of choice is Buzzword Bingo. It went from here to there to everywhere. They presented evidence upon evidence, all sadly circumstantial. But, they didn't have a theme. They didn't have a brand. Their first impression got lost and they didn't reinforce it. 

Much like many modern managers, they knew they were right, and therefore, the messages they were delivering didn't matter. The facts were so compelling that during the defense's closing, prosecutor Jeff Ashton could assuredly snicker.

A friend of mine went through an acquisition recently. Her company was acquired by another company. And, as she told me, right from the get-go, it was all about the new company. It was never about her ... or her colleagues from the old company. That was all ancient history. She got lost on the first impression ... and so did the acquisition.

OK, smart guy. You've written paragraph on paragraph, what would you have done differently [speaking to self]?

This was a circumstantial case. Everybody knows this. So, of the 400+ pieces of evidence, many (let's say 100) pointed to Casey Anthony as the killer with a very high degree of certainty -- for the sake of argument, let's say 95%. Frankly, though, a 95% likelihood that Casey Anthony murdered her daughter probably should constitute reasonable doubt.

So, what should the prosecution have done differently? I have an opinion, but you already knew that, didn't you. The prosecution needed to brand it's case as "The Sum of All Parts." In their opening statement, they should have said that this was a circumstantial case (I think they did). They should have said that the jurors (employees) were about to hear 400+ pieces of evidence that each, with a high degree of certainty, tie the murder to Casey. Of them, maybe 100 of those 400+ would each tie to Casey with about 95% certainty.

So, let's explain, in our opening statement, to the jurors how the Sum of All Parts works. 95%. That's 1 in 20. That is the same as me asking you to pick a number that I have in my head between 1 and 20 and guessing correctly. That's reasonable, isn't it? It might happen.

OK. So you got the first number correct. Now do it again. Hmm. That's pretty tough, isn't it? Now, let's see you do it 100 times in a row. Is it reasonable to think that you could do that 100 times in a row. We're going to bring on an expert later to show you just how difficult it is to do that 100 times in a row. That means that the likelihood that someone else could have done this is so small (it's a number with a decimal point followed by approximately 130 zeroes before you get a non-zero digit) that it fails to constitute reasonable doubt.

Back to my brand -- the Sum of All Parts. 

So, you start out with a brand, or a message, if you prefer. You explain in the beginning how it is going to work. And, you enforce it. And, you reinforce it. And, you make it believable.

If your brand relates to a wellness program, sell it on Day One. And, keep the message going. Don't let it leave the minds of your employees (jurors). Don't confuse them with a can of stink (if you're not familiar with the trial, that won't make sense) or with the pay raises that you plan to give when the company returns to profitability. 

Look at all the most powerful brands. They never leave their messages. Coke has been "the real thing" for years. UPS asked us "what can Brown do for you?". In it's most golden years, FedEx told us "if it absolutely positively has to be there overnight." Nike just gave us its swoosh.

Linda Drane Burdick and Jeff Ashton gave the jurors lots of powerful evidence, but it wasn't tied together. Jose Baez didn't give the jurors a whole lot, but he did give them a brand. In my opinion, that brand sat in their subconscious and he didn't let it go. Way back in May, he asked them to "follow the duct tape" and that was his case. It planted reasonable doubt that the prosecution, having the means to overcome, unwittingly chose not to.

So, Casey Anthony walks. And, if you (the employer) don't communicate any better to your jurors (employees), so will they.