A Tribute to Doug Kendall
I try to keep my content stream outward focused. There’s so much egocentric, “look at me” content online that I don’t see the point of making more.
We’ve been interviewing clean economy CEOs, investors and advisors on our “Scaling Clean” series. I’ve learned a lot from these guests on sound leadership and management practices. Based on audience feedback, others have as well.
I’m not nearly the leader and manager our guests are. But in this somewhat personal piece, I’m going to share a Tigercomm policy inspired by some hard-won lessons. I hope others in small clean economy companies will benefit from what we’re sharing.
Some context… I’ve been working full-time to stop global climate destruction since 1997 (my first communications job was in 1984). For the first two decades, I worked for and with anyone who’d join me. And in those early days of nascent climate awareness, there wasn’t much choice. You had to work with the difficult, the quirky and the dysfunctional. There just weren’t enough people driving progress to be picky.
But as I grew older and faced the actuarial tables, I started losing friends to illnesses. One was Doug Kendall, a great constitutional law activist I’d met when we worked together at the National Environmental Trust. Doug had discovered in the late 1990s that polluting industry lobbyists were junketing federal and state judges on trips that masqueraded as “educational programs.”
Judges get a comfortable salary, and federal judges get lifetime job security as well. But many still wanted oil companies to pay for their vacations. See here how we got ABC to expose the judges getting “educated” on the golf course, and a major Washington Post expose revealing the existence of the whole junketing program.
Side note: Clarence Thomas was around for all of this, but it seems safe to assume he didn’t get the memo on the ethical problems with junkets.
It took 10 years of working on our own time, but we brought enough exposure to put the program out of business. Along the way, we encountered pushback from green groups on taking basic steps, such as signing multi-group letters demanding tougher ethics rules for judges. At one point, a frustrated Doug turned to me and said, “It’s crazy we have to wade through all this b--ll s--t to get such an obvious thing done. It’s like we have to work our butts off just to work our butts off!”
Walking out of Doug’s memorial service in 2015, I changed my operating rule. From then on, I’d only work with people who eschewed drama, dysfunction and dishonesty. And our firm’s “3D Rule” was born. The climatological hour was too late, the carbon pollution hole too deep. Global climate destruction was only going to be tackled by high-performing teams committed to a high level of accountability, ownership and being upfront with each other.
Breakdowns happen. People miss deadlines or misspeak. Those are a given. Communications work is stressful, particularly when you work for companies disrupting big, polluting incumbents.
Thanks to Doug’s inspiration, Tigercomm operates on a policy of “keeping the floor clean” to handle the pressure that’s endemic within clean economy communications. It’s actually written into our employee handbook that interpersonal disputes cannot be handled by email or text flames. Adult conversations are required, and even I don’t get a pass on compliance.
This policy informs how we treat our vendors, each other, and our clients. We’ve found it’s a much easier way to work. If your company has a similar policy, I’m interested in hearing about it and the benefits it’s brought to you.