It’s always tempting to grease the squeaky wheel. Governments, companies and other organizations do it all the time. It’s understandable. Sometimes the noise is so loud that any remedy will do. But stop! Before applying grease, it is important to understand both the wheel’s motivation and how reflective it is of the general population. Loud does not necessarily mean representative.

Greasing this wheel may only offer temporary relief anyway. And beside, to steal a phrase, there are some squeakers who are not happy unless they are not happy. Plus all that lubricant may cause a far greater group to become discontented because they were happy in the first place and now the conditions have changed.

The key to managing stakeholders is to understand them. Know who is saying what and whom they really represent. Sometimes, whining generals are in charge of very small armies. Small platoons really. It’s also true that silent majorities can exist. The trick is to find out what the silent types are thinking.

The same applies to the media, including letters to the editor, social media and hobbyhorse reporters stuck on a “reform agenda.” It is understandable when you are the target; each media hit feels like a hammer. But is it? Mention your so-called high profile issue at your next cocktail party. Blank looks all around.

Research my friends, research. There are good analytical tools to gauge the actual span of a cranky wheel or a media blitz (I have a few in my pocket if you need one). The Association of All People of the World (AAPW) may only represent a few people in a basement somewhere. As few as five or six common causers may initiate the huge number of Tweets and letters to the editor or even an article or two. But often their greatest audience is themselves. Squeaks talking to squeaks. For the rest of the world it’s like dog whistles, i.e. outside their ultrasonic range.

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